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School Of Seven Bells & (not that) Genesis

September 14th, 2010

School of Seven Bells is a rock/psych/electronic/drone band from Brooklyn, NY. They’ve recently released their second full-length record — soberingly titled Disconnect From Desire — on Santa Monica-based label Vagrant Records and Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International.

The record is very good — better than their first, I dare say. The precision melodies of the harmonized female vocals makes me want to compare them to Stereolab, but they’re really much more Kevin Shields-ish. A bed of texturally complex but largely droning electronic and guitars elements lay down a soft bed of noise on which the voices of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza have ample space to soar.

I have seen an NPR article in which the band claims that the meaning of their name comes from some South American school for pickpockets, but I think this explanation reeks of bullshittery. Instead, I propose a much more likely and much more poetically relevant genesis of the name School of Seven Bells…

Ranna… the first, the smallest bell. Ranna the sleepbringer, the sweet, low sound that brought silence in its wake.

Mosrael was the waker… the bell whose sound was a seesaw, throwing the ringer further into Death, as it brought the listener into Life.

The above quotes are from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series of fantasy books, and they describes the first two of the seven bells used by necromancers to control the dead. Necromancy is an age-old magical practice where the summoner seeks to summon or control the spirit of a deceased person. In Nix’s books, the necromancer is a practitioner of this magic who use each of the seven bells to do this and that to dead people.

The bells were apparently very difficult to use, causing harm more often than not to the ringer of the bell if rung not-quite-right. Listening to School of Seven Bells new record — to the lyrics of songs like Heart is Strange — this theme seems close to the surface. Throughout, the deceptively simple and beautiful things in life seem to have turned on the song’s authors to reveal themselves as complex, overwhelming, and disappointingly hollow.

I might be way off on this, as art doesn’t necessarily implicate the author, but I sincerely hope that the band manages to find balance and satisfaction with their increasing artistic success and with the traveling musician’s lifestyle that I happen to know isn’t easy to maintain. Also, lord knows — any band with two tiny beautiful women in it must have to put up with more than their fair share of crap out on the road.

Anyway, they’ll be on tour all over North America for the better part of September and October, bringing them most likely to a city near you. Go out, see the show (which is pretty great, from my experience), find the band, and invite them over for a home cooked breakfast to send them on their way to the next gig. Let ‘em know you like their music, and that you appreciate them riding around in a van all over creation to bring it to you.

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Joy Division: Documentaries and Record Sleeves

July 22nd, 2010

The documentary, simply titled Joy Division, features the story of the band as told by the members themselves. It’s fairly non-sensationalized, letting the music be the spectacle rather than Curtis’ suicide. Definitely worth a look and certainly worth a listen. See the film here, while it’s still available to watch online.

For you graphic design fans, Peter Saville is also featured in the film. He talks about his work designing the covers for the Unknown Pleasures and Closer with the band. Saville designed nearly all the Joy Division and New Order covers, who would later go on to make classic record covers for David Byrne/Brian Eno and Roxy Music, to name a few.

I especially love his design for New Order’s Power, Corruption, and Lies (below top right). I saw a show at the MCA in Chicago a few years ago called Sympathy For the Devil: Art and Rock & Roll since 1967 that featured a lot of the drawings and collages that Saville made in preparation for this classic cover. It was really interesting to see how he’d devised a color system for codifying the song titles into the design itself.

The show also featured classic photos of Ian Curtis on stage — in addition to non-Joy Division-related work by artists such as Raymond Pettibon, Mike Kelley, Christian Marclay, and Robert Longo. This exhibition, combined with the Kurt Cobain-themed show currently on display at the Seattle Art Museum, forces one to acknowledge at least one of the following two things:

- Pop music is finally being seen as an art form of critical cultural importance now that the Baby-Boomers and their kids are the ones shelling out big dough for contemporary art

- Pop-culture shows are good for ticket sales at museums.

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. That would explain those record sleeve sized picture frames that Urban Outfitters sells.

Art, Design, Movies, Music , , ,

YYY Tee

July 16th, 2010

I saw this t-shirt from the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs and liked it. A smart riff off the classic Beatles’ Abbey Road record cover — a well worn image reference that somehow totally works here.

Get the shirt here.

Design, Fashion, Music , , ,

Pablo Picasso Was Never Called an Asshole

May 27th, 2010


Recently, the Picasso painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (seen behind the man himself in the photo above) sold for a record auction price of $106.5 million. The public outcry over this hefty transaction has been raucous. This is not an unpredictable public response to an anonymous rich dude dropping 100 mill on a picture of a naked lady, but the sale – and the mystery buyer – have been getting crap from every direction. That the painting may be a bit thin in canonical importance or artistic influence has critics balking. The questionably violent depiction of a nude, supine young mistress – being either caressed or decapitated by ominous shadows — has opinionistas up in arms. The worldwide economic downturn nevertheless bearing witness to such a public show of disposable wealth has “normal folk” aghast with either disgust or envy (perhaps a little bit of both?).

In light of this outpouring of negativity, let’s take a look at some of the other Picasso works that have made their way onto the list of the top one hundred most expensive paintings of all time. Is the painting really that atypical? Does it hold the same mystical allure?

One of the most striking things about this list of price busting paintings is how many Picassos there are on it. The man represents with 10 paintings — the most of any artist (second and third place, respectively, go to Van Gogh with 7 and Warhol with 3). Another striking thing is that almost all of these paintings were made in the last 150 years, with the bulk being from the 20th century. This type of collector confidence in Modern art – and particularly in Picasso himself – is the prime reason people are willing to pay so much money to have a good Picasso in their collection. Owning a work by the artist has become practically a requirement in keeping up with the Geffens.

The list below depicts the top five of these paintings starting from the most expensive (in 2010 dollars, to make their relative purchase cost more apparent).

Garçon à la Pipe – $119.9M

This painting, which sold for $104.2M in 2004, is an early Picasso. It was painted over the course of a couple months in 1905 when he was in his rose period. The model is some kid from the neighborhood that used to hang around the studio. The work is another that is considered pleasant but of minor importance. This painting, too, was bought at auction by a mysterious bidder (rumored to be Russian).

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust – $106.5M

This painting, which sold for $106.5M just a few weeks ago, depicts a 23-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, the mistress of a then 51-year-old Picasso. When this painting was made in 1932, the two were already six years into their illicit relationship. In another few years, Marie would give birth to Picasso’s daughter (boldly named María de la Concepción). The pregnancy would shine light on Picasso’s infidelities, causing his wife Olga (a ballerina) to leave him. To say that there is some drama behind the scenes in this painting is an understatement.

This sizable (64″ x 51″) painting was made in a single day, and Picasso really went for it on this one. He threw some Cezanne in there, some Classical bust action, some Matisse-ish plants, a lurking Picasso behind the curtain. All this in service to a the pink blobby Marie laying naked in the foreground, cradled ominously by shadows.

Dora Maar au Chat – $102.3M

This painting, which sold for $95.2M in 2006 to an anonymous Russian bidder, is another that depicts one of Picasso’s lovers – in this case, the 34-year-old photographer/poet Dora Maar. Picasso was 60 by the time he made this in 1941, but that didn’t stop him from seeing both Maar and the above-mentioned Marie-Thérèse Walter after divorcing his wife (you got that?). Maar sounds like kind of an intense woman. She suffered from sterility, cut herself, and was really into art, politics and intellectualism. This painting reflects a lot of that intensity and complexity with its multiple fractured planes, bold colors and patterns, and, of course, a little black kitty.

Les Noces de Pierrette – $85.3M

This painting, which sold for $49.3M in 1989 was created in 1905 during Picasso’s blue period (so named because of the blue colors often used in paintings from this time, and also because Picasso was depressed following the suicide of one of his friends). Paintings from this period, such as the famously torn work The Actor, are generally considered the most valuable, beautiful, and recognizable of all Picasso’s works.

After changing hands many times – from Picasso’s friend to Picasso’s son, from a Swiss banker to the French government – it was finally purchased for the aforementioned huge pile of cash by a Japanese real-estate developer. After his company went south, he was forced to give the painting as debt collateral to a construction company who then had to give it to a loan company. Currently, it rests unseen and unenjoyed – crated up in a bank vault somewhere in Japan. Unfortunately, a bunch of paintings have disappeared this way when Japan’s economy tanked in the 90′s. Mwah mwah….

Self Portrait: Yo Picas-so – $84.1M

This painting, which sold for $47.85M in 1989, is a blue-period self portrait made in 1901. It was purchased by the president of a hospital management company – someone who probably wouldn’t want to be flaunting his millions these days. It doesn’t seem like a particularly revealing portrait, but I like that it looks like he fell against his palette, staining his cravat orange. Not a bad look for a passionate artist. For a guy that painted so many self portraits, and included himself in so many paintings, it makes sense that one of them would have made this list. In my opinion, though, I like the ones where he appears as a minotaur better.

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So the myth of Picasso endures, seemingly growing larger and larger as time passes – making his work all the more coveted. Even if a particular work isn’t his best or his most interesting – everyone wants a piece of the man. I think Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers put it best…

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Lady Gaga, Beyonce & Product Placement

March 23rd, 2010

There is a whole lot of product placement going on in the new long-form music video for Telephone from Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Virgin Mobile, Diet Coke, Beats (by Dr. Dre) Headphones, Chanel, Polaroid, Wonder Bread, and Miracle Whip(???) are all featured prominently within the Quentin Tarantino-styled narrative. Oddly enough, most of these product placements make a bizarre sort of sense in an artistically contextual kind of way. Let’s review:

POLAROID – Polaroid has hired Lady Gaga as a Creative Director for the company — so the fact that we are treated to Gaga taking a bunch of tiny instant photos of Beyonce (contractually) follows. However, the appearance of a full-screen Polaroid brand logo on a photobooth outside the diner at the end of the video was less gracefully implemented. As an aside, this partnership has the potential to be rad. Nice one, Polaroid execs!


DIET COKE – This was my favorite brand placement in the video. The appearance of empty cans of Diet Coke as impromptu prison-style hair rollers in Gaga’s hair is one of the most creative and inventive examples of product placement in recent memory. It’s sort of a classically feminine version of a shiv. Since we never explicitly see the Coke logo, I wonder if Gaga got paid for this one – but in a just world, she certainly would have been.


VIRGIN MOBILE – I get that Gaga has (rightfully) built up a cache of credibility in the realm of music videos and concert appearances (if not with her actual music) – but I am impressed that this cache is strong enough that Virgin Mobile would acquiesce to their logo being in the same shot as Gaga stroking the crotch of a butch lesbian in the yard of a prison. My guess is that Richard Branson and his millionaire buddies are just out to prove they’re down to party, after all.

(A side not on this one… ha ha… Virgin Mobile = virgin = ironic = good joke. Too bad that Twilight: New Moon beat them to it. )


CHANEL – Ooh! Lady Gaga is wearing Chanel sunglasses! Meh. The Haus of Gaga-designed actively smoking cigarette glasses were cooler.


WONDER BREAD – This is one of those WTF!? moments in advertising. I get that Wonder Bread is associated with lower income individuals, who are associated loosely with criminal acts, which is associated with whipping up a batch of poison, but I wouldn’t imagine that the Gaga image would do much to sell Wonder Bread, and the brand’s appearance in this video in the same kitchen with food that kills people doesn’t seem like a smart PR move, from where I’m standing.


MIRACLE WHIP – All my misgivings about the appearance of Wonder Bread in this video also apply to Miracle Whip, only double. It just doesn’t make sense. The only saving grace, in my mind, is that Miracle Whip strikes me as a great name for Gaga’s next record. Now that I think about it, maybe I’ll steal it for one of my projects.


BEATS BY DR DRE – Lady Gaga also has a partnership with Beats. She designed her own line of jewel encrusted in-ear ‘phones with them that she can be seen sporting in the kitchen scenes (they just look like triangular earrings). However, the way that the Beats logo is featured in the video, arbitrarily stuck to the back of the guard’s laptop, seems like a little bit of a disconnect. Brand white noise is worth something, though, I suppose.


CONCLUSION

After beating the viewer over the head with all this product placement, you would think that the project would have lost it’s spark as it tripped over itself to sell out. However, given the many instances of blatant sexuality, ever-present lesbian undertones, gratuitous violence, group homicide, swearing, and near total frontal nudity that are keystones of both the style and narrative of Telephone, the most surprising element of all this is that the brands were willing to be associated with the project at all. In a way, Gaga seems to have subverted the selling-out process. Her popularity has forced corporations to bend to her wonderfully strange, freaky, and dirty vision of the world instead of the other way around. It obviously isn’t for everyone (Kraft, I’m looking at you), but one has to bet on any company that figures out a way to really hang with Gaga – the reigning master of brand ingenuity (sorry Bjork/Barney).

Here’s to the weirding of media!

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Friday Fun: Holiday Road

February 19th, 2010
YouTube Preview Image

I’ve inexplicably had this song, from Chevy Chase’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, stuck in my head all day. Watching this music video totally scratches my itch sonically, but the video itself seems so at odds with the spirit of the song as it is presented in Vacation, that I had to minimize my browser so that the song wouldn’t be spoiled. Nevertheless, enjoy. I hope it inspires a Chase movie marathon.

PS – I never knew Lindsey Buckingham sang this song. That seems weird for some reason.

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