Deerhunter is an interesting band. Their music always seems straightforwardly lovely, but I have a sense of them as a really psychedelic and strange band. Maybe it’s all due to their singer, Bradford Cox, and his on-stage dress-up antics… In any case, stream their new record Halcyon Digest (out as of yesterday on 4AD)in its entirety above. I’ve certainly been enjoying it today, trying to recall the light feeling of long days and bright sun.
Whatever it takes to hang on to whatever traces of summer we’ve got left up here in the Northwest.
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.
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.
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).
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.
When I was a sophomore in college, I took a figure drawing class that I remember being particularly enjoyable — owing as much to the quality of my classmates as to the quality of the nude models. Anyways, our professor Belinda would play great records during class to help us get into the zone as we attempted to capture the play of light off of one patch of skin or another. A Duke Ellington trio recording titled Money Jungle was one of the records I was introduced to during that class. I went out and bought it for myself right away.
In some sort of cosmic play, the epically talented drummer from Money Jungle, Max Roach, came to our school for a solo show in the campus theater space that very same year. Having listened to Money Jungle over and over, I made sure I was in the audience that night. It was great. Never boring, usually funny, and always inventive — I was bowled over by Max’s 90-minute exploration of the drum kit. Ever since then, I look for Mr. Roach’s name on a record’s sleeve as a sort of litmus test for how satisfying the recording is going to be.
So, here it is; my favorite jazz record: Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, and Max Roach in Money Jungle…
Comic writer and David Bowie fan Sean T. Collins has been collecting sketches of the Thin White Duke from various pencils-about-town for the past few years. He has scanned in most of this collection on his Flickr page. The sketch above was contributed by Adrian Tomine - the man behind one of my favorite downer comic books, Optic Nerve. I like Adrian’s melancholy Bowie, but to say that it is my favorite puts down the imagination that the series exhibits. They’re all so different, and they really speak to the sense of mysterious otherness that David Bowie has managed to build around himself over his lengthy career.
I’m glad Sean undertook the project. It goes to show that we really are in a golden era of curators. It takes a driven cultural collector to set out on a sweet project like this one with a will strong enough to amass such a specific and impressive collection.