Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trippy psychedlic DJ Ott knows just how to get a dancefloor shaking

English music producer Ott is responsible for one 2011's best records in Mir, and he brought his unique blend of fun, zany and tripped out psychedelic techno to Nashville's Exit/In for a crazed Sunday night dancefest. Bizarre is what he does, and he does it in many ways. Exotic undersea anthems, whacked out Indian scat vocals, fierce buzzing warbly bass driven tunes, and blissfully grooving Caribbean themes are just a small part of his repertoire.

English DJ Ott gets funky with a loopy kazoo performance.

Helping out was his Seeing I band, which brought a more dynamic and organic seasoning to his compositions. Guitarist Naked Nick helps out with light vocal and and keyboard work, but his guitar blends in so well with the overall palette that it's tough to discern his overall contribution with the instrument. Chris Barker's bass, meanwhile,  is the most important single element in the band behind Ott himself. No matter what style is being espoused, Barker's bass is always grooving which in turn gets the booties shaking.

Drummer Matt White looks like the most depressed guy in the world, like he's the odd man out at a party with the cool kids. His work isn't very technical or fast-paced, but his steady tick-tick-ticking provides a constant calming presence.

When you need a backing band, who you gonna call?

Clad in his Frogadelic t-shirt, Ott commenced the madness. After opening with "Daisies and Rubies" from his sophomore album Skylon, Ott then proceeded into a Mir marathon. He next kicked it into the light, fluffy Caribbean brushstrokes of "Someday I Wish to Have This Kind of Time." Also highlighted was the funky mechanical buzzing of "Squirrel and Biscuits" and the dreamy thoughtful splendor of "The Aubergine of the Sun." But he showed his music can also take a more sinister and darker tone, evidenced by the brooding dubstep infused tune "Owl Stretching Time" and the journey through spacey dub that is "Adrift in Hilbert Space."

Another nice twist was a crew of artisans and painters stationed toward the back near the merch table, which added a nice flavoring to the night. The artwork on display actually complemented Ott's performance very well. This is no Georgia O'Keffe; the images displayed were very bright, warm and inviting, while still giving you something to think about. Much like Ott's work itself. Opening act Nadis Warriors actually had a guy onstage with them painting a mural. When he began it was just a bunch of glob on a canvas but by the end of their set he had crafted it into a portrait of the galaxy. With the Earth smack dab in the center, the planets were outlined beneath, arrayed in stunning fashion.

Dance party, art museum; either way ya can't go wrong.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Latest Liam Neeson franchise finds itself taken in new direction

The original Taken film came out of nowhere in 2008. It affected its magic by weaving a simple but effectively told tale: ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills stares down impossible odds to save his kidnapped daughter from a gang of detestable international criminals. It didn't try to blow up the plot; it was based on a cat and mouse game of finding the next clue to get one step closer to the thugs. It even inspired a massive internet meme. Inevitably, the sequel seeks to broaden and expand its focus, but in the process risks losing it.

Taken 2 opens over a graveside in Albania, where the scumbags Neeson shot up in the first film are being laid to rest. It seems even psychotic homicidal pimps have folks who care about them, and they aren't going to let this shit stand. Oh, no. This time it's Mills who finds himself captured  along with his wife Lenore, and their best hope of survival rests on the shoulders of their bumbling daughter Kim.

Hold up, nobody make a move. We gotta give the high priority target a chance to slip away.

Like its predecessor, the tension in Taken 2 is coiled like a tightly wound spring. It's obvious what's going to happen, but as to when it actually goes down the film does a decent job of putting on a poker face. Everything builds up slowly and sensibly, although the actual moment of abduction in Taken 2 is nowhere near as shocking as it was in the first film. Kim being pulled out from under the bed was a moment tailor-made to get the viewers' blood boiling.

That vibe is ruined at the moment of capture in Taken 2 because the thugs inexplicably allow Mills to make a phone call to his daughter enabling her escape. If the thugs snag the entire Mills family, naturally  that's ballgame. But there's no sensible reason why the thugs allow him to give Kim escape instructions in the specific moment that they intend to knock him senseless and drag him away.

Throughout the rest of the film the Mills family does more damage to Istanbul than the actual criminal syndicate they're battling. Their reign of terror sees the Mills family lobbing live grenades all over the city, vandalizing the U.S. Embassy, dodging fire from an M-16 that surely should have killed them, wrecking an entire patrol worth of police cars, and even straight up shooting a cop. The grenade lobbing is explained as a method for Kim to pinpoint her father's location. By hearing the sound of the blasts, Mills directs Kim to the criminals' hideout, at which point she delivers him a very important item. So essentially Kim is a parcel delivery service. One that lobs grenades in all directions.

Rain or shine, this shit's gotta get delivered.

Perhaps there are more intelligent ways of finding him? Mills practiced considerably smarter methods in the first film. For example, Bryan allowing himself to be accosted by a pimp in order to pin a tracking device on him comes across as clever, covert, and spy-like, and he never had to resort to tactics that should reasonably have the entire Turkish army descending upon you.

Like the first film, the villains themselves are remarkably nondescript. They're said to be from Albania, but as usual appear to be your typical mishmash of Indo-Eurasian Middle Eastern stock villains with no other distinguishable features other than their mentality of "Grrr! I want revenge!" Films like these could have tons of room for evolution if they could get over their stereotypes and actually color and develop their villains properly.

The acting performances get the job done. Maggie Grace as Kim is most notable, as she does an admirable job of pulling off a Harry Mason "hey I'm just an ordinary Joe and I'm not used to having to dodge bullets and fight for my life" type of vibe. She shows extreme stress under duress while holding things together and providing moments for the audience to pump their fists over.

Rade Serbedzija plays a cold, honor driven mastermind in the role of lead villain Murad Krasniqi, willing to discard any discernible shred of logic in his pursuit of vengeance against Mills. As for Neeson himself, it's pretty evident what to expect from him in roles like this. He's the man with the plan, the fatherly intel expert who always knows how to navigate every situation. The father-daughter bonding, spirit of cooperation between Bryan and Kim is one of the film's major successes. Incidentally  he also has the ability to snap someone's neck by simply putting his hand on someone's face and applying a gentle nudge. It feels like a combination between special ops training and Darth Vader's force choke.

Liam Neeson: so well trained he can even use the force.

Being that the film is shot on location in Istanbul, the set pieces are naturally gorgeous. The hotel scenes where the Mills family stays in the beginning of the film show off the breathtaking splendor and grandeur of the city, while the action in the streets later on show off the working class side of Istanbul. The score is subdued, but becomes appropriately cinematic and dramatic during Neeson's final fistfight against Krasniqi's second in command. In one scene where Bryan explores the underbelly of Istanbul, the film relies on low key bubbling techno that sounds like something from the Perfect Dark soundtrack.

The product of director Olivier Megaton generally successful due to its unique and invigorating take on the modern action genre. Rather than simply repeating the formula from the first film, Megaton and screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen come up with a new take on the same theme and find a way to make it work. It does not top the original screenplay. There are times when Taken 2 fumbles its momentum and quite simply feels more clumsy and less surefooted than its predecessor. It may not gain the same sort of cult status the original film did, but Taken 2 should at least hit the spot for those hungry for more from the franchise.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Godspeed You! Black Emperor's mere presence graces Cannery

When dealing with a band that names itself after a Japanese documentary on motorcycle gangs, it's only ordinary to expect a little bit of weirdness. So when Godspeed You! Black Emperor kicked off their Nashville concert with 15 minutes of drone before even taking the stage, it should surprise no one.

I've heard their name excitedly chittered about for as long as I can remember, but until recently had never even taken the time to investigate what type of music they played, let alone listen to them. They were post-rock before post-rock was cool, and have taken many bends and detours to arrive at their current destination. They reformed in 2010 after taking a nearly 10 year hiatus, and their acclaimed album Allejuah! Don't Bend! Ascend! drops tomorrow.

Godspeed co-founder Efrim Menuck anchors a crushing guitar attack.

They are a very democratic band; onstage no one member stands out more than another nor seems more important. They quietly take the stage and begin fiddling with their instruments. Due to the slow droning buildup of most of their songs, it's tough to tell whether they've actually begun playing or if they're still doing soundchecks.

Guitarists Efrim Menuck and Mike Moya begin with some warbly buildup, sometimes accentuating it by trading out their pick for a screwdriver. Mauro Pezzente is kneeled over with his bass guitar hanging around his neck, looking like he's checking something. And David Bryant is leaning over a massive control panel filled with switches, effect pedals, and God knows what else. He's constantly bending over it, peering in and occasionally reaching in, looking like he just lost a bunch of change down there.

With eight members in total, they're capable of making  a ton of noise when they finally hit their stride. Their battery of three guitarists overpower you with dark atmospheric waves, a pair of drummers establish a heavy, thumping beat, and even the bass is audible with two players going at it.

They played long compositions. Most of their songs in their set topped the 20 minute mark typically consisting of a clear buildup  climax, and denouement. The long lengths, however, give them a lot of time to play around with various effects and elements. Every now and then the rest of the instruments would drop out to focus on one or two individual elements. Given some silence to work with, Sophie Trudeau's violin sounded majestic backed only by Theirry Amar's bass.

Sophie Trudeau's violin adds a majestic element to Godspeed's sound.

Their setlist consisted of just four songs lasting nearly an hour and a half, though because the band often splits their songs into separate movements it seemed like much more. It kicked off with "Albanian," which is supposedly an alternate title for "Mladic," the opener from Allejuah! Don't Bend! Ascend!. Also included was the non-album dynamo "Behemoth," a piece that has recently become famous at their live shows for its 44 minute length. But because it was split into several movements, it seemed more like three songs as opposed to one.

Closing the set was "Storm," the opener from their landmark 2000 album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, which drew massive audience applause when the band began playing the opening notes. Rounding out the setlist was "Gorecki," a song pulled from their Slow Riot for Zero New Kanada EP. Clocking in at less than 10 minutes, it was the relative midget of the set. The band's performance was top notch throughout  Although the drone parts were somewhat sleep inducing, the hard buildup and culmination of each song was never anything less than riveting.

However, it would be a mistake to sleep on opener Kurt Wagner, best known as the driving force behind Nashville alt-country standouts Lambchop.

I was lucky enough to catch Lambchop's excellent set at the Nashville Veterans Post in May, but Wagner's Cannery performance proved he can be just as effective as a solo act. With his folksy demeanor and understated guitar chops, he delighted with tales of run-ins with the police along with a few other songs I didn't recognize.

But he also sprinkled in a liberal dose of tunes from the exemplary Lambchop album Mr. M, released in February  Of particular note was "Gone Tomorrow," which is predicated upon a long instrumental climax. I wondered how he would capture the full effect without the benefit of a backing band, but Wagner impressed with effective tape loops and tasteful guitar playing.

Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner shows his skills as a solo performer.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Crystal Castles fan outreach leaves Marathon Music Works smushed

Going to see Crystal Castles? Hope you don't value personal space.

The Canadian electro-noise group have never been big on being conventional, but it's a tough task to think of shows that get this wild. They blend together several layers of highly dissonant electronic music while also being very danceable and rave oriented. They can go from being noisy and abrasive to highly stylized and atmospheric.

But at the center of it all, Crystal Castles share a bond with their fans most bands don't have.

Bathed in brilliant light, Alice Glass put her crowd into a trance.

The majority of fan obsession centers on vocalist Alice Glass. Since getting kickstarted in 2006, Glass has cemented herself as one of the most exotic, alluring and mysterious figures on the indie circuit. She has a very en vogue look. Her face that resembles a department store mannequin from the 1980s, yet with full lips and a wide eyed glare still succeeds in presenting a mystifying, even attractive image.

But it's her antics that gets a crowd riling more than anything else. Her free spirited attitude sees her going farther to connect with her fans that virtually any other performer would do. Specifically, she likes crowd surfing: often, and as much as possible. Getting to make physical contact with a figure like Glass is quite a transcendental experience; at any rate, it's the type of thing that entire buildings of people go nuts for.

She crowd surfed about six or seven times during the set, which to the uninitiated may seem overdoing it. But that's not what it's about. Glass aims to give out as many chances as reasonably possible for her fans to connect with her. A girl beside me said she expected to scream like a schoolgirl when Alice came out. And another even lost her top once the melee broke out. Touching Alice's hand, giving her tall platform boot a shove her surfing, getting her microphone cord tangled around you, it's all very real and visceral.

The entire crowd is basically a huge mosh pit for the whole show, expect obviously not quite as rough. You're going to be tightly compacted and jostled around, moving in rhythm to the crowd's dancebeat.

The crowd surfing diva strengthens fan appeal.
The set itself presented a generous cross section of the band's first two albums, but naturally it all kicked off with "Plague" and "Wrath of God," the two singles from their upcoming album, III. It provided a nice, dense atmospheric blast before moving into a pair of staples from their previous album. "Baptism" provides music for your hips -- opening with a hardcore blast of 90s rave -- before moving into a quieter, simpler, melodic lead -- music for your head.

"Suffocation," meanwhile, is more of a sludgy raver, trudging its way forward until it Alice's ethereal vocals come in. Another highlight was their cover of Platinum Blonde's "Not in Love," an 80s new wave tune they spruce up by adding their patented brand of raging electronica. Main composer Ethan Kath stays hunched over the keyboards, cloaked in his dark hoodie. Meanwhile Alice is cutting loose onstage, twirling the mic stand above her head, climbing onto the drum kit, and swigging from a bottle of jack and spitting toward the crowd.

Sadly, the sound was not top notch. The thick, heavy bass synths came through clearly but the lighter electronic lead work over and the vocals were hard to hear. It was tough to make out what songs were what. I didn't recognize "Celestica" until it got to the soft part with Alice singing, and "Intimate" sounded like it was in a different key altogether. I'm pretty sure they did at least one of the noise tracks from II along with "Alice Practice" and "Untrust Us," but it was difficult to tell through the crowd chaos.

Needless to say, the show rocked. A bond could be felt between the band and everyone present that you don't come across everyday. I could have watched them all night, even though it's a very physically exhausting experience.

L.A. noise rock outfit Health played beforehand, showing off a rhythmic and aggressive brand of energetic art rock. They resembled Gang Gang Dance to a degree. Bassist John Famigletti danced around vociferously and pounded on a standalone drum, while Jake Duzsik dropped in otherworldly vocals. One song ended with a sharp buzzing produced by Famigletti strumming all of his bass strings together, like he was in Arab on Radar.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dwight Yoakam gives three pairs of wishes for everything fans want

Country music may not mean much to many now days, but there was a time when you could barely get away from it. Country music received a massive groundswell of support throughout the 90s, catapulting it past virtually all other forms of music in terms of popularity. Even on the pop stations it was tough to get away without hearing the latest hit from Faith, Shania, or Lonestar.

My earliest exposure to music was to country, and next to Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam was my favorite country singer growing up. In the early part of the decade, pop country hadn't established the stranglehold it would later. This was the age of Brooks & Dunn, Achy Breaky Heart, and legions of others lost to time.

But an essential and sometimes overlooked component of that battery was Dwight Yoakam. Dwight was always more honky-tonk than traditional country, pretty much Music Row's MO at the time. But having been spurned by Nashville executives in the late 80s, Yoakam was left to blaze his own trail.

Hard rock guitar solos, synth driven 80s pop swingers, and the totally un-country "Thousand Miles From Nowhere" showed he wasn't out to lick Mike Curb's boots. And the great news is, he hasn't changed much. Now signed to the Warner Bros. label, Yoakam strikes back with his first record in seven years, 3 Pears.

I honestly wasn't expecting much from this record. The point of doing the review for was mostly for old time's sake, and for variety. But surprisingly... it's actually pretty good. If you're expecting country, traditional or otherwise, you might be surprised. 3 Pears sees Yoakam sticking to the outer fringes of country music, as he typically has, instead opting for a feel good brand of alt-country/rock.

The album's opening tracks are actually fairly bass driven. Yoakam was always among a rare breed of country artists who got good mileage out of his rhythm section, but it's not hard to see the hand of Beck at work here, who assisted with the album's production. Other than a great sense of groove, opener "Take Hold of My Hand" provides a sweet countryish slide solo, simple romantic lyrics, and some closing sha-la-las. "Tryin'" captures that driving down a dusty desert road vibe he so elegantly brought to life on the aforementioned "Thousand Miles From Nowhere." It is very relaxed, spacious and generally feel good music, like settling into your hotel room on the first day of vacation and anticipating what lies ahead.

He gets a bit more thoughtful on "Waterfall," a song which drifts by at a much slower and pensive pace. The lyrics are simple and goofy but he manages to come off as fatherly, like something he might sing to a young son or daughter. "If I had a big giraffe that tried to dance and make us laugh, every smile and giggle would be free," he sings. It captures a sense of tenderness while also being very catchy.

But he knows how to mix things up. "It's Never Alright" features a gentle piano melody and brassy horns in an aching ballad that urges listeners to keep their heads up. Meanwhile, the vocals on "A Heart Like Mine" are awash in reverb, giving the piece a dingy roadhouse feel, while being propelled by a guitar tone reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

"Missing Heart" is particularly notable. Mostly acoustic, the intro throws in a quick little riff that sounds like Charlie Daniels' "Long Haired Country Boy." It sounds like he's trying to emulate Willie Nelson, while also throwing in some spacey steel pedal on the side. Some Duane Allman inspired lead work closes it out.

The album doesn't tend to get too rowdy or aggressive. The sole exception is "Bright Lights, Dim Smoke," a rollicking honky-tonk stomper recalling the aural assault Dwight laid down on albums like "This Time" nearly two decades ago. It's clear he's getting a bit old to be doing numbers like this, but is still a good song.

The title track sees Dwight aiming for a little lyrical trickery, using pears as a homonym for the word pairs. He's singing about wanting, having, or giving away three pairs of various things. Not as clever as he seems to think, but the effort is there. But the song itself is a winner on all fronts. A smattering of loud alternative guitar, a happy uplifting beat, and even a nice drum fill all work together to fulfill all of the wishes a listener could want.

Granted, 3 Pears is not a deep album. There isn't much to discover on a twentieth listen or even a fifth listen that you probably won't pick up the first time. But Yoakam does accomplish something important. Comeback albums often miss the mark because they typically see a fading star going through the motions making one last desperate swing for the fences, but such is not the case with 3 Pears. 

It doesn't even feel like a comeback album. There's a sense of diversity. He extends his grasp toward disparate and unlikely musical elements and generally ties them together very well, with the only major miss being the messy harmonies on "Nothing But Love." What's imperative with an album like this is that the listener must see the artist making considerable effort, and it's tough to point out any place where he falters. Carry on, Dwight.

Score: 86/100

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kreator & Swallow the Sun bring soft/heavy dynamic to the Masq

Mille Petrozza, frontman of thrash metal outfit Kreator, will accept nothing less than the best moshing from his crowds.

"This is the part of the show where we ask everyone to form the biggest mosh pit possible."

It took some serious convincing on Mille Petrozza's part. The Kreator frontman looked over the sparsely populated floor of Atlanta's Masquerade and did his best to energize them. Attendance can be notoriously bad on Wednesday nights, but this is Kreator. They were one of the quintessential thrash metal bands of the 1980s, and built a huge name establishing speed metal legacy. Though there weren't many, the small throng that turned out to see them were full of fight.

Lights and fog machines were a big part of their set, but the German quartet still showed excellence in delivering intensity and bringing the best out of a crowd. Petrozza is a perfect example of a vintage 80s thrash frontman; his maniacal shrieks and yells made you feel like you were in a dingy L.A. metal club sometime around 1984. Eventually a sporadic pit formed. The moshers must have not been in good shape; they'd start raging for awhile then totally taper off, only to begin again later.

They were aided by Kreator old and new. Setlist staple "Extreme Aggression" is a buzzsaw packed full of sweat soaked adrenaline and rancor, which includes a verse riff that ranks up there with anything the Big Four ever put out. "Hordes of Chaos," a relatively newer number, got fans shrieking along with its "everybody against everybody" closing refrain and its hard edged slashing nature.

Petrozza is still vocally impressive. Most modern death metal growlers sound like copies of one another, but Petrozza's high pitched raspy shriek is all his own. He also took time to poke fun at Accept for skipping out on the show. Their fellow 80s metal titans were originally scheduled to headline, but dropped out for undisclosed reasons. Kreator still got to play to a diverse crowd. There were several metal chicks clad in leather, but there was also one massive afro dude with a glowstick who knocked nearly everyone else out of the way on his charge to get to the front.

Not to be overlooked were Finnish doom metallers Swallow the Sun, fresh off the release of their fifth LP, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird. Their set opened with the 10 minute title cut from that album, although it seemed to go by in half the time. This was my third time seeing them, and they keep getting more intricate. They're not a flashy band; you gotta pay attention to reap the full rewards of what they're sowing. But the beautiful lead melody of "Cathedral Walls" or the visceral, Bodom-like assualt of "Hate, Lead the Way!" are rich elements that anyone could pick up on.

Even now it's still easy to see lead guitarist/head honcho Juha Raivio onstage as he effortlessly conjures his flowing leads and melodies. Keyboardist Aleksi Munter is looking pissed off, while vocalist Mikko Kotamaki is in his trademark position, hunched over with head downturned, gripping his microphone stand while the band devours the earth before them in a ravishing vortex.

Swallow the Sun guitarist Juha Raivio injects subtle melodies and wining leads into his band's sound.