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It started with Finn’s initial concept of broadcasting sessions that would ultimately become the album on the Internet. These were, to my knowledge, live, and certainly not heavily-edited electronic press kits. He had this crazy plan to get the players together with this batch of songs and practice, practice, practice. When they were confident in what they were to do, they’d record it all in one fell swoop, together as a single unit, just as it used to be. Thus, Out of Silence is more a live album than most live albums are.
But what about the songs? The first thing the listener will need to grapple with is that none of the songs on Out of Silence are rockers. In a sense, the record is to Finn as Apple Venus was to XTC. These are pop songs built around the piano, orchestral strings, a choir, and occasionally rock band instrumentation, but these instances are few. Once that expectation is managed, what the listener is left with is what will arguably be 2017’s most beautiful album. Finn, sounding nearly as he did in the late-’70s with Split Enz, has no need to bend and twist the note for effect. His vocal lines, even when he utilizes a falsetto, hit the mark dead-center. The piano tone breathes. The melodies of these tunes are intended to dig deep into the listener’s brain and stay for a very long time.
And so they do. “Alone” finds him paired with brother and sometime-bandmate Tim Finn, sharing a sentiment I think most people would recognize: being physically placed in a bustling and overcrowded city, but feeling so alien and apart from all of them that it might as well be deserted. “Independence Day” is elegant, but not arrogant or pompous. That’s another thing Out of Silence manages to avoid. When artists mix the elements of orchestral backing and choirs, there’s always that temptation to play the role of the “composer,” to be stuffy and “good for the listener” as if this was an educational endeavor. The arrangements here never serve their own ends but are, instead, always in service to the song.
Even the overt message of “The Law Is Always On Your Side,” woven into a narrative of a man taken into custody for what might be a crime he didn’t commit, is delivered thoughtfully through the skills of the songwriter and not of a protester using the song as a delivery method. Again, Finn barely sounds different from the moment you first heard Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
If there’s a problem with the album — and wouldn’t it be nice if most albums suffered such issues — it is that each of the ten songs, and the album as a whole, are really short. Each track is complete, mind you, and certainly feel like complete statements, but are carried off with such grace that you actually would have liked another minute or two with them.
So some may carp that this is “chamber pop” and they would prefer Finn to hit that rock and roll again. Others may gripe that what is here is too mature, a description that shouldn’t ever be derogatory. Even more will say that his methodology in the record’s creation slightly smacks of a gimmick. What Out of Silence actually is, outside of any naysayer’s contrivances, is Neil Finn’s best solo album, full of organic performances that are allowed to live fully in a digital age where such is incredibly rare.
Shape-shifter Don van Vliet might be deceased but his spirit – and that of his ever-evolving Magic Band – is alive and well in Pittsburgh. Local band Radon Chong channel the Captain with passionate precision, vibrant originality, and colorful flare on its nine-song debut, the mind bogglingly good I Keep On Talking To You, available now on cassette through Philadelphia’s Single Girl Married Girl.
Sounding like Beefheart had picked up the Slint mantle and adopted a mission of crafting angular post-rock, Radon Chong drops eerie bridges a la Cheer-Accident but ends sounding somehow quirkier, somehow more cerebral. This is calculated music, meant to sound as instinctive as a knotted rope. In short, dissonance has rarely sounded so good.
On “Farm Pays For Me,” the quintet’s multi-guitar, frontal-lobe assault results in bridges that are not so much interwoven as tangled. Bass and treble elements stumble over each other and it’s a minor miracle that the band’s drummer can keep time. While fellow Pittsburghers Night Vapor have toyed with these recipes in a more post-metal/avant-punk vein, Radon Chong takes them past illogical conclusions, crafting music that is both rarely distorted, in the electric guitar sense, and completely distorted, in most other senses of the word. The middle of “Cold Hands,” all barking over guitar verses falling apart, is enthralling stuff. Glassy guitar figures backed by chugging bass and subtle whispers on “Second To One” are downright riveting. The opening of “Grandma Anthropology,” where the band’s front-man waxes poetic over driving refrains, will knock you down.
What to make of their place in the City of Steel? The band is, surprisingly, in good company, as more and more look to forebears like Beefheart or prog icons and offer up compositions that are increasingly nuanced and demand repeated listening. (Aaron Myers-Brooks, I’m looking at you.) But I Keep On Talking To You is also a singular accomplishment – it leaves just about everything else being served up out there looking a little clueless or elementary. This is not music for everyone – on its Bandcamp page, Radon Chong hints at this with its “serious music” tag – but, for the adventurous out there, it won’t leave your tape deck. Essential listening for the year of our Lord 2017.
Another good example is Benny Spellman. He was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida in 1931, but music wasn’t his first love, football was. His love for the game gained him a scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began his singing career in Baton Rouge, hooking up with Alvin Battiste’s jazz group. But then the Army called, Spellman served, and when he got out he went back to Pensacola.
In 1959, fate intervened. Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns were on tour in Florida when they wrecked their truck. Spellman stepped up and offered to drive the band back to New Orleans. Once they were back in the Crescent City, Smith offered Spellman the opportunity to become one of the Clowns. Spellman took him up on the offer and became a New Orleans resident from that point on.
Fortunately for Spellman, he had arrived in town at a great time. The local R&B scene was flourishing and before long he had a deal with a new record label called Minit. His first recordings for the label didn’t get much attention and Spellman survived by working as a background singer on other people’s records.
Once again Spellman found himself in the right place at the right time. This time he happened to be in the studio when Allen Toussaint was producing the session that would result in Ernie K Doe’s massive hit, “Mother-In-Law.” Toussaint, who wrote the song, wasn’t very happy with the way the session was going and he called on Spellman to help out. Spellman sang the distinctive bass part that put the song over the top.
That was the start of a relationship that found Spellman recording a double-sided single featuring two Toussaint songs, “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” and “Fortune Teller.” The record turned out to be Spellman’s biggest hit, reaching #28 R&B chart and #80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record spent six weeks on the chart.
“Well, ‘Lipstick Traces’… the guy, Benny Spellman, that sang the bass part on “Mother-In-Law” — he didn’t know what it was worth at the time we were doing it, but when ‘Mother-In-Law’ came out and sold, and went to number one, let’s say, Benny Spellman that sang the bass part made sure that everyone within the sound of his voice got to know that he sang that part,” Toussaint told Terry Gross of NPR.
“And then he would go around — he would gig — based on [the fact that] he sang the low part on “Mother-In-Law,” Toussaint added. “And he encouraged me … with much force, to write him a song that he could use that concept. And one result of that was the song ‘Lipstick Traces.’”
The Rolling Stones covered “Fortune Teller,” and the O’Jays released their version of “Lipstick Traces,” but Spellman never had another chart record. By 1968 he was done with the record business and he went home to Pensacola where he got a job as a Miller Beer salesman. He tried for a musical comeback in the 1980s but a stroke cut the effort short.
In 2009, Spellman, by the residing in an assisted living facility, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he died at the age of 79.
**Big ‘ol spoilers in this review**
Fan reactions to the conclusion of “Twin Peaks: The Return” on Showtime has been mixed. From my unscientific survey of a number of discussion boards on the show, there’s a lot of frustration with Sunday’s series finale. Some folks did enjoy the ride and thought Lynch and Frost took viewers on a weird journey that shouldn’t succumb to a conventional ending. Others were downright angry at Lynch and Frost for manipulating them in nefarious ways. But that’s the problem and brilliance of Lynch and Frost. Their work on “Twin Peaks” defied expectations, played with conventions, and reoriented TV storytelling for the better.
Part of why Lynch and Frost were able to pave new ground in storytelling and filmmaking is because Lynch is essentially a mixed-media artist — and not just a “director.” He paints, he sculpts, he writes and performs music, he draws oddball comic strips, and, yes, he’s a filmmaker/TV director. Lynch is many things, but he’s not a hack who does the expected thing, plays it safe, and satisfies movie studios or TV producers in their quest to make investors and advertisers happy. He’s interested in the way in which art (writ large) can provoke larger conversations about what it all means. He’s not going to give you the answers, but he’ll supply you with enough imagery and sound that you can take away what you will from his work. So, for those who like to dissect shows to the point where they can predict what’s going to happen before it happens, Lynch and Frost had one final trick to pull out of their magician’s hat — and it wasn’t a rabbit. Instead, we got a dose of ambiguity with a heaping helping of WTF.
If there’s a Lynchian theme that’s been part of his work since “Blue Velvet” it’s the idea that we live in multiple worlds. What is thought of as a given (i.e., the placid suburb of Lumberton in “Blue Velvet,” the quirky town of Twin Peaks, or the “Gosh! Golly!” fantasy of the first half of “Mulholland Drive”) are just layers of what lies beneath, beyond, or between. Which is the real world and which is a dream, another dimension, or timeline? Those are the doors and walls that Lynch (mostly) keeps separated. We get glimpses, snapshots, and mirror images of those worlds, but rarely do we get answers. “Twin Peaks: The Return” is about those multiple worlds. Doppelgangers abound, realities shift, time is not linear, and what we’re viewing may all be a dream. That makes the show frustrating for those who went on this journey, waited patiently through episodes that moved a glacial pace, were given many plotlines, but only got partial resolutions to the narrative threads.
Episodes 17 and 18 did two things for the viewer: it brought a sense of conclusion to the fate of Dougie Jones — who was the focus of so much of the series. Dougie, as those who have watched the show know, is a doppelganger created by another doppelganger of Agent Cooper. Dougie is an “insurance policy” created by Agent Cooper’s doppelganger, Mr.C (aka Dark Coop). Dark Coop is on a quest to find coordinates that will lead him to something greater than his fate that awaits him in the Black Lodge. For the most part, it works. When Agent Cooper is allowed to leave the Black Lodge after being stuck there for 25 years, he replaces Dougie and his life. But Cooper/Dougie is a man unable to fully communicate or understand the world. His ability to only repeat the last word he’s heard made for some comical moments, but the Dougie storyline got bogged down as a Johnny One-Note character. However, his return home at the end of the series put a fine point on the how Lynch believes in the power of love. Another plotline centered on the showdown between the forces of evil (Dark Coop and Bob) and the forces of good in Twin Peaks (Sheriff Truman, Lucy, Andy, Freddie, the Mitchum brothers, Naido/Diane, and Hawk). This part of the story had the most conventional resolution — well, I should say conventional for David Lynch.
The other plotline about finding and saving Laura saw Agent Cooper traveling to another dimension to meet with Phillip Jeffries where the key to the next part of his journey was revealed in the number 8 — which, when you lay on its side, is the symbol for infinity ∞. For Cooper, it seems he’s locked in an infinite loop of time where realities shift, and names change, but faces remain the same. His desire to go back to a specific date (February 23, 1989) is crucial for him because he hopes change the fate of Laura Palmer by saving her from the destructive path and eventual death at the hands of her father (who is possessed by Bob). Jefferies has the ability to send Cooper back to the date he wishes to go back to, but Jefferies also says things like: “Say hello to Gordon if you see him. He’ll remember the unofficial version. This is where you’ll find Judy.” “Unofficial version” of what? The first “Blue Rose” case? And Judy? Well, Judy is a diner in the next episode, so…Judy or Jiāo Dài is an extreme negative force in the diner? Jefferies also adds: “There may be… someone. Did you ask me this? There it is. You can go in now. Cooper remember.” Who is that someone? Did Cooper ask about that “someone?” And what does he have to remember? Jesus, this is more cryptic than the conversations at The Bang Bang Club by characters we never see again — and slightly more frustrating than finding Billy.
When we get to episode 18 (the finale), it becomes a strange road trip. I should note, that from here on out, I’ll be recapping the episode — and that means a ton o’ spoilers abound.
First, Cooper goes back to the Black Lodge where the one-armed man has the same conversation he did in the first episode (asking the question: “Is it future…or is it past?”) the evolved Arm also asks the same questions, but adds, “Is this the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” This is the same question Audrey asked earlier is the series, but we don’t know what became of her — other than she was transported from The Bang Bang Club to a white room where she wanted to know what the hell was happening (Yeah, so do we!)
From there, Cooper is allowed to leave the lodge and appears from behind the red curtains in a grove of sycamore trees to Diane waiting for him. But, like Cooper says at the end of the episode, I wanted to know what year it was. Diane and Coop are clearly aware of the shift in realities, and Diane wants to know if it’s really Cooper. He says yes, and asks the same of Diane (who also says yes). But how do we know they are who they say they are?
Next, the two of them are driving down a two lane highway in a car from the late 50s/early 60s (Again…what year is this? The FBI doesn’t have vehicles like this in their fleet). They eventually come to a point where they are exactly 430 miles from their starting point (Presumably Twin Peaks). This is a portal where they can cross over to another reality, and when they do their identities may change — how much, they aren’t certain. What does happen, though, is Cooper’s unending mission to find Laura and save her does not change. Diane makes the trip with Coop, and when they arrive at their new reality, they have one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes I’ve seen depicted on screen (big or small). Diane on top, looking more pained than pleasured, while Cooper just lays there unmoved by the experience. Unlike when Dougie/Coop had sex with Diane’s half-sister Janey-E (which resulted in ecstasy for both of them) Diane acts as if she’s molding Cooper into another person while looking up toward the ceiling.
When the deed is done, and Coop awakes in the morning, he’s alone in a different motel (seems he and Diane “crossed over” yet again into another timeline). There’s a note addressed to “Richard” from “Linda” saying that she doesn’t recognize him and that it’s not going to work anymore. She says she’ll never see him again, and that’s that. Cooper eventually exits the motel room, gets into a different car from the one he was driving before they “crossed over” and is now in Odessa, Texas. While driving through the town, Cooper sees a diner called Judy’s, where he enters and asks about “the other waitress” who works there. The waitress serving him coffee (which he drinks without his usual glee) says that the other waitress has the day off (in fact, she’s been off for three days). As Cooper is sipping his coffee, he gets into a fight with some locals at the diner who are harassing the waitress. He shoots one in the foot, grabs their guns and deposits them in a deep fryer. Coop gets the address of “the other waitress” and while parked outside of her house, notices a power pole with the number 6 on it (the number 6 on power poles has become synonymous with Bob and his crew’s ability to transport themselves to other locations via electric current).
After knocking on the door, a woman who looks like Laura Palmer answers, and says her name is Carrie Page. Cooper convinces her to accompany him to Twin Peaks, where he will reconnect her with her mother, Sarah. However, when Cooper utters the word “Sarah,” Carrie starts getting confused (as if she’s remembering something). They take a long road trip from Odessa to Twin Peaks and eventually end up at the Palmer’s home. Carrie says she still doesn’t recognize anything. The two of them go to the door, and it’s answered by a woman who says her name is Alice Tremond — who is the current owner. We also find out that the house was owned by a Mrs. Chalfont before the Tremond’s purchased it (Note: A woman who used the last names of Chalfont and Tremond were part of the group that consisted of Black Lodge beings like Bob, The Arm, some Woodsmen, and others who live above the convenience store that phases in and out of existence).
Cooper gets lost in thought at the mention of those names. As he and Carrie are walking back to their car, Coop stops and asks what year it is. That’s when the voice of Sarah Palmer can be heard saying “Laura” from the Tremond’s home. Carrie screams, the lights in the home go dark, and the screen goes black…and then slowly fades up to reveal the iconic image of Laura in the Black Lodge whispering in Cooper’s ear.
That’s it. The show’s over. No final curtain call, but plenty of questions as to what it all means. Some have attempted to untangle the threads and re-weave them together in a coherent pattern, but really, if we’re to take the number 8 (or infinity symbol) as a clue (along with the notion that we all live inside a dream, but are not sure who the dreamer is), Lynch and Frost leave it to us, the viewers, to decide what it all means. In my view, if Cooper, Laura, and Judy are stuck in a Mobius strip where multiple realities exist in an unending battle of good and evil, then it’s a struggle that ends well in some realities, and poorly in others. The question of who the dreamer is in this dream centers on Laura (since she’s the one) or Cooper (who seems very aware it’s all a dream). If Laura is the dreamer, then the dream is that of a teenage girl who suffered horrible abuse in her life. If it’s Cooper’s dream, then it’s the dream of saving an archetype of good from the dark and torturous side of evil. Either way, the dreamer is dreaming of a world where these struggles never cease to exist. And that’s the world we live in. Tranquility is often pierced by the sword of violence, but violence — while raging with fury — tends to have a shorter reign allowing the stability of harmony to pervade for longer durations. But, as we know, it’s not an either/or world. Just below the surface of something good, lurks something rotten. Love and hate, peace and violence, life and death…all these dualities exist together as forces that wax and wane like the cycles of the moon (a prominent visual in “Twin Peaks”) in the eternal recurrence of the dreamer’s dream.
Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross: Episode Twenty Eight – so much to talk about – so little time. Until the next one…
Right out of the chute, Jon and Rob set to task the insanity and imbalance in Congress as well as the President’s ponderous speech concerning Afghanistan; the sad news that the Village Voice – an institution – is ceasing its printed edition; a very interesting segment on review writing and walking the balance when it comes to publicity reps; the failure of the “big summer box office blockbuster” in 2017; a re-appreciation of The Rain Parade’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip; new music by Audrey X and the brilliant album from Somerdale – plus, “In Our Heads” (naturally).
Come to where you can find a safe haven – sit down and tune in…
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Twenty Eight
The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.
In 2014, Liberatore was in a terrible car accident in Nashville and, since then, has been on a long and arduous road to recovery. His bandmates in Silhouette Rising, talented as they are noble, are calling it quits with one final release, the Happiness III project of which “Technicolor” is a track. Joined by guests including Tye Zamora (formerly of Alien Ant Farm) and Howi Spangler of Ballyhoo!, the band seeks to realize Liberatore’s musical vision since he, himself, cannot right now.
“Technicolor’s” beautiful message to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary is inspiring, even without the heart-wrenching back story. In its video, the band takes turns performing good deeds, like paying for a stranger’s coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and giving a cute pup a treat. The song itself is a driving, power-ballady track with stellar harmonies that’s a bit throwback, but feels right at home on the indie scene today. Where other songs of this ilk might feel contrived or superficial, this one is wholly authentic.
Check out the video for Silhouette Rising’s “Technicolor” below!
Developed over a collaboration spanning the globe, “Wrong” is the brainchild of Emmy-winning composer Brian Wayy and Iranian electronic musician Masoud Fuladi, or Caspian Beat as he’s better know. Though the two have never met IRL (as the kids say), their apparent chemistry on this track is its hallmark.
Underscored by a video that lulls the viewer into an intoxicating location (Santorini in the Greek isles) with a quintessential “music video girl,” Swedish model Bella Cirnski, at first glance, it’s a basic punch-up over a summer fling where the singer “don’t need your love, I need the rush.” As the song and video continue, however, it’s obvious that it’s an internal war over a bad decision made during a holiday far removed from the real world. The video ends with an appeal over text (“She didn’t mean anything to me”) that goes unresolved, proving that what happens during summer doesn’t always fade away when fall arrives.
Check out the video for MaWayy’s “Wrong” below!
Where many songs agonize over breakups, “All Good” celebrates the opportunity to focus on oneself after a relationship ends. Written by a team in Atlanta, LeGrand told the New Nine that he likes “to think that the song found me. It came to me at a time in my life where everything it was saying just made so much sense to me…. The song’s about being okay with yourself.”
This rising artist obviously recognizes catchy, Top 40-worthy material when he hears it, and his rendition of this ultra-trendy pop song will be dancing in your head all day. Check out the video below!
Pianist/composer Rachel Grimes follows up her best-of-2015 The Clearing solo outing with the magnificent Through The Sparkle, a seven-song collaboration with the French chamber ensemble astrid, out today digitally, on CD and on vinyl through U.K.-based Gizeh Records. This thing’s gotta be heard to be believed.
Striking, again, with some of her finest work, Grimes’ piano flashes more contemporary flourishes than the heart-wrenching Romanticism of her landmark years with Rachel’s, everyone’s favorite post-classical ensemble. While there are still gentle, lulling notes – I’m looking to the album-closing “Le Petit Salon” and, again, the epic “M1” – Grimes’ metronomic figures on “The Herald en Masse” and “Mossgrove & Seaweed” positively pulsate with life, lending a record laced with restraint loads of emotional force.
This says nothing of astrid multi-instrumentalist Vanina Andreani, whose violin wraps its fingers around Grimes’ ephemeral melodies in much the way Christian Frederickson’s viola did in Rachel’s. Guillaume Wickel is brilliant on bass clarinet, drummer/percussionist Yvan Ros does a fine job anchoring the melancholy, and didn’t I already mention the eerie repercussions of Cyril Secq’s guitar? This ensemble, featuring Grimes, seems to have a beautiful way of making even the most composed moment seem instinctive, lending a gentle humanity to the proceedings.
There are less “classical” and more “post-classical” moments on the record, too, like the haunted “The Theme,” which starts with an emotive bass clarinet figure and kalimba, and expands, more often through the space between notes than the notes themselves, with an electric guitar right out of Hotel2Tango in Montreal. Or there’s “Hollis,” which punctuates Grimes’ refrains with more kalimba, subtle bass, and a shuffling, jazzy backbeat before descending into a field of mathy beeps that could be summoned from piano and, maybe, a Fender Rhodes.
The whole record is breathtaking gossamer – definite year-end-list material.