Archive for August, 2010

Special Moves

This new live album from post-rock darlings Mogwai might sound better than their studio records. The effects-laden guitar melodies tower a bit higher, but the inevitable crash of drums and strums is more deafening than ever. Special Moves is a collection of great songs spanning the band’s entire career, accompanied by a DVD of gorgeous, black-and-white footage from a performance in Brooklyn. For the uninitiated, live albums don’t normally act as good introductions. In this case, one could make an exception.

– Stephen Reader

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V.V. Brown virtually exploded onto the music scene this summer – and followed up her popularity in the charts and online by touring with Owl City, doing the rounds on talk shows, and lending her songs to commercials and TV shows. So even if you don’t think you know her music, you probably do. The British singer songwriter mixes pop, soul, rock, punk, and hip-hop to create a seasoned sound that belies her young age. V.V. describes her style as “musical mashed potatoes”-  although I don’t know if Grace Jones, ­­­ Eartha Kitt and Amy Winehouse­­­ qualify as potatoes.

She topped off her busy summer with a tambourine-fueled performance of her latest single Shark in The Water for David Letterman (where she displayed a flair for unusual eye makeup!).

Anyone would be forgiven for taking a break, but she’s just announced additional headlining tour dates for the fall. Let’s be clear though – Studio 360 has been onto her from the beginning. Way back in the chilly days of February we asked V.V. to drop by with her band for an acoustic jam session, and she had Kurt shimmying to songs off her record, Travelling Like the Light.

– Britta Conroy-Randall

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Swag is supposed to impress people.  Right, Soulja Boy?  That’s why I was a little surprised by the Independent Film Channel’s promotional offering for their new series The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.  These folders are sure to make you look unimpressive in the eyes of your co-workers:

Sarcastic filing accessories, at long last!  Now I can put off buying that stuffy attaché case I thought I needed.

Still, these are good for a laugh — who hasn’t ever thought, “Quick, look busy,” while at work?  (Except, of course, the ever-industrious yours truly…)  IFC’s marketing made more sense once I found out that this comedy was about a horribly-misguided office temp who fakes his way to an executive position.

The show debuts on October 1st, with David Cross starring alongside fellow Arrested Development alumnus Will Arnett, a pedigree that sets the bar pretty high for Todd Margaret.  That plus the self-effacing office supplies made me skeptical.  So it was a nice surprise when the teaser episodes IFC sent turned out to be pretty funny.  Just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its swag.

-Stephen Reader

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A map to a 2008 election volunteer booth

I like to collect old road maps, and when the need arises for me to draw a map for a visiting friend or relative, I’ll admit I fancy myself a pretty good cartographer. But sometimes I find myself the artist of a bizarrely scaled and oddly detailed map which names all the trees, statues, and potholes in the vicinity but omits important details like street names.

After finding a map just like this in a trash can in Scotland, graphic designer Kris Harzinski became fascinated with finding and preserving maps drawn by hand. So he founded the Hand Drawn Map Association in order to collect the discarded drawings that he says “accidentally explore the importance of place, ephemera, and documentation” in our daily lives.

A map of Manhattan, drawn circa 1980

His website celebrates these unintentionally beautiful drawings, and gives them props for representing stories from people’s lives around the world. There is the young woman who maps the years since she left home to move to New York City. Or the map of the Istanbul Mountains seen from a plane enroute to Scotland. And the touching map of a young woman suffering arthritis who maps the medicinal injections she receives. The maps on the site are as remarkable and poignant as the stories of the people who drew them.

Some of the best maps from the collection have been compiled into a book, out next month. From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association features a wide variety from the collection, including some drawn by well-known historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Ernest Shackleton. While you’re waiting for the book to be published, visit HDMA’s website – an extremely pleasant place to get lost for a few hours.

– Britta Conroy-Randall

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Before yesterday, I had never heard of Bill Savory.  For this, I’m thankful: If I had known about Savory, I would have wasted a lot of time and energy being very upset with him.  As a sound engineer in the 1930s, he made nearly 1,000 unique recordings of seminal jazz musicians — and refused to let anyone hear them.

Savory pulled this audio from radio broadcasts of live performances, which stations didn’t (or couldn’t) archive.  The standard recording format of the day could only accommodate about three minutes of music — fine for studio sessions but inadequate for the longer, more free-form takes musicians played in nightclubs.  Savory used large, heavy-duty discs to capture the broadcasts of these sprawling performances, right in his own home.  If not for him, incredible performances of classic tunes by the likes of Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Benny Goodman would have existed only in memories.

But imagine fans’ frustration when he wouldn’t share!  Savory was a little eccentric — you’d expect as much from someone who sat at home and recorded his radio for hundreds of hours — and guarded his invaluable recordings so doggedly that only his closest friends ever got to listen.  That left many jazz scholars, who had heard of this sealed treasure trove, waiting and hoping for decades for Savory to have a change of heart.  After his death in 2004, Savory’s son collected the recordings and thankfully consented to arrange their release.  Now the New York Times reports that the National Jazz Museum in Harlem has finally acquired the collection, and expects it to be ready for exhibition within the year.

Savory’s archives are probably more accurate representations of jazz in the 1930s than the studio takes we have now.  The Times describes a six-minute version of a Coleman Hawkins song that’s about twice as long as the studio recording: “By the last chorus, he has drifted into uncharted territory, playing in a modal style that would become popular only when Miles Davis recorded ‘Kind of Blue’ in 1959.”  Hawkins anticipating one of the greatest albums of all time by almost 20 years?  Jazz buffs, set your mouths to watering.

This reminds me of a much more recent controversy involving a giant of the indie-chamber-baroque-folk-pop-singer-songwriter scene: A Sufjan Stevens song, the only recording of which belongs to one Alec Duffy, who won the song in a contest.  It’s practically the same story, with Duffy refusing to release the song publicly.  As expected, some people were really upset by this — but Studio 360’s Eric Molinsky learned that Duffy’s got a pretty convincing argument for keeping the song under wraps.

-Stephen Reader

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House of the Devil
Directed by Ti West

House of the Devil uses a familiar horror movie plot of a babysitting gig gone horribly wrong and turns it into something surprising. Samantha has no idea that her employers are raving Satanists — but before the night is over, she’ll become painfully aware. Rather than confuse torture and gore for genuine scares, director Ti West creates an atmosphere of terror that relies almost entirely on what you don’t see. There will be blood, but not for nearly two-thirds of the film, in which practically nothing “happens.” It’s the most scared you will ever be by an (almost) empty house.

– Stephen Reader

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Don't Forget Us. Grand Isle, LA

The biggest piece of bad news of the last 4 months seems to be getting less bad: the Deepwater Horizon oil well is plugged, and the spill is disappearing from the surface of the Gulf fast.  As the catastrophe fades the photographer Zoe Strauss is doing her part to keep our focus on the disaster – and how it continues to affect people who live on the Gulf.

Strauss grew up – and still lives – in working class South Philadelphia and was a late-comer to photography. She was given a camera for her 30th birthday and found she had a natural talent for portraits and cityscapes that capture the overlooked minutiae of urban life.

Since then she’s documented (in her disarmingly intimate style) the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, completed a decade long project bringing art to Philadelphia’s stretch of the I-95 freeway, published a book of her work, AND shown her images at the 2006 Whitney Biennial.

Strauss says her work is “a narrative about the beauty and difficulty of everyday life” so it makes sense that she felt drawn to document the effects of the recent oil spill on residents of the Gulf Coast.

Oiled Poms, Elmer's Island, LA

Kids on Oiled Beach. Waveland, MS

Strauss named the project On The Beach (after the haunting Nevil Shute novel) and she’s been posting her most striking images on her blog. Recently, Kurt spoke to her about the new project and heard about her suggestion for a fitting punishment for BP executives.

– Britta Conroy-Randall

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