Setting aside "Tree of Life" for a moment, the most visually exciting movie I've seen in a long time is "Vanishing Point," which is showing as part of a road movies series at the awesome Belcourt Theater.
From the very opening of the film, which provides relatively long takes of roadblock bulldozers inching into place on the highway in a small town, I knew we were in for something special. And that's not why we went to see a presumably fun action movie from 1971.
But the visuals kept on giving, whether showing distant cop cars wavering in the desert heat or a tracking shot -- tightly cropped -- on the face of a blonde riding a motorcycle across a field. There are also abstracted images of the lines on the pavement, color field-like images of flickering landscapes and shot after shot of Kowalski's rear view mirror; each mirror glance shows what pursues him, framed by the landscape ahead.
Perhaps these sound typical for a road movie, but I feel "Vanishing Point" has a different pace, whether lingering on an image a bit longer than expect or allowing a bit of camera shake (not in the modern, trendy way) to add some energy.
In this gathering of individuals I feel that "album review" implies certain expectations. Therefore, this is not a review, just my own impressions of the Handsome Furs new album "Sound Kapital." (I will also not be mentioning anything about the full frontal nude album cover...when someone gets naked, it seems that's all anyone wants to talk about. Go figure.)
I love it. It's wonderful. Buy it. I must say, I wasn't thrilled with "Face Control." Although it does contain some great music, I think it lacked heart (I can say that because this is not a review), something I've come to expect from the Handsome Furs via their first album "Plague Park" (which might be all heart) and Dan's recent contributions to Wolf Parade. "Sound Kapital" fulfills everything "Plague Park" was looking towards. Together, "Plague Park" and "Sound Kapital" form a remarkably cohesive diptych; the first all angst and the second all hope.
In describing how I felt about the album to Vanessa, I used the phrase "sadness and inspiration." That is, as opposed to just sadness. It seems "Sound Kapital" has cast off not memories of home but only the anxiety, the nostalgia, and entered a new realm of significance. Songs like "Repatriated," in which Dan sings "I've seen the future and it's coming in low, I've seen the future and I'll never be repatriated" capture a vision of a shrinking world and the artist's endeavor to be a part of the greater "human race." Nations, it would seem, are out-dated. The statement also rings with a certain Faulkner-the-last-chapter-of-The Sound and the Fury vibe.
Despite the fact that I might disagree with the idea of a united humanity (not that it wouldn't be swell, I just don't think it's possible, though, as Jimmy Stewart quips in the film "Harvey": "well, we must keep trying, mustn't we!"), I intend to tell him that I think he's onto something if I get the chance at their upcoming concert in Detroit. He expresses something in this album which might be the beginnings of a contemporary romantic movement. I think Wordsworth would like it...but I don't think Dan would like Wordsworth. Summary: "Sound Kapital" is Wordsworth without the daffodils.
Whenever someone starts talking about people living together in a community, I think they're onto something. Coupled with, to use another Faulkner reference, "the human heart in conflict with itself" in "Plague Park" (not lacking in the new album), I think/hope this music will go far.
Katie recently reminded me of how ridiculous the waiting lists were for new-release books while we were in Minneapolis. Some never became available in our three months there.
But today we got our Nashville library cards and then scooped up tons of great stuff. Among our take: TV on the Radio, Black Mountain, bookmaking books, Nicholson Baker's "The Anthologist," non-fiction like "TYPE: The Secret History of Letters," and reference like "Armed and Dangerous, a writer's guide to weapons" and "Modern Guns Identification and Values, fifteenth edition." On DVD we'll be watching, "The Puffy Chair," a road trip comedy; and "Circus Palestina," a strange foreign flick about a runaway circus tiger.
But the greatest grab of all was the B-52s "Anthology," which proves how absolutely rocking they were.
We love the inter-library loan system. We'll most likely get items from the main downtown branch, which sports amazingly huge and beautiful murals that depict the cityscape over the centuries, then return them at the small branch just 7 blocks from home.
It appears that, in the loudness wars, loudness won. Because loudness (not volume, loudness) degrades the aesthetic quality of the music in order to get your attention, and getting-your-attention isn’t itself aesthetic, I propose a new, formalist aesthetics of Indie Rock.
Loudness, as it has infected Indie Rock, means that all the frequencies are mixed up too high. Not only can you not hear dynamics, which have been eliminated altogether, you can barely hear the tone of individual instruments. Recordings of Bartok, Dylan, and Black Sabbath might have moved listeners; only now must we take movement literally. Because even superbly composed Indie Rock generally sounds like shit when you listen to the CD, we need a movement-based aesthetics—movement in a physical sense: change in place across time.
I propose that Indie Rock is aesthetically excellent insofar as, on some standard stereo equipment at some standard volume, it moves paper objects across flat surfaces. The type of surface and the distance between the surface (and paper object) and the stereo equipment will both need to be specified. We all agree that, when talking aesthetics, there’s no Good (full stop), but only good-at-this-or-that, taken as a single, multiple-place predicate. For instance, when talking about movies, we might identify some standards for composition and editing, and then say that this or that or Days of Heaven is ok, good, or masterful at meeting those standards.
To those skeptical of my approach, I answer: Because we know that the loudness wars have made Indie Rock songs sound like traffic noise with rhythm and melody, what’s better for them to do than to move paper objects across flat surfaces?
In order to develop this as a serious aesthetic approach, we will need both to recruit some persons who excel at making small paper objects, and then to determine which frequencies or frequency-patterns best move certain objects across flat surfaces. It would be patently unfair to use only paper wads. We should include paper swans, slightly crumpled receipts, and even pieces of cardboard boxes.
Work needs to be done; I don’t deny it. I support a wide promulgation of different paper shapes, and detailed study of the loud, acoustic properties that they respond to. As with formalist aesthetics generally, we need to determine what Indie Rock we currently call excellent before we can develop our aesthetic framework. What is important is that we recognize that, whatever the details, the best claim Indie Rock has to aesthetic excellence is its ability to move paper objects across a flat surface.