More praise for Beach House’s masterpiece “Bloom”

“Bloom” by Beach House

Confession time: I wasn’t the biggest fan of Beach House’s 2010 effort Teen Dream. Despite being a follower of the band since their 2006 debut, there was something about Teen Dream that felt entirely too, well, polished. The production took the dusty, haunted quality of Beach House’s sound and smoothed it over until it sounded like a LP you might have found in the attic of your parents’ house, right next to the Stevie Nicks records.

After the massive critical and commercial success of Teen Dream, it became increasingly clear that the band wasn’t going to be able to go back its gauzy, low-fi roots. Thus, I found it difficult to muster much anticipation for their follow-up, titled Bloom. As is frequently the case, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bloom is, no exaggeration, one of the most beautiful-sounding records of the past ten years. It’s an album that was somehow impossible to predict Beach House would make and yet serves as the perfect summation of their entire career.

I wish I had a Beach House

Bloom represents Beach House in Widescreen mode. Their canvas has never been bigger, their colors never more lush. We have gone from black-and-white to startling Technicolor. This is evident from the opening track, “Myth,” which envelopes the listener’s ears with escalating clean guitar arpeggios, the guitar an instrument featured more prominently in the mix than ever before. Live drums add to the feeling that the listener is experiencing a full-on band for the first time rather than a chamber pop two-piece.

Track two, “Wild,” is another early highlight and easily my favorite song on the album. Once again the guitars are noticeably louder than on any of Beach House’s previous efforts, yet it proves to be the perfect fit as Alex Scally creates evocative, heavenly guitar lines reminiscent of early Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals; lyrics like “The earth is wild/We’ve got no time“; and the woozy headrush of the band’s sound contribute to an almost-spiritual vibe.

“Deeper than you and me/It’s farther than you could see”

The highlights continue with Victoria Legrand’s voice cascading like a waterfall at the start of “The Hours,” her “ahhhhs” soon giving way to Scally’s layered instrumentationThe dizzying keyboards of “Wishes” serve as a callback to Beach House’s first two albums, but they’re layered with acoustic plucking and live drums for a more expansive sound. Once the effects-laden guitars kick in after the chorus, it’s difficult not to feel like one is experiencing the rebirth of Souvlaki-era Slowdive.

As always, Victoria Legrand’s melodies are on point and her lyrics continually probe at “That moment when a memory aches” – a feeling of not-quite-nostalgia for the here and now, for the heart-pangs that will dissipate as soon as the sun comes up.

How’s it supposed to feel?” she asks, but listening to Bloom we know entirely how. When the elements come together on a record as immaculately-crafted as this, an album can become more than an album. Bloom is a nothing short of a religious experience for dream pop devotees, a record that transcends both the trends and the times. This is one for the ages.

Myth makers

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Looking back at the Blonde Movement

The Blonde Movement

The 80’s music scene was an era uniquely full of ‘movements,’ whether we’re talking about post-punk, goth, or the C86 tape. One of the most curious of these musical trends was the “Blonde Movement,” a name given by the British press to a select group of UK pop bands who all appeared around the mid-to-late 80’s. Dubbed “Blonde” since they all had one thing in common besides their giant pop hooks: female vocalists with blonde hair.

Silly, yes, but it’s difficult to write off the Blonde Movement when it gave indie pop fans some of the best music of the entire decade. Here I look back at my three favorite bands from the scene.

“The Primitives” Secrets

The Primitives

The signature, and I would argue the best, band of the Movement would have to be The Primitives. The Primitives had an interesting lifespan in that they started out as rough-around-the edges, fuzzed out guitar pop band in the vein of the Jesus & Mary Chain. Their early gigs were championed by the notoriously difficult-to-impress Morrissey.

However, by the time they got around to issuing a proper album, The Primitives’ sound had been completely smoothed over and glossed up by studio trickery. Their studio albums  are not without their pop gems, particularly 1988’s Lovely and its lead single “Crash,” but if you really want to hear The Primitives at their finest I recommend you track down a copy of Buzz Buzz Buzz. This 2-disc compilation assembles together much of the Primitives’ early recordings, demos, and live appearances. It’s there that you can experience their sound in its purest form.

Regardless, here’s a single from their 1989 album Pure and one of their best songs, “Secrets”:

“Transvision Vamp” Landslide of Love

Transvision Vamp

Transvision Vamp are, for me, the most purely fun band of the entire scene. At the same time they seemed to draw a lot of ire from critics, probably because lead singer Wendy James came across as something of an ego-driven, attention-baiting prima donna. But, hey, that’s part of the appeal!

Their 1989 album Velveteen is a must-have simply because almost every other song was a single. The record is full of endlessly catchy power pop tunes that serve as throwbacks to a simpler era, when all you needed for a hit song was three minutes of unrequited longing and a killer guitar lick. The music video for “I Want Your Love” is some incredibly trashy fun as Wendy James ends up moaning in ecstasy and stroking her microphone stand within the first thirty seconds:

“The Darling Buds” Pop Said…

The Darling Buds

The Darling Buds are another band whose sound changed over the course of their career, although this time it was arguably for the better. Their 1988 debut album Pop Said… is a case of ‘more of the same’ as far as the Blonde Movement is concerned: serviceable but unremarkable guitar pop. When the band returned with their third LP in 1992, titled Erotica, The Darling Buds had refashioned themselves as the post-Loveless heirs to the shoegaze throne.

Don’t let the Madonna-channeling title fool you, Erotica is a shoegazer’s paradise. When I first discovered this CD for a ridiculously cheap price at a secondhand store, I felt like I’d stumbled upon one of the genre’s best kept secrets. Erotica has all the hallmarks that shoegaze fans look for: the massive, woozy guitar sound; the intricate arrangements; the breathy female vocals, and they’re all delivered in a compelling fashion.

Unfortunately, the big single “Please Yourself” is far from the best track  on the album and it only hints at the greatness of Erotica. But it should offer an enjoyable 90’s alt-rock vibe for fans of the early Smashing Pumpkins:

Other bands in the scene you might want to check out: The Heart Throbs, Voice of the Beehive. Catch them at Strangeways Radio.

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The teenage heart pangs of “The Myth of the American Sleepover”

"The Myth of the American Sleepover"

The Myth of the American Sleepover is a 2010 indie film now streaming in HD on Netflix Instant. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, Myth was filmed in and around the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. It eventually screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and won a Special Jury Prize at SXSW that year.

As a Detroit native, I knew I would have to get around to seeing this film eventually, so I was grateful when it ended up on Netflix back in December. The experience of watching Myth was entirely surreal: thanks to the Red One camera and the talents of cinematographer James Laxton (Medicine For Melancholy, For a Good Time, Call…), the suburbs of Southeastern Michigan are transformed into a golden-lit teenage utopia. Throughout the film, I kept saying to myself: I live here. This area doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as this.

The suburbs are killing us

But in Myth, Detroit does. Even if you’ve never set a foot in the mitten state, this movie should ring true with its down-to-earth tale of teenage longing and the pangs of first love. The story follows several teens of various ages, from around 14 to 18, as they try to make the last weekend of summer count. This is a quiet film in the sense that David Robert Mitchell doesn’t create drama for the sake of drama; there are no histrionics here.

Instead, relationships are explored through the subtlest of gestures: a glance of longing between two teens while shopping with their parents at the grocery store, an exchange that is edited down to the glacial pace that these kids must experience it as;

In the Mood For Love...and Groceries

a hand lingering next to a hand on the rim of a bathtub; a seductive look as a cigarette is shared.

The look

The characters’ closest kept secrets are revealed through pure accident. A photograph is stolen from a trophy case on a return visit to an old high school. A personal letter slips out from between the covers of a brother’s dirty magazines. A diary is carelessly left out during a sleepover; a girl reads it and learns that her host is a fellow rival for her boyfriend’s affection.

You had to sneak into my room just to read my diary

And yet none of these conflicts boil over into the predictable bout of tears or shouting matches you’d expect in so many other teen films. The characters are simply allowed to be, to exist and try to savor their last night of freedom as summer wanes. They are brought to life by a uniformly excellent cast of young, unprofessional actors from all over the state of Michigan. I expect big things from these kids if they decide to continue with acting.

"I'll tell you if there's a ghost behind you."

The Myth of the American Sleepover has been labeled the point where ‘mumblecore’ meets the teen movie. However, I would have to say David Robert Mitchell seems to draw as much inspiration from Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood For Love) and the French New Wave as he does anything else that is going on in American independent cinema right now. Granted, there is some room for improvement. I wish the script had an ear for authentic teen-speak to compliment its tale of adolescent longing, but sadly the dialogue is the only blemish on an otherwise superb film.

Spread the love

David Robert Mitchell is currently gearing up to shoot his next film, Ella Walks the Beach, this summer with Haley Bennett (Gregg Araki’s Kaboom). Here’s the IMDB plot description:

A young woman breaks up with her boyfriend and runs away, spending a night and a day traveling along an iconic California beach, chatting with strangers, playing music, having adventures, and testing the waters of ‘being single’.

Which is most fitting, as Mitchell is particularly adept at capturing on film that elusive moment in life where one stands at the precipice of something new…at once nostalgic for an idealized past that may or may not have actually been experienced, and yet curiously aware that the dawn of a new day will bring something grander with it. Sometimes the most exciting moment to depict in art is simply that act of waiting for what comes next.

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The Worst Writing Jobs on the Web

Writer angst

The only hard and fast rule I set for this blog was to write solely about the things I love since there’s already too much negativity out there on the web. However, sometimes you have to make an exception. I’m one of the many people who visits the website Freelance Writing Gigs on a regular basis, hoping against hope that there’s going to be a halfway decent writing job available on there.

There never is. Instead, there’s stuff like this. Here I’ve included snippets from some of the funniest or most groan worthy writing gigs on the web. I tried to save the best for last.

Location: Vancouver

Entire Posting: “Looking for an accomplished ghost writer for a novel project. Trust me.. It will be good.

Location: Manhattan

Excerpt: “I’m looking for someone to help me develop a short screen play…The rate of pay is negotiable. You must understand that this film is gritty and raw and urban.”

Location: Detroit

Excerpt: “We are seeking 1 to 2 native English speakers…to paraphrase 15,000 sentences to come up with 45,000 more sentences.”

The life of a writer

Location: San Francisco

Excerpt: “I am looking for a passionate conservative to polish up my book for publishing. I expect to pay well for the right right (wing) writer (cool pun, huh!)

Location: New York City

Excerpt: “My high-concept comedy (the tone and raunch of Bridesmaids but with a male protagonist) was eagerly awaited by my high power agent and my influential Los Angeles manager. I finished the first draft and–oh no!–they do not deem it ready to ‘go out.’ They say the voice doesn’t sound like me. Maybe I (a middle aged woman) now need to bring onboard a young man to write the next draft...”

Based on a true story

Location: Boston

Excerpt: “Seeking an experienced script writer to assist in preparing a script to be marketed for film production. The story is based on actual events and is predominately autobiographical in nature. It involves the steep, unlikely rise of an overly-ambitious man who finds himself in an affair that leads to a life of crime and a cataclysmic fall resulting in total loss of his personal and professional life, landing him in prison.” 

Location: Detroit

Excerpt: “we need a very good, experiencing ghost writer….U GOT TALENT??  …New Pilot show Motor City Wives promises to bring the goods, including a firsthand look at a transgender woman who recently made headlines for alleging that JoJo Simmons [Son of Rev. Run] tried to solicit fellatio from her online via Twitter. Of course JoJo denied the claims, but Julissa, the woman in question, claimed to have proof . Currently looking for Trade for Creditsor percentage or an offer….working towards a movie screen play too”

Location: Brooklyn

Excerpt: “Hello. We are seeking for an experienced screenwriter with grate talent for dialogs for a feature movie (dark drama) based on a true story…We are writing for a story were to individuals get together on a unhealthy relationship without worrying about the repercussions they will have on others and at the end specially on themselves…Compensation: Payment for each week will be $400.”

A reasonable response

I hope this was entertaining. Writers, let’s try to keep our sanity.

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The ghosts of rural America come alive in Laura Ellen Scott’s “Curio”

"Curio" by Laura Ellen Scott

I heard about Curio via JMWW’s wonderful interview with the author, Laura Ellen Scott, in their Winter 2012 issue. The book is a collection of 21 short stories, published by Uncanny Valley Press in January ’11, and available for the cost of a Tweet or Facebook post (re: free) on their website. To put it simply, you should not pass up this offer. Curio is one of the best fiction collections I’ve read in some time. Laura Ellen Scott’s writing takes a look below the surface of rural America, both past and present, and should provide a pleasant chill to anyone who longs for the understated ghost stories of authors like M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood.

In the JMWW interview, Scott admits, “I’m actually not good with ‘I’m-on-the-first-step-Johnny’ style suspense. What I love about horror is the stuff itself—the objects, shadows, etc.” Literary types tend to turn their nose up at horror but serious fans know that what Scott describes is the real pleasure and value of the genre. Curio forgoes the trappings of traditional horror novels or splatterpunk. Instead, Scott literally conjures up scenes before our eyes: parking lots made of mud, empty fields, the moonless sky, ramshackle cabins. Just these as these stories become as vivid as life in the reader’s mind, they dissipate into vapor. Laura Ellen Scott’s power is in evocative suggestions that should ring true to anyone who has spent time in the lonelier places of rural America.

Haunted farm

Amazingly, Laura Ellen Scott reveals that all of these stories are based on actual events. “Last Seen Leaving” explores the fate of a girl named Shasta who, denied re-entry to a Metallica concert, disappeared and was not seen again until eight years later when her corpse was excavated from the mud of a cow field. Scott links the death with that of the girl’s ancestor, Tomas, a male cousin who drowned in a quarry at just eighteen years-old. When the two of them ‘meet,’ it’s one of my favorite moments in the entire collection:

“Shasta and Tomas found a place in the grass, forgetting they were cousins. Forgetting the enormous age gap. Tomas tried to tell her what he’d rather, but after a hundred years of being eighteen, he had no mouth beyond the rosebud of his lips.”

Curio shines a light on a corner of America that is at once familiar and alien. A world where the glowing neon sign of a McDonalds is a welcome signpost of civilization when one is frightened and alone on a two-lane country road. Scott’s characters exist on the fringes of society. In “Bun,” a disturbed man kidnaps men, women, and children alike – just to observe them. “Onions” is a starkly rendered portrait of a man who seems like a prisoner in his own home: he peers out the blinds as stranger rummage through his car in the driveway. He leaves it unlocked just so they’ll come.

Ghosts

“Moon Walk” tells how a small cult’s tradition has transformed into a yearly event that enraptures an entire community. During this story, I wasn’t so much reading words on a page as I was transported to the very time and place of the moonlit ritual. There are too many pitch-perfect observations in this piece to list in a mere blog but one of my favorite bits is an acknowledgment of how merely talking to a stranger in a moment of crisis, asking them to call for help, can be seen as an unspoken invasion of privacy.

“You call the police?”

The woman coughs at me, short and dry.

I can’t believe this. “But you saw her.”

Goldy says my name, a caution.

Unmoved, the woman lights a cigarette.

Rural

I chose to print out the PDF of Curio and read it on paper. Even in this digital age, there’s something about holding a physical copy of a writer’s work in your hand. As I absorbed the book this way, I was instantly taken back to a time of my life I had nearly forgotten. Twelve or thirteen years-old, in the back of a car with a friend of mine who lived in a more unpopulated area. His dad drove us past a corn field at night, told us of a local legend – passed around ever since he was a kid – which claimed if you parked your car nearby after midnight, the ghost of a long dead girl would materialize in front of your windshield.

At that age, I was terrified. Curio took me back there, awoke those old fears. Laura Ellen Scott’s words read like an incantation; they make me feel like America is a place of terrible magic once again. Curio seduces the reader away from the cities and suburbs, to those parts of the country where 24 hour grocery stores are the only sign of life after a certain hour; where mountain men roam the fields in search of…something; where ghosts dive down your laughing throat around the campfire. The milieu of this book is what initially grabs the reader’s attention but Laura Ellen Scott’s prose is poetic and awe-inducing to match. This is a short story collection to be read and read again.

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Trailer Trash Tracys might be the house band at the Black Lodge

Ester

London-based quartet Trailer Trash Tracys first made waves back in 2009 with a few memorable singles like “Candy Girl” and an appearance on the No Pain in Pop compilation. It’s taken some time but the shoegaze revivalists have officially released their first full-length with Ester. While some have called the album a letdown, for me Ester lives up to the promise of those early singles – and then some.

Trailer Trash Tracys wield a doom-laden and cavernous sound, the perfect soundtrack for a high school dance in the town of Twin Peaks. Indeed, songs like “You Wish You Were Red” and “Candy Girl” come across as intentional callbacks to Julee Cruise’s floaty and formless brand of dream pop, with melodic basslines that feel like they could segue into the Twin Peaks theme song at any moment. Elsewhere on the album, the carnival-like melody and bubbling bass notes of “Dies in 55” seem culled from the mind of Brian Wilson, and “Strangling Good Guys” should provide temporary comfort to any My Bloody Valentine fans who wish Kevin Shields would get back in the studio.

Trailer Trash Tracys

Not every song on Ester is evocative of other artists. “Engelhardt’s Arizona” funnels in your ear with a dizzying hammer-on guitar part and Susanne Aztoria’s seductive vocal. Don’t ask me to quote lyrics since, as per usual for this genre, they’re not prioritized in the mix – but what I can make out sounds wonderfully evocative. “Los Angered” is a 1950’s teen ballad set to a stuttering drum machine, conjuring up images of a post-apocalyptic sock-hop.

Track 7, “Candy Girl,” acts as the centerpiece of the album which is as it should be. Despite a repertoire of great songs now in their fold, this is still the track that crystallizes what the band does and does so well. That impossibly loud bass sound; the cherubic guitar line reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins; and Aztoria’s breathy vocals. Re-recorded for Ester, this new version of the song finally impacts with the fidelity it deserves.

Susanne Aztoria of Trailer Trash Tracys

With “Turkish Heights,” Trailer Trash Tracys apply their usual technique but slow it down to a glacial pace. “Take me down/Take me down” Susanne sings in one of the clearest lyrics on the album, and the music obliges her. If you have the iTunes version of the album, Ester ends with a left turn: “Third Dim Freak to Fourth Dim Freq” introduces an acoustic guitar to the mix. Even with a fizzy synth line and shambling percussion, there’s something about this song that feels positively medieval.

As we move into 2012, the shoegaze revival remains in full force. Trailer Trash Tracys are operating in a crowded field and yet they manage to stand out thanks to a sound that is big enough for widescreen. Ester unabashedly channels memories of bands that have come before, with Angelo Badalamenti’s trailblazing work on Twin Peaks serving as a clear inspiration, but most of it all this a loud, dynamic record to be cherished by shoegaze and dream pop fans in the here and now.

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New Sleigh Bells album is a shoegazer’s delight

"Reign of Terror"

Sleigh Bells’ debut album, Treats (2010), was the rare indie record that became a hit with the college crowd and mainstream pop fans alike, based on the strength of its hip hop-like beats, sing-songy vocals, and teeth-shatteringly loud guitars. When I saw the band perform in Detroit on their Treats tour, it felt like an event rather than a show the audience could be part of. There were masses of people everywhere you turned and the sounds emanating from the stage sounded more canned than live. I grew disenchanted with the entire Sleigh Bells phenomena; I’ll admit due in part to that childish resentment that seeps in whenever an ‘underground’ band you like makes it big.

Fast forward to 2012 and Sleigh Bells are back with a new album, once again self-produced and released on the same NY-based independent label, Mom+Pop. And yet this new LP, Reign of Terror, makes Treats feel like a warm-up lap. Derek Miller’s guitars remain as loud as ever but are placed more complimentary in the mix. The emphasis is on Alexis Krauss’ wonderfully ethereal vocals and it’s clear this new direction for the band is the result of Krauss stepping up as a collaborative force. Reign of Together is altogether more melodic than its predecessor, a record crafted with sonic precision. As a shoegaze fan, this LP is destined to be one of 2012’s musical highlights.

Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller

If Treats consistently teetered on the edge of straight-up M.I.A. hip-hop, then Reign of Steer is a decidedly dream pop affair, one that should appeal to fans of Lush or the Cocteau Twins. “Born to Lose” features the familiar crunchy guitars and jackhammer rhythms, but Krauss’ melodies now bubble to the surface and are backed by clean guitar lines and catchy synth parts. “End of the Line,” which Sleigh Bells performed on SNL, is only track 4 and serves as an early standout. It’s a mid-tempo number that would have likely felt out of place on Treats. “No one loves you/up above you/No one hears you/No one sees you” sings Krauss in an angelic voice that belies the inherent melancholy of her words. This is the kind of dreary but highly listenable song that served as my lifeline during adolescence.

Sleigh Bells

“Comeback Kid” is the first single and an obvious one in that it helps bridge the gap between Treats and Reign of Terror. That’s not a back-handed compliment. The purpose of this song is to drill itself into your head and nestle there, which it does with its catchy chorus. At the same time, a post-chorus refrain featuring some tasteful, Robin Guthrie-esque guitar reminds us that we’re in new territory for Sleigh Bells – at least until the thundering riffage kicks back in.

“Road to Hell” follows a song called “Demons,” in case you were wondering about the milieu of this album. “Demons” makes me think of the Italian horror film of the same name but “Road to Hell” is the real standout of the pair, with a thumping, stadium-ready drumbeat and an 80’s metal riff backing up Krauss’ breathy vocals. “Go to hell/Go to hell/Go to hell/Go to hell” is the chorus and Kraus’ kiss-off.

Alexis Krauss

The following number, “You Lost Me,” is my favorite track on the entire record and I have my doubts whether any other song this year will be able to deliver the sheer listening pleasure this song provides. I never suspected female shoegaze vocals would sound so compelling over Van Halen-style fret runs, but here it is. “You Lost Me” is the peak of Sleigh Bells’ new incarnation: sleek, melodic, seductive. They’ve managed to make a noise pop album with crossover appeal, the kind of indie record even your kid sister could move her head to. Bubblegum pop melodies collide with mammoth guitar overdubs for a sound that is pure ear candy. I foolishly wrote this band off once they reached a certain level of cultural saturation. With Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells have proven they deserve the spotlight.

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