Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Few Things To Look Forward To In 2012

Among the many things to look forward to in 2012, aside from the incredibly shrinking, dwindling numbers of posts on FBC!, and  the upcoming mega-meta-recession-depression-explosion-implosion-end-of the world-we're-so fucked-and-maybe-the-plague-if-we're-lucky [just kidding. I wrote this to see if someone here was following], here are a few coming to my mind:

- some reflections on the Pacific Standard Times manifestations.  To whet your appetite, I'm globally positive about the whole shebang, but I haven't seen enough of the shows yet. Only concerns for me so far are: 1) quantity ain't quality  and 2) let's not rewrite too extensively art history as it didn't happen. I'm all for rediscovering some art/people, but there's a thin line between art, historical documentation, and social justice.

- This will likely be my very last year living in Los Angeles, for a while at least. So expect some non art-related, non-music related posts about what is so great about the city.

- We love old legends at FBC! and you know what? Next year, John Cale, Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker will all have a new album out. I just cannot wait. I also hope they will tour and preferably all play in Los Angeles while I still live here and can attend their shows.

- Speaking of touring: I'm told there are chances The Monochrome Set might tour the US next year, with dates in Los Angeles and New York. It depends on them getting their visas, which I hear are increasingly difficult and expensive for foreign musicians to get.  It's a shame because we're being deprived of great music, and it's not as if musicians were making much money outside of touring these days. I also hope that The Fall (whose new album Ersatz GB is out) could tour here, even though each time they did tour in the US some disaster ensued. Let's cross fingers that it won't be the case if they come play here in 2012.

- Second to almost last, but not least. The Beach Boys Smile box set (see picture above) is easily the greatest thing I've heard this year. It is otherworldly beautiful, such as that I cried when I first listened to it. If someone had told me one day I would be so moved by Pop Music I would have never believed it. If you used to think Pet Sounds was the best thing ever made, you won't believe how amazing Smile is. If you can't afford the box set, buy the double LP or the CDs now so you don't miss it in 2012. You won't regret it, and it would be a crying shame to miss it. You can buy it at Book Soup here in LA and I'm sure at most record stores, such as Amoeba (they did carry the John Cale Black Friday version of Extra Playful, worth calling them to see if they still have some copies).

- DID YOU HEAR THE SURVIVING BEACH BOYS WERE REUNITING NEXT YEAR WITH BRIAN WILSON??? They are. New album coming out (?) and new tour. This will likely be ruinous for us at the FBC! headquarters as I can foresee really expensive concert tickets (I'd think they would play the Hollywood Bowl, at least, if there's some logic left in this world), that plus all my favorite older musicians above, I can wave bye-bye to my savings.  This reunion could be really horrible or it could be truly great, but there's only one way to know, it's to see them play.

- And as a bonus, you know what's the truly greatest thing that will be happening in 2012? The Metallica- Lou Reed collaboration will be a thing of the past.

That's it for now, beloved and faithful readership. Have a great holiday season whatever the holiday you're celebrating, and a wonderful 2012. And, no matter what you do,  please don't hurt anybody.

Extra Playful - John Cale's Latest Effort Is Tons Of Fun

John Cale's EP Extra Playful has been out for a couple of months now, and in November the US has been graced with a Black Friday edition containing a couple of bonus tracks. Of course we had to procure one copy at the FBC! headquarters, with a bit of trepidation since I wasn't really fond of the new songs when I heard them live or on YouTube. Lesson learned, one shouldn't rely on live videos posted by concert attendees nor on one live iteration to judge music, but wait for the official recorded version to come out.

Extra Playful comes with 5 songs, Catastrofuk, Whaddya Mean By That, Hey Ray, Pile à l'Heure and Perfection, plus Bluetooth Swing and The Hanging if you managed to lay your hands on the Black Friday issue, which I STRONGLY recommend you do. With all 7 songs you almost get a full-length album, and one that augurs really well for Cale's upcoming 2012 LP.

The opening line of the fist song "it's catastrophic, how the money goes" will have a strong resonance for everybody but maybe the 1% . On the other hand,  "you can't take it when you go" is directly addressed to them, I guess - that is, if the 1% had musical taste. Judging by what they buy in art, I strongly doubt it's the case. It's a solid rocker that has lots of energy but lacks the subtlety and the elegance of Whaddya Mean, a very catchy song seemingly about love fights and subsequent sexual reconciliation. I really, but really disliked this last song when I heard it on stage, because I couldn't get over the opening lines "teach me how to love, teach me how to hate" which I found (and still find) incredibly weak.
But then all I had to do was wait for the chorus for the song to be stuck in my head for days on end. I find myself humming it to myself all the time now (but fear not, I only hum or sing when no one is around). You can watch the video clip below, but if I were you I'd just listen to the music without watching it because it's one of the most incredibly boring clips ever made, unlike Catastrofuk (scroll down to the bottom for the latter).  Catastrofuk  was directed by Cale's daughter and it's full of little visual inventions, lively and fun to watch. I hope in the future Cale will continue in this sympathetically nepotist trend and manage to get  his daughter to direct all his video clips. Whoever did the "Cale walking in a field with Instagram-like effects" below severely lacks imagination and should consider a career change in accounting or in the insurance business.

The next song on Extra Playful, Hey Ray, refers to the late Ray Johnson, an artist associated with Fluxus and credited with the invention of mail art. Aside from the postwar art reference that I would of course totally dig, it's a hell of a fun song, with back-up singers shouting out sentences variously related to the Cold War atmosphere "The Russians are coming" (to which Cale retorts "No they're not") or the British Invasion of the 60s (Cale: "not again!"), equating both menaces with the same level of bullshit. From what I've read on the Web it seems regular music critics who take themselves super seriously have trouble with this song, finding it "cringe-inducing" and labeling it "a lyrical misstep". To which I can only say: have you guys really listened to Loutallica? You want cringe-inducing, I give you Lady Gaga. Or Justin Bieber.

Apparently, if you're the unpredictable John Cale whose career has encompassed the musical avant-garde, the invention of alternative music, soundtrack composition, and pop jewels like Paris 1919 as well as the bleak masterpiece Music For A New Society, you're not allowed to have fun  even when you're almost 70, or else you're wont to disappoint  every normative, predictable music staff writer whose musical culture doesn't go back deeper than 5 years ago. Oh well, I guess one can't have everything.

The next song, Pile à l'Heure, was a bit disconcerting to me as it is sung in French,  with some electronic vocal effects that made the first couple of listen difficult to understand (someone told me it was via auto-tune. It's possible, I wouldn't know).
The title means "right on time" in colloquial French.  Cale had sung one super funny song in French before, Honi Soit on the eponymous album (hey, boring critics above, something tells me you never heard of this one. Or of Ski Patrol.), but unlike the perky Honi SoitPile à L'Heure is a rather melancholic if vigorous electronic ballad. Cale explained somewhere that this song came from a soundtrack he was composing for a movie about dressage. That's when the lyrics started making sense to me, with sentences about someone dancing on a saddle, etc. I heard it live in mid-October and really liked it better then, because the live drumming  and the vocals sounded much warmer than the beats on the record (speaking of, hi Michael!). The very last song on the regular version of the EP, Perfection, speaks about someone trying to be desperately perfect, an attitude that inevitably leads to failure. It's also very catchy in a subdued, plaintive way, with once again a very strong chorus. Cale may be 69 going on 70,  but vigorous and inventive are really apt adjectives to describe his music.

If you got the Black Friday edition there are two more songs on it, Bluetooth Swings for which I unfortunately have no use whatsoever as it is for me the one song that is generically a filler, as if Cale felt contractually obligated to deliver a bonus he doesn't really believed in because he might not have had enough time to work on it; and The Hanging. The Hanging, in my opinion, is the true  masterpiece of the EP, with some particularly chiseled lyrics  - which seem to mix a historical imagery of medieval battles, of the revolt of the oppressed, which could  been interpreted as Cale being bullied as a kid and fighting against it,  or as  the current mass movements of revolt in the Middle East and the West (or maybe I'm just imagining a ton of bullshit because I'm in pain and on meds right now. Who cares? I particularly enjoyed the "haemorrhaging history" part, and so should you).
There is a truly beautiful and magnificent trumpet throughout, which reminded me of the great trombone solo during Graham Greene when Cale played Royce Hall last year.
It's no accident that the two most beautiful songs (Whaddya Mean By That? and The Hanging) on Extra Playful seem to deal with personal history, or at least to be inspired by personal events elevated to something more general.  I can't get enough of The Hanging even though the chorus goes "enough's enough", and that trumpet, my God. When was the last time you heard someone being truly innovative with a trumpet in pop music or rock'n'roll? Anybody else is working with great horn sections, these days? Maybe Brian Wilson for the forthcoming Beach Boy record next year?

The EP would be well worth buying just for The Hanging and then Whaddya Mean? as they float well above all the otherwise very solid and catchy songs. If the upcoming album is in this vein, I can't wait for it to be out, and I also hope they'll put The Hanging on it for everybody to enjoy*.

* If anybody in the Cale entourage ever read this and could convince the man that doing some new versions/arrangements/orchestrations of Empty Bottles and The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group Of All  on a record one day was a fantastic idea, you would do a great service to humanity. Or something like that.

A Is For Zebra - Charles White Elementary School

 Stripsody, cartoon onomatopeas sung by Cathy Berberian

This Fall in Los Angeles, there's the mammoth series of exhibitions organized under the aegis of the Getty for Pacific Standard Times (PST), and there are all the other shows loosely disarranged under the imaginary heading "life continues". A pretty remarkable one such show right now, A Is For Zebra, was organized by José-Luis Blondet for LACMA at  the Charles White Elementary School near McArthur Park.

 The exhibition is open to everybody but is really meant for the school children at CWE,  who were having a ball (and a great one at that!) during the opening. Where hot chocolate, cookies and ice cream sundaes were served, something LACMA should do at all their openings, I think (hint, hint).
How better to learn the joys of reading but to see how artists have been having fun with language and the alphabet, whether in videos, artist books, cartoon form, opera singing, experimental music, sculpture or installation?

Stephanie Taylor devised a charming story based on a character whose name is derived from 'Los Angeles", and which by sound association becomes some absurd anglophile narrative*. Her installation featured several objects associated with London, and a soundtrack that I unfortunately didn't manage to hear (they were many children having the fun of their life there!)

 One of the great things in the partnership of LAUSD & LACMA for the school is how works from the permanent collection are being brought to the school. Here's John Baldessari How To Teach A Plant The Alphabet. Proof that conceptual art doesn't have to be dreadfully dry, it can be fun and playful, too.

Because Charles White Elementary is located near McArthur Park, its students tend to be bilingual. A really fun thing in the show was that the didactics were printed in 2 colors, so to read them you had to wear a cool-looking pair of cardboard glasses with color-coded lenses, depending on whether you wanted to read them in English, Spanish, or both. Look how incredibly stylish these cute kids are wearing those glasses. It was really fun seeing kids alternating between 2 pairs of glasses to read both languages.

Stephanie Taylor in front of Mel Bochner's Language Is Not Transparent.
A Is For Zebra is a really fun show to take your children to if you have some, but even if you don't have any it's an interesting and intelligent exhibition to visit, with some incredible historical prints from LACMA's collection (Goya), in addition to the works shown above. And since the exhibition is meant for children to enjoy and have fun with, it's also not overwhelmingly dense. It's a nice alternative to the humongous PST shows if you wish to see some very good art but don't have the energy to tackle a gigantic museum historical exhibition.

*apologies for the picture being on its side. I have a new photo software that I don't master yet.

Mark Dutcher At Latned Astär

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure to see Mark Dutcher's very intelligent exhibition at Dental Rasta spelled backwards + umlaut (Latned Astär for those of you who, like me, would prefer if the place was really called Dental Rasta).  It's over now, so here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.

 Mark Dutcher likes his surfaces rough and doesn't care for the preciousness of framing or anything that makes painting too remote and untouchable for the viewer. Many of the paintings and drawings in the show were on cardboard,  in this instance stapled directly to the wall. You could see this as just a textural effect, or if you're me as a social commentary on where art is at its most alive, i.e. in artist-run spaces outside of the commercial arenas where 'social diary would want make you to believe things happen.

This is a frontal view of the first room. The large striped and layered piece in the back is made on cardboard packaging coming from Fine Art Stretcher Bars, on which are quite a few felt tip graffiti drawings and sentences made by artists Juan Capistran and Eamon Ore-Giron, so it's a collaborative piece, if you will, anchored in local Los Angeles art community practice. The layered humble material is here to counteract the outwardly minimalist aspect of the stripes, and the graffiti add a humorous take on Dutcher's careful meditation upon a modernist vocabulary that isn't so much quoted as simply dealt with a gritty series of painterly hand gestures.

Dutcher's work could at first glance seem deliberately abstract, but if you pay attention it rapidly emerges that he uses a lot of symbols, many of them with historical resonance such as the pink triangle the Nazis used to force homosexuals to wear,  and later on appropriated by Act-Up and the gay community during the heartbreaking years of the Aids epidemic.

While Dutcher was working on the paintings and drawings of his exhibition, he was listening to a lot of music, including Joy Division's Decades whose chorus "Where Have They Been?" served as a reminder of all the loved ones lost to the Aids epidemic.  Some of the lyrics are inscribed on the wax paintings like this one. I tried to take a close-up but it came out all blurry, so you have to trust me on that one.

This last painting gives you an idea about the way Dutcher is interested in creating surface and texture variation in his paintings. I particularly like this one because under the sophisticated, unified silver layer of glitter you see those crude symbols made I suppose with either cardboard of construction paper, and the contradiction of the two processes make the final object look like a very ancient, primitive archeological artifact or like an extraterrestrial, indecipherable object sent to us by an advanced life form.