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Andrew McIntosh/ music and film reviews for 2005

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Andrew McIntosh/ music and film reviews for 2005
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Andrew McIntosh is a musician and writer from Australia. He formerly hosted The Taped Crusaders, a review site for underground music. Now he maintains Radio Hostile where he does features on specific artists and styles.

CHURCHILL'S TRACTOR "Palace Amusements Forever"
I was a tad cynical with some of the self-employed hype Mr. John Churchill placed with his output. He's quick to promote himself and that does give me pause. But I have to admit, his stuff works. What I mean is, he deliberately does the simplest, silliest, pop-iest music with lyrics that on paper would make the worst teen-angst poet wince in terror, but his deadpan delivery (not just his vocals, his straight-up musicianship and even the dry production) gives everything a conviction that it probably shouldn't have, but does. Is it humility or an immense ego that's disguised itself cunningly as humility? If your listening it doesn't matter. What does matter is the incredible catchiness of his tunes. "The Cat" is a real foot-tapper, even a bit of a head-nodder. Nice little bass lines, nice tight little vocal harmonies on the chorus, nice casio organ in the background. "I'm Da Shizzle" puts every gold-festooned over-paid mummy's-boy "thug" rapper in their place with his whiter-than-god delivery; with a poker face he delivers the lines "An innovater and a pioneer/Lo fi jammin'/I've got the cherries and I've got the glaze/Let's start hammin' ". You have got to be fucking pulling me. But it works. He's just developed the knack for the catchy pop-rock song, style deadpan and subtle, and thus will go absolutely nowhere commercially but probably will be remember by a few peers.
 
CROSSBREED "Feedback Of The Sacrifices"
A huge and swirling mixture of warbling synthsizers and echoed-to-buggery samples. Self described "woman electronic noise from Osaka, Japan" this was a delight to discover. Hinting at CCCC/Astro, although sans much of the distortion of those projects, ReiLambdoll and MAYUKo, plunge their sounds through wave after wave of digital delay to make a rhythmic yet abstract soundscape. The sounds mix into each other maintaining the same crunching throbbing rhythum throughout. Voices coming and going, agitated electronic dronoise, all paced well and upfront and loud. Musique Concrete meets spacenoise. A lengthy mp3 to download (especially if like me you don't have broadband) but worth it. Cute cover too.
 
NO UNAUTHORIZED
Now THIS is good shit! This is why God in Her wisdom invented the re-release. Fun and fantastic synth-pop from the late 80's in France, sounding decidely retro even for then. The first track "Crocodile" sets the pace. I have no French, so I have no idea what the two vocalists where saying to/squeaking at each other at the start of this song, but once the music settles in they have no end of fun crooning and squeaking over it. The music is a laid-back, sort of repeditive series of analog bleeps and clicks with sparse yet warm sounding guitar. They come up with their cheery sounding riffs which hark greatly to post-punk. You could dance to this. There's hints of disco on "J'Attends", hints of new-wave on "Dans Le Tete", more than a hint of electro-punk on "Hiroshima"; you've got to wonder if all these clever-dick electro-clash posers and snarling screaming digital-hardcore "rebels" know where their roots really are. The vocals here sometime tend a little too close to cutsey-pie girly-girly, which is always on the borderline between fun and annoying, but they can sing well and often make it work. Kind of like a cross between Hagar The Womb and Flagrants D'eli, if they played 80's synth pop. Well done Zeromoon making this one available to us, the masses.
 
 
"La Planette Sauvage" directed by Rene Laloux
Years ago, as a science-fiction loving teenager, I saw this gem on the television in it's English dubbed version. The simplistic yet effective style of drawings belied the pure surrealistic vision, and despite the somewhat deadpan vocal delivery taking away from the visions, it stuck in my mind. So, for that matter, did the haunting soundtrack.
 
The version I have is in the original French (apparently it's a co-production between France and  Czechoslovakia (Russia's brutal invasion having  slowed things down for the movie's production) . I brought it thinking surely there would be English sub-titles. No such luck. Yet strangely, this time my memory of the film didn't let me down. I can watch this having a basic knowledge of the plot from all those years ago, and the soundtrack is even almost exactly as I remember it. Fundamentally the story of humans who are now on a planet called Ygam (not the planet of the story, that's apparently another one). They are refered to as Oms by the main species on Ygam, the Draags, humanoid but giants with blue skin, lidless red eyes and shells for ears. The Oms are basicly treated as animals, either kept as pets or just wiped out as vermin. The politics become obvious when you see the scenes of Draags using poison gas to wipe out "wild" Om communities, keeping tame Oms on leashes with gasmasks to sniff out the nests. Suffice to say, there's a rebellion when the Oms discover an abandoned space port, build a rocket ship and travel to a planet where Draags commune with other aliens in one of the most obviously surreal parts of the film (you can see hints of Dali), and bring their oppresors to terms. Wont give too much away just now. Since I'm without subtitles a lot of the sublties in the movie, particularly the interesting scenes of Draag parliment making decisions, are lost to me.
 
But the main reason for watching this is the gorgeous animation. Laloux's style on this movie has a slight whiff of "pop-art" but is sophisticated and flowing. A combination it seems of stop-animation and more conventional frame-by-frame. The backgrounds are surreal, more fantasy than science fiction (some of the animals are just wierd). The sound effects are great, often obvious in their origins but work well. And the soundtrack itself rocks. Laid back sci-fi sounding pyschedelia, buzz-guitar, winding strings and all. If you can get an English version (try http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/6305307156/102-2628807-9776169?v=glance ), it'll make it easier, but seriously, this is a visual experience that works as a minour piece of art.
 
"The Magic Sun" by Phill Niblock, featuring Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra.
A high pitched trumpet shriek forms and folds into free-flowing notes. The bass falls in behind to fill out the space beneath. Drums begin, their sound applified with echo. The sound builds. It's Sun Ra and his Arkestra at their sonic finest. Fantastic music. Shot in "the mid 60's", this is simply close ups of the band members doing their thing, shot in negative so that white becomes black and black white. Appropriate, some might say. Because of the ultra-close ups and lighting, the visuals become a flow of stark contrasting light and shade. The sparseness and contrast fits the music well, but for me, I'd rather just turn off the screen and have the music going. Films like this prove to me again that when it comes to music, visuals are not always an extention but more a distraction. What's interesting perhaps is that the visual element seems to have dated, while the music, as always, is several light years ahead. Not a long film though, just under thirty minutes, and not much in the way of extras, a few recordings of Ra making some of his trademark cryptic/politic/solaristic statements over some improvised keyboard. And a few pictures. An interesting curio then, but the music is definately worth it.
 
"NorNoise" by Tom Hovinbole
A recent documentary on Noise music, that concentrates heavily and appropriately on the Norwegian scene since Tom is Norwegian and admits in the notes that since this is just one man and his camera, his funds limited him to his own country. Which, it seems, is a hotbed of rocking Noise and abstract music people. It's more a series of interviews, and things like this really bring home to me just how little people have to say about their own art sometimes. Most of the language is of course Norwegian, so I'm going by subtitles. Three Japanese masters of the art (Otomo Yoshihide, Tashimaru Nakamura, and some bloke called Masami Akita, never heard of him...) who where travelling through Norway at the time also get gurnseys, and whether it's the use of language or just that Japanese sense of no-nonsense, they come across much less like theoretical wankers, simply explaining how they do it and why they prefer the tecniques they use. An American, David Cotner, who is apparently a "Noise historian", comes across as the biggest art-head to me. His live bits (everyone has live bits on this, one of the best reasons for getting the dvd) have him playing this museum space; literally playing it, as he explains to the handful of spectators outside of the building, since he's miked up a huge bit of plaster and is whacking it to get echoed sounds from his equipment. He explains that since he was "invited to play" the space, he wanted to pose the question "what does that mean?" Play in the space, or play the space itself? David, mate, fuck your politics and just rock, okay? Everyone else seems more at home to prattle on about ideas and theories and whatnot, and in the end it all gets a bit boring. I would have been happier with more live documentation, as some of the gigs look like fun, the Noise artists using a huge range of equipment, materials, and ideas to generate their amazing tones. Fortunately the dvd also comes with a cd with examples of everyone's stuff. For me, Fe-Mail win with their ultra harsh swamp of power intensified screams and static. And the all-star cast of the Norwegian Noise Orchestra end proceedings in appropriate grand style.
Noise. The ultimate answer to musical wankery and theoretical pretention. Shut up and just do it. 
 
"Soundtrack To War" by George Gittoes
This is one scary movie. We open with an interview with a young American soldier who explains "when we're killin' the enemy...this is the song, 'Bodies Hit The Floor'..that was the motto for our tank, 'cause it was fitting for the job we where doing". The next yound soldier describes going into battle with "a good song in the background" as "the ultimate rush". These are not fanatical jihadists or ideologically driven nazis. They're worse than that. They're that most barbarous of animals, the ordinary person, taken through the mind-grinder of military training, armed to the fucking teeth, pointed in the right direction and let off the leash.
 
Australian film maker George Gittoes spent time with American military just after the invasion...to talk about music. Why would he do that? It seems that for these ordinary people mutated into soldiers, the music both motivates them to do their "jobs", and keeps them sane at the same time. Heavy Metal ("War is Heavy Metal" quotes one soldier), particularly Thrash and "Gore" Metal as one young soldier describes it (grindcore with lyrics about mutilation, basicly), and ganster rap are the usual orders of the day, but there's also a patriotic fellow hyming "Pledge Allegiance" to his flag in country and western style and a young woman in the marines crooning diva-like about the "freeedooom" she believe's she's the harbinger of. The rap battle done by one group of soldiers shows just how masterful the art of rap can be. The lyrics really tell the story fully (and it's worth noting that filmaker Gittoes followed up some of these young fellows back to their civilian life and shot a movie about that too, yet to be released; the war at home), not always pleasant (one white rapper explains that his song is about how "you see all these women around but you can't touch them because of rules and regulations", poor little darling) but say more than a thousand interviews all up. There's the group of christian soldiers singing uplifting hymns to keep up their spirits.
 
Certainly, the more the movie progresses, the more impossible it is to truly be distanced from these soldiers. There's nothing to hate towards  most of these people, most of whom are still just kids. But there's plenty to gape at in astonishment. They feel the loss of their comrades keenly. Some observe drily that civilian deaths occure and "that's sad". Others look clinically and with detatchment at their surroundings, the surroundings they helped to de-create. And they enthuse about their respective genres like the rest of us. But I noticed very little actual dissent in the ranks, and frankly I found it hard to believe.
 
I was more touched by the brief glimpses into Iraqi civilian life. You learn of a group of men who are the Bahgdad Bee-Gees; they have immitated the Bee-Gees down pat, even learning English from listening to their songs. As ridiculous as that sounds, hearing their version of "New York Mining Disaster", sung to a backdrop of bombed and decaying buildings, suddenly brings the song to a new life. There is a sequence with an Iraqi Death Metal band; "We're dying. We're born in war, we live in war and we're going to fucking die in war" they say in English, quite casually, before describing the death of a friend at the hands of terrorists. There are clips of traditional music on traditional instruments outside those cafes still upright and functioning, then shot to a young Iraqi girl describing her brother's death, then her mother's, in the ruins of the bombings. "The situation I am in is strange" says the subtitles as she weeps "Why us? What have we done?" This is a scary movie.
 
I'm not sure this movie will tilt anyone's opinion one way or the other about the incursion into Iraq (obviously it didn't change my mind), but it's a truly fascinating glimpse into the mindset of the soldier. Put me off my Slayer records for a while, too. And left me wondering; what sort of music do the emperors of Exxon, BHP and Shell Oil enjoy?
 


Feel free to state your opinion on any of these works or just review your own interests. Please be interesting and be honest in your comments. Constructive criticism is best.
Send it in an email to campaudj@jps.net