27 February 2010

Ain't No Grave

With very little background information on Daniel Johnston, this film was approached with a light-hearted curiosity and a trust that the copious positive reviews on Netflix weren't misleading. The film is The Devil and Daniel Johnston and covers the life, art, music and insanity of the early 90s folk rock legend and does so in a truly gripping way.

Johnston was the product of a very conservative, Church-of-Christ-attending family. From an early age his family knew he was special. He was constantly drawing, filming, making music and being - above all - a defiant non-conformist. Everyone apparently knew that Daniel wasn't cut out for the "traditional" way of American living, but no one foresaw his rise to musical greatness nor his demise into a dark world of addiction, violence, depression and a life-long struggle to break free of the grip of the devil.

After dropping out of college and heading to Austin, TX, Johnston quickly rose to the status of local music icon. The entire Austin scene - it appeared - was drawn to him musically and personally. And after being featured on MTV in a series of Austin artists, his national fan base grew at a rapid-fire pace. Along with his rise, however, came a quick and easy fall into the world of hallucinogenic drugs and (actual) insanity.

With bands like Sonic Youth and Half Japanese seeking Johnston for musical contributions and Kurt Cobain even sporting his famous "Hi, How Are You?" shirt in nearly every Nirvana photo, Daniel had finally become an indie rock superstar. Yet with all of that in his hands, he quickly became obsessed with saving peoples' souls who were under the heavy hand of Satan, leading Johnston to spend the better part of a decade in and out of mental facilities.

Today, his status as music legend lives on and his story is honestly one of the darkest and yet somehow still inspiring stories of modern music. The documentary is one worth spending time with. It will help put of lot of things - spiritually, personally and musically - into a different perspective for you. And if you've seen the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


12 February 2010

Why Don't You Kick Yourself Out?

This is a bit late on the report, but last week Obama signed a bill to raise the U.S. National debt. It's only $2.3 trillion increase, so at least it's not a lot.

Simultaneous, lobbying hit a record high. Sadly, corporate dollars (with the highest spends in healthcare and pharm companies) mean more than the popular vote.


06 February 2010

Until The Last

2010 was a highly anticipated year for a number of reasons. The Vancouver Winter Olympics are always a must and the World Cup will be played in South Africa this summer. But one treat came early in the year and has been a true delight. The Album Leaf released the much awaited A Chorus of Storytellers.

Jimmy LaValle - the mastermind that is The Album Leaf - has, yet again given us a record that is wonderfully composed, richly layered and simply beautiful. However, although very slight, A Chorus is not without it's imperfections.

The album starts out with two perfectly haunting songs, "Perro" and "Blank Pages" which are - no doubt - meant to be paired with one another. The repetitive simplicity of "Perro" still holds your interest as you're fading into the next track. And "Blank Pages" picks up right where the first track leaves off with the traditional Album Leaf programming and dark Rhodes sounds and leads us through a sonic forest of sounds leaving you unable to know what might come next.

However, a huge disconnect comes when the third track, "There is a Wind" starts out. It's reminiscent of the track "Always for You" from his last release, Into the Blue Again. And it's one of the few tracks that LaValle decided to put his vocal stamp on. While, LaValle knowingly doesn't have the best voice it does fit with the overall Album Leaf sound, but it tends to pull you out of a wonderful, instrumental ether into a place where paying attention to lyrics is unavoidable.

The next few songs follow suit. They offer quiet soundscapes and the occasional vocal addition which lead the listener (that's you) into track six, "Stand Still" and simultaneously into the second half of the record. Ironically, "Stand Still" is easily the most upbeat song on the entire record layering high-tempo, live drum beats over the omnipresent programmed beats urging the listener to do anything except stand still.

Although the rest of the album is beautiful and enjoyable, it completely ends for me at track seven, "Summer Fog." Possibly the most organic song* The Album Leaf has composed, "Fog" uses live piano (in lieu of the traditional synths and Rhodes) and a beautiful arrangement of strings. Maybe being in Reykjavik for part of the recording helped LaValle channel his inner Sigur Ros. And he did so wonderfully with this track.

The rest of the album is more than enough to carry it home and gives you the final track, "Tied Knots" which leaves you wanting the song to be several minutes longer. It's a peaceful and great conclusion to a good record. It's one that will definitely be revisited many times and will certainly not get lost in the shuffle of other ambient artists and bands out there. A Chorus of Storytellers is absolutely set apart from the crowd.


*The track "Wishful Thinking" from Into the Blue Again is a great track sans the synths and beats, but I personally feel that it lacks the overall emotion and beauty of "Summer Fog."

03 February 2010

Something Filled Up My Heart With Nothing

This past week was a very special time in the arts community in Nashville. Our very own Belcourt Theatre and Art House was selected as one of eight cities to host an exclusive screening of a 2010 Sundance Film Festival selection.

Nashville was lucky enough to premier The Extra Man to a packed theater. And without trying to sound dramatic...it was delightful!

Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano (from There Will Be Blood fame) and John C. Rielly, the film packs so much emotion into 108 minutes. Kline's character, specifically has you laughing hysterically one moment and nearly brought to tears the next. Dano's evolution as a character is nothing short of flawless and John C. Rielly pulls off one of the more awkwardly hilarious rolls of the year.

Each character has their own flaws and the own demons to slay, but it's so great to see a common thread of the need for basic human relationships be a major theme as well. It's beautifully presented and developed throughout the film and it's something that a lot of film makers have a tough time actually capturing.

When this film is out in either theaters or DVD, it's one you must watch. It's definitely one of the best I've seen in the last year.