Monday, January 30, 2012

Hobo With A Shotgun

There are some movies which transcend normal ratings of 'good' or 'bad' in the same way that, say, the sugary sweet pop music of bands like Hanson and 1910 Fruitgum Company transcend such metrics. In the case of something like Hobo With A Shotgun, I think it transcends any kind of critical scores simply because it quite literally is-what-it-is: a movie about a hobo with a shotgun. The premise alone is enough to make you want to watch it, and if you do, you know what you're getting into.

A movie made because someone won a trailer contest for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse double-movie, Hobo With A Shotgun is an exploitation film through-and-through. I will give this movie genuine thinking man's/art film credit for the overly saturated Technicolor style and also for taking its sweet time to get the titular weapon into the titular character's hands, and all along both playing to and against type, as often bowing to cliches and tradition as it does upsetting them. There's a scene where the hobo wants to buy a lawnmower for $49.95 from a pawn shop, and we see a rack of shotguns on the wall behind him for the same price...but he doesn't end up buying either. Well, kind of.

This film's particular genius lies not in the dialogue, which in all fairness will offer a couple of in-joke gems for you and your friends who watch it with you ("Welcome to fuck town!" is my pick of the litter), but in how creative it is with its violence. At a certain point in films like Tokyo Gore Police and, I don't know, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the violence becomes so over the top as if to be almost ballet-esque. Hobo offers up some gems, such as a scene where one evil dude plays 'Disco Inferno' while his even-more-evil brother uses a flamethrower to immolate a schoolbus from the inside, children and all. Cleverly, this image wraps back around when (spoiler!) said evil child-murderer gets his (spoiler!) package shot off by the titular hobo and presumably bleeds to death in a phone booth, the school bus representative of death and/or hell as it appears from nowhere to take him away.

There's also a part near the end where a chick stabs a dude with the broken off bone sticking out of her arm...yeah.

All that said, my friend Richard, who suggested we watch it, admitted later if he was watching it alone he would've given up 1/3 of the way through. I don't really know what that says about him or this movie. I said earlier that 'good' or 'bad' don't apply, and I think that's true. Hobo With A Shotgun is certainly an entertaining movie, and I doubt that anything you'll see, outside of Tarantino or Rodriguez's Grindhouse contributions, ends as seemingly abruptly and borderline-carelessly as this film. Imagine if Terminator or Aliens ended right after the big evil baddie was finally offed, with no epilogue, and you've got the right idea.

But damn if it wasn't entertaining, at least to me. Richard may've fallen asleep off and on during it, but:

1) he was in the process of moving that weekend and we were both pretty tired

2) he and I are both creaking up on 30 and thus becoming old men who fall asleep at 11, even on Fridays

3) he didn't enjoy it much, as I just got done saying, so perhaps for some people sleep is preferable to watching Rutger Hauer get stabbed by ice skates (did I mention this film is a Canadian production? and has a brief appearance by Ricky from Trailer Park Boys as well as some obvious accents?) or chew on glass to make money from a sadistic cameraman who I assume is a satirical reference to the deplorable but-I-bet-at-least-one-person-you-know-has-seen-them Bumfights videos.

I want to close by saying that this movie is as transformative for Rutger Hauer as any of his more critically respected roles. I would never have known it was the guy from Blade Runner if I hadn't accidentally confused him with Dolph Lundgren for the first 40 minutes and looked up the movie on Wikipedia to make sure I wasn't crazy. No, I wasn't crazy, just confused.

Actually, that might be a a better way to end this, and a good way to sum up my reaction to the movie: I wasn't crazy about it, but I was certainly confused. I more than a few times laughed out loud at the sheer spectacle and absurdity of it all, never knowing where it was going to go next. At least it was an entertaining kind of confusion, like when you first see Commando and can't decide if it's the cheesiest 80s action flick ever or the greatest. Well, can't it be both?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scott Walker's Nite Flights/Climate Of Hunter

Scott Walker is one of those cult artists you discover via one means or another and afterward you wonder why he's only a cult artist. Assuming you aren't aware of him and you have Netflix, you can't do much better than watching the documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man as an introduction to his music. Even if you don't end up digging his stuff it's still a fascinating story of a man whose career saw him moving between pop stardom, increasingly experimental baroque/orchestral vocal pop music, sellout-ish slum work that he still won't allow to be re-printed, and finally, over a period of 28 years, producing one album per decade that were among the most unique, arguably innovative, and experimental records of their (or any) era.

Well, that's not technically true. If I'm going to count the 70s I have to cheat a bit, since he didn't really release an album then. Rather he contributed four tracks to the last album by The Walker Brothers. Since his material is so unlike the rest of the album's songs, it's almost best to consider his material an EP and listen to it as such. But I digress.
Despite its 1978 release, Nite Flights is predictive of certain aesthetic trends in 80s pop music, by which I mean, the digital sounding instruments and distinctly 80s album cover (which is vaguely Peter Gabriel-esque thanks to being designed by the famous Hipgnosis team). In some sense you can posit it as existing in the same school as 70s art/experimental pop by the likes of Brian Eno and David Bowie. Both appear in the 30 Century Man documentary discussing Nite Flights and the latter went so far as to cover the title track. Walker was likely influenced by them as well, since the first song, 'Shutout', bears a searing guitar part highly reminiscent of Robert Fripp's playing on Eno's 70s solo albums. This is the most 'normal' of his Nite Flights tracks though Walker's oddly processed vocals, sounding half robotic and half human, keep things from being a bit too predictable.

'Fat Mama Kick' is where we first hear what Walker had been keeping inside all those years after the commercial failure of his last genuinely artistic record, Scott 4. It's also the most obvious bridge/jumping-off-point from this album to the rest of his career, pointing pretty clearly to his next release, Climate Of Hunter. It may not sound as timeless as his other beloved work, bearing obvious 80s sounding elements, but the oblique lyrics and at-the-time shocking dissonance of the other sonic elements make this quite unlike any other 70s/80s music out there. Plus that weird burbling keyboard line makes me smile for some reason.

Though as accessible as 'Shutout', the title track has such hypnotic delivery of such impenetrable-but-sparse lyrics that it seems like Walker might have used William Burrough's cut-up technique to randomly jumble words and phrases together into a seemingly coherent whole despite the randomness. Well, as they say, the human mind is designed to look for patterns and order in all things, and 'Nite Flights' is thus an eternal puzzle. I'm sure it means something; it makes me feel something when I hear this song but I sure couldn't explain what that is. As Walker's music becomes more abstract and hard to define, it also becomes more personal and difficult to discuss. You really just need to go to YouTube and listen to these songs.

Especially since up next is 'The Electrician', which quite humorously was released as a single(!). I was so astounded by this song when it came up in the 30 Century Man documentary that I thought I might've accidentally fast-forwarded past something. Seemingly a few minutes before, they were talking about the Walker Brothers reunion in the 70s and how Walker was at a low point artistically. And then...well here's the lyrics that floored me:
drilling thru
the dark hip falls
kill me
kill me
kill me
if i
jerk - the handle
you'll die
in your dreams
if i
jerk - the handle
jerk - the handle
thrill me
thrill me
thrill me

Keep in mind that this is all set to a backing of abrasive repetitive strings that give way to a soaring orchestral melody that harkens back to his 'classic' late 60s records. We can now see this as the last time he would do this sort of music, and I have to wonder if it was his way of either bidding farewell to it or throwing the audience a bone for making it through the desolate atmosphere which surrounds this orchestral section on either end. Those desolate atmospheres with abstract, stunning lyrics, oddly enough, don't really point to his next album, Climate Of Hunter, as they do his next albums after that, 1995's Tilt and 2006's The Drift

Even at its most experimental, Climate Of Hunter is in many ways more accessible and 'pop' than his material on Nite Flights. Rather than the musical direction picking up from 'The Electrician', it's as though he picked up from 'Shutout' and 'Nite Flights' instead. Which could've produced a throughly brilliant work except that, oops, this record was made in the 1980s and thus has that hideous 80s production style and flat/digital drum sound that make me wince. Were it recorded immediately after Nite Flights or with a different record label, Climate Of Hunter would undoubtedly be more interesting. Walker's lyrics may be as brilliant as ever, but unfortunately, by and large Climate Of Hunter is one of those cases where something sounded cutting edge and weird upon its release but seems dated and flat when heard today. 

Now, I did refer to this album in the first paragraph above as being one of "the most unique, arguably innovative, and experimental records of its (or any) era", and I still mean that. It doesn't mean it's a particularly great record, besides which, the state of creativity in 80s music, pop or otherwise, was so abysmal that it's still, at the very least, more interesting than most of its contemporaries. Keep in mind that in 1984 former creative contemporaries of Walker's had been all but subdued by the contentment and lack-of-ambition which infected many former innovators in their transition from the 70s to the 80s. In Bowie's case, he became one of the embodiments of 1980s vaguely danceable pop music (that said, ironically, I think 'Let's Dance' is the best song Bowie ever did). In Eno's case, he retreated entirely from his astonishing 70s art/experimental pop records into enjoyable-but-forgettable ambient albums and a flourishing career as producer. In Walker's case...well, he tries to have it both ways. I doubt any other album from the 80s has guest appearances from Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler...and a free-jazz saxophonist (Evan Parker).

All of this is a long way of saying, Climate Of Hunter has aged poorly but not as poorly as other 80s music. In 2012, it's not enjoyable as pop music (as some of Bowie's 80s material is, say) and it's not weird/experimental enough (as Tom Wait's 80s material is, say) to qualify as anything other than a curio from a fucked up decade. Perhaps a better way of saying it would be, Climate Of Hunter sounds like other 80s music in the broad sense, but very little 80s music really sounds like it where it counts, in the details. It's a record you might listen to a couple times and file away, now having an idea of how he got from there (going further back to his 60s stuff) to here (his nightmare-like soundscapes from his more modern work).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Important Announcement

By now you've noticed that there was no Weekly Whiskey episode this week, and that in general, Whiskey Pie has been seeing progressively less and less content over the past few months. There are many reasons for both of these situations though I'll spare you all the very personal ones that don't relate to the blog or my writing. Feel free to invent your own, too. I'll get to the point of this announcement in a bit. Just allow me some reflecting and explaining where I'm coming from first. Oh, allow me to go ahead and say "no, I'm not shutting down Whiskey Pie." Though the notion did cross my mind a few times over the past couple weeks.


I'm tremendously proud of the work I've done on Whiskey Pie over the past four years. I know it's a cliche, but I can't believe it's really been that long. I started this in...2008? Really? It's still a little surreal to me to think I've been semi-consistently updating a blog for longer than I went to high school or college. It's not even so much the fact I've stuck with this blog for so long, it's that I can look back on 90% of the writing I've done for this blog and I'm still pleased with it. I had written about music for six years, off and on since high school, before starting this blog and I really don't think I managed to produce quality work on a regular basis until I was doing Whiskey Pie.

The irony is that I think since those wild days of high school/college papers and pre-Whiskey Pie were more fun, for lack of a better term. This is something that occurred to me when I was editing Annotated Whiskey: Collected Pie Volume 1 (available now from Amazon!), too, though at that point it felt like  this was a positive change. Certainly my writing has become more polished and professional since starting Whiskey Pie, but it had also lost some of that spark of personality and "fun" in the bargain. My reviews now are perfectly fine. And that's the problem.

Well, that's two problems.

Problem one is that I don't want to be a review writer. I always thought of myself as a critic more than a reviewer, and I think my writing has become more formulaic and studious while all the "fun", personality, and criticism ends up in videos or my Essay stuff. I'm sick of putting scores at the bottom of my reviews and it's something I've wanted to get rid of for a long time. I want to be a critic, not someone doing to music what a meat inspector does when grading beef.

Problem two is that I don't ever want to be "perfectly fine" with my writing. I haven't been pushing myself or trying new things for far too long. I keep thinking back to the first version of my review for The Walkmen's Lisbon. I wrote a quick, rambling draft of it while very drunk one night and ended up scrapping that entire thing because I felt it was too personal and uninformative. I thought back to the shit I used to turn in to my editor at my college paper, and while it was a damn sight better than most of the writing in there, it was still the archetypal "angry young man who hates everything except weird/obscure music" kind of writing. I was never happy with my writing back then but it felt like so much more of a creative act with interesting results than it does now. The review I wrote of A Hundred Miles Off by The Walkmen was written under the same circumstances as my first attempt at Lisbon and I like it much more than the eventual polished Lisbon one because I wrote it to help explain my feelings at the time. It was as much a music review as it was self expression. But more importantly, I wrote it because of what the music made me think and feel. That was what I really wanted to express, not just that I was feeling confused and fucked up at the time.

I've been re-reading Lester Bangs as of late and it's got me to thinking about why his writing still resonates with me. It's ultimately because he's an amazing writer. Bangs could be writing about anything and it would still be good. He resonates with me not because he's a music nerd (he was) or that he's a better writer than 99% of the other music journalists/critics in history (he was). Rather it's because he put his passion and personality into his writing. I don't want to write like Lester Bangs, however, I want to write like Greg Lytle.

I don't know that Lester Bangs's reviews are especially useful to decide if you want to go buy Fun House by the Stooges, but then again, it's 2012 and you can go to YouTube and listen to damn near any song, ever, or download entire discographies of bands in an hour or so via torrents. I can inject more of my personality (or perhaps I should be using the more literary term, "voice" here) into my writing because I don't need to be a professor lecturing students about the latest Band Of Horses record. Anymore when it comes to music, the worst that can happen is you wasted three minutes listening to Adele on YouTube and deciding you'd rather stick with hardcore punk instead or some damn thing. I don't think the original version of my Lisbon review would've helped you understand what it sounds like or how it's different from their other records, but maybe it would in its own strange way. Also, those are things you can easily remedy on your own. Anyway, what I can do is give you my perspective on it, even if that ends up being a rambling piece that references how The Walkmen sound like The Band, though I've never actively listened to The Band, so The Walkmen sound more like my idea of what The Band sound like...but I digress.

I've been increasingly stressing myself out with Whiskey Pie, making myself feel bad because I don't update enough or that the Weekly Whiskey videos are always thrown together at the last minute. Yet in the midst of all this self-abuse it occurred to me that the videos felt more real and honest than my writing did. My videos look and sound like the work of someone who overcomes crippling self-doubt and apathy to talk out loud to a Macbook for 20ish minutes every week because that's what I'm driven to do. It's part of my passion (or my sickness, I suppose). I have to make videos where I talk about Frog Eyes and Animal Collective albums because...I have to. Since I live alone and have no pets, I must reach out to the Internet for therapy.

Yes, writing about music was a kind of catharsis for me, but it hasn't been for a long time. Especially over the past year, it's become more like an obligation or a chore. I found myself writing reviews about albums I normally would skip over only because I felt a kind of duty to put a score to something, not because I had anything I particularly wanted to say about said albums. Writing, or anyway writing like I have been, feels like a job to me, a job I increasingly put less time and energy into because I don't care much about the final product. I feel like I have all these artificial conceits and constraints I put on my writing for Whiskey Pie, and I don't need to. I could've said everything I had to say about the Wild Flag record from last year in two paragraphs but since it was a "review" with a score attached I had to come up with more to say.

I also often want to write about things that aren't music related yet I keep them off here because, hey man, Whiskey Pie is about music and music only, right? Well, it doesn't have to be. The blog may not be named after me, and it may originally have started with a second co-creator way back in 2008, but now Whiskey Pie should be thought of more like...the blog of Greg Lytle instead of a blog that I write for. I won't be writing some LiveJournal shit, though, so don't worry. Anyway...

Whiskey Pie is going to change. I'm not going to redesign the site because I can't be bothered, but everything else is going to change. Here's a handy list!

1) No more scores. I think the strict five star system is still the best bet if you must use a scoring system of some kind. But I don't have to, so I won't.

2) Content about other subjects! I did sometimes dally in videogames and movies in the past, but expect more of that and more other stuff, too.

3) I'm not going to differentiate between different styles of writing any more. I will still often be doing what read like reviews of albums, but sometimes I might just write about one particular aspect of an album, or one memory I associate with it, and so forth. I may write Essay-style pieces, or things in between a review and an Essay. One day it might be a couple paragraphs, the next it might be something super long about great albums to get drunk to.

4) Weekly Whiskey is sticking around but it will change, too. Since I broke my promise and took a week off before the planned break after episode 52, I guess I just need to bring changes to the show gradually as I've been doing.

5) I can't promise any kind of consistent update schedule. I will still be releasing a Weekly Whiskey video every week, but otherwise, I need to mentally free myself of worrying about what I'm writing and when it's good enough to finally post. If I'm feeling apathetic and uninspired, as I have been lately, I need to just let sleeping dogs lie, as it were. Whiskey Pie should be a...celebration, not an obligation.

6) I'm not going to try to "keep up" with new releases this year. By the end of 2011 it became apparent that I was reviewing albums out of sheer obligation because all the sites I read were doing reviews of them. So I did my reviews like punching a clock even if I didn't have a lot to say about them. Ironically enough, then, I had a lot I wanted to say about Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but I never did a review because my points were more like social criticism and open ended questions than the usual review writing I do. Without a score attached, though, I'd have posted a "review" in an instant. But I digress. I will still be doing a numbered "best of" list at the end of 2012, so never fear. Some traditions never die.

I guess that's it. Comment or email me if you wish. I will probably talk about this a bit more in the next Weekly Whiskey video.

-Greg Lytle

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Weekly Whiskey Episode 40

We celebrate turning 40...with a long, rambling bitch-and-rant sessions before talking about a couple 2007 albums.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Random Thing: Time Lapse Animal Collective Studio Video

Welcome to a new series I'm starting this year for Whiskey Pie, Random Thing. It's an easy and lazy name, I admit, but it's the only one that seems to apply. Basically, there are times when I want to write about something for this blog and it doesn't seem to fit into any of my other series, we are. Random Thing is going to be just that: random things that spark my interest that I want to write about. They'll still usually be music related. Usually.

The video linked above is...well, you can go read the Pitchfork news story for that. I'll wait.

OK, back with me?

I think any hardcore, nerdy music fan eventually becomes fascinated with recording studios, specifically, recording sessions that take place in them. Yet "the studio" as a kind of myth is key to a lot of music nerd-ery, from people writing entire books about recording sessions for famous albums to people buying equipment off of eBay because it was supposedly used by such-and-such band on such-and-such song or record.

It's strange, then, that I've never been all that interested in studio stories. I don't really know what I thought Animal Collective looked like when they recorded because it never occurred to me to wonder about such a thing. Certainly I read up on albums and I enjoy studio stories but they aren't something I actively seek out or fantasize about.

All the same, this video is oddly fascinating to me, mostly because it's kind of shown me that it's somewhat useful to seek out those stories. I never would've thought Animal Collective recorded a lot by playing live in the same room, since their music sounds so precise and exact that I thought it must've been sculpted a sound at a time by one member at a time. This casts new light on Strawberry Jam and makes me reconsider it as a piece of music yet again. This video also helps explain why Animal Collective are such a great live band because recording this record must've been as long and grueling as the practice sessions normal bands go through before heading out on tour.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Weekly Whiskey Episode 39

A sun-enhanced version of Weekly Whiskey this week. As promised in the video, I should return with consistent written content (after taking a two-week-ish break from writing) within the next couple days.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Weekly Whiskey Episode 38

A casual, rambling episode thanks to holiday laze and a slow time of the year for new releases.