Not Experimental Enough? Hold My Whiskey (Jack White, Boarding House Reach review)

What rock and roll artist worked with A Tribe Called Quest and Beyonce, and is completely frantic? The guy who used to wear red, white and black.

Now known as the guy who wears blue, white and black.

 

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

released March 23, 2018
******* 9/10

John Anthony White, better known by his stage name, Jack White, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor. He is also the lead singer and guitarist of The White Stripes, and performs with other bands (The Raconteurs) and artists (Beyonce, Alicia Keys) often. His debut solo album, Blunderbuss, was released in 2012 and followed up a mere two years later by Lazaretto. And to be honest, Lazaretto was the stronger album in my personal opinion.

Both of his solo albums have had considerable commercial success and critical acclaim, so it is not surprising that he eventually followed up with album no. 3, Boarding House Reach; though the time gap was a little wider this time.

Boarding House Reach is an atypical blues rock album and has been released on White’s own label Third Man records as well as Columbia and XL. In an odd move, Connected by Love and Respect Commander were released simultaneously as the album’s lead single back in January, and Over and Over and Over was released as the second single in March. Corporation and Ice Station Zebra were also released as singles, and consequently, the album was able to reach no. 1 on  the Billboard 200.

This is an album which has a lot of layers, and absolutely needs several listens in order to be properly appreciated. Because it probably won’t sound as good as it is the first couple of times, I suggest sitting with it in the background as you drive, while you work away the day, and even as you burst through your evening work out. It’s a rock album that is challenging rock and roll in a time when rock is basically struggling for air.

Thankfully for us, he is a veteran of blues rock, having fronted The White Stripes for years, and it makes sense for him to explore funk, jazz, and even gospel music, but man when he decided to inject hip-hop and spoken word poetry into the mix… that’s when I knew I was onto something special. Plus, it’s a polarizing album, with lots of people locked in, but a healthy amount of skepticism from seasoned reviewers too.

The singles make perfect sense now inside the context of the record, but they are not the highlight of the album, no. They are an introduction into a more fun and carefree Jack White. Yes that might seem off, but listen to Hypermisophoniac, Everything You’ve Ever Learned and What’s Done is Done, and tell me this isn’t a new Mr. White.

Pros: His vocal performances are way out there, and it’s refreshing to see how he is stepping away from blues rock and yet he is still darkly edgy in his lyrical choices. Why Walk a Dog is a great little absurdist track about the idea of owning pets and whether dogs really do have a good life.

Cons: There are a lot of collages of different ideas floating around here, from spoken-word, rapping, progressive rock, funk music, to a cover of Al Capone’s own song (Humoresque). And sometimes they fight with Jack White’s natural sound, whatever that means to you.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of Interest: White chose to write like Michael Jackson would, by thinking of the songs as a whole rather then parts. He did everything in the silence of one room, for several hours at a time each day. This is White’s third no. 1 solo album.

This is not an album rooted in the past, like his previous solo albums and his work with The White Stripes. No this is something out of time, and I’m thankful to have found it.

theories Summarized

I’ll admit that when I listened to this the first couple of times, I thought, yeah it’s technically good, but definitely not a knockout album. This is normal, and a good thing, dear readers. So settle in as instructed, and you’ll come out the other side singing the praises of the future of rock and roll.

And fortunately for us, this week’s Sound Culture video review is perfectly lined up as a weird album of it’s own. If you’ve never heard The Mars Volta before, their debut album is a great place to start, and well worth a listen or 50. Brendon and I break down the technical reasons why this progressive rock album might not be for everyone, but it can definitely be acquired with a little effort.

Yeah, it’s a weird album. Ha! But I love it all the same. I hope you get to feel the same, but either way hit us up in the comments, like and share the video if you found it valuable, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

City of Stars (La La Land review)

What do you mean you don’t like jazz?

It just means that when I listen to it, I don’t like it.

The most candid of responses, mixed with sweetness and optimism. That’s the kind of movie you can really get behind, you know? The kind that will propel film into the 21st century and get us out of our hum drum lives, the lives we need to escape from after the great war.

Just kidding, this movie happened in 2016, and it’s about the future.

La La Land (2016)

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, John Legend
Director: John Lee Hancock
released on blu-ray April 25, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 83%
The Guardian: *****/*****

 

I’ve written about American director Damien Chazelle before, when I decided to review Whiplash last August. So yeah, we already know that Chazelle is a musical whiz, and that he can bring music and film to life in an epic pairing. Owed to his own musical background of course. Which he fully and completely does with the construction of 2016’s La La Land.

Here is a brief overview of the plot, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 Stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles highway (“Another Day of Sun”), Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, has a moment of road rage with Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist. Her subsequent audition goes poorly, where the casting director takes a call in the middle of an emotional scene. That night, Mia’s roommates take her to a lavish party in the Hollywood Hills (“Someone in the Crowd”). She walks home after her car is towed.

During a gig at a restaurant, Sebastian slips into a passionate jazz improvisation despite warnings from the owner (J. K. Simmons) to stick to the setlist of traditional Christmas songs. Mia overhears the music as she passes by (“Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”). Moved, she enters the restaurant, but Sebastian is fired. As he storms out, Mia attempts to compliment him, but he brushes her off.

Months later, Mia runs into Sebastian at a party where he plays in a 1980s pop cover band; she teases him by requesting “I Ran (So Far Away)”, a song he considers an insult for “a serious musician”. After the gig, the two walk to their cars, lamenting each other’s company despite the chemistry between them (“A Lovely Night”).

The next day, Sebastian arrives at Mia’s work, and she shows Sebastian around the movie lot, where she works as a barista, while explaining her passion for acting. Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club, describing his passion for jazz and desire to open his own club. They warm up to each other (“City of Stars”). Sebastian invites Mia to a screening of Rebel Without a Cause; Mia accepts, forgetting a commitment with her current boyfriend. Bored with the double date with her boyfriend, she runs to the theater, finding Sebastian as the film begins. The two conclude their evening with a romantic dance at the Griffith Observatory (“Planetarium”).

After more failed auditions, Mia decides, at Sebastian’s suggestion, to write a one-woman play. Sebastian begins to perform regularly at a jazz club (“Summer Montage”), and the two move in together. Sebastian’s former classmate Keith (John Legend) invites him to be the keyboardist in his fusion jazz band, where he will be offered a steady income. Although dismayed by the band’s pop style, Sebastian signs after overhearing Mia trying to convince her mother that Sebastian is working on his career. Mia attends one of their concerts (“Start a Fire”) but is disturbed, knowing Sebastian does not enjoy his band’s music.

During the band’s first tour, Mia and Sebastian get into an argument; she accuses him of abandoning his dreams, while he claims she liked him more when he was unsuccessful. Mia leaves, insulted and frustrated. Sebastian misses Mia’s play due to a photo shoot with the band that he had forgotten. The play is a disaster; few people attend, and Mia overhears dismissive comments. Despondent and unable to pay the theater back, she moves back home to Boulder City, Nevada.

Sebastian receives a call from a casting director who attended Mia’s play, inviting her to a film audition. Sebastian drives to Boulder City and persuades Mia to attend. The casting directors ask Mia to tell a story; she sings about her aunt who inspired her to pursue acting (“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”). Sebastian encourages her to devote herself to the opportunity. They profess they will always love each other but are uncertain of their future.

Five years later, Mia is a famous actress and happily married to another man (Tom Everett Scott), with whom she has a daughter. One night, the couple stumbles upon a jazz bar. Noticing the “Seb’s” logo she had once designed, Mia realizes Sebastian has opened his club. As Sebastian notices Mia in the crowd, he plays their love theme and the two imagine what might have been had their relationship worked perfectly (“Epilogue”). Before Mia leaves with her husband, she shares a smile with Sebastian.

What a whirlwind! I’ve seen this movie three times now, and I still can’t but smile when I think about it. Gosling and Stone have some of the best chemistry of all time, better than Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I could go on for a while.

Point being, that while this appears to be a film about Hollywood, it’s moreso a film about love and the dangers of it, but despite those dangers, it’s far better to experience love and live a full life than to wait for life to happen.

Pros: The two leads play well off of each other, as they always do. Stone is beautiful and heartbreaking in her authenticity, and Gosling is too warm hearted to really be that rakish. The homage to the passage of time is so well done you’ll get all the feels.

Cons: There are an ever-present string of cliches to snip through as you watch, but you have to know the musicals that came before to be truly effected by it.

Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes

Points of Interest: Emma Watson turned down this role to film the live adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling learned to play piano for this role, and John Legend learned to play guitar.

This is a love affair fully realized, passing through seasons, time and space, and ending on a high note. No, it is not a happily ever after scenario, but La La Land doesn’t need to be in order to showcase the starry idealism of today’s youth. Talented and romantic, these kids are paying homage to what has proceeded them, without falling into the tropes of the musical genre. Admittedly, I struggled with the very first sequence of the film, but I think like any good musical, Chazelle is capable of drawing you into this world and getting you to settle into it’s rules.

theories Summarized

There are musical numbers throughout this love story, but what I find most interesting of all is the love story that Chazelle has with this city. La La Land is so happy and sweet in it’s outpouring of emotion, that you have to wonder what Los Angeles did right to have this director fall so hard for her. I have a few theories, but I don’t kiss and tell.

Tim!

Take A Polka Doted Waltz Through The Cuban Country, With Some Rock and Jazz, Man (The Mavericks, Brand New Day review)

I think some of my favourite things about listening to music are when you can stumble across something you like but can’t believe that you didn’t already know about it. Or to put it another way, when you reconnect with music that you forgot you were a fan of.

 

The Mavericks – Brand New Day
released March 31, 2017
******* 8/10

The Mavericks have been making offbeat country music for just over 20 years, and that’s taking into account the break they took between 2005-2011! Known for their eclectic sound that combines latin and rockabilly influences. I first heard about them back in the 1990s, when I was still voluntold to listen to the country station in my parents house. Remember Here Comes the Rain and All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down? This is sound of The Mavericks that I still remember sitting in my parents faux wood panel station wagon.

But that doesn’t mean the ninth outing for these guys is out of sync with this generation.

There are high standards in place here.

The opening track Rolling Along reminds me of Ukrainian mountain music and features its share of accordion harmonies. A callback to their early work and very peppy to boot, also it’s about drugs. Just in case that wasn’t obvious. Quickly changing pace for the title track, The Mavericks present us with a more somber tone on Brand New Day, its upbeat though, and features some excellent caterwauling from Miami born Raul Malo. Then we get to hear some horns on Easy as It Seems, which is surprisingly easy going with its message of musical sambas from the 50s.

Then again, that sound does continue through on the next song I Think of You, and later with Ride With Me and closing track For the Ages, but the mixing in of early pop, jazz and true bread and butter are what they are known for. It’s comforting to see a group caring the torch along, without dragging it on the floor.

Staying true to their sound has always been important for The Mavericks, and I think that’s why they choose time and time again to stay independent, nobody messes with the production. They have fun with their music and it comes through – listen to Goodnight Waltz and tell me you don’t think of lounge singers, spaghetti, and cocktails. But with a country twang to it.

This music does not fit into any particular genre. I chose country as the prefacing statement because that’s where I heard it first in my youth, but this music reminds me of so many different things at any given moment, that they are eclectic is the really the best way to put it.

It never reaches a point where I’m listening and re-listening to the lyrics or pausing to reflect on ideas within, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

Mavericks indeed.

 

theories Summarized

Do you want to take a trip through Americana, post-war and pre-war? Well this is your ticket and I wish you well on your journey, I think there is something of a history lesson and a demonstration that it all comes full circle when we listen to music.

An unorthodox or independent-minded person. The definition of a maverick. These gentlemen fit the bill, and that’s my theory for why they have staying power, not because there is something brand new here, but because they are inclusive and adventurous.

Tim!

Hall of Fame (Whiplash review)

Sometimes people confuse talent with potential. Potential is aptitude not yet realized, but talent is an expression which is right in front of us. Yes, talent can be reigned in, developed, focused, nurtured, etc. But the real question of the day is, can we recognize talent when it does something a little bit left of normal.

I guess we’ll find out in today’s Theatrical Tuesday review.

 

 

 

Whiplash (2014)

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang
Director: Damien Chazelle
released on blu-ray February 24, 2015
********** 10/10

Whiplash-2014-tt2582802-Poster

IMDB: 8.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, Audience Score 94%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Damien Chazelle is an American film director and screenwriter. He has currently served up only two feature-length films, but at thirty-one he is making a name for himself and about to release a movie called La La Land which I personally am very excited about. And the major reason for this is that Chazelle knows something about music that not many directors seem to be capable in pulling off. When you tie in the emotional and mental endurance needed to create art, people gravitate to that struggle and can see a story through to it’s conclusion.

Which is where Whiplash comes in, as Chazelle’s second effort, and preceded by the jazz musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, we get to see an excellent sparing match between Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons. Though this movie was technically released almost two years back now, I’m anticipating that 2016’s La La Land will have a similar rhythm to it. Pun intended.

The movie starts with the struggle of a young jazz drummer named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and his journey through school at a top music conservatory in New York called Shaffer Conservatory.

Infamous and tyrannical conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) stumbles upon Nieman practicing late at night and is eventually convinced to invite Nieman into his studio band after a few awkward interactions. But Fletcher is relentless and expects the absolute best of his students, pushing them around both verbally and physically, kicking individuals out on a whim. Nieman practices so hard that his hands start to bleed, and he even breaks up with girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) because he wants to be the very best.

At one point we sympathize with Fletcher because he shares that a former student of his recently died in a car crash, a student with tremendous potential, and who was quickly rising up. Which is foreshadowing for Niemans own car crash. In a rush to a competition due a broke down bus, Nieman rents a car, but forgets his sticks at the rental agency. He then rushes back and is t-boned by a large truck. Instead of seeking medical attention, he runs to the concert hall and attempts to play the piece, but cannot due to injury. Fletcher boots him from the stage, but not before Nieman attacks Fletcher in front of the audience.

After being dismissed from the conservatory, Nieman and his father (Paul Reiser) meet with a lawyer of the student that died in a car crash. It turns out that the young man hanged himself, and that Fletcher pushed the student to anxiety and depression. Nieman chooses to testify, if only to remain anonymous.

He later stumbles upon Fletcher performing at a jazz club, and is invited to a drink afterwards. Fletcher has been removed from his position, but he wants Nieman to be his drummer for a JVC Jazz Festival. Nieman agrees, but when he shows up to play Whiplash, Fletcher reveals that he knew Nieman testified against him, and has set him up for embarassment. Nieman walks off the stage, but then returns to the stage and starts up Caravan, bringing the rest of the band in with him, and finishes the song with a solo.

Nieman and Fletcher share a look, then work together to finish the set.

ProsThe movies asks the question, what are you willing to do in order to achieve greatness?, and rather deftly answers it. The two leads share an amazing set of performances and obliterate the typical student-mentor relationship trope.

Cons: We never really get to enjoy any music, which is ironic, given that it’s a movie about music. Also, the message is rather linear in it’s presentation, not much room for a supporting cast to move around.

Runtime1 hour 47 minutes

Points of Interest: The film was edited, shot, and submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in a period of ten weeks. Andrew Nieman is in every scene. It was adapted from a short film of the same name, J. K. Simmons plays in both.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of story before. If we traded a studio band for uniforms and the drum kit for a football, boom we’d be in a sports movie. Or conversely, we could trade the studio band for a war zone and the drum kit for a rifle and all of a sudden it’s a war epic. But to spit some cheese, the song remains the same. Chazelle has done something here, something authentic, pulling from his own experience, and showing us what happens when someone really wants greatness at any cost.

Whiplash is a rare film that manages to be about music and overly romantic about music. It is considerate enough to share the screen time between it’s human characters and it’s musical ones. It should be obvious that Andrew Nieman has talent from the outset of the movie, but his drive to demonstrate his skill at any cost is what makes this a great case study of expression.

But that’s just a theory.

Tim!

I Have Been Over The Rainbow (The Avalanches, Wildflower review)

We’ve witnessed lots of absenteeism in music over the years, but my all-time favourite probably came from Guns ‘n Roses and their lack of interest in seeing Chinese Democracy arrive in a timely manner, at all.

So I skipped out on it, I mean fuck’em right? Well not so, well, not entirely. Chinese Democracy didn’t have the hitmaking power of Appetite for Destruction, nor the sweeping epic of Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illision II, but it’s a pretty solid album on it’s own. Just thirteen years later.

Well today, we look at an album sixteen years in the making.

 

 

 

The Avalanches – Wildflower
released July 8, 2016
******** 8/10

avalanches-wildflower

The Avalanches are an Australian group that started spinning records back when I was still in junior high school. Or to put it another way, way, way back in 1997. They were making plunderphonics back before I even knew that that was a cool way to make music.

I don’t want to dwell too much on what plunderphonics is, but if you are familiar with pretty much any other existing audio recording ever, than you’ll understand that combining existing samples and/or altering them allows for a track to enter into the mix. Pun intended.

The Avalanches current lineup consists of Robbi Chater, Tony Di Blasi, and James Dela Cruz, but they’ve gone through a huge rotation with five other band members coming and going. Incidentally this has something to do with the fact that the group released their debut album Since I Left You in 2000, but haven’t put any studio albums out since that first one.

The reason for this is because of many personal issues the band faced, between Chater being ill for three years, and issues of too many songs to choose from, the band was faced with the problem of genius and perfectionism. And so here we are sixteen years later. But you know what, Wildflower is still a delight to listen to. It reminds me of The Go! Team, Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, Jackson 5, and Canadian favourite Caribou all mashed together into one giant happy, fuzzy, sleepover with rainbow pillows and unicorn blankets.

Remember when I mentioned a while back that jazz music has been making a resurgence via successful acts like Leon Bridges and Kendrick Lamar? Well, The Avalanches are hopping on this bandwagon of rather raw music and the results are coming up nicely. It never feels like a strong narrative, but it doesn’t produce nostalgia.

For instance, those tweeting birds on Zap! takes me right back to the soundtrack of that Sleeping Beauty movie from the 1950s.

I would be remiss to break down this review into particular tracks and emotions, because I think that you’ll get more out of it just diving right in and considering the source material. Seriously.

Now it is a little sad that founding member Darren Seltmann opted out before the album finished, but it is comforting to know that co-founders Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi are still there for us. And for such a nostalgia trips, this feels very present in our time space. It is both jazz and pop infused, and good music fans know that those genres are very “lit” right now.

 

 

 

I would argue that The Avalanches have produced a much cooler vehicle than Guns ‘n Roses, but it does help that they sampled the Mega Man 2 death sounds and featured cereal eating alongside their hip hop.

It’s not a perfect record, but it is very accessible if you are a fan of generation sweeping music. I hope you listen and I bet you’ll find some great samples that make your own heart all weepy.

See ya tomorrow with another nostalgia trip, this time a movie about the 1980s.

Tim!