Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker”: Album review

Recorded in a single stoned-coked-drinkin’ night in August 1976 at Indigo Ranch and intended to be released as a complete album, “Hitchhiker” contains songs that were apparently written on the spot, in some cases without actually needing to write anything down.
The record company executives felt it was too much like a set of demos and asked that Young re-record the songs with a backing band. Many of the songs made it into other releases, some re-recorded, some edited, some overdubbed; some played live; one or two never released until the album was finally released last month.
Yet the album is clearly a complete work in its own right, solid and fully formed, full of stunning masterworks of the kind of songwriting that happens in those rare periods, sometimes just moments, when a songwriter has inexplicably gotten themselves plugged into some kind of channel in the air through which inspiration flows. There’s something also of that ‘one man and a guitar’ power of those early Dylan albums that makes a singer-songwriter want to abandon the pedal board and production studio and just sit with the guitar.

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“Bad Boys” (1983): Film review

Ne’er-do-well Mick O’Brien wants to rise from petty violent crimes like theft and bashing an old woman to something more lucrative like ripping off two rival drug gangs intent on ripping each other off. An innocent kid gets caught in the cross-fire and Mick is sent to a juvenile reform hell-hole where he must learn to pit his wits against the system, the hierarchy of the other inmates, and ultimately the gang-member older brother of the young kid whose death he was responsible for.
“Bad Boys” does a good job of showing what a dead-end nothing life these kids are trying to escape from down a path of crime, and how difficult it is to get off that path.
That said, while there is some striving towards redemption, it’s still hard to feel too much sympathy for the characters who make their own determined fatalistic choices, with no regard for who gets hurt in the process.
Sean Penn is intense and captivating, and holds your attention through to the explosive climax.
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Japanese Breakfast’s “Soft Sounds From Another Planet”: Album review

Japanese Breakfast’s second album, 2017’s “Soft Sounds From Another Planet,” builds on the lo-fi indie pop lightness of the debut and expands into a far wider, broader musical accomplishment. The opening track “Diving Woman” has a kind of mezmerizing Stereolab jam to it, the kind of trance-inducing journey that you want to listen to over and over. There’s a flavor of a sort of less-layered Swervedriver about the album – the instrumentation interlocks well, producing a whole that’s probably more intricate-sounding that its parts, but that’s the beauty of the album.
Michelle Zauner’s Sunday-esque voice is dripping with reverb, equally adept in the beat-driven “Driving Woman” and “Road Head,” ballads like “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” and “Boyish,” indie-pop lo-fi rockers like “12 Steps,” or spacey poignant slower tracks like “Jimmy Fallon Big!” and “This House.”
I saw her at Music Hall of Williamsburg this week where she was riding high at the end of a five week tour, thrilled to be selling out the venue near where she worked a few short years ago in a day job while working on the first Japanese Breakfast album at night. Her energy and joy lifted the performance, and her choice of opening bands was excellent, Mannequin Pussy’s mix of soft crooning and wide-mouthed Nirvana-punk yelling a good counterbalance to The Spirit of the Beehive’s Pavement-meets-60s-psychedelia.
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Japanese Breakfast’s “Psychopomp”: Album review

Poppy, mostly upbeat, described as “indie pop” and “lo fi” by Wikipedia, Japanese Breakfast’s debut “Psychopomp” is infinitely listenable and easygoing. Michelle Zauner’s voice has something of the Sundays about it, and the tracks are a mix of airy guitar beats and electronic synth tones that is a little bit like Wye Oak’s “Shriek” album from 2014.
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Enigma’s “The Screen Behind the Mirror”: Album review

This album is 17 years old, but I just got my hands on it now. I don’t regret buying it, but I’d regret telling you to buy it.

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“Baby Driver”: Movie review

The poor kid is trapped in a no-win situation and has no choice but to help out a gang of ruthless murdering thieves. People get caught in the crossfire.
I think “Guardians of the Galaxy” made extremely clever use of the device of the retro vintage mix cassette tape as a way to both delineate a character narrative and lend a certain texture and flavor to a movie. “Baby Driver” seems somewhat derivative in that respect, and personally I much preferred the songs on Peter Quill’s mix tapes than those on Baby’s.
Fans of the turgid and bloated “Fast and Furious” spectacles may enjoy the stunt driving, but the heist element is no “Ocean’s 11.” Some of the coloring and lighting is lush and enticing, but this is no “Neon Demon.”
Lily James’ diner waitress Debora is a good foil for Ansel Elgort’s Baby, yet even she seems derivative, a kind of pale version of Twin Peaks Double R Diner waitress Shelly.
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Chelsea Wolfe’s “Hiss Spun”

Chelsea Wolfe’s new album “Hiss Spun” opens sludgy and heavy with the track “Spun,” distorted guitars and bass pounding along with the drums, Wolfe’s voice sliding and curving over the seething mass of the rhythm section, while the lead guitar makes lush bends and twisted angles. I’m not 100% sure who’s playing which guitar lines, but Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen appears throughout this album and is credited with guitar on this opening track, and I cannot help but imagine this is his lead work here in the opening minutes. It’s good lead work, and works well with Wolfe, but it’s perhaps a little less unique that the odd guitar lines that accompanied Wolfe’s rise in tracks like “Mer” and “Moses.”
The opening guitar line in “16 Psyche” is perhaps more reminiscent of those earlier guitar lines, waves of extra distortion piling on for the chorus, while Wolfe’s insistent anxious pained voice sings straight lines and cyclical curves.
Wolfe’s voice sounds Cranes-esque in its deep pool of reverb on “Vex,” with its electronicish beat and saturated distortion alternating with cleaner tremelo lines. Isis vocalist Aaron Turner appears in this track, pushing the song deeper towards traditional black metal territory. Wolfe frequently collaborates with other musicians – Russian Circles, King Dude, Myrkur – as well as inviting them to perform on her records. I could do without the scream metal vocals here, though, much as I could do without the hip-hop guests on Lana Del Rey’s last album, but I trust they serve a purpose in the purging Wolfe speaks about in an open letter to fans at the release of “Hiss Spun.”
In that letter Chelsea Wolfe wrote “I’ve long had an affinity for white noise and there are moments on Hiss Spun dedicated to it, using sampled sounds from my own life as well as from history,” thought perhaps the 74 second interlude “Strain” falls somewhat short of the madness and wild noise I was hoping for on reading that.
The cold uncertainty and confusion of “Culling,” with its isolated vocals and muffled toms, opens into a startlingly beautiful chorus, almost “Ok Computer” era Radiohead-esque in its texture.
The toms pick up speed in “Particle Flux,” reaching a kind of Cure “Pornography” intensity, following which “Twin Fawn” is a sort of Black Sabbath psychedelic interlude pierced by moments of great explosive violence and injury.
The layered drums and syth-sounding guitars in “Offering” lend the track that later Cranes feel we heard on “Vex,” while “Static Hum” continues that Cure “Pornography” tom barrage over the kind of guitar line redolent of earlier Wolfe albums – singular and strange. Which makes sense because this is one of the tracks which does not feature Troy Van Leeuwen but instead features long-time Wolfe band member Bryan Tulao, a master of resonance, odd slightly discordant riffs, and ringing spaces, as opposed to Van Leeuwen’s more flagrant and note-heavy style.
The two minute “Welt” opens with 40 seconds of noise like feedback, drills, TV static, before Chelsea’s voice, staccato and stark, fades in for a minute over a bare piano track.
Perhaps my favorite on the album, “Two Spirit” uses a simple alternating two minor-chord progression to showcase the sheer cold beauty of Wolfe’s vocals, soft and lonely, climbing in the last minute and a half into a heavier and darker outro.
“Scrape” closes the album out, its noise intro segueing into a roiling guitar that breathes in and out as Wolfe’s voice rises to incredible pitches with piercing intensity.
I can’t wait to see Wolfe live this month at Irving Plaza, and experience her performance of what she has described as a “brutally honest” album, “dark” and yet “freeing,” representing “a certain kind of self-acceptance I’ve long strived for as an introverted, anxiety-riddled person.” I hear you Chelsea, I hear you.
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