Monday, June 25, 2012


Americana.  Tis a wonderous style that many a wannabe immigrant tend to emulate.  Artistically and stylistically.  The fourth of July is nearly upon, so whenever the media decides to get over its nauseating Royal family obsession, the next trend they will be cooing over will most likely be that of Americana.  Prepare for magazine spread with Star Spangled banner embellishments and classic American pie recipes.

I was thralling through a little music shop the other day, trying to decide what to do with my last fifteen euro, when what should I see before me but this:

It was in the new releases section.  I was perplexed.  I thought this collaboration had long since ceased recording together.  Checking the date in disbelief, seeing a 2012 stamp, I purchased the album with unbinding excitement and anticipation.

Once out in the car, upon further inspection while pouring over the enclosed booklet, it revealed itself to be a bit of a concept record, the hint lying in the title Americana.  It is a collection of folk songs and ballads, shaken up with an alternative edge by Young and Crazy Horse.

Something about American folk has always been haunting.  It may be the lonesome vagabond quality attached to the voice of the respective singer; most likely however, it is attributable to the underling presence of the Frontier Myth and the colonisation of the Native American people.  Folk embodies conflicting emotions: the pride of the Frontier Myth and the so-called honour attached to that, and subsequent disintegration and obliteration of Native tribes.

Geronimo himself is referenced in the album art, where Neil Young and Crazy Horse's heads have been superimposed onto a press photo of Geronimo in a Locomoblie during a 101 Ranch Show in 1906.  Geronimo's significance as a historical American figure complements the weighted themes of American folk.  Geronimo  was a Bedonkohe Apache leader who rebelled and protested against the infiltration by Mexico and America into Apache tribes.

The song "Clementine" is particularly resonant when recalling the history that the sleeve refers to.  The harmony is eerily reminiscent of a war chant, possessing the same charging momentum as Johnny Cash's "Ghost Riders In The Sky".  It evokes resilience and strength, and a unity that reinforces the usual solitude of lone folk heroes.

Another tune on offer, "Oh Susannah", epitomises what Americana has done with what one assumed were traditional and outdated songs.  You anticipate that Young will simply croon his way through a rendition of Oh Susannah and beg her to cry for him, but instead they have delivered a grungey orchestration, leaving a decidedly melancholic stamp on a otherwise old hat.

This is a case of faith in folk being revitalised with a spirit of transgression, essential to that of any American arts canon.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse lift away the stigma of cringe-inducing "she'll be coming round the mountain when she come"  narratives, to instead present a story of gravitas and integrity.  "Jesus' Chariot", similarly to Clementine, retains the momentum of the chant and serves to reinstate folk as a musical force once again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'm Shakin'

Jack White for Interview Magazine, May 2012

Shopping the Film Stash #4 - Dogville

*Whoops forgot to publish this*

I can't imagine how difficult it was to review Dogville as a film journalist.  I personally could never have reviewed it objectively because of the emotional journey and visceral toll this brought me.  But luckily this is a personal blog so I will not have to worry about that until I am being paid.  Any day now....

Dogville tells the story of a young woman Grace, Nicole Kidman, who, seeking sanctuary from a gangster, stumbles into a tiny, isolated village and thus comes under the mercy of its mysterious inhabitants.

At first, though the village elders are reluctant to take Grace in  and shelter her from her undefined threat, once she has been welcomed into the community, things seem altogether rosy.  Lars von Trier is the master of luring one in to a false sense of security (hark back to the lavish wedding festivities in Meloncholia, the seemingly innocent band of outsiders in The Idiots).

Little by little, deceit and foreboding treacle into proceedings.  As the vulnerable asylum seeker, the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace both mentally and physically.  They use their apparent kindness in taking her in as collateral to commit abhorrent acts.

Just when Grace, and the audience, think that they can rely on Tom (Paul Bettany) to uphold his knight in shining armour role, he too succumbs to the decaying morality of the Dogville locals.


Aside from the relentless storyline, one of the most striking elements of the film is obviously the set design.  The sparse, stage-like open plan serves to reiterate the bleakness of Grace's position and the invisible walls emphasise the ignorance of Dogville folk.  She is helpless in the isolated and unforgiving terrain of Dogville.

Without spoiling anything, just a note of the closing credits, whereby the use of the David Bowie's "Young Americans" inspires a severe "a-ha" moment.  Von Trier's scathing criticism is as equally grim as this bastardised Gothic fairytale.

Dogville and its people represent the nature of human flaws and the misguidance of greed and selfishness that in the end cripple modern society.  The vocabulary of cruelty and manipulation are all too familiar, and the casualness with which they are wielded in Dogville provoke uncomfortable reassessments, particularly alongside the final, redemptive act of the film.

Shopping the Music Stash #2 - Oh Land

Another album eponymous of the artist, this could very well become a trend in this loge.

Danish songstress Nanna Oland Fabricius, stage name Oh Land, is another of my NYON-inspired musical finds.  She further epitomises hipster cool and fails to buck trends as she has since relocated to Brooklyn since her first album Fauna back in '08.  (As of yet I have still failed to get my hands on her debut).  Oh Land's like-named 2011 album does however serve to sound a million miles away from the Williamsburg oeuvre that clouded the music scene in recent years.

If I were to describe Oh Land's sound generically, then it would be a contemporary fusion of pop and electronica, Bjork's baby perhaps.  But this is my blog, my territory, so from henceforth, I decree that Oh Land is the Queen of celestial pop.

Close your eyes when listening to her sophomore effort, you'll feel like you been transported to a outer space cavern looking down upon earth, doing cartwheels of inexplicable glee, free from the anxiety-ridden gravity of this world.

Now, if anything, Oh Land's style has been cultivated through the school of Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree thought.  Multi-instrumental pieces, containing everything but the kitchen sink, but in the hands of the right minds and producers, the finished product is cohesive with beautifully distinct elements, like a patchwork quilt.

All at once introspective and uplifting, Oh Land's lyrics weave a philosophical and endearingly defiant tapestry when combined with the percussion-dominated melodies.

It sounds ghastly redundant, but when listening to Oh Land's music, you sense twinkling.  I feel so twee after stating that.... So to reassert my academic credentials, it is an otherworldly experience, and due to her pseudonym, Oh Land is obviously greatly conscience of her second self and in contradictory possession of her Other.  Jane Eyre, she is not.

She owns, and cultivates the fiction surrounding her.  She tells Interview that she has created what she feels is an epic poem, something that is not hard to agree with when she gives a glimpse of the environment she grew up in.

“We had turtles and rabbits and cats and guinea pigs and birds and chickens,” she continues, describing the fable-like environment of her childhood. “We had sewing machines and instruments and there were always the craziest people coming in and out because my mom was teaching opera or my dad was rehearsing with some musicians or my sister was making clothes.”  Source - Interview Magazine

It's little wonder her music excels in eclecticism and celestial manifestations.

I shall not litter the post with song suggestions, but this, Turn It Up, was one of my anthems from last summer, essential, I believe, to all playlists.  Enjoy.

She's a more refined Lady Gaga, this is music you will not tire of, you are welcome.  

*Disclaimer -  I admire Lady Gaga, even listen to some of her music, but it gets tedious let's be honest.