[Sound and Vision]: Let’s Get Lost

Screen shot 2010-12-15 at 7.49.46 PM

“Let’s defrost in a romantic mist / Let’s get crossed off everybody’s list.”

A portrait of the artist as an old man.

Well this article is going to be a bit different as I don’t often do film reviews, despite being a big film fan for most of my life. However, this documentary about Chet Baker really struck a chord with me. Rather than a detailed retrospective, Let’s Get Lost is more of an intimate portrait of the West Coast jazz prodigy who had it all and spent his final years as an itinerant speedball addict in Santa Monica, CA.

Filmed during the last year of Chet Baker’s life, Let’s Get Lost grew out of a photo shoot which director Bruce Weber intended for a short film called Blame It On My Youth. Weber had been interested in Baker since coming across a vinyl LP in a record store in Pittsburgh at the age of 16, becoming infatuated with his music and his iconic James Dean good looks. Over the course of the shoot they grew closer and Baker opened up to Weber, so Weber convinced Baker to make a longer film. Let’s Get Lost became a labour of love for Weber who funded the $1,000,000 production from his own money and filmed it only when he had the time and money to do so. The filming itself was marked by difficulty and spontaneity as Baker’s turbulent life during this period meant that filming plans quickly went out the window when he finally walked in the room: “It was like going to Marine boot camp,” Weber said to the Austin Chronicle. “You’d plan something, and it wouldn’t happen the way you planned it, so you had to adapt to it, just go with it. Sometimes we’d have to stop for some reason or another and then, because Chet was a junkie and couldn’t do things twice, we’d have to start all over again. But we grew to really like him.” Baker would later be found dead on the pavement on Prins Hendrikkade, Amsterdam during the film’s post-production, giving Let’s Get Lost an added poignancy.

The film is beautifully shot in black and white and Weber’s eye as a fashion photographer creates a sweeping and incredibly romantic aura around the whole film. The stars seem to twinkle in the night sky and the palm trees along the beach sway elegantly. Meanwhile Baker, who now resembles a Bukowskian barfly more than the Adonis of his youth, is still remarkably photogenic. The film meanders like a memoir, as Baker reminisces about his music, experiences and relationships while ex-associates and old flames tell their stories. There is little sense of chronology and with another subject such a film may fall apart, but Baker is such a beguiling and effortlessly enigmatic personality that he holds the film together, the linchpin in an otherwise chaotic tale. Let’s Get Lost does follow his career but at a cursory glance, briefly mentioning moments such as playing on Pacific, getting his teeth knocked out and his multiple incarcerations. This does not mean the music is neglected though, as Baker’s enrapturing and languid music is weaved throughout, blending seamlessly with shots of sleepy California and Baker’s escapades of the time. The film also features some incredibly intimate performances, the likes of which cause the hairs to bristle on the back of your neck. Despite the years, Baker’s voice is haunting and pitch-perfect, while his trumpeting is as moving and mellifluous as ever.

What I feel is Let’s Get Lost’s greatest achievement is conveying Baker’s charismatic personality. He is electrifying onscreen, not in an overtly energetic way but in the sheer magnetism he exerts over everyone, the viewer included. He is charming and good looking even after the ravages of substance abuse which make him look ten years older than he actually was at the time. You find yourself falling under his spell, even as his closest friends, lovers and relatives repeatedly disclose to us that he is selfish, unreliable and a great manipulator. But even those most burned by him still adore him, just as the viewer finds themselves drawn to such a lovable rogue. And this is Let’s Get Lost’s main focus: It’s not about setting the record straight, but about staring in awe at such an infatuating personality. As you watch Baker you sense the fascination of that sixteen year-old kid in Pittsburgh and the wonder of those who knew him. “There’s a line between love and fascination,” says ex-lover Ruth Young, quoting the Baker standard ‘My Foolish Heart’. “That’s mystique. But that isn’t necessarily real and that’s what takes a long, long time to figure out: To separate one’s gift from one’s self.” Perhaps Baker never did, and that is what Let’s Get Lost excels in showing.

Advertisements

[Mixtape]: There Is A Light That Never Goes Out


“We set controls for the heart of the sun, One of the ways we show our age.”

Here is something I’ve been meaning to do on Tsar for a while now and I’m glad to have finally gotten around to it. I’ve been making mixtapes for the best part of ten years now and I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoy making them. Keep your eyes peeled as I intend to upload more in the future, so watch this space.

This mixtape is intended to be listened to while driving around late at night, or maybe during a long drive home. I wanted to recreate the feel of driving in 80’s movies, because despite their cheesy quality they made driving feel really cool. So there’s a lot of synthy soundscapes in there, but there are also some quieter acoustic moments to be had as well. I originally made this mixtape for a friend as a sort of memento for those long nights we used to spend with others driving around with ‘no particular place to go’, as Chuck Berry would say. In fact, this mixtape was very nearly called Breadcrumbs in the Backseat, because whenever we’d stop off at Tescos for late night supplies he would always get baguettes which left breadcrumbs everywhere. It used to drive me insane, but I miss that stuff now. Nostalgia aside, this mix just seems more appropriate as the nights get longer and more sultry so I thought I’d share it with you folks. Relax, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1. ‘Untitled’ – Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
2. ‘People Can Do the Most Amazing Things’ – Kisses – The Heart of the Night Life
3. ‘Castles in the Snow’ – Twin Shadow – Forget
4. ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ – Kid Cudi [Feat. MGMT and Ratatat] – Man on the moon: The End of Day
5. ‘Lay Your Cards Out’ – Poliça – Give You the Ghost
6. ‘Go Down Easy’ – John Martyn – Solid Air
7. ‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’ – The National – Alligator
8. ‘New York is Killing Me’ – Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
9. ‘Bad Religion’ – Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE
10. ‘Street Lights’ – Kanye West – 808’s and Heartbreak
11. ‘Under Your Spell’ – Desire – Desire II
12. ‘Your Blue Room’ – Passengers (i.e. U2 & Brian Eno) – Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1
13. ‘Tick of the Clock’ – Chromatics – Night Drive
14. ‘Kreuzberg’ – Bloc Party – A Weekend in the City
15. ‘All My Friends’ – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Note: On the 8track mix, the website autofills the Solid Air original of ‘Go Down Easy’ with a godawful revisit John Martyn did later. I’ve tried editing and re-uploading the track, but to no avail. So if you’re recreating this at home (remember: safety first kids. Get an adult to help you if needed), insert the Solid Air original for track 6 and the mix should make a lot more sense.

Cover credit: Galveston by ~road2infinity 

[Album Review]: The National – Trouble Will Find Me

the-national-sea-of-love-music-video-600

“I know I was a lot of things, but I am good and I am grounded / Davy says that I look taller”

With a pre-release album streaming on the iTunes Store front page and an all-star cast of friends to cameo on their latest album, who could have predicted even five years ago that The National would become giants? It seems to me that with each album, The National steadily build on their previous foundations to ever headier heights. From the intimate and waist-deep scale of The National to the immense and towering sprawl of High Violet, they have, sonically, grown exponentially.

From the opening swell of I Should Live In Salt, it is clear that Trouble Will Find Me has a strong musical connection to High Violet. However, some songs have echoes of Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, such as the menacing broodiness of ‘Sea of Love’ which features rallying drum rolls from Matt Devendorf and spiky guitars that occasionally puncture into the foreground (and, incidentally, if you listen closely you can hear Aaron Dessner wailing on a harmonica). Meanwhile, the guitar driven ‘Fireproof’ and the slow-dancing ‘Heavenfaced’ both sound like they could be outtakes from Boxer. Although the tone and tempo in general hardly gets above a sombre heartbeat, there is still space for a sense of intrepid wonder, like the speeding ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ or the glimmering sense of hope on ‘Humiliation’. And of course, it wouldn’t be an album by The National without a bittersweet send off and ‘Hard to Find’ does not disappoint, giving us one final “kiss off into the air” before the album’s close. However, it is really the unshiftable immensity of this collection which really hits home. The songs themselves are like monumental totems which Berninger wanders through, singing of the heavier aspects of modern domesticated life.

Although Berninger’s lyrics may be pensive and doubtful, as is his way, the music is confident and reflects a seamless chemistry between band members. The guitars are less pronounced than on previous albums, working more as a texture in the overall collage. Indeed, the Dessner brothers lean more on synths and piano these days to offer colour, as on ‘Graceless’ and the pre-release single ‘Demons’. Meanwhile, Scott Devendorf’s bass lopes alongside his brother’s idiosyncratic drum fills, grounding and contributing to the compositions throughout. Although these aspects have been present all along, it is here that the band seems most unified. The songs are understated in their deep resonance and they ebb and flow in a way that is reminiscent of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy.

Trouble Will Find Me seems like a midlife crisis of a record (the “taking stock of what you have” kind, not the “buy an embarrassing leather jacket and a fast car” kind). This feeling is especially present on ‘I Need My Girl’, which navigates family tensions and personal dissatisfaction (“I know I was a lot of things, but I am good and I am grand”). After the growing pains of the first few albums and the settled confidence of Boxer and High Violet, this album is more moody and brooding. The problem, unfortunately, is that the tone just doesn’t vary much. While The National can arguably be said to only plough one particular field (scenes of middle-American strife and personal malaise), the range and depth they have managed to get out of that field in the past is remarkable and exhilarating. Even on their most pessimistic albums they could still pull out some anthems, and while Trouble Will Find Me never bores, it never really gets going either.

So, will Trouble Will Find Me turn off some old listeners? Possibly, but most fans of The National are aware that they are not the most forthcoming band. Will it garner The National some new listeners? I don’t think so. However, as with all their albums, Trouble Will Find Me will be a grower that unexpectedly slips under your skin one day and will keep you entranced for months, or even years. And for all these grumblings The National remain an endearing group who, even at their most dizzyingly colossal, still seem like they’re talking directly to you.

Trouble Will Find Me is available now through 4AD.

Originally posted on Hercules Moments

[Artist Spotlight]: We Were Evergreen

We Were Evergreen 0512 7 Banner

“I’ve got nothing to say, I’ve got nothing new / Not a thing to convey to you”

When a mate and I decided to head along to see King Charles when he was passing through Aberdeen in April, we knew it would be a fun distraction from our impending dissertation deadline. We had a fantastic pop fuelled evening and King Charles nailed the gig, but what we did not expect to come across was such an invigorating and exciting support act. A trio of Parisians took the stage whose beguiling blend of vocal harmonies and electro beats, mixed with solid pop melodies and lengthy improvisations, really stole the show for me. That support act was We Were Evergreen.

The band, consisting of Michael Liot, Fabienne Débarre and William Serfass, have been touring extensively and have made their home in the UK. Touting a formidable number of instruments and swapping between them, they manage to coax the most enjoyable pop tunes from them, as they do on their most recent single, ‘Leeway’. It’s a pretty solid example of their summery brand of bubbly pop music, putting a spring in your step in even the grimmest weather. The vocal melodies definitely show the influence of The Beach Boys (although you could forgivably mistake the opening vocal murmurs for ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’), while the exuberant xylophones bob along on buoyant waves of synths and ukulele strumming.

Really, I’m not sure how much more I can say. Their music is incredibly twee, but there is no denying that it is also incredibly fun at the same time. As they say, ‘You won’t learn anything from this song’. It’s just a bit of fun and it’s a while since I’ve heard such catchy and carefree pop music that avoids veering into sickly saccharine territory. If that isn’t enough to win you over, they’re also a thoroughly nice bunch of guys who were so good as to draw a dinosaur on my friend’s copy of their EP (it ended up looking more like a kangaroo at the end, but it’s the thought that counts, right?).

You can get ‘Leeway’ and other We Were Evergreen tunes on Bandcamp.

[Album Review]: Ghostpoet – Some Say I So I Say Light

Mr-Nice-Guy

“Now it’s love that soaks my heart / I contemplate the dark”

From recording and experimenting with sequencers at nights during his degree at Coventry University to a Mercury nominated debut album and a string of sold out live dates, to say that Ghostpoet’s (a.k.a. Obaro Ejimiwe’s) rise has been meteoric seems like an understatement. However, on his follow up album Ejimiwe handles the dizzying past few years of his life with resilience and humour, delivering an album that defied my initial expectations.

On Some Say I So I Say Light Ejimiwe’s recognisably soporific drawl remains intact, except now his delivery seems more focused and lucid with an energy behind it that has been honed by live performances. Meanwhile, the music has become even more minimalistic, tinged with eerie paranoia and a keen sense of uneasy self-awareness. Opener ‘Cold Win’ cautiously points out “I don’t know this place”, while ’12 Deaf’‘s disclosure that “Fear takes over me” sounds like it’s delivered from the extreme depths and pressures of a submarine. The voice and music paired together are still evocative of the creaking floorboards and trickling water pipes of streets and tenement buildings. However, Ejimiwe seems more pessimistic here, or maybe not so much pessimistic as dragged down and more accustomed to everyday pressures and grime than he was previously. He is constantly waiting on trains that never seem to arrive while staring out to sea, watching out for dark clouds on the horizon. The smouldering and brooding atmosphere palpable throughout the album is comparable to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine or Tricky’s Maxinquaye.

Moments of lightness and optimism occasionally punctuate the gloom: ‘Dorsal Morsel’ sees Ejimiwe “revel in the elegance that only night can bring” while ‘Plastic Bag Brain’ is driven by an idiosyncratically skewed guitar melody. Lead single ‘Meltdown’ is a bittersweet depiction of a dissolving relationship and is probably one of the truest break-up songs I’ve ever heard. The vocal interplay between Ejimiwe’s conversational outpouring and the yearning crooning of Woodpecker Wooliams (who also appears on ‘Dial Tones’) makes ‘Meltdown’ both mournful and uplifting at the same time. ‘Sloth Trot’ is the album’s heart, beating at a barely audible rate. Ejimiwe’s meditative vocals search through an inertia-inducing gulf of synths and echoed samples. “Is this all there is? / I’m not sure”, he ambivalently observes as a delay-laden guitar sound punctuates the haze before fading into the distance like a far-off train. Towards the end the track descends into a disorienting squall of wailing guitar, drums and clipped vocal samples.

While the minimalist approach does focus attention on Obaro’s voice, unfortunately it does mean that some songs tend to sound similar after a while. For sure, each song has character and collected together they evoke an enigmatic and nocturnal urban atmosphere, but the album does tend towards uniformity. In effect, Some Say I So I Say Light feels like Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam Pt.2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since Peanut Butter Blues is a stunningly vivid portrayal of urban living in contemporary Britain. Rather than moving into different territory, Ejimiwe has chosen to dig deeper and explore the darker corners and heavier aspects of this area. It is as if we have followed him down the garden path which he warned us away from on Peanut Butter Blues.

Ultimately it is Ejimiwe’s naturalistic yet affable personality which really shines through and carries the album. You identify with him and, just as with Peanut Butter Blues, while things may not be at their best he’s trying anyway. At the end of the album, ‘Comatose’s affirmative assertion “I feel”, repeated amongst awakening synths and majestic strings that lift the mood, promises a brighter morning once this long night has passed.

Some Say I So I Say Light is available now through Play It Again Sam.

– Originally posted on Hercules Moments