I've been listening to Mohinder a lot lately, but it's almost entirely due to random chance. See, the band that I've really been fascinated by lately is the Swing Kids, and since I only own their releases on vinyl, I had to burn a CD of their music to listen to it at work. And since they only had 20 minutes worth of music, and it seemed silly to burn a 20-minute CD-R when I could include another hour's worth of music, I decided to put something else on the disc. I came up with Mohinder, because they have a similar sound to Swing Kids and because the mp3 blog that had Swing Kids' discography CD posted also had a post with Mohinder's discography, so it was convenient. And after all, Mohinder's another band whose material I only own on vinyl (with one important exception to be discussed later). It seemed like a good fit.

I figured that if I was going to write a blog entry about one of these bands, it'd be Swing Kids. Their song "Forty Three Seconds" has been stuck in my head constantly for over two days now, and there's some interesting stuff going on in their music that's definitely worth a blog entry at some point in the future. But instead, I found myself thinking, while listening to this burned CD-R, about how interesting Mohinder's entire concept as a band is, and what a singular vision they captured in their brief recorded history. So here I am, writing a blog entry about Mohinder.

Mohinder released 3 7 inches while they were together, one being a split with the Nitwits. This means that they released 5 vinyl sides, each of which could only be 6 minutes long at maximum. And in fact, all of Mohinder's vinyl sides were a lot shorter than they could have been--despite the fact that there were sometimes 4 songs crammed onto each side of a Mohinder 7 inch. The reason they were able to fit so many songs in so little space was the sheer frantic energy that went into the writing of any and (almost) every Mohinder song. This wasn't necessarily apparent from the first seconds of their first EP; said EP, "O Nation You Bleed From Many Wounds", contained 5 songs, and began with "To Satisfy", which started out with a slow bass intro. The guitars and drums came in soon enough, and singer/guitarist Clay Parton screamed, "Is it ever enough? Will we ever rest?" over the relatively slow opening riff, giving a taste of what was to come; but the reality of what Mohinder was about didn't become apparent until the end of the verse, at which time everything dropped out except for one guitar. This guitar, playing a quiet arpeggio, was soon drowned out by the rest of the band coming back in at a much faster speed, frantically blasting through another verse, under which drummer James Furing laid down nervous, hyperspeed snare rolls. The band soon reverted to the original slower riff, over which Clay screamed, "We build unstable walls to block us in," before returning once again to the hyperspeed and ending with Clay screaming, "It's just a matter of time before we crush ourselves." As frantic as the fast parts of "To Satisfy" are, and as downbeat and foreboding as its lyrics may be, this song is one of the milder ones in Mohinder's catalog.

The thing about Mohinder that has always fascinated me is the way their songs, both musically and lyrically, sound like expressions of pure emotion. Clay Parton doesn't write his lyrics to express any sort of coherent narrative; rather, they come across like pure venting, an unfiltered response to the environmental conditions that greet him from day to day. And it's clear from the lyrics, and to some extent from the frantic tone of the music, that the emotion he's feeling is terror. Mohinder's music is the sound of a caged animal being backed into a corner, terrified enough to feel that doom is impending and inevitable, but not quite at the point where it's prepared to lash out yet. But Clay Parton is no animal--he's a human being, just one of many caught up in a vast, unresponsive society that cares not at all for how he feels about its operations. In "Inhuman Nature", he asks, "Do we live to make others suffer?", making clear that he recognizes his own complicity in the negative aspects of society, even if he doesn't like it. This song is followed by "Numb", in which he rails against those he sees as responsible: "You bastards, you cowards, why don't you do something?" Later in the song, he screams, "No! You don't know how I feel!", then repeats it, and this time the music drops out entirely for a second, giving emphasis to the lyric. He's frustrated and he's angry. But as he says elsewhere in the song, "Slowly I'll die now, and without pain. There's no cure, just a pat on the back to help me get used to it." He knows that, as angry as he is, he is also powerless.

This anger, fright, and ultimate lack of power is represented most effectively in the songs from the final Mohinder EP, an 8-song self-titled 7 inch released on Gravity Records. When I first bought this record, I couldn't figure out what was going on with it--I thought Mohinder had completely lost the plot. Then I figured out something that I'd initially thought was absurd--that the 7 inch played at 45 rpm, not 33. An 8 song 7 inch at 45 rpm seemed impossible, until I heard the songs and realized just how much faster and more intense Mohinder's songwriting had gotten. Original lead guitarist Dove Amber had quit after the split with the Nitwits, and these last 8 songs were recorded as a three-piece, which left much less room for frills. The slow parts that had appeared on songs like "To Satisfy" and "Itch", from the Nitwits split, were gone. Where song length had averaged 90 seconds to two minutes, the songs on this EP--the final one, as it turned out--were between 45 seconds and one and a half minutes. Lyrics were even shorter and less complicated than before, and had become even less specific--going from frustration at the state of the world to vague, half-formed expressions of dread. And the music was noticeably faster, more frantic. James had already indicated his mastery of near-blasting one-two-one-two beats with plenty of frantic snare rolls thrown in for punctuation, but on this EP it seemed like these beats were all he played (other than the occasional pause). Albert Menduno's bass playing continued to have tinges of melody to it, but Clay's guitar playing was bare-bones, focusing on a few chords to run together at lightning speed. Occasional harmonics or arpeggios appeared, but disappeared again so quickly that you could never be quite sure you heard them.

The EP begins with "The Mission", one of the longer, more fully-formed songs to appear on it. It starts with a sort of miniature fanfare--CRASH! CRASH! went the guitars and cymbals, then after a second, CRASH! CRASH! again. Then they're off, playing at lightning speed as Clay screams, "Please stop! Oh God, stop! Before something breaks! Something's got to give!" His voice cracking, he sounds like an unwitting passenger on a vehicle traveling faster than he could handle, howling for his life as he's swept up in the relentless forward motion of it all. Other than a chorus that consists of the opening CRASH-CRASH fanfare played much faster, the entire song flies by in a blur, derailing into some quiet between song noise that sounds like band rehearsal tapes; these recur throughout the EP and sometimes, snatches of songs that appear elsewhere on the record can be heard playing quietly between songs.

The frantic forward motion continues throughout the EP. "Acceptance", which ends side one, has an interesting twist on it; it starts with a slightly slower instrumental intro riff that quickly speeds up to the record's standard frantic speed. Clay's vocals don't make an appearance at all for the first half of the song, only showing up when the music quiets down, and he begins to speak, quietly: "If I survive only long enough to escape, then I have survived long enough," he says. His voice and the music backing it grow even quieter as he repeats the line, reaching the calmest point on the entire EP just in time to hear the depressing punchline: "But I know I won't escape." Everything slams back in full-force after he finishes this line, and he starts screaming over the music, but whatever he's saying, it's not on the lyric sheet. Incoherent venting of frustration? Perhaps. If so, it's the only incoherent point in all of Mohinder's catalog, which fits--as mentioned earlier, Clay's existential terror is not the reaction of an incoherent animal, but that of an intelligent human being who is aware enough to realize just how fucked up and unjust the world is, but also to know that he is entirely powerless to change it.

"The Static Cult", which begins side two, contains the only real hope of the EP. "We reach up because there is so much to be captured," Clay screams over the opening verse. "We are undefined. We disguise ourselves as static." At this point, he may be talking about the sort of music that he and the rest of Mohinder are making, but it isn't clear. And really, it isn't important--anyone who has ever felt like they were trying to carve out a life independent from the pressures of society to conform, fit in, and obey will understand what he's getting at here. And they'll probably feel the same visceral charge I feel when they hear the next line of the song. Before it's delivered, the rhythm section drops out and Clay strums a chord by himself for a second before also stopping. In the brief pause in the music, he screams, "And we're alive!" The thrill I feel when I hear him scream this is indescribable and unmistakable. It's easy to forget sometimes, but it's true--we're alive. And that's enough of a reason to hope.

To some extent, though, hopes are dashed by the next song, "Beautiful". It's the shortest non-instrumental song Mohinder recorded, and it has very short, straightforward lyrics. In the hands of another songwriter, this lyric might have read like a love letter, but from Clay Parton, it's bittersweet at best. "I love you," he screams. "You're beautiful." Then the drums stop, the guitar and bass both feed back, and Clay says over the short break, "Soon it will be too late, but now at least you know." It's something you can imagine one person saying to another just before a bomb explodes and kills them both. It's both tragic and, indeed, beautiful. It's heartbreaking.

The EP, and Mohinder's career, both end with "Expiration". If anything, this song is even slightly faster than the other uniformly frantic tracks that appear here, and once again, this fits with Clay's lyrics. "Of that kind," he screams, "I figure we don't have time." Time is indeed drawing short, and the band rushes through the song before closing with an inversion of the fanfare that opened "The Mission"--twice repeating an 8-measure riff that's really just the same chord being chugged over and over with slight variations in the drum pattern.

This wasn't really the end, though--I was stoked to find out that, in 1996, a while after they'd broken up, a comp was released with a Mohinder song on it. That song turned out to be "In Memory Of A Stranger", a long, slow, quiet instrumental that sounded nothing like anything else Mohinder ever recorded and released. This was somewhat of a letdown, although it added an interesting layer to my perception of Mohinder. Another layer was added a couple of years later when the Mohinder discography LP was issued by GSL and came packaged with a bonus live CD. The LP had its imperfections, most notably in the complete destruction of the sequence of the Gravity Records EP; it began with several minutes of the rehearsal tapes that had previously played quietly inbetween songs, then started the actual EP with "Expiration", put "The Mission" somewhere in the middle, "Beautiful" directly before "The Static Cult" instead of directly after, and ended the side with "Alien". To me, the sequencing of that EP had a great deal to do with its overall impact, and I'm always going to be a little sad to know that those who discovered Mohinder through the discography won't get to hear that EP the way it originally sounded.

The bonus CD, however, more than made up for it. It contained two live sets, one short and muddily recorded one from early in their career, featuring a couple of songs that had never made it to any of the studio recordings, and a much better one from almost the very end of their career. This second one is 26 minutes long, features 14 songs, and again, reveals a layer of Mohinder's sound that I'd previously been unaware of. Beginning with several minutes of strange, quiet, almost jazzy noodling around, the transition into an actual Mohinder song is less like a conscious decision to start playing it than a gradual flowing together of disparate elements that suddenly coalesce to form a song. This happens often throughout the set--beginnings and endings of songs are improvised and stretched out, and at one point, what sounds at first like between-song noodling comes together into the main riff from "In Memory Of A Stranger", a song I'd always figured had been thrown together in the studio on the spur of the moment. As it turns out, this and other brief instrumental snatches had an established place in Mohinder's live set, and were just as much a part of what they did as a band as were their typical terrified, frenetic whirlwinds of song. They finish the set with "Expiration", and when they reach its closing fanfare, instead of playing that 8-measure chug riff twice, they keep playing it over and over, for over a minute, until eventually Albert is the only one left playing. Even after he stops, the live recording goes on for another minute or two of directionless noise, as if whoever had recorded the set was unsure of when the performance had actually stopped. Considering that the songs don't so much start and stop as seem to emerge out of and disappear back into a swirling fog of sound, I can understand why it would have been hard to distinguish. Listening to this recording makes me wish I could have seen Mohinder play, as there was obviously a lot more to them as a band than was ever captured in the studio. But at least I have these recordings to make that clear.

Mohinder - The Static Cult
Mohinder - The Mission
Mohinder - Acceptance



Some hardcore songs I love.

I don't generally recycle content from elsewhere on the web, but I feel like this is worth making an exception for: On a message board, I've been posting mp3s of various songs that I feel are important to the history of hardcore and epitomize the best of the genre's different eras. I haven't been organizing them all that much, but I've been writing, sometimes in a decent amount of detail, about each song, and I'd like to preserve the writeups and share the mp3s in a more permanent format than that of a message board. So I'm reposting them here. This is probably only part 1 of a multipart series, as I plan on posting more in the future.

Bad Brains - Pay To Cum (Their first single, from 1980. Often credited as the first hardcore single ever, though if you ask me, Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown" and Middle Class's "Out Of Vogue", both from 1979, count as having predated it.)

Black Flag - Modern Man (This is the version from the unreleased 1982 demo session--the only recording session in which Black Flag ever had two guitars. Yes, I know "Damaged" credits Greg and Dez as both playing guitar, but Dez had only been on guitar for a month or so when they recorded it, and didn't have parts written for most of the songs. All he actually did on "Damaged" was backing vocals. But yeah, anyway, this song was later rerecorded on "Loose Nut". This version's better.)

7 Seconds - How Do You Think You'd Feel? (From "Walk Together, Rock Together", a half-studio, half-live effort that is probably their best album. The studio side was recorded at Inner Ear Studios in Washington, DC, with Ian MacKaye producing. The result sounds almost like Minor Threat, but with a much stronger melodic sensibility.)

The Misfits - Spinal Remains (From "Static Age". This remastered version is easily 10 times as good as the shitty mix originally released on "Legacy Of Brutality". Before I heard this version, I didn't like this song--now it's one of my favorite Misfits songs.)

Skewbald - Sorry/Change For The Same (Skewbald was a brief Ian MacKaye/Jeff Nelson project that happened in 1982 while Lyle Preslar was at college and Minor Threat were on hiatus. Eddie Janney, later of Faith and Rites of Spring, played guitar. Sounds pretty much like Minor Threat to me, only angrier, if anything. This song was released on a 7 inch that came out in 1991 as a Dischord 10th anniversary celebration-themed reissue. It was originally released as a demo, along with one or two other songs.)

The Minutemen - Paranoid Chant (From their "Paranoid Time" 7 inch. I don't think of these guys as properly hardcore, as I explained in that other thread, but their early stuff was closer than the later stuff, and this song is one of their more agitated and intense tracks, so I think it fits pretty well.)

Acme - Blind (From "To Reduce the Choir To One Soloist", which contains all 9 of the songs Acme released [2 of which are just live versions of earlier songs]. This is brutal hardcore from Germany, obviously inspired by Rorschach, Groundwork, etc, and obviously an inspiration to bands that came later and led to metalcore.)

Coalesce - A Safe Place (Their third single; if you ask me, their early singles are the best stuff they ever did, although that's not to say that I don't love their later work. There are some fucking insane live performance videos of this song out there, and I believe I posted a youtube link to one of them somewhere on here at some point in the past.)

Botch - Stupid Me (Originally appeared on a comp that came with an issue of Inside Front--#10 if I remember correctly. Has thankfully been collected on the expanded reissue of their first LP, "American Nervoso". Another intense brutal flip-the-fuck-out song. I think all 5 of these fall under that category, really.)

Cave In - Terminal Deity (My favorite song from their second album, "Until Your Heart Stops." At this point, Steve Brodsky, who originally just played guitar and did the sung vocals [which only showed up for, say, a verse of every other song on the first Cave In LP, "Beyond Hypothermia"], was doing all of the vocals, and as a result of his being unable to handle screaming, Cave In turned into a space rock band after this album. More's the pity; "Until Your Heart Stops" was an important advance in what was being done with metallic hardcore in the late 90s. It included two different 8-minute long songs, which was unprecedented at the time. This song is pretty short, fast, heavy and straightforward, but you can nonetheless tell that it's something new and original. Too bad Cave In never explored this direction any further. [And don't any of you even think about bringing up "Perfect Pitch Black". God, I don't even want to discuss it.])

Deadguy - The Extremist (The second version of this song, from "Fixation On A Coworker". An earlier, somewhat inferior version appeared on their debut EP, "Work Ethic". Deadguy featured Rorschach guitarist Keith Huckins and No Escape vocalist Tim Singer, and got a lot of attention as a result. The attention was merited, as this song and the album from which it's taken both indicate. However, after "Fixation", both Huckins and Singer quit the band, forming Kiss It Goodbye. The EP released by Deadguy's second incarnation, "Screaming With The Deadguy Quintet", is generally considered crappy, but I have no truck with the majority opinion on this one. It's very different, yes, but it's also very GOOD, and considering that Huckins' replacement was Jim Baglino of Human Remains, an amazing band in their own right, how could it be bad? Maybe I'll post a song from that EP later.)

Universal Order Of Armageddon - Visible Distance (Originally the B-side of their "Symptom" single, they re-used this song as the leadoff track on their Kill Rock Stars 12 inch EP, "The Switch Is Down." These days it appears on their CD discography [which isn't actually a complete discography, as it is missing 2 of the 3 songs from their second 12 inch EP, on Gravity Records]. UOA guitarist Tonie Joy also played in such bands as Moss Icon, Born Against, The Great Unraveling, and The Convocation Of... so you know he's talented. Drummer Brooks Headley was in Born Against and Young Pioneers. Bassist Scott Malat was in Great Unraveling. Singer Colin Seven was out of his fucking mind. You can tell if you ever locate any live tracks by UOA [there are two officially released live songs, and both end with Colin ranting Malcolm Mooney style while the band prepares to play another song]. I can't really describe what's actually going on in the song--the drum pattern alone blows my mind, even after owning this record for 13 years.)

Angel Hair - Lazy Eye (From their split 7 inch with Bare Minimum, later collected on "Pregnant With The Senior Class". Some members of this band went on to play in The VSS, and the guitarist is now in Pleasure Forever. Angel Hair epitomize everything I love about the chaotic hardcore sound of the early 90s, and are in my opinion the band from that scene that got it most right. I'm trying not to write too much, so just listen to it and hopefully you'll understand.)

Honeywell - Screaming Numbers (From their self-titled LP. Josh Ovalteen's voice might sound distorted on this track, but it's not--I saw Man Is The Bastard a few years after they broke up, when Josh was doing noise and vocals for them, and it sounded exactly the same way live as it does on this record. The thing I love most about Honeywell, though, is not the insanely brutal vocals [as awesome as they are] but the kitchen-sink approach they had to making records, with tons of between song noise and samples and the way you could tell they were sort of improvising the beginnings and endings of their songs. The spontaneity they captured with this approach really won me over, and continues to impress me to this day.)

Antioch Arrow - Chaos Vs. Cosmos (From their second LP, "In Love With Jetts." This album and their first LP were both collected on one CD from Gravity Records, but I don't know the title. Anyway, I read an article in Your Flesh magazine years after Antioch Arrow broke up that described how bassist Mack Mann wrote their songs as sheet music. It did a lot to explain songs like this for me. The first 100 or so times I listened to this album, I couldn't tell what the fuck was going on 90% of the time. It wasn't until I'd played it so many times that I had it memorized that I could start to understand the structure of the songs. I eventually figured out that--other than one or two exceptions on the whole record--no part was ever repeated more than four times, and once a part was played once, they never went back to it. Even though their songs are only around a minute long each, this meant that all of them were really complicated and had a whole lot of parts in them. No wonder none of their three albums were more than 15 minutes long! There are even stranger elements to Antioch Arrow's sound--Aaron Montaigne's vocals, which sound to me like Jello Biafra trying to be Rozz Williams, the occasional use of cheap Casio keyboards for melodic flourishes, the weird chords their guitarists use--but all of it still sounds like hardcore to me, even though it didn't to a lot of people hearing this record back in 1994. By their third album, "Gems Of Masochism", Antioch Arrow had gone almost completely goth, but "In Love With Jetts" has the perfect mix of weird goth atmosphere, complex and original song structure, and hardcore intensity. A stone fucking classic, no matter what ANYONE says.)

Heroin - Blind (From their second 7 inch, known as the "Paper Bag" 7 inch because of it's strange covers, made out of silkscreened paper bags. This record was the beginning of chaotic hardcore proper--there had been bands leading up to it, like Born Against and End Of The Line, but Heroin really kicked the whole thing off. This record was the first release on Gravity, the first of many silkscreened-bag/envelope record covers, and all of the members of Heroin went on to do other important chaotic-hardcore related things--singer Matt Anderson continues to run Gravity Records to this day [although I'm not sure how active they are these days], guitarist Scott Bartoloni went on to play in Clikatat Ikatowi, bassist Ron Johnson sang and played guitar for Second Story Window, and drummer Aaron Montaigne, as mentioned above, later sang for Antioch Arrow. I don't know what else to tell you about this band--listen to them.)

Oh and hey, I don't have any Swing Kids on my computer, but here's something almost as good: an 8-minute live set from a performance in Bremen Germany, 1996. The songs they do are "Warsaw" (Joy Division cover), "Line #1", and "Forty Three Seconds".


Blast Of Silence.

I saw a movie last night called "Blast Of Silence", a black and white noir movie from 1961, filmed in New York City in the dead of winter. It really struck a chord with me. I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to write multiple thousands of words about it, but I think maybe my pressure upon myself to always come up with these super-long and in-depth blog entries is contributing to my posting so infrequently. So tonight, I'm going to let myself slide, and just talk until I run out of things to say about this movie.

First and foremost, I must make clear that it blew me away. I'm not the sort of guy who is heavily educated on movies; in fact, I often find that even friends of mine who've only seen an average amount of movies have seen a good deal more than I have. I chalk this up to the fact that, starting when I was very young, I always had my nose buried in a book. I could--and definitely did--listen to a lot of music during the time that I spent reading, but since movies required my full attention, and I was rarely willing to turn away from books (or music, for that matter) in order to devote that attention to them, I didn't see a lot of movies. In the last year or so, I've been trying to make up for lost time, utilizing my brand new Netflix account and my many friends who are willing to loan me movies from their personal collections to engage in a sort of crash course on the entire medium. At this point, I'm gaining familiarity, but much more so with certain niches of the film medium than with movies as a whole. I guess this is because I've already developed specific personal tastes--noir, horror, independent and foreign films, 70s auteur-era "new Hollywood" films, and exploitation movies in general--and therefore I'm trying to see all of the critical touchstones of these genres before I'm willing to fall back on more established classics. For example, I still haven't seen "Gone With The Wind", and I only saw the original "Star Wars" trilogy when I was a little kid; at this point I barely remember anything about it.

Anyway, I say all this to give a disclaimer to my next statement: "Blast Of Silence" is without a doubt the best noir movie I've ever seen. It's also leapfrogged a great many well-loved movies in my mind, and may very well now occupy a space in my top ten favorite movies of all time. I'll need some time to let it sink in before I'll be sure, but it's certainly not the sort of work that grows on you--it immediately, within two minutes of starting, impressed me as an obvious classic. It tells the story of Frankie Bono, a hitman who grew up in an orphanage and has never been comfortable except when he's alone. Bono is played by Allen Baron, who also wrote and directed the film--how's that for an auteur? In the making-of documentary on the DVD, which was filmed 30 years later, Baron explained that he'd done the entire movie for around $18,000. Now, granted, that was probably a lot more money in 1961 than it is now, or even was when Kevin Smith did "Clerks" for around the same amount. Nonetheless, "Blast Of Silence" is an incredible achievement; it would be anyway, but on a budget like that, it's nothing short of miraculous. In fact, in the documentary, Baron mentioned that he'd originally cast Peter Falk in the lead role, but Falk had had a prior commitment (one that was actually going to pay), and at the last minute had to bow out. Baron decided to play Bono for the pragmatic reason that he was going to be there anyway, and it was one less actor he had to pay.

For most of the movie, Baron, in his role as Frankie Bono, is alone onscreen. Sometimes he's walking down the street, and there are people all around him, but he's alone nonetheless. There's very little dialogue in the film--I'd guess that less than a third of the movie features any dialogue at all--but a great deal of the time that would otherwise be silent is filled by voiceover narration. This narration, done by Lionel Stander (not credited in the film because he wanted an extra $500 for the filmmakers to use his name), is delivered throughout in a brutal, misanthropic tone. There's no irony to it, no snarkiness or wit; it's just pure anger and hatred, obviously brought on by alienation. The voiceover is in second person, as if it is the voice of Frankie Bono's innermost thoughts, and we are hearing it speak to him. Based on a lot of the things it says, it becomes obvious that this voice is how Frankie sees himself when he's trying to look at himself in the best possible light. As he gazes upon a bridge, it tells him that he creates murders the way an engineer builds a bridge--and that he could have been an engineer. Later, when contemplating the power he has over men's lives in his occupation as professional killer, it compares him to God.

But Frankie knows that this narrative voice is at least somewhat hyperbolic in nature; he knows that it tells him more what he wants to hear than the truth. Sometimes the voice is speaking in an aggrandizing manner about him, and his disdainful view of the world around him, and we can see by the look on Frankie's face that it doesn't quite convince him. He knows that his alienation, the aloneness that he takes comfort in, is not always the result of his distaste for the rest of humanity. Sometimes he desperately wants to be part of the world he sees around him, and when he does--especially after a certain point in the movie when things start to go wrong for him--it upsets him, throws him off balance.

There's a subplot in the movie about a long-lost romance, one that we're never sure is not just in Frankie's mind. It starts when he runs into someone he knew back in the orphanage. Immediately, he wants to get away from the guy, but he's unable to express his true feelings and be rude to the guy; this in spite of how little patience the voiceover indicates that he has for the rest of humanity. The guy mentions his sister, and Frankie remembers feelings he once had for said sister. This is enough to lead to Frankie's being dragged along to a Christmas Eve party at said sister's apartment. Oh yeah, as if so many other circumstances in this movie aren't soul-crushing enough, it all takes place in the few days around Christmas. Frankie is glad to see his old friend's sister--Lori--but feels uncomfortable at the party, stumbling out shortly after. His discomfort throws him off-balance, and leads him to make a mistake that will have far-reaching ramifications. Initially, it leads him back to Lori's apartment, where his fumblings with the mechanics of social interaction are only made worse by virtue of their taking place one-on-one with a woman he has feelings for. Leaving Lori's place, he's feeling even worse than he was when he got there.

I don't really want to go through any more of the plot with you. To some extent, I feel I've said too much already. On the other hand, none of this description can really do the film justice. You have to watch it to understand the bleakness, the alienation, the loneliness, and the frustration the character of Frankie Bono feels in his day to day life. He's obviously scarred by his emotional separation from the people he sees around him every day, and even though he only feels safe when he's alone, there are times when his actions and even his thoughts betray him, and make clear that what he really wants is someone to feel comfortable with, some kind of sense that he belongs somewhere in the world. This is a big part of why I felt so drawn to this movie--it very accurately portrays a mix of emotions I myself feel a lot of the time. On one hand, I feel alienated from the world around me, mostly because of just how shallow and fucked-up and stupid it all seems. On the other hand, I feel desperately alone a lot of the time, and I often wish for someplace in the world I can feel comfortable. Even amongst my closest friends, I often feel out of place, and I can generally only feel safe when I'm alone. But I don't want to spend my life alone.

I may not be a professional killer, and I may not have grown up in an orphanage. But in a lot of ways, I am Frankie Bono.

My favorite shot in "Blast Of Silence" is one that comes a little more than halfway through the film. I learned from the documentary that it was shot on 34th street in Manhattan, on a downward-sloping block that is now tree-lined. The effect achieved in the shot would be impossible to create now. So thank God the film was shot back then, because it's a truly moving shot. As it begins, it's dusk--almost full dark, but not quite. The camera is pointing up the slope of the block, framing the sidewalk, which at first is empty. Then after a second, we see Frankie Bono, coming over the hill and walking slowly down the block. At first, he's so far away that he's only distinguishable from the background by his silhouette. As he draws closer and closer to the camera, his features become more and more distinguishable. But throughout the shot, he's alone. No one comes near him. After more than a minute, he reaches the camera and the shot ends. But during that lengthy, sustained shot of Frankie Bono walking by himself down a deserted sidewalk in New York, at dusk on Christmas day, the despair is palpable. It's a shot that sums up the emotional effect of the film as a whole.

Here are a couple of youtube clips:

This is the theatrical trailer--a segment of the deserted-sidewalk scene described above makes up the last 10 seconds or so (though it's mostly covered by titles).

This is a short scene from early in the movie, which contains Lionel Stander's voiceover narration and does a good job of demonstrating the spiteful wording and the hateful tone in which it's delivered.

P.S.--I've been listening to Quicksand and Every Time I Die a lot lately. Perhaps there will be blog entries on them in the near future. If my mentioning such a thing didn't just jinx it, that is.



Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

I've liked everything I've heard so far by Sigur Ros, at least to some extent. However, they're a band that I always feel is just about to jump the shark. Their long, slow-moving, ethereal songs have thus far always worked in practice, but the style in which they are composed seems in theory like the kind of thing that would get boring after a while. In fact, some of my friends do think they've gotten boring, and some of my friends think they were always boring. Meanwhile, I'm always finding something new to like on all of their albums, from "Agaetis Byrjun"s post-shoegaze sound, which at times reminded me of My Bloody Valentine songs stretched out on huge canvases, so that you could see into all the spaces between the notes; to "Takk"s incredibly loud and distorted climaxes on songs such as "Glosoli" and "Seaglopur", which felt to me almost overwhelming with their outpourings of emotion. "( )" seems in retrospect like somewhat of a misstep to me, it having spent too much of its running time exploring textures so ethereal as to be barely there at all. A lot of the songs on that album were like wisps of fog which, after too short a time, dissipated completely and left me with no impression at all. That said, "( )" is still a decent album in my eyes, even if I reach for it least of all the Sigur Ros catalog.

Last fall, I wrote a post about Sigur Ros's double-EP release, "Hvarf/Heim", and praised both EPs. Since then, "Heim" has stuck with me more than "Hvarf" has, its symphonic textures and occasional quiet gasps of acoustic guitar coming back to me in quiet moments and demanding to be played over and over again. Apparently it stuck with Sigur Ros themselves just as tenaciously, as, according to their website, their newest album is heavily influenced by those acoustic sessions. "Inspired by the unfettered feeling of the acoustic performances filmed during 'heima'," the website states, "Sigur Rós decided to adopt a looser approach in the writing and creation of 'Med Sud'." This much became obvious the second opening track and first single "Gobbledigook" was made available (get a free 320 kbps mp3 download from their website here). When I first downloaded it, I wasn't sure whether to expect much. Despite the fact that "Hvarf/Heim" had blown me away less than a year before, the part of me that's always waiting for Sigur Ros to start sucking was voicing its skepticism quite loudly as I waited for the track to download. As I started to play it for the first time, I forced myself not to expect much, to prepare for a letdown.

Imagine my surprise when it became immediately obvious that "Gobbledigook" was one of the best Sigur Ros songs ever released. Beginning with acoustic guitar strums jumping from speaker to speaker, it quickly got going in earnest, driven by a tribal drumbeat that might only be slightly uptempo for most bands but, coming from Sigur Ros, seemed almost frantic. The tribal drumbeat, seemingly in 3/4 time, danced around the individually struck acoustic guitar chords, seeming to go in and out of tempo as the two parts proceeded in counterpoint to each other. It's a slightly confusing riff, but much more than that, it's catchy. I'm the sort of person who likes to understand the structure and time signatures of music that I'm hearing, but so far I haven't quite been able to figure this part out. And things get even more confusing when Jonsi Birgisson's vocals come in. He begins by singing in the rhythm laid down by the acoustic guitar, but halfway through the first line, slows down to half speed. But the acoustic guitar slows down with him, and this completely changes the way both vocal pattern and guitar riff fit over the tribal drumbeat, which has continued on in the same pattern it established at the beginning of the song (and indeed, keeps going almost throughout). Increasing the tribal feel, underneath the main beat, played on tom-toms, we also hear what sounds like a crowd of people clapping, stomping, and shaking assorted percussion instruments. It's buried really low in the mix, but does a lot to add to the dancing-round-the-campfire feel of this song, the first truly joyous Sigur Ros track I think I've ever heard. After about a minute, the song reaches its chorus, and we finally hear the rest of the band, humming organ and rumbling bass coming in underneath the acoustic guitar and establishing a harmonic base for the rest of the song to sit atop. Bass and keyboard textures occasionally show up on other verses and bridges during the rest of the song, but they're only a consistent presence on the song's choruses. A lot of the non-chorus parts are similar to the intro and first verse in that they consist only of acoustic guitar, vocals, and that ever-present tribal rhythm. Sometimes even the drummer stops playing, leaving the handclaps and percussion instruments to carry it. Often, especially later in the song, these sections incorporate background vocals that take the form of chants, assumedly coming from that same joyously clapping and stomping crowd in the background. The video for this track, released simultaneously with the mp3 on Sigur Ros's website, shows a crowd of naked people frolicking through woods, streams and meadows, and fits perfectly with the sound you hear during those chanted backing vocal parts; the images of the people in that video dancing and rolling through mud are what I picture in my mind when I hear this song.

As soon as I downloaded "Gobbledigook", I began to play it incessantly. I haven't really stopped, either. From a band like Sigur Ros with a reputation for lengthy, epic songwriting, this joyous three-minute pop gem seems to end all too quickly. Furthermore, it's unique--I've tried many times to come up with something else to listen to that fits closely enough with the vibe of this song to segue out of it into playing something else, and nothing quite manages it. Inevitably, I just keep skipping back to the beginning of the track, sometimes playing it over and over for an hour or more before getting tired of it. And actually, I'm not really getting tired of it at all--just finally reaching a point where I've heard enough of it that I can stand to move on to something else. Within a day or less, I'm back to playing "Gobbledigook" over and over again.

I've made a point of bringing this song up to friends of mine who've had no use for Sigur Ros in the past, trying to hype them on their new direction, hoping to encourage them to listen to this song at least once. I haven't really bothered to bring it up to friends of mine who agree with me that Sigur Ros are a pretty great band; I figure all of those people will run across and listen to "Gobbledigook" eventually, and once they hear it, I can't imagine that they won't fall under its spell. No, it's the people who wrote Sigur Ros off years ago that I worry about--I wouldn't want their prejudices and preconceptions based on a completely different sound and era of Sigur Ros to dissuade them from checking out this wonderful song, which seems to me to have a much wider appeal than anything else they've done so far. I'm not sure I'm having that much of an effect, but I will keep trying.

Once I found out that "Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust" (which, for the record, translates from Icelandic as "With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly") had leaked in its entirety, I wasted no time in tracking down a copy. The aftermath of my infatuation with "Gobbledigook" had involved my also digging out "Hvarf/Heim", "Takk", and indeed, even "Agaetis Byrjun", which I hadn't heard in years; this was how excited I'd gotten about Sigur Ros in the wake of their brilliant new single. I could only hope that the rest of "Med Sud" would be half as good as "Gobbledigook", and that at least some of it would show further evidence of the new direction they explored on that track. Again, there was a part of me worried that "Gobbledigook" was a fluke, that the rest of the album would be even more ponderous and ethereal than "( )" had been, that my friends who hadn't liked Sigur Ros before would come back to me, having heard the whole album, saying, "Yeah, that one song is pretty good I guess, but the rest of it's just the same old shit." I didn't want to look like an idiot for having gotten so excited.

Well, I got lucky. "Gobbledigook" being the opening track may not have been the best idea, as it's the sort of opening track that can sometimes wreck the rest of an album by overshadowing every song that follows it. I'm of the opinion that it's best to have songs like this "bat cleanup"--i.e. show up fourth in the track listing or thereabouts, giving the album a chance to build up to them. Sigur Ros made a risky decision in starting "Med Sud" with this song, if you ask me. Fortunately for them, they followed it well, with a song similar in tone and almost the equal in quality of "Gobbledigook". "Inni mer syngur vitleysyngur" ("Within me a lunatic sings") bases its melody in piano rather than acoustic guitar, and is propelled by a more conventional uptempo pop-song rhythm, but it follows the example set by "Gobbledigook" in important ways--its vocal and piano melodies are at the forefront of the mix, it keeps things relatively short at four minutes, and it gets stuck in your head easily and refuses to get out. I'm sure if I'd heard this song first out of everything on the album, I'd have become just as enraptured with it as I did with "Gobbledigook". "Inni mer syngur vitleysyngur" doesn't have a strong verse-chorus-bridge sort of structure the way "Gobbledigook" does--it bases its structure around a repeating main verse riff that ebbs and flows, sometimes nearly dissipating and sometimes changing into a brief bridge portion before always returning. It doesn't wear out the listener with its repetition, either; if anything, every time the verse riff returns full strength, it feels like a wave washing over you once again, with all of the beautiful, joyous, and overwhelming connotations of such an image.

The third track, "Godan Daginn" ("Good Day"), is slower and more contemplative, but is still far different from anything Sigur Ros did in the past, having more of a ballad-like feel than a ponderous, epic one. It's followed by "Vid Spilum Endalaust" (one of two songs that could count as a title track), which is a bass-driven track that again has a similar feel to that of "Gobbledigook", though it too is somewhat quieter than the first two tracks here. At this point, we're one third of the way through the album, and the four songs we've heard so far are all of a piece with the new direction Sigur Ros has established with "Gobbledigook." However, things change quite dramatically as the album proceeds into its latter two-thirds.

This is obvious as soon as "Festival", the fifth and longest track (at nine and a half minutes) on "Med Sud", begins. This is the only song on "Med Sud" which is sung in "Hopelandic", the "made-up language" that has become a main feature of many articles written about Sigur Ros, and has evidently become quite the thorn in the band's side. I can understand why--it seems that learning of this whole "made-up language" that Jonsi (sometimes) sings in was a big part of why a lot of my friends ended up not liking Sigur Ros. Mentioning them around these friends often elicits this response: "Oh, that's the band that sings in the made-up language, right? That's some pretentious bullshit." It's unfortunate that there are people out there who write Sigur Ros off in this way, but to some extent its understandable--or it would be, if the actual story behind "Hopelandic" were the same as the perception of it that has been created in the media. Jonsi and co. are obviously tired of this perception, Jon going so far as to call Hopelandic "fucking bullshit" in a recent NPR interview. The truth of the matter is that what has been termed "Hopelandic" is just the nonsense syllables that Jonsi often sings inbetween writing the vocal melody of a song and coming up with lyrics for it. There have been a few occasions in which Jon has decided to leave these wordless vocal melodies as the final vocals for a song--first on the title track to their debut album, "Von", which translates into English as "Hope" and gave the made-up language (which really isn't a language at all) its name, and then on "Olsen Olsen" from "Agaetis Byrjun". It only really became an issue with the release of "( )", an entire album that Jonsi never wrote words for. Many English-language stories on this album carried the erroneous information that Jonsi always sang in Hopelandic, probably due to the fact that he'd done so for their entire new album. Feeling understandably burned by this erroneous information and the backlash it caused, Sigur Ros has avoided Hopelandic on their releases since, and "Festival" is the first new song to use this vocal technique since "( )".

Fittingly enough, "Festival" also brings back the sound of "( )", at least at first. Its quiet, percussionless opening is mostly vocals, with only vague surges, low in the mix, of Jon's former trademark, bowed electric guitar, adding musical backing to these vocals. The song continues this way for four and a half minutes, almost half of its length, creating what is if anything a more ethereal feel than even the quietest songs on "( )", but then, at the 4:30 mark, the bass comes out of nowhere and starts pounding insistently at one note. This buildup, which is more like something from "Takk" than anything that appeared on "( )", continues for the next three minutes, as the guitar swells in volume and is joined by keyboards, pounding drums, and even some stringed classical instruments, all of which build and build until finally reaching a triumphant crescendo, then ending the song with an extended, triumphant finale that sounds like one of the more classically-influenced moments that showed up on "Hvarf/Heim". It's incredibly interesting to hear Sigur Ros do something like this--incorporating different sound and songwriting techniques that they've used over the course of their past few albums into one song on a new album, thereby showing exactly how they've grown as a band, and synthesizing all of this growth into one song that both reflects where they've been and indicates how far they've come.

From here, the rest of the album is definitely quieter, though it is no less varied in style and approach. "Sud I Eyrum" ("Buzz In Ears"), the other possible title track, follows "Festival" with a more ethereal version of what they were doing on "Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysyngur", even incorporating drum machines into its ending section. It is followed by "Ara Batur" ("Row Boat"), another long, quiet track that is mostly vocals and piano and which would have fit well on "Heim". "Illgresi" ("Weeds") is a Jonsi solo song, featuring only acoustic guitar and vocals. The fact that this song fits in so well on "Med Sud" is another indication of how far Sigur Ros have come, considering that three or four years ago no one would have expected them to ever play acoustic guitars on their albums, let alone produce songs that sound like the work of an Icelandic Nick Drake. "Fljotavik", named for a small town in Iceland, and "Straumnes", named for a mountain near Fljotavik, are twinned songs of a sort--"Fljotavik" is a piano-vocal song with a quiet string quartet in the background, based around a simple, pretty melody that again would have fit well on "Heim", while "Straumnes" is an instrumental consisting only of ambient hums that slowly swell and fade. However, as one listens to "Straumnes", it becomes clear that these ambient hums are playing the same melody that "Fljotavik" was based on; it's as if they removed the piano and vocal and kept only the quiet background strings.

Perhaps the most surprising development here comes in the album's final track, "All Alright", which features lyrics in English. A lot of American listeners have no doubt had trouble distinguishing songs sung in the made-up gibberish of "Hopelandic" from the actual Icelandic language, which, as I pointed out earlier, has provided the lyrics for the vast majority of Sigur Ros songs. "All Alright"s English lyrics help those listeners to distinguish that, at least this once, Jonsi is singing actual lyrics. Of course, they are hard to understand, sung as they are in a Scandinavian accent, but it's something, right? This song, perhaps the slowest, quietest ballad on the entire record, is a fitting end for an album that started on such a completely different note, with the joyous uptempo of "Gobbledigook."

I must admit that, a lot of times, when I listen to "Med Sud", I start to tune it out before it reaches its end. I can understand the overarching structure of the album, as it moves from more uptempo and fully-arranged songs down through more ethereal and quieter material until finally ending up with a song that's only barely there (reminiscent in this aspect of "Takk" closer "Heysatan"--by the way, that title is Icelandic for "haystack" and has nothing to do with Anton LaVey's favorite fallen angel). The movement through various moods in a constant direction can be an appealing way to structure a longer work. However, in this case, I feel like they may have gotten to the quieter section of the album a little too quickly and lingered on it a bit too long. It's similar to my problem with the most recent Counting Crows album--while I like a lot of the songs on both albums, and feel that both albums stand among the best work of both bands, I think both could have used a little more of a mix between the uptempo anthems and the quieter, more downbeat tracks. This way, both albums wouldn't feel so heavily frontloaded, and my attention wouldn't wander before they reach their end.

All of that being said, these are still two of my favorite albums of 2008 thus far, and you should definitely check them both out. Especially this Sigur Ros record. Yes, even if you weren't a fan before.

Sigur Ros - Inni mer syngur vitleysyngur
Sigur Ros - Festival

[And, as linked above, see Sigur Ros's website for a free download of "Gobbledigook".]