Friday, March 31, 2006

Grandma's Hands

By Josh Lamkin
I just heard Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands" for the first time. I'm probably the last person on earth to hear this song, but I 've listened to it maybe twenty times in the last day and a half. There's something about that song that is getting inside me, stirring me up, making me remember things I haven't thought about in a long time. I miss Soul/R&B music that was simple the way artists like Withers, Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cooke used to make: understated, smooth, emotional, real. I really do like modern Soul/R&B, but I find it so often over-embellished, and the songwriting just isn't close to the quality in a song like "Grandma's Hands." I really believe Bill Withers is talking about his grandma. I can really feel how much she mattered to him.

Grandma's hands
Used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma's hands
Picked me up each time I fell
Grandma's hands
Boy, they really came in handy
She'd say, "Matty don' you whip that boy
What you want to spank him for?
He didn' drop no apple core"

But I don't have Grandma anymore
If I get to Heaven I'll look for
Grandma's hands

My grandmother, my dad's mom, was an amazing lady, the life of the party, a great cook, generous, caring, devoted, the consummate Grandmother. She lived in Harlem, Georgia, in the same house, which she and her husband bought as newlyweds for $9000, from 1944 until she died in the mid-nineties. She had three tremendous pecan trees in her back yard. The grass didn't grow well under them so the yard was mostly sandy with a few lonely patches of grass. In the fall when the pecans started falling off the trees and getting in the way of the neighborhood football games in my grandmother's back yard, my brother and I would clear the playing field by collecting huge baskets of pecans that my grandmother would use in pecan pie.

When I listen to a song like "Grandma's Hands" I can still feel the sand in my shoes and the smooth, dry pecan shells in my hands. I can smell her fresh-baked pies cooling in the kitchen. I can hear her calling to us from the back door. Bill Withers knows what I'm feeling. I never loved missing my grandma so much as when I heard "Grandma's Hands."

Bill Withers - "Grandma's Hands"

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

You will surely find this pleasing

By d-mac
The voice in this song is that of the elusively popular indie-rock girl from ninth grade that used to sit behind you in fifth period Chemistry and ask to copy your homework. You let her, of course, because just occasionally she'd flash you a smile on the bus ride home and you knew that she understood you. By now she's married to a writer or musician and living in Manhattan, or London, or Tokyo, but every once in a while she sees a periodic table and wonders how you're doing.

Mates of State - Fraud in the 80's

MoS are playing in Atlanta this Friday at Variety Playhouse with Magnolia Electric Co. and Maria Taylor.

Buy Bring it Back from their website or from Amazon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mm-hmm, they're still here

By d-mac
Remember a-ha? You know, that New Wave band from the 80's who had that Take on Me song with the cool rotoscoping animation effect in the music video? Sure you do. They were doing that whole "We're from Norway" thing before it was in. Nowadays it seems that every crooning Scandinavian and their mother has a band that's taking the indie music scene by storm -- Röyksopp, Kings of Convenience, Sondre Lerche, to name a few. More on these guys later. But, a-ha. What happened to those guys? The pioneers.

Well I'm glad you asked. Turns out, they're back. Well, they've been back for awhile now. Okay, they really only broke up for about four years in the mid-nineties, reunited and have been releasing albums every few years ever since. The real question should be, where have we been?

A couple of months ago my mom was in town visiting for a few days at my brother's house up in the 'burbs, and she brought Christmas presents with her that my cousin Marit had sent from Norway. I got a cool little Julenisse candle snuffer and a copy of a-ha's latest release, Analogue. When I first unwrapped the CD, my initial reaction, to be honest, was "these guys are still around?" but I curiously popped the disc in my car stereo and listened to it from beginning to end on the album-length drive back into the city.

The simple driving guitar hook and persistent, thumping bassline of the first track, "Celice" captured me right away.* I immediately recognized Morten Harket's voice, maybe a little more seasoned than twenty years ago, but still distinct, as he delivered the song's mantra, "Celice, It's in the way you hurt me... I know that I'm alive... You sharpen all my senses... I know you're on my side." The next few songs were equally as accessible, but this album was going to take a few more listens to really sink in.

So I picked up this disc again a couple of days ago and decided the time was right for further contemplation. I flipped through each track, trying to pick a good one to post on this here blawg. "Celice" seemed too obvious, too first-songy to post. "Analogue" was another candidate, but a little too, I don't know... title-tracky. It wasn't until track 9 that I found my sleeper song:

a-ha - A Fine Blue Line

Magne Furuholmen sets the mood in the intro with his delightfully crunchy electronic tip-taps that remind me of what I love so much about The Postal Service. Paul Waaktaar-Savoy joins in a few bars later on the acoustic guitar shouldering Harket's delicate vocals. The narrator is pensive as he addresses a past love and tries to make sense out of the whole mess, maybe shed some light on a few of life's heavier where-did-things-go-wrong, why-do-people-drift-apart sorts of questions. He may suggest these questions, but he doesn't pretend to know the answers, and I like that. "Time marches on ahead," he concludes, "one day you'll see it, love is a fine blue line running through it," and the violins come in to reassure us that everything's going to be okay.


* Lamkini Footnote: Yeah, D-mac and I were talking one day right after he scored this CD, and he was like, "Dude, you know what kinda kicks ass that you wouldn't think does? The new a-ha CD." I seriously thought I was being punked or something. But he let me listen to Analogue, and it really does kick ass. "Celice" is such a standout song. In fact, the first four songs are just plain kickasstastic. Why go on and on about the new a-ha record? Well, there are so many formerly amazing 80's bands who make these "comeback" records that are just plain shit (see basically any Hall and Oates recording after John Oates shaved off his mustache). It's great to see an exception.

Friday, March 24, 2006

V for Really Great

By Josh Lamkin
Okay, I don't often get excited about movies. I mean, I don't have a ton of cash to throw at every Ben Stiller movie that comes out (that's a shitload of movies), even though I'd like to. So when I do get excited about a movie and actually buy a ticket and don't sneak in by walking backwards through the exit doors while people are leaving the theater (this really does work, by the way), it fucking better be good.

I'm not a movie snob. I like everything from idiot comedies to art house stuff, heartwrenching dramas to thrillers to chick flicks, hell even the Jackass! movie. For some reason I was excited about V for Vendetta. It was probably the cred that the Wachowski brothers bring to whatever they do. I mean, those guys could do a biopic about Mother Theresa and I'd go see it for the kickass action scenes and special effects. I was excited about V for Vendetta and it didn't disappoint.

We saw V for Vendetta at a brand new theater with great new seats and a sound system that was only a few decibels softer than a Quiet Riot concert. If you're gonna see an action-thriller movie, you gotta do it like that. The movie was kickass. I knew I was going to love this movie in the first five minutes of the film when we meet Codename V and he recites a three minute monologue in which virtually every word begins with the letter V, and I think he used every word in the English language that starts with V except maybe vagina. Anyway, there was a great visual style to the film as well, and I particularly noticed the use of the color red as the color that both the "good" and "bad" guys used in their respective symbols. I liked the way using the same color for both sides blurred the line between good/evil, and that's an important point the film makes over and over.

Vendetta is constantly on the offensive with barely veiled assaults on the idea of a controlling, paranoid, dishonest, racist, homophobic, and violent government. An interesting note: although the government depicted in V for Vendetta was originally intended to represent the Margaret Thatcher administration of 1980's England, it is almost impossible to miss the references to the current Bush administration (there is even a poster on the wall in Dietrich's secret room of a combination British/American/Nazi flag with the phrase "Coalition Of The Willing" on it, a phrase invoked by President Bush as he sought to shore up support for his anti-terrorist policies immediately after the attacks of 9/11/2001).

Overall, I found myself constantly surprised and even pleasantly uncomfortable witnessing the intensely subversive message of V for Vendetta. I thought it was gutsy and effective to use a variation of the crucifix for the government's symbol. The use of the Guy Fawkes theme is such a strong tacit assault on the Catholic church, I can't believe there weren't more people shitting bricks about this movie before it came out. (In case you don't know what I'm talking about, read the traditional Guy Fawkes Day verse which is still widely recited aloud on Guy Fawkes Day.) There were obvious parallels drawn between the government in this film and that of the Nazis: the ruthless government henchmen, the imprisonment of so-called dissidents or undesirables, the charismatic supreme leader. Yet perhaps most effective is the twisting around of our notions of what Terrorism and Terrorist really mean. Are they relative terms? After all, the hero in this movie is constantly and unapologetically referred to as a terrorist, and both the hero and the bad guys deliberately and coldly murder lots of people throughout the film.

In the end, It's great to see a movie that takes a few chances and assumes some intelligence of its audience. I mean, I'm not sure it's right about most of its audience's intelligence level, but it's still nice to see it. Also, Natalie Portman is hot.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Let's take this Slow, EARL

By d-mac
no disassembleSlow Runner @ The EARL
with Blankety Blank and Vaya

Doors weren't until 9pm, and there were two openers so Willson and I decided to hang out front for a couple of PBRs and some food before we headed back to the stage. Ginger met up with us for a beer and we sat around and discussed how we were probably being looked down upon for not wearing shirts with ironic names of mechanics embroidered on them or t-shirts from bands so obscure that they haven't even heard of themselves yet. We tried the fried alligator tail, which I was surprised to see that they served, but not surprised to find out tasted awful.

We got inside just in time to catch the last few songs from the second opener, Blankety Blank. This was a real treat. It didn't take long for me to recognize this band's biggest fans in the room... they were the guys on stage playing the instruments. After a couple of rock-cliche-laden verses and self-aggrandizing choruses, the frontman handed it off to the lead guitarist for a signature ninety-second-minimum guitar solo (probably not the first of the night, and certainly not the last). During this interlude, the singer kicked on the strobe light that he'd placed on stage next to his monitor, put on his Oakleys, and began twirling around the stage doing his best impersonation of Bono ala The Fly (double the ego, but hold the musical talent please). As if this wasn't enough, he decided to kick it up a notch by - and I'm not making this up - tearing open several mini bags of m&m's, pouring them in his mouth and then spitting them out in a colorful, confetti-like spray of chocolaty goodness twinkling in the gloriously strobed luminescence. I'd be lying if I told you this part didn't bring a smile to my face. How rock-n-roll is it to spit chocolate candies all over the stage during the guitar outro? Beat that, Kiss and Ozzy, with your... blood, and... bats. They continued with a couple more songs and ended with a guitar-shredding cover of Van Halen's version of the Kinks' You Really Got Me. It was actually pretty damn good thanks to the pristine, if gratuitous guitar riffs. But the best part of Blankety Blank's portion of the evening was when they were breaking down their equipment, and someone handed the lead singer a broom so he could clean up all the crushed up m&m's he'd been stepping on during their show. I wonder if they melt under the stage lights, as well as in your mouth?

Slow Runner, opening with their song Happy, didn't bring any gimmicks on stage with them, although they commented tongue-in-cheek after one of their songs that it would've been much better with the strobe light. The lead singer, Michael Flynn "gave it up" for the The Blankety-Blanks for their performance, which I'm convinced he intentionally pluralized as a slight in return for BB's frontman announcing them in charades, mimicking Steve Austin running in slow-motion. They followed with a great mix of songs from their new album, No Disassemble, as well as a few gems I hadn't heard before. Despite a horrific turnout, embarrassing opener, and the incessant drone of drunken conversation being carried on by the two drunk girls in the back of the room, the band brought their A-game. The drummer was tight and the bass player seemed to be having a good time. I enjoyed every song they played -- there were no "time to go to the bathroom now" songs. They finished their set and two of the seven people in the crowd yelled out for an encore (except in East Atlanta, they don't use the word "encore", they just say "play another song"... encore is too bourgeois). So they agreed to play a couple more, including something new they had been working on that they hadn't played at a show before, and a cover of Bjork's Hyper Ballad. I was impressed. Strange song to cover, but interestingly I'd seen Glen Phillips cover the same song last year when he played at Variety. Very cool.

Ya'll missed a great show. It was worth being out way too late on a school night. Hopefully next time they'll come on a weekend and we can all go. There may be free m&m's involved.


So, Lamkini and I are starting this blog on a whim and we haven't really worked out exactly what it's going to be just yet. I'm thinking of sticking to things aesthetic, like new music or concert reviews and maybe movies too. I'd like to see if I can post some mp3s of stuff I've been listening to lately, sort of like an mp3 blog, but there are technical and legal ramifications there. I'll see what I can do. Hopefully this will just evolve into something neat over time that people might actually enjoy reading.