Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lapham's Quarterly

Either an abomination or an aesthete's wet dream, Lapham's Quarterly is a literary journal like no other. Lewis H. Lapham, a former editor of Harper's, has created a publication that culls together lauded texts and images of the past filtered through a topical lens and contextualized with new contributions by the greats of today. It's the worst of channel surfing intellectualism or the best of post-modern ideological bricolage. Each issue presents a starting point for countless works of literature and schools of thought, constructing new contexts by situating disparate thinkers side by side. While the writers/artists tend to have a Eurocentric bent, the series has included many lesser known members of the global creative canon such as Japanese father of Noh drama Zeami, Persian lyric poet Hafiz, and Chinese literary critic Lu Ji.

Lapham's celebrates fragmentation and discontinuity while paradoxically presenting cohesive themes. The Spring 2010 issue, Arts & Letters, aims to examine how artists and their art have interacted with society throughout time. Amongst Nabokov, Van Gogh, James Baldwin, and a government report detailing the meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, is a new essay by Salman Rushdie and a staged textual dialogue between Walter Benjamin and Andy Warhol. Between these excerpts are games, diagrams, and tables that present pertinent factoids like which mind-altering substances were used to create what great literary works (Uppers: Sarte's Critique of Dialectical Reason, Psychedelics: Huxley's Doors of Perception) or what songs were featured during which US presidential campaigns (Mondale: "Theme from Rocky," Dukakis: Neil Diamond's "America"). I'm still reeling from the mention of T-Pain, Matthew Barney, Hokusai, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Ovid all in a single publication!

Like it or not, this byte size interdisciplinary approach to history and knowledge is fast becoming the future of thought. In both form and content, Lapham's Quarterly is a series tailor made for a post-internet world. It turns teleology on its head by offering a virtual reality on paper where turning a page is tantamount to jumping across milennia. Flip (click?) through a web of philosophical threads that are strung together Wikipedia-style until you're not quite sure where the original origin of your search lies. By all definitions, Lapham's is a dilettante's domain: how you choose to read it, however, is entirely up to you.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shadowtime Ludlow

Just did a rundown for Time Out New York on the best shopping of this LES strip. Check it out for discounts through March 31st on places I've already mentioned, such as Veda (10%) and Verameat(10%), along with new haunts like Tommy Guns Salon, where you can test a man's mettle by how he handles a straightrazor...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tamaryn @ The Fader Fort (SXSW)

Caught Tamaryn's last show in Austin at the Levi's Fader Fort amidst today's unseasonable freeze. Unfortunately, technical issues cut the set short, but not before the band laid down two particularly explosive songs. "The Waves," which I had yet to hear, is the mesmerizing title track off Tamaryn's upcoming full-length. Its cascading mantras rippled across the open air tent, digging deeper with each refrain of "into the waves..." as the chanteuse tossed her mane. Most of all, it was "Mild Confusion" that blew me away. Epic sustain on Rex John Shelverton's crashing guitars entwined with Tamaryn's soaring vocals, which were both dulcet and biting for the occasion. Getting to hear the song on a proper sound system, the way it was meant to be heard, was an expansive and unexpected pleasure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Revel Hotel - The Beating of the Wings

The Beating of the Wings is a rare breed of record, building a sonic bricolage from moody glam cabaret and early 80’s coldwave with an injection of Nine Inch Nails ire. The gentlemen in Revel Hotel don’t deal in irony: they wear their dark and damaged hearts on their sleeves, both lyrically and musically. At first listen, it’s singer Johnny Quinlan's full throttle bravado and sweeping piano melodies that light the torch songs on the record. Lyrically, he doesn't shy from bombast and incorporates a healthy dose of grandeur, deftly dropping lines about god, prophets, and power, even on the dancefloor ready tracks.

Beneath Quinlan’s bravura, however, is the strength of Barrett Hiatt's expansive and hard hitting drums, Robert Tahija's stirring guitar melodies, and Frank Deserto's punchy basslines and precisely apoplectic theremin psych outs. Of the five tracks, “Terminission” is by far the standout song, bringing a fresh take on early 70's glam to life with an electric/acoustic mix akin to Bowie's “Life on Mars” or “Rock 'n' Roll Suicide.” Tahija channels Mick Ronson with Quinlan playing both Bowie and Mike Garson as he opines on what could be an indictment of desperate scenesters or the same lost souls Ziggy sang to: “We signed our leases/Bought our coffins/For the end…We talk in riddles/We worship false idols/And single out the weak/We shoot black smoke in the sky/Numb ourselves by getting high/And turn the other cheek.”

Read more over at The Big Takeover


Catch Revel Hotel’s CD release show tomorrow @ Crash Mansion or get yourself a copy over at CDBaby.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Impossible Music Sessions: Cruel Black Dove plays The Plastic Wave

"This is the sound of The Plastic Wave not performing," announced the moderator to a still room. The song began to play as the audience stood silently watching an empty stage, some wiping away a few stray tears as the synths kicked in and the inaugural night of The Impossible Music Sessions came to a close.

Sponsored by, a musical Amnesty International of sorts, The Impossible Music Sessions "feature the artists who cannot appear and the music they are not free to make." The first installment at Littlefield in Brooklyn showcased the Iranian band The Plastic Wave as performed by Cruel Black Dove.

Formed in 2008 by Saeid Nadjafi and Maral, The Plastic Wave have clashed with Iran's notoriously oppressive political regime. As a woman, it's illegal for Maral to play in front of a mixed gender audience, especially while singing in English, and doing so eventually cost her and her bandmate time in jail for performing their melodic, trip hop inspired electronic rock. Although the strength of the band's demo got them accepted into 2009's SXSW festival, they were unable to obtain the visas to go.

The night began with a video introducing The Plastic Wave before moderator Austin Dacey interviewed Cruel Black Dove. Shortly thereafter, Maral joined in via video conference, describing her band's history and the Iranian musical underground. She was soon supported by in-person commentary from singer Raam of fellow Iranian band Hypernova. Having opened for the likes of The Sisters of Mercy and IAMX, Raam is in a unique position to discuss the perils and triumphs of starting out as a rock band in Tehran. He emphasized the universal desire to partake in the inherent freedom of rock 'n' roll and described his ability to play (and stay) in the States as fulfilling The American Dream. Tried and true sentiments to be sure, but ever so powerful when voiced in this context and from his perspective.

When the live set finally began, it was a moving kind of multi-layered voyeurism, as CBD churned out "War of Others," "[RE]action," and "My Clothes on Other Bodies" with their signature dark, synthrock grind. The band played for the audience and to the lone image of Maral on the laptop, which was positioned to face the stage. The audience in turn watched both Cruel Black Dove and the projected face of Maral, as she watched four people whom she had never met interpret her songs. Although she and her bandmates were simultaneously disenfranchised and disembodied due to geography and circumstance, the mediums that carried the message were both virtual and palpable, synthetic and very real. The set ended, fittingly, with a powerful rendition of the Cruel Black Dove original, "War Son."

Saeid joined the chat after the live show, commenting on his involvement in this historically significant evening. Despite technical difficulties, his excitement was infectious. While the event could have been far more volatile if fraught with the fervercy of political specifics, the fact that it kept a focus on the simple and singular power of music made far more of an impact. It wasn't about 'issues' but about sonics and soul. The first of The Impossible Music Sessions did not push ideology, but simply disseminated the visceral aurality of Tehran by way of Brooklyn.

Photos by Boris Gasin.