Neil Young “Le Noise: The Film”



Le Noise: The Film: is “a [largely] 38-minute black and white film of eight live-in-studio performances of the eight songs that appear on legendary rocker Neil Young’s brand-new album Le Noise… The performances, shot by filmmaker Adam CK Vollick, feature Young on acoustic and electric guitars at Lanois’ home studio in Silverlake, CA, where Young and Lanois recorded Le Noise.”

Black Prairie “Red Rocking Chair” (Influenza)



Comprised of Portland-based musicians Annalisa Tornfelt and John Neufeld along with Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, and Nate Query of the Decemberists, Black Prairie found its beginnings in 2007 but it wasn’t until this year that the band released any material. The group’s debut, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon (Sugar Hill Records), is nothing if not a wide-reaching approach to a traditional sound; one which NPR‘s Elena See described as “quietly creepy,” “cheerful,” and “quiet.” And while The Guardian‘s Neil Spencer suggested that “The album’s unhurried rhythms and graceful playing evoke big skies and tumbleweed,” it’s a sound much different than all of those descriptions that resonates with Black Prairie’s eerie interpretation of “Red Rocking Chair.” Led by Tornfelt’s ominous vocals, the song maintains an sense of both danger and safety with its dark, looming guitar, violin, and accordion. In this edition of Influenza, Jenny Conlee, Chris Funk, Annalisa Tornfelt and Nate Query discuss the track and how it evolved from “a scratchy batch of lo-fi computer room recordings” to a song that slowly creeps along while seducing the listener with its haunting backwoods mystique.

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Jenny Conlee: I think this track stands out because it was the first, or one of the first, vocal tunes we decided to do. We painstakingly tried to figure out how to approach it and figured out that tacking it on to one of Annalisa’s instrumental numbers fit the best. I love the sound of it coming out of the chaos of the instrumental track, it is like a breath of fresh air.

Chris Funk: When Black Prairie was getting ready to record, and we decided to implore Annalisa for some vocal songs, she sent over a scratchy batch of lo-fi computer room recordings, complete with her bird Hank chirping away in the background. I was immediately drawn to her version of the traditional “Red Rocking Chair,” though I found it almost unrecognizable, to the point where I think she even had to remind me that it was indeed the same song I had heard so many times.

Annalisa Tornfelt: I found the words to “Red Rocking Chair” while flipping through an old bluegrass songbook. At the time I was messing around with a classical guitar in dropped D. I was looking for lyrics to pull from but found that if I just dropped some words, the song easily fit into what I wanted to convey. Earlier that day I was spending time with a good friend who was mourning a miscarriage. In the evening the song seemed to present itself.

Chris Funk: In her form of it (as it’s usually sung pretty spirited around the campfire) the lyrics really grabbed our heartstrings as we realized it was truly a song of loss, and that her arrangement of it as a tragic ballad was more fitting somehow.

Nate Query: For a mostly instrumental band, this song ends up being a very sparse and stripped down song where the point is really creating sort of a moody soundscape. The process of developing and recording this song really kind of solidified our tendencies to do that. I think we probably talked about and practiced this one less than most of the others, it was really about matching the mood of Annalisa’s interpretation of the song.

Chris Funk: Recording it, we had hardly rehearsed it. We only knew it was to begin from a segue after “Across the Black Prairie.” We tracked it with Annalisa singing, and me playing the Weissenborn as other players just found their spots. At the top of the song, around 43 seconds in was to be my solo, but we just left it open as it seemed more stark. You can also hear either myself or Jon say “yea” during this part as the arrangement was unfolding in front of us, and that just got left in there for some reason.

Nate Query: I do have to say, though, that the end of Jon’s guitar solo makes me laugh every time I hear it, and even though he never plays it the same, he almost always ends with some sort of little tongue in cheek diminished riff.

Bruno Mars “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” Review

A respected producer and writer before his name was remotely mentioned in the same vein as a solo artist, Bruno Mars is the talk of pop music right now, but he very well might not be the man he appears to be. Catching the ears of many with his appearances on B.o.B.‘s “Nothin’ on You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” (both of which he also co-wrote), Mars (born Peter Hernandez) and his production team (the Smeezingtons) were also part of the crew responsible for Cee-Lo‘s recent viral hit, “Fuck You.” Don’t be fooled: Despite certain recent lapses in judgement, behind those dimples is a calculated hit-making machine, and Doo-Wops & Hooligans may potentially stand as the most brilliantly formulated album of the year. Not in the sense that it’s innovative—actually, innovative is one of the least accurate ways of describing the record—but in that Mars approaches each of the record’s 10 songs with an audience and a plan in mind, and he conquers. When speaking with Idolator late last month, Mars broke this plan down into a pair of simple sentences, “On this album, I have records that women are going to relate to and men are going to relate to. So doo-wops are for the girls, and hooligans are for the guys.” Innocent enough, but when dissecting his songs with the premeditated blueprints in mind, Doo-Wops & Hooligans begins to expose itself as something far more revealing than its generic exterior suggests it to be.

Leading off with “Grenade,” Mars immediately attacks his first target: the girls. As a series of vague tribal drums builds momentum, heartache drips from Mars’ lips as he proceeds through his lyrics, each of his verses painting himself as the heartbroken victim of romance, “I would go through all this pain/Take a bullet straight through my brain/Yes, I would die for ya baby; but you won’t do the same.” Admittedly he does toss in a charming one-liner to keep the song from becoming entirely stale, “Black and blue, beat me till I’m numb/Tell the devil I said ‘hey’ when you get back to where you’re from.” Mars’ chart-topping single “Just The Way You Are” follows, maintaining an unassuming stance throughout the song—it’s neither flashy nor imposing—it is with this track that his plan really begins to take form, “Oh you know I’d never ask you to change/If perfect’s what you’re searchin’ for then just stay the same.” See what he did there: He just hit on every girl alive.

“Our First Time” shows flashes of seductive vocals, the (church) bells in “Marry You” accompany the aforementioned doo-wop Mars was aiming for (“Is it that look in your eyes, or is it this dancing juice/Who cares baby: I think I wanna marry you”), and “Talking to the Moon” paints a densely layered backdrop which is unmatched throughout the record. Both “The Lazy Song” and “Count on Me” reach into Jack Johnson’s catalog for inspiration (or maybe it’s just that both he and Mars are Hawaiian and they happen to think alike), each song relaxed as they sway through what are some of Mars’ worst lyrics (“Loungin’ on my couch just chillin’ in my Snuggie/Click to MTV so they can teach me to Dougie”) but they still somehow fail to shake his effortless sense of attractiveness. To say that Bruno Mars has created some songs here that women are going to relate to would be a ridiculous understatement.

But what about the guys? The funny thing is, the guys are an afterthought in this equation—as they should be; at least heterosexual guys. Because the bulk of Mars’ approach to the record is aimed so heavily at women, the assumption is that they’re the primary target: But the funny thing about guys is, some of them tend to like women, which means there’s a good chance they might be around when women are listening to the album. So what is one to do, as a guy, when the woman you’re interested in is swooning over Doo-Wops & Hooligans and you have to join in the experience of soaking up every last note of the record? That’s where part two of Mars’ plan takes action.

The “hooligans” songs that Mars referred to are still for the ladies, but they’ve got a bit of a punch to them (more like a tender shove, if we’re being real here) that acts in contrast with the rest of the record. “Runaway Baby” has a genuine flare and enthusiastic kick compared to the more romantic tracks, and it even has a dick joke (see: for the guys), “Even though they eatin’ out the palm of my hand/There’s only one carrot and they all gotta share it.” “Liquor Store Blues,” while saturated with inoffensive dub, is a song about drowning your sorrows which happens to feature a solid cameo from Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley—it should be mentioned that it’s really hard to pull the bullshit card and call the track faux-reggae when “Jr. Gong” is involved. The album wraps up with its most hooligan-y song: “The Other Side,” which features both Cee-Lo and B.o.B. and is easily the highlight of the album.

So there it is, Bruno Mars’ master plan: a) seduce the ladies, b) get the guys to bite, c) success. All kidding aside though, Doo-Wops & Hooligans is so tailor-made to blend in seamlessly with modern radio (Where we play all of today’s biggest pop, rock and country hits!) that it does Mars a serious disservice. Later in that same interview he reflected on a lesson he picked up during his time spent with Cee-Lo, “Cee-Lo proved without trying to teach me that basically you gotta do what you want for you to keep your sanity. You gotta say what you want to say, dress how you want… individuality.” Barely in his mid-20′s Bruno Mars is a phenomenally talented person who has become one of the most sought-after names in the entire industry, and, as suggested with “Fuck You,” he has a lot of charm and wit that’s just waiting to be heard. But if this album is what he calls a product of “individuality,” Bruno Mars also has a long way to go before he begins to remotely understand the world around him and what the word individuality really means.

Liars “The Overachievers” (Influenza)



Now a decade into their existence, Brooklyn, New York’s Liars released their fifth studio album this past March titled Sisterworld (Mute). And much like its predecessors, 2007′s eponymous album or 2006′s breakout Drum’s Not Dead, it was quickly greeted with acclaim on all fronts. Reviews have only been mixed in that there has been no single way to go about explaining the record; whether it be called “utterly wrenched with bourgeois boredom” (The Phoenix), “saturated in daylight” (Drowned in Sound), “relentlessly tense” (Pitchfork), or one of the year’s “nastiest, cleverest and strangest albums” (NME), one thing seemingly can be agreed upon: It is another step forward in the already mesmerizing evolution of the band. With this installment of Influenza, vocalist and guitarist Angus Andrew recalls a moment of self-realization he had while living in L.A. and a feeling of accountability which helped influence what would become Sisterworld‘s lead single, “The Overachievers.”

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I was living in an abandoned recording studio, south of Wilshire near the Rampart district in LA. The area was mostly commercial with a steady stream of homelessness and crime. I spent a lot of time just walking around. I wanted to view the city from its underside and develop a voice for that perspective. What I experienced was eye-opening and massively disturbing, but also exactly what I was looking for.

Inevitably though, there’s a point you reach as a voyeur when you’re forced to realize it’s no longer possible to separate yourself from the subject matter. You start to question the role in what you’re witnessing as heavy emotions of frustration and guilt come into play. For me this is when things start to get real interesting. The work evolves and veers from an analytical “fly on the wall” approach to something way more personal.

“The Overachievers” came about during this time. It represents an acknowledgment of culpability. A point where my focus turned to the question of inaction—both of myself and everyone else—amidst the abundance of homelessness and crime. Initially I wasn’t having it. My interest didn’t lie in accusation, but eventually I came to understand; if I was going to point the finger at anyone, I may as well start with myself.

Liars “The Overachievers” Lyrics:

I bought a house with you/We settled down with cats/There wasn’t much to do so we just sat and watched the TV and smoked weed—We drove a bio-car ’cause we all love the earth/It didn’t get us far and always sounded like a walrus with ulcers—L.A.! L.A.!—We snuffed out Malibu so we could see the stars/And when the sun fell off we drove back slowly listening to Japanther/The Cactus!—L.A.! L.A.!—Then once we had enough we gave up on our jobs/And bought back all our time/To spend it walking in the forest/The Forest—L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.!—I bought a house with you/We settled down with cats/There wasn’t much to do so we just sat and watched the TV

Neil Young’s “Le Noise” & “Ordinary People”



“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen.

In 2007 I wrote an essay that’s about as long-winded as its title: “A Sustainable Future, Neil Young’s ‘Ordinary People’ and the Beauty of Coincidence.” Essentially it touches on a rocky time in my life which led me to a series of small coincidences that gave me a bit of perspective on everything; perspective: hard to find, even harder to hold on to.

It’s not so much that “Ordinary People” strictly depicts a world where people survive by offering others their spoon, of sorts, but rather it offers an outlook suggesting there can be betterment if only one is given a positive outlook and a sense of humanity in the face of our every day obstacles.

Looking back, this paragraph reads like an excerpt from a half-witted Tony Robbins speech; but even so, I still believe it to be true, and I feel it relates to Neil Young‘s new album.

Next week Neil Young will be releasing Le Noise, his second album in two years and fifth since being diagnosed with a brain aneurysm in 2005. Just think of all the tribulations Young has overcome… and after standing tall he almost died because of something like that: It’s enough to leave even the strongest among us struggling to find the remotest sense of hope. But even after complications followed the surgery, Neil Young remained alive. Let me try that again, Neil Young is still alive and in the years which followed he has proven to be as passionate as ever. How’s that for hope?

The Daniel Lanois-produced album captures Young recording in an old mansion in Los Angeles without the assist from a band. Just recently the legend released a pair of unusually dark music videos for “Angry World” and “Hitchhiker” which complement the setting, each capturing the bleakness of the minimal California set-up. Lyrically “Angry World” straddles a line between optimism and darkness while the latter offers a humbling tale of endless addiction and the loneliness and remorse that goes right along with it. The track which precedes the two on the album, “Love and War,” is a sobering tale that momentarily appears fitting to accompany 2006′s Living With War before taking on an uncharacteristically defeatist tone, “When I sing about love and war, I don’t really know what I’m sayin’, I’ve been in love and I’ve seen a lot of war, I’ve seen a lot of people prayin’.” The entire collection does well to follow suit, coming in odd contrast to Young’s last few records. NPR‘s Bob Boilen recently explained the shift in direction,

For the album, Young wrote eight new songs — some autobiographical and some about loss, specifically the loss of friends such as steel guitarist and core band member Ben Keith. There was also the passing of filmmaker Larry Johnson, whom Young met at Woodstock, and who worked with on Young’s film ‘Journey Through the Past’. Some songs are political: “Love and War” is a reflection on writing about the titular topics so many times for so many years.

The grim overtones that are woven throughout Le Noise aside, the infrequent rays of sunshine are not easily outweighed. Take for instance, again, “Hitchhiker”: despite the song’s crippling bleakness, its final lines offer something so much more powerful than any of the recollected tales of dismay, “How many years are come and gone like friends and enemies/I’ve tried to leave my past behind, but it’s catching up with me/I don’t know how I’m standing here living my life/I’m thankful for my children and my faithful wife.”

Young, yourself, all of us: who knows how long any of us are meant for this world. In all honesty, we’re all just a fluke aneurysm away from calling it a day. I can’t speak for the man, but I imagine that Neil Young doesn’t want to die—I know that I most certainly don’t want to die—and it’s my hope that you don’t want to die. And if there’s one thing that I know I can rely on while I’m still on this side of the grave it’s the perspective I gained in part from “Ordinary People” (though as I did mention, many times it is really hard to hold onto). This is why I think the song is important when thinking about Le Noise: Even if you’re riding a series of thoughts and emotions that touch on the darkest parts of the human experience, you have to do your damnedest to keep that positive outlook and sense of humanity in mind, and remind yourself of what exactly it is you’re still thankful for. Like Young, if you have children and a wife, I hope you’re thankful for them. If you have a husband, I hope you’re thankful for him. If you have parents or friends or siblings or an annoying little bijon shih tzu that refuses to stop barking at all hours of the morning: I hope you’re thankful for each and every one of ‘em. That’s what I’m taking away from Le Noise.

If you have the time, please take a moment and leave a comment about what it is that you’re thankful for. Call it a pre-Thanksgiving thanks-session. It’s not going to hurt to take a moment and do so, and who knows, someone else reading might really need to be reminded of what it is that they’re thankful for, and why it’s not better to burn out than fade away.

Lovers “Figure 8″ (Influenza)



Few names garner such a remarkable endorsement as being called “an entrancing spell-caster,” but Lovers’ Carolyn Berk is one such person. While the founding member of the Portland-based trio first took on the band’s moniker nearly a decade ago, the story of the group’s current lineup comes down to a meeting some years later between friends far away from the Pacific Northwest: Brazil, to be exact. Circumstance found synth programmer Kerby Ferris and percussionist Emily Kingan meeting up with Berk in São Paulo, a conference which concluded with the friends deciding to build on their mutual admiration and combine their efforts. Following the release of I Am the West in 2009, the band is now on the brink of unleashing their new album: Dark Light, which is set to drop October 12 via Badman Recording Co. The record’s lead single, “Figure 8,” is a brooding track that steadily creeps along as sharp harmonies eerily float atop a bed of synth pop. In this edition of Influenza Berk digs into the track, touching on everything from her sexuality to Springsteen in expanding on the details that inspired the song.

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This is such a strange exercise, to explicate a song. But the song “Figure 8″ was an interesting monument for me, emotionally and creatively, and I’m happy to talk about it for a sec.

When I was writing it I was referring, personally, to artists like Heart and Fleetwood Mac, and totally like Melissa Etheridge and K.D. Lang, and also Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. I wanted the song to have a stadium-rock feel, very anthemic. And I wanted it to be a raw, pretty explicit manifesto about the PURE JOY of female sexuality. To the extent that one tiny person can influence culture, it is my interest to be a happy, proud, unapologetic, queer woman artist living in the now. That is both who I am and what I want to be. That’s what this song is about. It’s also funny. I mean, I sing the lyric, “I’ll take you on a wild ride if you slip your ship into my sea.” I mean, come on. That’s so over-the-top and that sort of sentiment is very hot and attractive to me.

I was specifically thinking, when I wrote this song, of my teenage self. What would I tell that misfit kid? What would I tell the next generation of misfit kids? I’d tell them that who they are is powerful and filled with magic and possibility. I’d tell them to love themselves with their most adventurous, open-hearted trusting poetic spirit. I’d tell them to go ahead and have a beautiful romance with their lives. That’s the image of the figure eight itself. You know, infinite possibility, infinite transformation, infinite evolution, a perpetual motion machine.

I’m looking forward to the end of “opposite day” in our culture, where everything sacred has been trashed and everything beautiful has been commoditized. I look forward to a greater reverence for sex, poetry, love, time, and all that. This song is a little prayer to take things both more and less seriously. Amen.

[Dark Light's release will be followed by a nation-wide concert which kicks off October 14 at Portland's Doug Fir Lounge.]

Fresh Dubs: “A Prophet (Un prophète)” [2009]



Fresh Dubs is a series which focuses on an individual film’s use of pop music, or lack thereof, analyzing a sampling of songs from the film and offering suggestions for alternative tracks along the way.

“A prison tale of French-Arab-Corsican teenager Malik (Tahar Rahim) dropped into the shark tank of the predatory prison culture, is a riveting portrait of a prison education.” Sean Axmaker, Seanax.com.

“Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet traces the evolution of an illiterate French-Arab inmate who uses his time well in prison, learning to read and write, studying economics, picking up a new language. Along the way, he applies his new skills and his native acumen to become a supreme crimelord in the making, running drugs, carrying out strategic hits, playing rival gangs off one another for his own benefit.” David Germain, Associated Press, Boston.com.

“Many crime narratives demand for their protagonist a chained linkage of tasks completed, rivals defeated, glories attained. While Audiard’s film is a crime story to its very core, he doesn’t appear to feel the same need as many of his fellow filmmakers to valorize his young criminal hero.” Chris Barsanti, PopMatters.com.


Original dub: Nas feat. Olu Dara “Bridging the Gap,” from 2004′s Street’s Disciple.

Early on in the film, following character introductions and Malik El Djebena’s initial rumblings with the Corsican mafia, the only use of music outside of piano or strings had been a brief guitar piece which was used for a single scene. Having made tremendous strides in gaining trust of César Luciani, the leader of the Corsican mafia within the prison, Malik had been given the responsibility of handling and protecting the crew’s lifeline to the outside world—a cellphone—and in leu of three quarters of the gang having been released he was given more responsibility; César’s suspicion that there’s a rat within the group only exaggerated his paranoia, leaving Malik the most trustworthy alternative. “You’ll be my eyes and ears.” Still heinously disrespected and abused for his nationality however, his growing skill set left him able to manipulate information he was made privy to for his own benefit. Given the duty of keeping his finger glued to the pulse of everything happening in the prison, the speed which he learned the ins and outs of the prison yard hierarchy was only accelerated that much more.

Nas‘ “Bridging the Gap” is an interesting choice for the montage of events that focus on Malik’s observation of the goings-on in the prison. The song, which features Nas’ father, Olu Dara, is about Nas’ rise from the youth to his present self. But in typical form, his swagger is so thick that the examples of his blossoming talents come off as byproducts of an overfed ego: Dara repeats throughout the song how Nas is “The greatest man alive,” and Nas, himself, compares his rise through his years in school to slaves regaining control of their freedoms (“‘Cause I’m my own master, my Pop told me be your own boss… Slaves are harmonizing them ah’s and ooh’s/Old school, new school, know school rules”).

Musically, the beat makes far more sense in the film than “Bridging the Gap” does lyrically—the blues to hip hop transformation signifying a shift from the old to the new, just as the established Corsican mafia’s hold on the prison’s power began fraying away. But the use of hip hop, or blues for that matter, in the film doesn’t quite match the environment which the song was used in. In the time that “Bridging the Gap” plays out, the song’s upbeat momentum leaves a positive spin on the sequence of events, which is odd considering the scene depicts Malik sinking further into the deep waters of drug trafficking within the prison’s walls. While on the surface he’s no more sinister than anyone else in the story, as these events are taking place he’s slowly building a plan of action in the back of his mind. Whether or not he had a final goal planned or not, the scene depicts Malik drawing the blueprints to move on to a larger role, and away from that of being Corsican’s César Luciani stooge.

The Stooges‘ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” acts in a similar manner, musically, as “Bridging the Gap,” slowly warming up before lurching into the body of the track. If you remove the opening introduction of spastic guitar, fade the song in slowly, and nail John Cale‘s single-note piano riff at the same time that Nas’ bars are unleashed, both the corruption depicted in the scene and the methodical nature of Malik’s maturation become increasingly emphasized.

Fresh dub: The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” from the band’s 1969 eponymous debut.

Original dub: Sigur Rós “Gobbledigook,” from 2008′s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.

Later, Malik was told an insider’s story of a recent drug bust by a fellow convict. During the narrated flashback to the scene of the arrests, the upbeat sound of Sigur Rós fades in, illuminating the humorous aspect of how, exactly, the traffickers were caught—their car broke down and customs officers were the ones who stopped to assist them. During the 50 seconds that the song’s powerful drum beat and wildly nonsensical vocals are introduced one of the gang members is shown fleeing the police, stopping in a public restroom and stashing what’s revealed to be 25 kg of hash above the ceiling tiles before escaping. “Gobbledigook” on its own is a phenomenal song (matched by an equally interesting music video, for what it’s worth) but when taking into consideration how the scene played out, and the implications that follow—on a 12 hour leave for good behavior, Malik would later risk being condemned to “the hole” by searching out the lost package—it’s a far more crucial scene than the song makes it out to be.

Forget that it was originally used amidst the score to Sofia Coppola’s downer-of-a-film, The Virgin Suicides, with some clever editing the rumbling piano and atmospheric synths of Air‘s “Dead Bodies” would fit perfectly within the scene. Not only would the gravity of the situation be emphasized, including the foreboding of how the scene might later impact Malik’s future, but the song would further the underlying theme that the wheels are well in motion for something greater to happen. That, and having a French film without much representation from French musicians seems a bit odd; does it not?

Fresh dub: Air “Dead Bodies,” from 2000′s The Virgin Suicides: Original Motion Picture Score.

Original dub: Turner Cody “Corner of My Room,” from 2008′s First Light.

As Malik continued to hone his knowledge of reading, writing, and economics through courses offered in the prison, he became increasingly comfortable with his position amongst the community. Set on pursuing something bigger, he continued to develop a plan with a former Muslim inmate, Ryad, as his focus on maintaining face with the remaining Corsicans began to wash away. Turner Cody‘s “Corner of My Room” backs this particular segment and is essentially the theme song to the film as it’s also used in promotional trailers. Upon the first sound of the Brooklyn-based folkster’s voice, his unmistakable likeness to Bob Dylan immediately catches the ear, and the twang of his guitar remains consistently dominant throughout the next two minutes. If it weren’t such a catchy track the suggestion that it’s simply a cheaper alternative to use than licensing one of Dylan’s similar sounding songs—say, 2006′s “Thunder on the Mountain”—but in all honesty it has a unique characteristic that is able to carry not only 120 seconds of screen time, but a trailer as well. Lending a sharper, more aggressive contrast, the bob between sharp and soft of Eels’ “Souljacker Pt. 1″ would carry the scene in a different direction: while it may be less effective in the place of Cody’s “Corner of My Room” it would offer the trailer a more aggressive tone which would better complement the action sequences it portrays.

Fresh dub: Eels “Souljacker Part 1,” from 2002′s Souljacker.

Throughout the first hour, a sparse score comprised of gentle springs and piano is used; typically only when Malik is the focus: when he’s transfered to the prison, when the reality of the prison hits him, when he’s confronted by the limitations of his skills (reading, etc.), when he’s flying, and so forth. And aside from the strings, piano, the faint strum and pluck of a guitar some 40 minutes in and the previously mentioned songs, A Prophet doesn’t utilize much in terms of a soundtrack. While this leaves many scenes feeling atmospherically hollow, it serves to confirm that the action of the characters and their dialog with one another is the primary focus.

One scene in particular stands out in the film for its grand use of silence. Amidst a scheme designed by Malik and Ryad, Malik initiates crossfire and in the close range of the handguns he momentarily loses his hearing. So in the middle of this scene while he is under the protection of a human shield, deaf, all that is heard is the sound of his exhaling. During that moment Malik appeared to be in a state of zen and for that brief time neither the hostility of the surrounding environment, nor anything else, appeared to be of much concern to him.

Obviously the minimalist approach to the sound in the scene was the chosen route for a reason, but what it provides is further proof of the craftsmanship at work with the film. Had it been under the supervision of someone with a different perspective, Malik’s momentary enlightenment might have been accompanied with those same distanced strings, some fast-paced electronica, or even worse: hard rock.

Original dub: Jimmie Dale Gilmore “Mack the Knife,” from 2000′s One Endless Night.

While there’s nothing really negative that can be said of using Jimmie Dale Gilmore to play the movie out, the song does something to contradict a revolving theme in A Prophet. While the song doesn’t primarily reflect Gilmore’s country roots, in the context of the film’s ending scene of Malik walking away into the unknown, “Mack the Knife” summons a similarity to a cowboy vanishing into a sunset. Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing, or a poor way to end the film, but throughout A Prophet Malik is made out to be learning his way as he goes, never knowing exactly what he’s doing, just diving head first into each new situation. While he has killed he’s not a stone cold killer, and while he’s shot people he’s no a gunslinger…

“The burden you bear is a power not of this world” repeats Kid Congo Powers throughout “Power,” a song which gives both an appropriate literal and musical context to the ambiguity of the film’s ending. Just as Malik experienced during a moment of peace, oddly smiling during the gunfight, he previously experienced what appeared to be a similar moment while in flight on his way to a meeting set up by the Corsicans. Even as he was becoming increasingly consumed by knowledge and events that would change his life forever, he retained an innocence that allowed him to keep a distance from it all. As Powers concludes in one of his verses, “Smiles wash away the miles of who you are, or who you might be.”

Fresh dub: Kid Congo Powers “Power,” from 2005′s Solo Cholo.


Paul Cary “Iryna” (Influenza)



Cedar Rapids, Iowa isn’t exactly perceived as a cultural hotbed teeming with artists on the verge of greatness. But nearly a decade before the city was tragically propelled into nationwide headlines due to severe flooding in 2008, a trio of musicians came together in the city under the banner of the Horrors, signing the great In The Rec Records label. Not to be confused with the English band of the same name which has since risen to prominence, the group’s brand of “obnoxious, intrusive rock n’ roll” would only make it through a pair of releases, but the music didn’t stop there. Frontman Paul Cary later moved to Chicago and by late-2007 he had set the gears in motion for what would become his debut solo album, Ghost of a Man. Finding time to produce a split-EP with San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees along the way, Cary’s sound does have its similarities to the John Dwyer-helmed group: dirty, raw, and undeniably enjoyable. The reception to the record has only gone to confirm the depth of Cary’s sound; in their review of the record earlier this year, One Thirty BPM focused on one of Ghost‘s standouts, “Iryna,” explaining its “blistered-fingers blues” as “all ruckus and drooling static.” For this edition of Influenza Cary focuses on this very track, revealing the details behind the recording process, Johnathan Crawford’s (Head of Femur, William Elliott Whitmore) production on the track, and the perils of using pawn shop amps in the search for the perfect sound.

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I was listening to a lot of Chopin at the time while writing this song: “Nocturne No. 2 in E flat,” “Waltz No.3 in A minor,” “Prelude in D flat,” and “Raindrop” are a few of my favorites. It wasn’t completely intentional but I suppose the instrumental breakdown in the middle of the song is as close as I can get to giving him a nod. Originally, I was going to sing some kind of chorus with “Iryna” in it but the words just weren’t fitting right so I scratched the lyrics entirely and turned the vocal pattern I was working with into the opening guitar part. After doing so I wondered if I should even call the song “Iryna” any more. I remember the night the song all started coming together, sitting in my room of my third floor apartment overlooking the circus that is Division Street in Chicago, and the phone rings: After six months or so of not communicating at all, it was Iryna calling. I thought, “Well I guess the song is called ‘Iryna’ after all.” Not about her, but for her. It moves like she does.

“Iryna” was recorded live by Johnathan Crawford at Clown Town Studio, which is just the basement of John’s office. The actual recording did not take very long; I think we got it on the second take. We spent a couple hours setting up the vocal and guitar amps and microphoning the drums in a way to limit the amount of bleed. We use two tracks for the vocals: one directly in to manipulate and one through an old Amp G12 that I got from a pawn shop for 50 bucks that just needed a fuse. The guitar amp I was using was a solid state Sears and Roebuck, I’m guessing early 70s—its speaker was on its last leg and by the end of the session it was completely blown out. That session we just recorded drums, guitar and vocals. We added a bass later but it was cutting in and out when we played it back so we took it off completely and left it in its original form. As far as recording goes I cannot take any credit other than playing my guitar and singing. I am lost in a studio. Johnathan Crawford is the man that makes things sound the way we want.

[While released digitally earlier this year via Stankhouse Records, the vinyl release show for Paul Cary's Ghost of a Man is set to take place this coming September 15 at Chicago's Lincoln Hall. In addition to Paul Cary and the Small Scaries—the current incarnation of Cary’s band featuring a bevy of Chicago jazz players including Dave Rempis, Fred Longberg Holm, and Jason Stein—Cary's Stankhouse label-mates Thee Oh Sees will also be performing.]

Tetsuo “Smoking Cigarettes With Famous People” (Influenza)



The daily commute from Murfreesboro to Nashville is a manageable—albeit lengthy—one, but the sounds that the city has become famous for bear little resemblance to those which resonate from the central-Tennessee four-piece, Tetsuo. Having been together for less than a year, the group has already issued its debut full-length, These Crystals Don’t Burn, which was originally recorded in a seedy apartment “in a part of the city where the intersection of several major highways”—99, 96, 70, 231 & 40, to be exact. Just so there’s no confusion on the name however, the record shows zero similarity to the cold, dark surrealism of Shinya Tsukamoto’s cult-classic Tetsuo: produced by Jason Dietz (Joe Buck, the Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza), the band maintains both a genuineness and warmth which resonate throughout the entire record. The ruggedness of the original Fostex eight track demos take on a gritty bounce that, in the case of one song in particular, complements a cheeky lyrical blow-off to the celebrity-breeding Petri dish that is Music City, “I don’t give a damn about this life.” In this edition of Influenza, Tetsuo frontman Ardis Redford flips the pages of the history behind “Smoking Cigarettes With Famous People,” its beginnings as “Murfreesburnouts,” and where exactly Miley Cyrus fits into the picture.

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“Smoking Cigarettes With Famous People” began life as a song called “Murfreesburnouts.” The title refers to several unrelated strata of “famous people.” Murfreesboro is a dark town, and a sketchy town, and a hot town. It is far easier to obtain LSD in the city limits than beer. There is a barn a few minutes out of the city limits where an old blues musician forces kids dumb enough to go out there to take whatever controlled substances he has on him. The perfect collision of a truly absurd number of major highways tangles like a blood clot in the center of the city and facilitates cocaine trafficking. Because of this kind of thing the town has a much larger police force than you would expect. Also, due to draconian bar attendance ordinances, you have to be 21 to attend bar shows and therefore most of the rock audience has been forced underground. Literally. Most of the good shows in Murfreesboro take place in basements; I like to think of my band as ‘undie rock’ instead of ‘indie rock.’

Currently, I would have to cite the city of Murfreesboro as the main influence on my music. Unlike Wordsworth or Keats or someone famous like that, though, it isn’t so much the flora, fauna, or breathtaking landscapes (the Boro has no skyline because its in a basin, and I have never seen anything but dogs in the actual city) that inspire me, but the opaque and inexplicable mental formations floating around in the various bars and parties where I spend too much of my time. I would sing “Murfreesburnouts” unaccompanied with my classical guitar because I was, as I often am, between bands. The song had around 10 verses all based on people in Murfreesboro, all well known for mostly unsavory reasons. The song was at this point written from my point of view. Truth be told, the title of the song should be more along the lines of “Smoking Cigarettes With Infamous People.”

The verses were mainly sarcastic and all began with “I knew this one guy/gal who…” and if any of the people who were in the song were present at the time I would make sure to sing the one about them and then get everyone in the room to guess who it was about. The three best verses were preserved and placed in first person, sort of. The lyrics were definitely changed around quite a bit to facilitate some recent one liners of mine and so forth, but I feel that the final song does a good job as far as capturing the spirit of the folks I hang out with. The lyrics sound like outdoor cigarette conversations during house shows with the “famous people” of Murfreesboro. The title was cemented when the melody for the song came from a dream in which I was smoking cigarettes with Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus in some kind of music video—this is also where the first three lines of verse one and two are from. The whole thing becomes even more circular because I had that dream after meeting a girl at a Zombie Bazooka Patrol show in a basement who claimed to be Brandi Cyrus, Miley’s older sister. It’s not that far-fetched because I am pretty sure those calloused pseudo-country jackasses all live pretty close by in Belle Meade. Then again, another girl around here often claims that she is Ke$ha. Also, I am convinced that I am Lou Reed. This is a city where people play pretend; I am pretty sure there is mercury in the water.