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by Evan Sawdey

28 Sep 2009

For the longest time, Matt O’Hare has paid his dues by taking on one of the most thankless jobs in mankind’s history: theatrical sound designer.

Gathering rare and sometimes impossible-to-find songs, crafting sound effects and elaborate cues meant to be triggered at moments notice, and sometimes even writing songs specifically for a show can be a positively daunting effort. The person who can successfully tackle an effects-heavy production like Mnemonic or The Skriker is worthy of a medal of some sort, but—for the musically-inclined—sound designing is nothing short of the ultimate training ground for bigger things.

It is here where you have to deal with meeting specific challenges, often having to reach far outside your comfort zone to get results. It is through this process that Matt O’Hare has been able to hone his craft, learning everything he can before applying it to his own music. Back in 2006, O’Hare was once quoted as saying that he rarely writes music for himself, simply because he found it much easier to write for pre-existing material, like his score for the Hangar Theater production of Art built almost entirely out of soft guitar harmonics. Yet after tackling an expansive, ambitious design for the Trinity Rep/Brown production of The Maids in February of this year, O’Hare gradually began working on 1983, his first album under the pseudonym Motorcycles Are Everywhere.

What’s amazing about this little electro-rock gem is just how well it all holds together.  Playing every instrument himself, O’Hare manages to keep things propulsive, never once coming off like a laptop-rock project some kid did in his spare time.

by Kirstie Shanley

27 Sep 2009

French four-piece Phoenix are on the rise.  Take the fact that the band was originally booked to play Chicago’s 2,500 person capacity Riviera Theater, but it sold out so quickly that the show was then moved to the larger Aragon Ballroom, with it’s 4,500 person capacity, and easily sold out as well.  One reason for this surge in popularity is certainly due to the fact that their newest release, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, is filled to the brim with pop tunes guaranteed to make any cynic get up and dance.  While their three previous releases captured some of this spirit their fourth accomplishes it more fully, as if the band has been steadily evolving and reached a high point in its continuum.

 

by Bill Gibron

27 Sep 2009

The search for enlightenment is part of the human experience. It’s the reason for religion, the basis for a billion self-help guides, and the excuse for so much of our own inner turmoil. We want to believe there is some purpose to life, that within a realm of a million minor difficulties and rewards, there’s a big picture plot as to why we exist. Of course, many would argue that faith is the opiate of the masses, that organized belief has done more damage than good, and that within a time frame encompassing thousands of years, priests and prophets have provided very little to further our understanding.

Now, two new DVDs from Alive Mind Media (a copy whose ad copy stresses their commitment to releasing “specialty documentary programming in the areas of enlightened consciousness, secular spirituality and culture”) hope to dispel some myths while making the mysteries of spirituality a whole lot less enigmatic. So…Help Me God centers on Simon Cole and his cross-country quest to discover the power and glory of a Higher Authority. His genial, 52 minute road trip takes him all across America, exposing both theological acceptance and fundamentalist rage.

Meditate and Destroy focuses on former bad boy turned author and Buddhist teacher Noah Levine. As much a teaching tool as a mini-biography, we learn of the drug addled and crime filled life that transformed this self-proclaimed punk into a force for good in the realm of spiritual guidance. While Levine’s story has much more dramatic punch, it is frequently compromised by director Sarah Fisher’s desire to hard sell the man’s ‘ministry’ and teachings. Cole, on the other hand creates a Religulous like experience in which questions of dogmatic inconsistency provide fodder for humor - and occasional insight.

Indeed, So…Help Me God accomplishes the basic tenets of its set-up. Cole comes across as good natured and genuine, never openly confronting his hosts like HBO pundit Bill Maher did during his documentary. Certainly he lets the subjects spewing hate hang themselves with obvious clarity (a family of rabid homosexual hating zealots are exposed for the robot minding morons they are), but he also wants to understand and experience the substance of religious devotion. After speaking with all manner of types - Muslim, Jew, Hindi, Buddhist, etc. - he decides to confront his quandary head on. Setting up a tent in the desert, he explores the reasons and the need for faith. His last act revelation falls in line with the rest of So…Help Me God‘s direct designs.

Cole also does a great service to those who truly feel the need for God without all the organized and ritualized trappings. The doubters deliver arguments just as compelling as the converted, while hot button topics like choice, sexual orientation, and Biblical interpretation also receive a fair and balanced treatment. The only downside here is the length - at 52 minutes, Cole just scratches the surface. He puts across a fairly flawless preamble to what could be a much longer and more sophisticated overview (Satanists, Wiccans, and Atheists are left out of the mix, for example). Still, by shining a light on the need for answers within a world striving to complicated and confuse, So…Help Me God becomes a telling individual explanation.

Oddly enough, Mediate and Destroy does the same thing, only in a far less compelling manner. No doubt about it - Levine is a persuasive presence. Taking after his noted father (both have a marvelous gift for gab and the prescient application of same) we see him speaking to various groups and gatherings, all the while focusing on the journey through Hell he put himself through as a youth. In between are talking head interviews that expand on what Levine teaches while supporting his updated dynamic. The biographical elements are a bit scattered, our subjects tales of youthful indiscretion and crack fueled violence supposedly showcasing how far he’s come. While they offer such sustenance, they often become unnecessary reminders.

His entire persona, from the punk rock patina to the amazing body art, suggests the entire battle without getting into every detail. Even better, when Levine starts counseling a specific group of individuals, his examples and heart-felt anecdotes deliver the message loud and clear. During these specific scenes, when others explain their pain and suffering, Meditate and Destroy really finds its purpose. We can see how Levine’s words move and inspire these people and the battles scars they all carry just beneath the surface makes them just as compelling as their teacher. Sometimes, the backstory blinds us to the teachings inherent in Buddhism, but as a way of getting the too hip and the too insular into spirituality, this is a fascinating film.

Indeed, what both So…Help Me God and Meditate and Destroy do best is remove the smug, self-important aura off of faith. They argue that people don’t have to be part of some centuries old community to get in touch with their own inner light. Cole specifically shows that forging your own path, investigating and dissection the various approach to religion might just be the best way to discover what’s really important to you. On the other hand, Levine has clearly found something that works for his always tenuous sobriety. And since he comes across as both serious and enthusiastic to share, we fall into his words and thoughts with ease. While So…Help Me God is the much more pleasurable experience, Meditate and Destroy goes deeper into the question of belief and its halting, healing power.

Still, one can see a viewer sitting through each of these films and finding fault with many issues. Indeed, for someone living in the pragmatic and the practical, the notion of turning over any control, even a small amount of metaphysical or psychological, would seem specious. And when Cole discovers the truth about his quest, we often wonder if that’s the reality behind the various versions of faith. Still, as Noah Levine points out over and over again in his teaching, life is not about unqualified happiness. It’s about suffering, and learning how to confront and defeat said struggle on a daily basis. For most, religion is a plausible panacea. As So…Help Me God and Meditate and Destroy disclose, there may be better ways toward achieving peace outside of such strict convictions.

by Sarah Zupko

27 Sep 2009

Hush Arbors
Yankee Reality
(Ecstatic Peace!)
Releasing: 6 October

Dinosaur Jr. singer/guitarist J Mascis produces the new Hush Arbors album and shows up playing on a few songs too. The production is straightforward and lets the atmospheric folk music breathe. It’s not noisy and in-your-face like you might have expected with Mascis turning the knobs.

SONG LIST
01 Day Before
02 Lisbon
03 Fast Asleep
04 So They Say
05 One Way Ticket
06 Coming Home
07 Sun Shall
08 Take It Easy
09 For While You Slept
10 Devil Made You High

Hush Arbors
“Day Before” [MP3]
     

by Justin M. Norton

27 Sep 2009

At least once a year I re-read Roughneck (Knopf, originally published in 1954), the second volume of noir author Jim Thompson’s autobiography. I first found an old Mysterious Press copy of the book in a small paperback store in northern California during a cross-country train ride in 1993. I read it during a long stretch from San Francisco to Denver and it has stuck with me since. It’s certainly one of the most intimate looks we’ll ever get at the life of a classic noir author—Chandler and Hammett, for instance, never penned their own life stories, saving details for their novels. Chandler’s look back likely wouldn’t have been as gripping as Thompson’s memoir; before he began writing detective fiction he was an oil executive with a chronic truancy problem. Thompson on the other hand, was a teenage bootlegger—his experiences there outlined in Roughneck‘s predecessor, Bad Boy.

Roughneck is never mentioned alongside Thompson’s classics like The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me, and probably for a reason—his fiction is better. However, I’m drawn back less for the quality of the prose (although it still contains vintage Thompson passages) and more for the heroic struggles Thompson faced to become a writer. While Jack Kerouac’s On the Road stoked my interest in and passion for the English language, Jim Thompson taught me that the act of writing and artistic creation is an inherent struggle. This book also taught me that it is possible to rise above the most challenging of circumstances to create art, even if you aren’t recognized until after your death, the same fate that befell literary heavyweights like Herman Melville and John Donne.

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