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by Corey Beasley

8 Nov 2010

Modest Mouse, more than perhaps any other band, embodies the strange place indie rock has come to occupy in the 21st century. It is, of course, no longer an “indie” band by definition—the group is signed to a major label and has seen an enormous amount of crossover success. The group’s 2004 song “Float On” went from quirky single to near ubiquity in a matter of months, while We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) debuted at a surreal number one on the Billboard charts. Though a guest spot on The OC and allowances for its songs to be used on American Idol and, why not, Kidz Bop earned the band plenty of ire from indie purists, Isaac Brock and company had long solidified their place in the contemporary canon before they actually started selling records. The Moon & Antarctica (2000) blew critics’ minds wide open with its hallucinatory edge and indelible hooks, and the album handily topped many of those recent Best of the Decade lists. To many fans and critics alike, The Moon & Antarctica represents Modest Mouse at its best, giving us the band’s purest synthesis of ambitious artistic sentiment and irresistible pop songcraft. That may be true, but the band laid the groundwork for that stratospheric success in the equally seminal 1997 album The Lonesome Crowded West. If Moon sees Isaac Brock lifting himself above the Earth into full-on acid prophet mode, The Lonesome Crowded West has him firmly rooted on solid ground, an American visionary of singular strength.

If anyone claims Issaquah, Washington, as a place unlikely to give a rock band its start, do your part and correct them. Issaquah, hailed by Brock as the type of deadly boring suburban wasteland that America so excels in creating, typifies the kind of setting that could breed the restless ingenuity he and his band have managed for nearly two decades now. Brock writes songs about sprawl and distance, both emotional and physical, and the scenes in New York or Los Angeles would’ve been too urbane, too cosmopolitan, to birth the group. Modest Mouse is the anti-Brooklyn band. Brock’s country-fried roots, his wholesale incorporation of banjo-and-brass Americana, his bizarrely Southern accent: these are not borrowed Bushwick affectations, but the product of his trailer trash (to borrow his term) childhood in Issaquah. He is a blue-collar poet in the best American tradition, and The Lonesome Crowded West is his opus.

by Jason Cook

1 Nov 2010

“Night Flight” is perhaps the scariest and most effectively ambient of the thirteen tracks offered by Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic. It moves slowly, echoing beautifully thin strings and pads beneath an atmosphere that evolves into full-on soundscape, incorporating the various “post-exotica” elements with which many of the album’s other songs are befit: There comes the whip cracks and babbling, the moans, chanting, and simple skin-drum sequences. It builds over five long minutes into an orgiastic climax, finally including hints of the film’s coda, sounding much at its denouement like the filmic satanic cult of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), preparing to defile and ravage. This track is interrupted in its playlist sequence by “Interrupted Melody”, a tune elsewhere examined in this series, followed by the closing song, “Exorcism”, a 58-second queue in which George Crumb’s threnody “Night of the Electric Insects” is channeled for the last time on the soundtrack. There is a flute sequence, a woman’s aria, bells do chime. It concludes The Heretic and tells us something: This is not over.

by Jason Cook

25 Oct 2010

Save for “Magic and Ecstasy”, “Seduction and Magic” is perhaps the most Goblin-esque of the thirteen tracks on Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic. It is, however, conversely so. Much like the legendary giallo prog-rockers’ “Sighs”  from their 1977 release Suspiria (released the same year as The Heretic), in “Seduction and Magic” there is a thematic cue coupled with voice, sighs and creepy whispers of sorts. Each piece is more functional than it is musical; each track itself is not simply foley, rather each is an ambient process outputted from the composer’s more tuneful efforts. These amalgamate selections seem common to giallo films, always included as if the listener, having never watched the film before listening to its soundtrack, would never be able to perceive its full mood without being given two-minutes or less of what an outside perceiver might consider haunted house music. And I don’t mean witch house.

The second inclusion of this sort of cue comes by way of “Dark Revelation”, the more interesting of the two, including both the soundtrack’s coda and a strange vocal ambiance that could remain at home on the next Burial album. “Dark Revelation” is less post-exotica and more traditional film score, but its a reusable piece that transcends much of the other coda-based pieces in The Heretic. Like a quick rendition of the Jaws theme played in under two minutes and with significant emphasis on mood, tempo, and dynamic control, “Dark Revelation” is simply a taste of more busied soundtrack inclusions like “Great Bird in the Sky” or even “Magic and Ecstasy”.

by Jason Cook

18 Oct 2010

All the while “His Dark Exotica” has run, there have been short analyses of Ennio Morricone and his work on Exorcist II: The Heretic in the various contexts in which the music is played and intended. Now, as the series nears its penultimate piece, there is the question of the film’s actual theme. This theme (a culmination of the various tracks that precede its midway appearance on the film’s soundtrack) is memorable, to say the least. In under three minutes, one hears the coda from “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird in the Sky”. There’s the strange glossolalia of “Little Afro Flemish Mass”, and frantic chanted tempo of “Magic and Ecstasy”. Strong are the staccato exotica whip cracks, marimba sequences, and African drumming. It’s as if Morricone, in this piece, and to counter the previous film’s minimalist theme by Mike Oldfield, has given us everything, pouring into his simple modulation the weird keys that progress through the even weirder film for which he composed.

“Pazuzu (Theme From Exorcist II)” is about channeling. The track does not play prominently in the film. Rather, it emerges in aural corners and suggests all the witchery, locust-vision, and demonic possession that Regan and crew play out on the screen. It isn’t the theme of a blockbuster or even a considerable hit. It’s the sound of something too far gone for mainstream anything. It’s the certain sound of a demon, Pazuzu, and the way he rides the teeth of the wind.

by Jason Cook

11 Oct 2010

Perhaps the best and most descriptive title on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic, “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is one of the post-exotica songs from which this series derives its name.

Exotica, named after the respectively titled 1957 Martin Denny album, was a musical genre born out of a strange 1950s need for suburbanites to escape the glamor of their picket-fence nuclear era with impressionistic, pseudo-Oceanic lounge music, similar to the “space age pop” also of the era. Les Baxter’s Ritual of the Savage is perhaps the most important work of the genre, offering a true escape for turntable-listeners of that decade’s twenty-something generation by way of stereophonic strings, tribal rhythms of all sort, vibraphones, kotos, gongs, bird calls, and nearly anything “exotic” (or not endemic to white, suburban, narrowly cultured, unable-to-listen-to-real-jazz-but-rather-Sinatra-&-Swingin’-Brass). Is it a good genre? Yes. Did it die with the JFK era? Mostly.

In the same way that the 1990s gave birth to post-rock by reinterpreting standard rock instrumentation in Bark Psychosis’ Hex or Slint’s Spiderland, Ennio Morricone, probably not unbeknownst to himself, borne post-exotica with “Little Afro Flemish Mass”. The piece is culturally-aware; it behaves exactly as its title claims. In the film for which it was written, at the moment it plays we find, by our definition, an exotic setting (Ethiopia); a ritual of sorts (the Afro-mass); and all the chants, trappings, and impressionist garb one might have conversely imagined for Les Baxter’s work. Morricone’s piece is aware of Baxter’s work, and one might take this argument and scold it for the fact that “Little Afro Flemish Mass” isn’t a postmodern interpretation of anything: It is what it is—an imagined mass, a recitation of Catholic circumstance in a weird setting. But that’s false, I say. “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is to Ritual of the Savage on the basis of its outlandishness, its inherent association with a genre known for cultural misappropriation.

//Mixed media

Notes, Hoaxes, and Jokes: Silkworm's 'Lifestyle' - "Ooh La La"

// Sound Affects

"Lifestyle's penultimate track eases the pace and finds fresh nuance and depth in a rock classic, as Silkworm offer their take on the Faces' "Ooh La La".

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