Music

Mantler: Monody

This could have been a damn good EP.


Mantler

Monody

Label: Tomlab
US Release Date: 2010-04-13
UK Release Date: 2010-04-13
Amazon
iTunes

Mantler creeps me out.

Maybe it has something to do with the name -- that odd combination of "man" and "antler" that calls to mind both bestiality and awkward Halloween costumes. Maybe it's Mantler (Torono native Chris Cummings) himself; in his music videos and interviews, he comes across like Uncle Jesse from Full House if Saget had kicked him out on the street.

Probably, though, it's the music: a mixture of easy listening and mild electronic grooves heavy on Wurlitzer, drunken lullaby vocals, and creeping tempos. It's full of uncomfortable contrasts and question marks -- simultaneously sexy and fumbling, enticing yet cold, classy but hard to pin down, at turns both slick and lo-fi.

The ambiguity is everywhere. "Fortune Smiled Again" opens with with hand drums, flutes, his beloved Wurlitzer, and a soulful double-tracked falsetto. It all starts feeling pretty Steely Dan-ish before a jarring introduction of a too-bright clavinet and poorly recorded drums. Then, around the 2:00-minute mark, the production perks back up -- drums suddenly get clearer; some lazy horns sigh in the distance -- there's even a spot-on Weather Channel guitar solo. What the hell is happening here?

You'll ask yourself that question a lot on Monody. With his frequent shifts in style, timbre, and instrumentation, it's hard to tell if Cummings is a musical chameleon experimenting with production styles or if he just hasn't mastered his recording software.

Ultimately, your willingness to accept the musical quirks is dependent on your willingness to accept Cummings' strange, often intriguing vocals. He has a beautiful falsetto which breathily soars to the songs' highest peaks (and somehow manages to recall Bon Iver's Justin Vernon), but when his voice comes back to Earth, he struggles with inconsistency, sometimes straining for notes, often missing them completely. His timbre is a peculiar mixture of moan and croon, and the results span soulful to sleepy.

On quiet, slow-moving tracks like "Mount Shasta" and "Crying at the Movies", he sounds like he's boring himself, yawning through verbose poetry that undoubtedly works better on the page. In "Actor", the most nap-inducing of the bunch, we hear lines like, "In dusky theaters of old / In auditoriums dark with age / The speeches actors would unfold / The poems fluttering from the stage" -- not half-bad written down, but it comes across as corny and questionable when Cummings recites the lines in a mostly half-hearted moan. It makes him sound like an actor.

Everything comes together on "Fresh and Fair", a refreshing breath of 1980s air, where a funky electronic groove of nimble, elastic synths and programming tempers well with with ever-present Wurlizer. Cummings's vocals are more effective here, too. He's working in his lower range, but he sounds more confident with groove-based material, effectively playing with vocal rhythms and working in subtle hooks and pleasant harmonies. "Childman" is just as effective, strutting soulfully with muted horns and chewy keys, even though it contains the awful half-lyric "Childman / That's what you am". Someone get the man a thesaurus!

It's a mixed bag, but even at its most tedious or clumsy, there is a palpable warmth and dedication to songcraft on display, even on Cummings's weakest tracks. When he keeps the tempo moderate and the soul thick, the results are intricate and dazzling. Basically, this could have been a damn good EP.

It's not going to change your life, maybe not even your month, but the finest parts of Monody, the ones that manage to filter through the awkwardness, will stick with you.

5

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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