Music

Slipped Discs 2011 - Part 2: From the Go! Team to the Phoenix Foundation

The three-day 2011 edition of Slipped Discs -- where we feature great albums that missed our Best Albums of 2011 -- continues with the forward-thinking R&B of Frank Ocean, the Americana brilliance of Ha Ha Tonka and Lydia Loveless, the unheralded collaboration of Talib Kweli and Res, and many more.

Artist: The Go! Team

Album: Rolling Blackouts

Label: Memphis Industries

US Release Date: 2011-01-31

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The Go! Team
Rolling Blackouts

There's really no concise way to sum up what you're hearing when you listen to Rolling Blackouts, despite the unmistakable Go! Team-ness of every single one of their songs. It's difficult to parse the common bond between the marching band-inspired noise-pop of "T.O.R.N.A.D.O." and the jangly '60s girl group charm of "Ready to Go Steady", or the link between the shoegazey masterpiece "Buy Nothing Day" (featuring Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, for extra street cred) and "Yosemite Theme", which would nestle comfortably among the J-pop fantasias of the Katamari Damacy soundtrack. The Go! Team is a band willing to serve up an homage to just about everything, as long as it's big and bombastic and crackling with energy; the X factor is rapper/vocalist Ninja, whose attitude-laced delivery forms a linchpin for the group's chaotic sound. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a 2011 album I had more fun with than Rolling Blackouts. Billy Hepfinger

 
Artist: Rachel Goodrich

Album: Rachel Goodrich

Label: Yellow Bear

US Release Date: 2011-02-21

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Rachel Goodrich
Rachel Goodrich

Miami-based songwriter Rachel Goodrich is quirky and fun. Her second full-length album veers all over the map from silly little ditties like the 30-plus second "G-Dino" to the junkyard clank of a feminine Tom Waits on "Fire". However, the album’s centrepiece is the mesmerising "Let Me Go" -- a tender and yearning piano ballad that commands the listener to sit up and pay attention. "Let Me Go" is so good and sweet, in the best pop sense, that I consider it my No. 1 pick for Song of the Year, which is astounding considering the relative obscurity of the artist and the klatch of great songs that came down the pipes in 2011. "Let Me Go" gives the loopy Rachel Goodrich a centre of levity that shows just how versatile and capable of a songwriter that this artist is. You’ll probably laugh and sing along to most of this record, but when you get to "Let Me Go" you’ll probably be (and justifiably so) shedding real tears of joy at the touching pain that Goodrich conveys through her rending of the song. On its own, "Let Me Go" alone makes Rachel Goodrich a vital and important statement from a maturing, budding young singer-songwriter. And the rest of the album is pretty damn good, too. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: The Great Book of John

Album: The Great Book of John

Label: Communicating Vessels

US Release Date: 2011-08-16

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The Great Book of John
The Great Book of John

Ladies and gentlemen, with the arrival of the sophomore album from Birmingham, Alabama’s Great Book of John, I can happily announce that America finally has its own Radiohead. Or Radiohead if they were cross-bred with a country rock band. The Great Book of John is a consistently strong album, one that turns up the amps a few notches from their debut, and lead singer Taylor Shaw has an impressive vocal range that recalls the swoop and grandeur of one Thom Yorke. What makes this an indispensible album, though, is the broad range of songwriting -- from choppy, piano-led rockers ("Brown Frown") to American pastoral ("Wise Blood") -- that gives the band an indelible stamp of their own. The Great Book of John is an album that one won’t grow tired of, with its odd sonic curveballs here and there. Even though it may draw comparisons to a certain British band, it is a fully realized work of its own. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: Ha Ha Tonka

Album: Death of a Decade

Label: Bloodshot

US Release Date: 2011-04-05

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Ha Ha Tonka
Death of a Decade

Ha Ha Tonka’s 2011 album is an intricate balance of playful musicianship paired with some of the year's finest lyrical wordsmithery. Each track is a vignette and their lyrics present a continuum of emotions and histories that drive the narratives. The band toys with genre, constantly changing their sound and manipulating stale musical conventions thus keeping the music fresh and engaging. Their sound clearly stems from the band’s origins in the Ozarks, but arguably also takes influence from old-timey, classic rock and roll, and contemporary indie rock. Still, they maintain a clear and distinct sound despite a diverse influence base. These are just the band’s roots, and Ha Ha Tonka masterfully takes these pieces and creates a musical whole that is unwavering. Ha Ha Tonka stands apart from the rest with their ability to musically and lyrically sadden, enrage, tickle and enchant listeners in one album, sometimes even in one song. Elisabeth Woronzoff

 
Artist: Hail Mary Mallon

Album: Are You Gonna Eat That?

Label: Rhymesayers

US Release Date: 2011-05-03

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Hail Mary Mallon
Are You Gonna Eat That?

Are You Gonna Eat That? is a bizarre ode to Typhoid Mary, the disease carrying cook who just wouldn't stay out of the kitchen. Why Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic took such interest in her story is unclear, perhaps as a tribute to the perseverance of the unlucky or maybe it was just a good platform for food jokes. In any case, the duo executed it perfectly, crafting an album of witty two-man word play over swaggering beats with cuts by Big Wiz. Aesop's long been known for being deep, complicated and inaccessible, but Are You Gonna Eat That? is refreshingly lighthearted, giving the impression that he and Rob were just trying to make each other laugh. In doing so, they found a middle ground between being profound and flippant and delivered one of the most refreshing underground hip-hop albums of the year. Kevin Curtin

 
Artist: Handsome Furs

Album: Sound Kapital

Label: Sub Pop

US Release Date: 2011-06-28

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Handsome Furs
Sound Kapital

Dan Boeckner has urgent things to say. He growls and yells, singing low and fast like a speeding bullet, but he never sacrifices gravity or emotional connection. In 2011, his band the Handsome Furs (just him and his wife Alexei Perry) released Sound Kapital, an album defined by brittle drum machines, pumping synthesizers, and searing slices of Boeckner’s guitar. This spare palette is filled out by Boeckner and Perry’s intensity, which provides a purity of purpose that explodes out of the speakers. It’s a hard hitting album, but it never collapses beneath the weight of Boeckner’s fears and exhortations. Elias Leight

 
Artist: I Break Horses

Album: Hearts

Label: Cooperative Music

US Release Date: 2011-10-18

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I Break Horses
Hearts

The Swedish invasion continues! Seriously, when it comes to imperial, futurist pop the Swedes are so far ahead of the game, the game is a dot to them. Hearts sounds like it was sculpted from glaciers by unicorns and wizards with lasers 'n' holograms, in some magical crystal palace far beyond a thousand snow-capped mountains within deepest Narnia. It's a perfect winter album. Breathtaking, sparkly, dreamy, childlike-yet-wistful, intimate-yet-out-of-reach, fragrantly elegant and huggably heartwarming. In fact, it's such a 'complete', snowflake-unique record in itself that the main problem is how they'll push forward without breaking the spell. For now though the golden winter sun is illuminating. That this special record is steadily snowballing a cult following through whispers and satisfied sighs is great relief as this beautiful, strange début deserves to break more than just Horses' Hearts. Be brave, drop one hit of "Winter Beats" and brace yourself for Cupid's arrow. Matt James

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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