School of Seven Bells + Exitmusic: 19 April 2012 - Los Angeles

Guitarist/producer Benjamin Curtis is a sonic wizard and Deheza is one of the more dynamic female vocalists to appear on the pop music scene in some time.


School of Seven Bells + Exitmusic

City: Los Angeles
Venue: The Echoplex
Date: 2012-04-19

It's a Thursday night in LA's Echo Park district, a semi-underground sort of hipster hood just north of downtown in the city of angels. There's a good looking Thai restaurant up the street from the Echoplex and then there's also a divey looking taco shop that actually turns out to have some pretty good carnitas street tacos. Just the thing to power up on before a show in Southern California.

The Echoplex has that dark ambience of LA cool, but with just the right amount of psychedelic lighting. This is a good area of town to see a show – you can just tell that most of the people on hand are serious music fans, as opposed to the jaded scenester vibe that sometimes permeates shows over in Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.

Exitmusic are opening the show and the husband and wife duo of Devon Church and Aleksa Palladino are a good match with the headliner. Their overall sound veers a bit to the somber and sparse side of the sonic spectrum, but Palladino has a compelling voice. She seems a bit too haunted at times, but the flip side is that she projects a deep cathartic vibe on certain songs like “Passage” (the title track off the band's debut LP that drops on May 22) that make the ear take notice. It's not party time rock 'n' roll, but Palladino definitely has something powerful inside her and there's a song craft at work that seems promising.

The mood in the room definitely picks up a notch when the headliners hit the stage. The first tune is kind of an ambient warmup piece to gather the energy it seems. But then an electric vibe shoots through the air with “The Night”, the first track from the band's new Ghostory album.

Singer/guitarist Alejandra Deheza has the voice of a psychedelic angel, yet also exudes an old school charismatic charm that recalls a young Pat Benatar (or maybe it's just the similar haircut). The band delivers a great wall of sound in the studio, but the tunes really elevate on stage with the live drums. Guitarist/producer Benjamin Curtis is a sonic wizard and Deheza is one of the more dynamic female vocalists to appear on the pop music scene in some time.

“The Night” segues nicely into “Windstorm”, the lead track from the band's 2010 album Disconnect From Desire, demonstrating some thought behind putting together a set list with a great flow. Both songs capture the band's trademark blend of melodic vocals with shimmering layers of guitar and synths, plus harder hitting drums with more inventive beats than most “dreampop” dares to offer. Shoegaze this is not. It's this combo of sonic energies that gives the band such a unique sound. It's frankly hard to compare them to anyone else because it feels like they are creating a new sound before your eyes and ears.

“Bye Bye Bye” keeps the vibe rocking. If you took away the hard-hitting percussion it might sound like something from the '80s new wave era. But with it's tight beat and Deheza's heavenly vocals, the song has a 21st century vibe. Desire was a stellar and ambitious album that set a very high bar for the band to try and match with Ghostory, but the new album has plenty of tunes that stand up very well in the set. “Scavenger” is one of those tunes, with a synth bass line and sonic space that highlights Deheza's voice over another crisp beat and artful layers of psychedelia. The song sounds like it could be related to Pat Benatar's “Love is a Battlefield”, both sonically and lyrically, but it definitely has its own unique aura.

The band keeps mixing it up, going back to Desire for “I L U”, a romantic tune with some more of that '80s influence. Then it's back to the new album for “White Wind”, one of the set's top highlights. It's an infectious up-tempo gem with a swirling mix of synths, counterpoint guitar riffs and heavy beats that carry the listener away on a magic carpet ride over a dazzling soundscape, with Deheza's soaring voice riding shotgun. The new “Low Times” is another winner, with the psychedelic yet danceable ode to tough times serving as a zeitgeist soundtrack for the struggles that many are experiencing in this foul economic era.

The band hits on some older tunes from their first album Alpinisms at the end of the show, demonstrating a strong consistency across all three albums. Alejandra Deheza is quite simply a modern rock goddess, and you can tell that Ben Curtis knows just how blessed he is to be partnered with her. Every major city has a plethora of guitarists looking for a dynamic female vocalist on Craiglist to begin a new project, yet such talent is so hard to find. Deheza and Curtis make a fantastic team and if there's any justice in this music world, School of Seven Bells will soon be playing major festival headlining slots.

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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