The Clientele are not a Friday night band. Granted, their songs do often live in the weekend, but they don't belong to the rollicking, inebriated weekend hours. They're a reflection of those dimly lit wee hours that divide the days. Like that moment when you're walking home drunk and delirious at 6 a.m. after a rough night out, and all you can hear are the whooshing car wheels cruising through puddles as their occupants speed off to their factory jobs -- when your only companion is the moon, just beginning to fade into the lightening sky. The Clientele are not a Friday night band, but here they are before a Friday night crowd, and a hyperactive, hollering crowd at that. The audience is rather wound up from the more "rockin'" opening act, which featured a certain member of a certain band called the Sea and Cake, who had brought in a fanbase of post-grad college boy types. Throughout the Clientele's set, the very English trio didn't feed off the unbridled enthusiasm of their audience so much as tolerate it. Hoots of support were only occasionally met with an obligatory gesture of thanks, a demure "thank you very much indeed." Otherwise the band seemed rather happily absorbed in their own little mythical suburban world. The Clientele are obsessed with suburbia. The artwork on their LP Suburban Light featured hazy streetlamps and recycling bins -- a metaphor for the ennui of the endless recycling of time, in which things may alter form somewhat, but never really, truly change. The monotony of day jobs and cookie-cutter houses makes the days blend into one endless mundane cycle. The virtue of Alasdair Maclean's songwriting is that he manages to find the beauty within the banality of suburban life -- there's a cosmic aspect to the everyday, as he sings in their opening song tonight: "shopping lists, ephemera, beneath the silent Kingston stars " On record, the Clientele's music is soaked in reverb and melancholy, and the echo-chamber they build around themselves makes them sound as if they've been transported across an ocean and a decade or two. Unfortunately their characteristic aura doesn't quite translate live. The sounds don't have that hazy glow without the stacks of effects that mist-ify their records. On stage there's only a guitar pedal or two, and the music is more straightforward and immediate. Maclean plays guitar with his fingertips, creating a chiming sound that is intricate and melodic. It's actually refreshing to watch an accomplished guitarist who doesn't feel obligated to flaunt his talents, rock pose style. There is the occasional distortion-fueled rockout tacked to the end of a song, but it generally only lasts a half-minute before the song quickly slips back into cottony reverb. The songs usually detail typically English, dreary environments. It rains in nearly every song. And Maclean's obsession with the passing of time is emphasized by the fact that time is always elucidated in lyrics and titles. There's "Monday's Rain" and "Sunday's dreams" and "6 AM Morningside" and "5 Day Mornings" and "afternoons inside your mothers house". Maclean is like a playwright constantly setting his scenes, but the scene is always a dark and stormy twilight hour in suburbia. Clientele songs are languid without being boring, nostalgic without being sentimental, melancholy without being self-pitying. The music is tranquil, but Maclean pushes his voice up into falsetto registers that are really beyond his range. His voice is like a weightless, mercurial balloon, drifting according to its own whim. Halfway through their set, Maclean introduces "What Goes Up" as "a golden oldie but not in a derivative '60s sense." There's assumedly a wink behind this comment, since the Clientele owe an obvious debt to the psych-folk of the '60s, and in fact their records sound like artifacts from some lost Arcadian England. Maclean sings, "the dreams I'm dreaming of have no beginning or end." The Clientele truly are lost in time.
There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.
With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.
In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.
If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.
Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.
There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.
Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.
Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!
1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)
Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"
(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)
Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.
3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.
4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)
The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.
(Available from Arrow Video)
5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)
When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.
(Available from Warner Bros.)
6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)
In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.
(Available from Warner Bros.)
7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)
Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.
(Available from Criterion Collection)
8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)
Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.
(Available from Warner Bros.)
If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.
Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".