P:ano: Ghost Pirates Without Heads

P:ano makes us wonder if we should engage the unengaged.


Ghost Pirates Without Heads

Label: Mint
US Release Date: 2005-11-15
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Never has headlessness on the high seas come with so much sugar. But your booty's safe, because these aren't real pirates -- just costumed trick-or-treaters. Your aesthetic sensibility is what's at Jolly Roger levels of danger. On their EP Ghost Pirates Without Heads, P:ano mixes structural experimentation, odd instrumentation, and excessive cleverness and covers it all in twee finery to disguise the results of untouched brooding. The resulting stew is less somber than a cannonball over the bow, but less enjoyable than a dead parrot sketch.

Opener "Fiji" sets out the guiding philosophy of the disc with its final lines: "Sometimes I wish that there weren't even stars at all/ They just make the world seem small and hard." The acceptance of this "small and hard" world leads to a string of songs that respond to loss and hurt while offering a continually undercut uplift. The group sounds at time like an acoustic comedy vaudeville show, but they remind us incessantly that entertainment ultimately fails to help our spirits.

"T. Hatch Says 'Round Ev'ry Corner'" show this process at work, epitomized by the lyrics "Oh, sugar, I'll never love/ Anything half as much as what's/ 'Round every corner." The narrator, accompanied by accordion and banjo gives up on joy in life even as he imagines a world in which "the good life and monsters… dance together" and we can bop along to a happy little ditty. The song denies the imaginative power of hope, suggesting instead that we should content ourselves with tranquilized ruminations.

At times P:ano's attitude marks a throwback to the time of pomo distancing, foolhardy endeavor that fortunately gave way to (and at its finest actually revealed) an intense engagement with the world. The group's songs, as they advertise, forego emotional investment in order to play formal games. Even titles like "I Felt His Presents/Doing the Can-Can" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain Sung to the Tune of Go Tell It on the Mountain" suggest the affectation that does wear thin even of the course of an EP. The band also relies on lyrical turns that call attention to the construct of cleverness ("When you garden in your garden" being representative of boring results and a run about the H.M.S. Pinafore being the finest example).

This formal disengagement makes it hard to connect to P:ano when they actually sound vulnerable. "Enchanted Forest" resists the disc's ideology of inert escapism by putting a brighter world into reality. The singers explain, "We left happy as ever/ Safe and wet/ And we took pictures/ Lest we forget...", and they beg for empathy with the clipped comment on the gradual loss of living. In "Foot Hills" the group again exposes itself with "Let your love-light shine/ But I'll never let mine", demonstrating that continued conscious resistance to feeling, even as they continue on a disc arguing the futility of further connection. After that song ends with only a dream of "growing wild", we come back to "T. Hatch" and its pairing of the look-at-me cleverness of the hither/zither/dinner sequence and the desire to "watch our shows" rather than participate in an emotional life.

These moments of enforced apathy surprisingly add up to a deep emotional expression (one that P:ano engages by alternately hiding and revealing). The loss of engagement becomes a greater loss than anything more specific. The confidence in only inactivity becomes the blackness, with its self-defined bind of nonresistance. Where there could be something powerful in this depiction of hopelessness (and occasionally is), P:ano doesn't give it its full weight by constantly calling attention to its artifice. The world of Ghost Pirates, filled with costumes and only fading thoughts of real adventure, is itself a disguise, and a distraction from real experience (hence P:ano's resistance to true connection). The loss of feeling and the vacant life are laid out explicitly in closer "Animal Friends" with lyrics and music that show the emptiness of a risk-free life. The track teeters right on that division between self-reflexive art and outward yearning. That balance is P:ano's accomplishment, but it's also the group's limitation.


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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