Music

Supreme Beings of Leisure: Divine Operating System

Andy Hermann

Supreme Beings of Leisure

Divine Operating System

Label: Palm Pictures
US Release Date: 2002-09-10
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The Supreme Beings of Leisure take the sophomore slump and drop-kick it into last week on Divine Operating System, the follow-up to the self-titled debut that became a surprise hit two years ago on college radio and martini bar disc changers. Looking back at that debut, it now seems apparent that it was really a transitional disc; Supreme Beings of Leisure was a band back then, formed when a forgettable hip-hop trio called Oversoul 7 joined forces with a vampy singer-songwriter named Geri Soriano-Lightwood. As a quartet, Supreme Beings of Leisure created tracks that were catchy but always slightly mannered, with gimmicky elements like drum 'n' bass loops and electric sitars intruding on otherwise breezy lounge-pop confections like "Ain't Got Nothin'" and "Sublime". It was a great sound, but a self-consciously arty one, and it didn't always do justice to Soriano-Lightwood's honey voice.

DOS finds the Beings reinvented as a duo, with Ramin Sakurai handling most of the production and instrumentation chores and Soriano-Lightwood settling more confidently into her role as resident chanteuse. The departure of guitarist-sitarist Rick Torres and bassist Kiran Shahani has at once expanded Supreme Beings of Leisure's sound and simplified it; gone are the days of quirky rhythm changes and trip-hoppy samples, but these much more straightforward, unapologetically catchy songs are fleshed out with the sort of dense, orchestral sound that earlier tracks like "Strangelove Addiction" and "Never the Same" only hinted at. As improbable as it sounds, imagine if Goldfrapp teamed up with Jamiroquai and you have a sense of what DOS sounds like -- seductive, ebullient, unabashedly retro, infectiously uptempo and wrapped up in the kind of maneater theatrics most pop music has shied away from since Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" heyday.

The track that most memorably captures this new and improved Supreme Beings of Leisure aesthetic is "Catch Me", a deliriously over-the-top diva anthem complete with xylophones, Spanish guitar, flute solo, a John Barry string section -- and, lest we forget this is still 2002, scratches courtesy of former Beck collaborator DJ Swamp, whose tasty turntable fills creep into the corners of many of DOS's best songs like a bratty kid brother chiding his big sister's goofy romantic daydreams. "I'll take my chances on silver romances / High wire dances," sings Soriano, at her Bassey-esque brassiest, selling a line that from many a lesser singer would be wince-inducing. Supreme Beings are hardly the first to attempt this sort of Barry/Bacharach orchestral pop sound, but it's hard to remember the last time anyone made it sound this authoritative.

Elsewhere, Supreme Beings of Leisure has the chutzpah to take on an even crustier old genre -- disco. And they don't waste any time, either: the opening track, "Give Up", drops the twangy synth-bass and big goofy string riffs right out of the gate, probably scaring away two-thirds of the group's old trip-hop/downtempo fan base before the two-minute mark. But for anyone who doesn't mind a little camp with their dance grooves, "Give Up" works -- and a later shamelessly string-laden disco workout, "Divine", is even better. Jamiroquai only wishes they sounded this hip.

The secret ingredient that keeps this stuff from falling off the cool cliff into cheeseland is Geri Soriano-Lightwood's amazing voice, which really comes into its own on this disc. She's a classic pop belter, short on range and histrionics but long on attitude and technique, slipping agilely between breathy sex kitten croons and clean, sassy phrases that recall singers like Manhattan Transfer's Janis Siegel. At her best, there's also an archness to her delivery that gives the music's slick production and soul-lite vibe a much-needed edge. On "Rock and a Hard Place", she delivers lines like, "They'll never understand how hard it is to be you" with the seductive sneer of a female Donald Fagen, and on "Freezer", she rescues her own corny lyrics ("I lost my soul in the freezer / I lost my heart where it's 40 below") with phrasing that almost sounds contempuous of her own silly sentiments.

But Supreme Beings of Leisure isn't all about the charms of Geri Soriano-Lightwood. Ramin Sakurai steps into the Dave Stewart role to her Annie Lennox with a remarkable display of chops and assurance, laying down deliciously groovy basic tracks and embellishing them some nice guitars, keyboards, and atmospheric electronics. His skills as an arranger are even more impressive; unlike the group's debut, where lead instruments tended to bash their way through the mix, the best touches on DOS are woven seamlessly into the fabric of tracks. Take the blaxpoitation-tinged "Ghetto", which punches up a deceptively smooth soul groove with scratches from DJ Swamp and DJ True, bongos, a muted wah-wah guitar, strings, and even a harp (trust me, it's in there somewhere). Better still is the use of a "santur", a Middle Eastern instrument that sounds kind of like a dulcimer, on the slow-burner "Rock and a Hard Place", giving the track the exotic, faintly menacing vibe of an old spy movie theme song.

The Beings don't hit every ball out of the park. "Get Away" isn't catchy enough to allay the bombast of its Austin Powers go-go riff, and the album's closer, "Perfect", blows another disco gambit on a melody and lyrics that are too earnest for their own good; not even Geri's voice can save them. But missteps aside, Divine Operating System represents a major upgrade in one of the best pop-electronic acts to come along in recent years. Expect to be hearing a lot of more of them at your local martini bar.

One footnote to this review: Supreme Beings of Leisure's label, Palm Pictures, has seen fit to package Divine Operating System with a "limited edition" bonus DVD (why it's a "limited edition" since it's the only version of the album available is beyond me, but then again, so is most marketing lingo). While in theory this sounds like a cool idea, in practice the DVD is a joke, a collection of four unwatchably boring "videos" (mostly just nifty photo collections and home movies) fleshed out with trailers for Palm Pictures films, teaser videos from other Palm Pictures artists, and, oh yes, a fully interactive, browsable version of the Palm Pictures catalog. In other words, in exchange for having some label advertising rammed down their throats, purchasers of Divine Operating System get stuck with a special fold-out jewel case too thick to fit in standard CD shelf units. Note to Palm Pictures: Stop mixing product with marketing and put out a version of Divine Operating System that isn't laden with a lot of crap most Supreme Beings of Leisure fans don't want.

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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