by carl wilson

The Life Aquatic, Light & Dark

mobydick.jpg
Jackson Pollock, Blue (Moby Dick), c. 1943

A long post today, but first things first: Benefit shows are beginning to be organized for the tsunami-wracked nations of the world. In Toronto, dance-music promoters take the lead, with nights at Andy Pool Hall on Wednesday, Studio 99 on Jan. 8 and Supermarket on Jan. 13, all with strong complements of local DJs. Details are in the January gig guide below.

These events provoke reflection on (among many other subjects) the stereotypically passive but latently immense power of the seas, on how little most of us attend to the coiled force of nature. It's difficult to reconcile with many cultural images of sea-faring - swashbuckling, new-age meditative, even comical as in the current movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. I haven't seen it, but (given the mixed reviews) I wonder if it suffers by regarding its oceanic subject too casually? The subject deserves the obsessive grip of Moby Dick.

In any case, today in The Globe & Mail, I go (mildly) cuckoo over the soundtrack of Wes Anderson's movie, most of all for Brazilian actor-singer Seu Jorge's remarkable acoustic - arguably "aquatic" - covers of David Bowie songs. [...]

Jorge - who also appears in the film, as he did as Knockout Ned in City of God and as himself in Mika Kaurismäki's odd-looking Brazilian-music doc Moro no Brasil (named for one of Jorge's tunes) - actually has roots not so distant from (though not identical with) the favela funk/carioca scene that's drawn much beat-geek attention this year (including mine). In fact, he seems to be the one to integrate funk elements into the tradition of Brazilian MPB (popular music) that includes samba, bossa nova and tropicalia, though in interviews he makes it clear that he sees himself at one side to MPB - meaning, I think, as part of a diasporic black-music community, from African music to hip-hop. Meanwhile he is becoming a star in France, where they seem to pick up on the traces of Gainsbourg in him - easy enough to do since he covers Gainsbourg on his latest album, Cru. Hear some of Jorge's solo work here, here, and here.

Predictably the Jorge-Bowie songs have been received as a joke or a gimmick, as I complain in the review, but there's more to be thought about the several levels of referentiality (some of them humorous) involved - especially when you consider that unknown to Anderson, Jorge was revising Bowie's lyrics in his translations, interweaving them with his own experiences and events in the film. Anderson and Jorge discuss the soundtrack here.

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Seu Jorge

Some of the other material (here, with sound samples) on the OST, unfortunately, I could do without, and Now magazine is even less enthusiastic. Tim Perlich is right about the recordings - they are frail environmental recordings that sound fine to me on their own but tend to get swamped by the studio recordings that surround them, especially when it's loud punk rock - the juxtapositions are occasionally jarring and tasteless. Although Wes Anderson gets a lot of praise for his soundtracks, he and the equally musical Quentin Tarantino have to answer for the Gen-X-ish notion that the best way to score a film is the same way you make a mixed tape, an aesthetic that's spread like fungus through Hollywood film. In fact, most soundtracks would benefit from more continuity and less variety and contrast than a good mix - they generally should operate more like orchestral suites, with contrasting sections but unity and symmetry among the parts. The excerpts from Mark Mothersbaugh's sometimes serve this function, often not so much. (The Ennio Morricone/Joan Baez track I big-up in the piece, by the way, is also out on Canto Morricone Vol. 2, part of a four-volume collection of the great film-composer's collaborations with singers.)

Fans also complain - as I originally mentioned in the review, but had to cut for space - that the climactic song in the film, Staralfur by Sigur Ros, does not appear on the album; while I have my misgivings about the Icelandic band, their glacial layerings would integrate better into the liquid undercurrent of the soundtrack than Devo or the Stooges, and added another patch to its linguistic quilt. (There's too much English, I think.) Licensing issues, perhaps? (Listen to Staralfur via Epitonic.)

Also today I wrote the weekly list of songs (usually by Robert Everett-Green) the Globe likes to call "Essential Tracks," which we all know is code for "Download This." The editors cut some useful information, though: The Boom Bip disc won't be out till February; the Dion McGregor disc is far from the first collection of his "solimnoquies" - see here and here - but this one comes from Toronto's Torpor Vigil Industries, so it has Can-Con interest; and the Superwolf album is out Jan. 17, a new duo of Will Oldham with Matt Sweeney (of Chavez and Zwan) - the track is up on Teaching the Indie Kids to Dance Again .... but now might we have a moratorium on "Wolf" band names, please? There's Aids Wolf, Wolf Eyes, Montreal's Wolf Parade, Guitar Wolf (coming to Lee's Palace in Toronto Mar. 3), Patrick Wolf (his real name? bet not!), Superwolf, Los Lobos...

Sarajevo is naming a street in honour of Susan Sontag. Nice.

Poll: Choose one. A. "I am excited about the Van der Graaf Generator reunion!" B. "Ehh, there've been VDG reunions before. I prefer Peter Hammill's solo stuff." C."What the hell are you talking about?" Mmmkay, thank you for playing!

That's it for today. Happy New Year! Tomorrow, Zoilus does his best to be the very last person on earth to unveil a best-of-2004 list, with the first-annual Overtones Music Awards.

And finally: RIP Artie Shaw.

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Friday, December 31 at 12:06 PM | Linking Posts

 

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Zoilus by Carl Wilson