From The Desk Of M. Ward: Park Of The Monsters, Bomarzo, Italy

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

Bomarzo

Ward: This is the only one on my list that I haven’t been to, but the pictures tell a thousand words. I hope to meet you all there someday.

Video after the jump.

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Essential New Music: Tim Hecker’s “Love Streams”

TimHecker

“Obsidian Counterpoint,” the five absorbing minutes of electronic pinprick shimmers, airy flutish burbles and spongy, spasmodic shard-stabs that open Tim Hecker’s eighth full-length, has more rhythmic and melodic activity than many of his albums contain in their entirety. The track initiates a crowded, complicated set that deviates even more sharply from his drone-oriented oeuvre than 2013’s abstruse, imposing Virgins. But whereas that album, when not stately and mesmeric in habitual Hecker fashion all but abandoned here, was often queasily claustrophobic and distressing in its density, Love Streams is a more amiably cluttered a air: bolder, stranger and, at times, considerably more bewildering, but with an ultimately playful, exploratory guiding spirit.

Hecker further expands his palette of organic sound sources—most notably, the voices of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, manipulated into avatars of both ethereal beauty and disorienting fragmentation—while delving more deeply into overt electronic synthesis. There’s a lot to parse, with multiple textural shifts per track and little attempt to shape it all into a coherent, fluid whole—but it never feels like a chore. It’s a rich, engrossing provocation from a master architect of dizzying, immersive sonic spaces, for whom the tag “ambient” has grown increasingly inadequate.

—K. Ross Hoffman

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Essential New Music: Charles Bradley’s “Changes”

CharlesBradley

On his 2011 debut LP, the then-62-year-old Charles Bradley recapped his hardscrabble life story with an impassioned plea (one of many on the record) imploring, “Why is it so hard/To make it in America?” His third album, by contrast, opens with a brief, heartfelt take on “God Bless America”—evincing none of the sly subversion of, say, labelmate Sharon Jones’ “This Land Is Your Land”—then nods to his present groovy, globe-trotting lifestyle with “Good To Be Back Home,” a fine if pat primer on his utterly uncanny James Brown-alike-isms.

So, sure, as the (killer) titular Sabbath cover has it, Bradley’s seen some changes in his seventh decade. But while his gloriously grizzled voice remains probably the most majestic instrument in the entire 21st-century retro-soul arsenal, and the Daptone mob mete out many more-than-serviceable grooves for him to rap atop, Changes offers no real shake-ups. Downplaying the psychedelic funk of his last outing for a relatively by-the-numbers set of Brown-ian movers and reliably wrenching love ballads, it lacks a certain contemporary vitality its predecessors—if improbably—nailed. But still, even boilerplate Bradley damn sure knows how to cook.

—K. Ross Hoffman

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Normal History Vol. 371: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

A while back, I went down to Horses Records to see a couple of bands play. It was an early show, but it was already dark as I walked alone down a quiet side street. I saw a guy ahead of me who looked like he might be going to the show, too. Maybe it was the across-the-body strap of his bag and the set of his woolly hat—and I took into consideration that I was probably totally wrong because that whole area has had an influx of young people and it seemed more likely that he was just one of them going to a cafe along the same stretch of East Hastings that Horses occupies.

Before we got to the corner, he crossed the street and went into the bank to use the ATM. At that moment, a 1970s muscle car—an orange and black Charger—pulled up at the light with “Smoke On The Water” playing through a rolled-down window. It was great! And the guy driving looked a lot like Burt Reynolds. The light changed to green, the Charger drove on and the guy with the hat and bag came out of the bank not having seen or heard any of it. I thought to myself, “If that guy is at the show, I’ll tell him about the small incident that he missed.” You know, just for fun. I crossed the road and walked past a slew of sandwich boards outside restaurants and coffee shops that weren’t there five years ago when this was … what do you call a neighborhood before hipsters move in? Working class? I dunno. Unpretentious? Not that I actually have anything against pretension.

I go into Horses, wander to the back and talk to Dan of the fantastic band Lt. Frank Dickens. There are only a few people in the store, but the guy with the hat and bag is among them. Eventually, while we’re standing around waiting for the replacement PA to show up, I tell him my story. He immediately uses a sentence that has the phrase “my girlfriend” in it and I’m thinking, “Oh yes, I get that. Don’t worry young bearded man with glasses, I’m not hitting on you.” I continue talking, referencing changes in the neighborhood, and he responds by saying that his father brought him here in the ’90s—when he was a teenager. Yes, yes, I understand young man. You have a girlfriend, and I’m 30 years older than you, but don’t worry, I’m not hitting on you. Really really really, I’m not. I’m just talking to you. Good lord.

Later, while he’s engrossed in examining LPs in the bins, I notice his head snap around when someone I’m talking to asks about my music. Still holding up the LP, he’s staring at me as if his assumptions about an old lady hanging around a record store chatting up young dudes such as himself has been blown out of the water. Quite a lovely moment. Not nearly as lovely as the Burt Reynolds look-a-like cruising E. Hastings with “Smoke On The Water” blasting from his muscle car, but still quite good.

“In Canada” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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From The Desk Of M. Ward: Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

Boboli

Ward: No words to describe except that this is easily the greatest landscape architecture I’ve ever seen. Pack a water, though, because it’s vast. Also, lots of climbing. There’s nothing close to it that I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Bibio

Offering up a retro feel with some killer vibes, Bibio presents the video for “Light Up The Sky.” It’s a soft-rock anthem for all those lost in love. Check out the clip below.

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Vintage Movies: “The Caine Mutiny”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

CaineMutiny

The Caine Mutiny (1954, 125 minutes)

Escaping the clutches of a possessive mother, Ensign Willis “Willie” Keith (Robert Francis) has been assigned as a junior officer to the Caine, a beaten-up minesweeper after two years of heavy combat in the South Pacific during World War II.

The Caine’s skipper, Lt. Commander William DeVriess (Tom Tully), reviewing Keith’s file with a jaundiced eye, remarks, “Top five in your class at Princeton, a pretty good record.” He looks the new man squarely in the eye and asks, “Disappointed they’ve assigned you to a minesweeper, Keith?” The ensign says, “To be honest, yes, sir.” DeVriess replies, “You saw yourself on a carrier or a battleship, no doubt?” “Yes sir, I had hoped … ” DeVriess cuts him off, “Well, my only hope is that you’re good enough for the Caine.”

The captain sighs and sinks back into his chair. “This is a beaten-up tub, not a battleship. After the last 18 months of combat, it takes 24 hours a day just to keep her in one piece.” Keith sticks out his jaw and says, “I understand, sir. I’ll try to be worthy of this assignment.” The captain barely shakes his head and replies, “I don’t think you do, but whether you like it or not, you’re in the junkyard navy.” He turns to the officer escorting Keith and says, “Steve, put him with Keefer in communications, and tell Tom, when he’s free, to show this Princeton Tiger around the ship. And don’t take it so hard, Keith: War is hell.”

At the next officers’ mess, the skipper turns to his new man and asks, “Tell me, Keith, now that you’ve studied the Caine more closely, do you like her any better? Or is this ship too messy for you?” Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray) chimes in: “The question is, is this mess a ship? We are all sentenced to do penance on this outcast ship, named for the greatest outcast of them all,” he adds, referring to the biblical tale of Cain who killed his brother, Abel.

The captain interrupts, “I received this dispatch from Admiral Walsh, about an hour ago.” He reads, “‘With your approval, we request the transfer to my staff of Ensign Willis Seward Keith.'” Shocked, Keith blurts out, “Sir, I didn’t know anything about this request!” The skipper says, “It could be just a coincidence, or it could be someone pulling strings. So, what’s it to be, Keith, the Admiral’s staff or, as Tom puts it, ‘the hell of the Caine?'” Keith gulps hard and says, “I’ll stay on board, sir.” Keefer quips, “Ahh, Willie, you will live to regret this day.” With the imminent retirement of Capt. DeVriess and the arrival of the intractable new skipper, Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), they will all live to regret more than just today.

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MAGNET Feedback With Eric Bachmann

EricBachmann

We’ve been fans of Eric Bachmann since the very beginning. His first band, Archers Of Loaf, was as essential as Pavement, Superchunk, Sebadoh, Built To Spill and Guided By Voices as far as ’90s indie rock goes. After the Archers broke up, Bachmann started Crooked Fingers, which put out a handful of must-hear albums starting in 2000. Under his own name, he dabbled in soundtrack work before releasing his official solo debut, To The Races, in 2006. Now, Bachmann returns with a stunning new eponymous LP on Merge that proves he remains an amazing songwriter. The man obviously has an understanding of great music, so we asked him for his feedback on some songs we love.

David Bowie, “Five Years” from: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll man of all time. His ability to incorporate drama and grandeur without coming o as pretentious or silly is unsurpassed. In the Archers days while on tour, our esteemed bass player, Matthew Peter Gentling, would occasionally slip into these cosmic seizures—these strange, shamanistic, supersonic trances, usually after a night of heavy drinking—and sing out, “My brain hurts a lot.” I’d like to think that it was actually David Jones practicing mind control on Matt just to give us a laugh.

Neko Case, “Hold On, Hold On” from: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
I’ve been playing in Neko Case’s band for about three years. We do this one almost every night. I don’t tire of it. These lyrics, in particular, possess a certain mystery that kept it interesting for me. Like many good lyrics, it provokes questions more than it provides answers: What is it about your blood that makes it dangerous? Why would a bride marry a person if marrying that person requires that you take a Valium? If you’re thankful that you’re leaving the party alone, then why did you stay until 3 a.m.? I know you don’t enjoy drinking that much anymore. And then there’s that voice, of course. Some nights I don’t want to play any notes for fear of walking over something so elegant and beautiful.

Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows” from: I’m Your Man
Leonard Cohen (with Sharon Robinson on this one) exercises superior command over the English language. He’s a legend for a valid reason. He is a legend for several valid reasons. His voice sounds great to me, and I love the way he incorporates backing vocals. I’d like to produce his next record.

John Coltrane, “Part 3: Pursuance/A Love Supreme, Part 4: Psalm” from: A Love Supreme
John Coltrane is the reason I majored in saxophone during my two years at Appalachian State. He’s also the reason I quit. I knew I could never reach that level of playing; I knew I wanted to sound like him too much; and I knew it was a bad idea to try to sound like someone else anyway. I remember reading Art Pepper’s autobiography, Straight Life, a few years later, and what he said about ripping off Coltrane resonated with me: “When I got out of the joint the last time in ’66, I had no horns. I could only afford one horn, and I got a tenor because, I told myself, to make a living, I had to play rock. But what I really wanted to do was play like Coltrane. In ’68, I got the job playing lead alto with Buddy Rich (in Las Vegas) … I was blowing Don Mensa’s alto in the motel room … jamming in front of the mirror, blowing the blues, really shouting, and all of a sudden I realized, ‘Wow, this is me! This is me!’ Then I realized that I had almost lost myself. Something had protected me for all these years, but Trane was so strong he’d almost destroyed me.” So—I’m no Art Pepper, of course—but what he says “was so strong” about John Coltrane is what destroyed me, too, in terms of why I quit focusing on the saxophone. So, there’s that. And then, there’s the fact that one of my favorite drummers of all time plays on this. I saw the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine perform at Jazz Alley in Seattle around 2001 or 2002. When I heard he passed away a few years later, I was, of course, sad; but I also felt really lucky to have seen him perform live. That first minute and a half of Elvin Jones by himself on this floors me every time.

Bob Dylan, “If Not For You” from: New Morning
I heard George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass for the first time as a kid when I was visiting my aunt in Cullowhee, N.C. I think she was a student at Western Carolina at the time. I was only five or six years old? She and her boyfriend had all of these Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac and John Lennon records. I remember thinking they must be hippies, wearing all that fringe suede and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. George Harrison’s picture on the cover made me think the record was about fi sh sticks or the stormy sea because of his rubber boots and his hat and his beard. For some reason, my aunt kept poking fun at me, saying that I was a baby. I had only been born in 1970, so I was insecure about that particular issue and recall getting pretty pissed off at her insisting that I was, in fact, a baby. She dragged it out: “You are a baaaay-bee.” I couldn’t grasp that it was OK to be a baby, I guess, or comprehend the concept of someone communicating affection toward me in the form of gentle antagonisms. Out of frustration, I naively wrote her little hippie album off as merely odd-looking. Now, of course, it’s one of my favorite album covers and one of my favorite records of all time. I’m not mad at her anymore, either. She’s killer. Oh yes, and I like Dylan’s original version, as well—he wrote it after all; but I really love George Harrison’s voice on his version.

Slint, “Good Morning, Captain” from: Spiderland
Spiderland is a nice record for driving long distances. I enjoy listening to it while driving by myself late at night along desolate desert landscapes.

Superchunk, “Slack Motherfucker” from: Superchunk
I got on the internet to find the lyrics to this classic because—after hearing it live dozens and dozens of times—I could never understand exactly what Mac was singing in the first verse. Fortunately, the lyrics were easy to finbd. It was the lyric where he calls the antagonist of the song “smoke stack.” Now I like the song even more, which is silly because I already liked it so much. An interesting and perhaps blasphemous thing for me to announce here, however, is that this song—especially since it in some way represents the introductory siren for Merge Records—isn’t my favorite. Sorry, but my favorite musical side of Mac is the side that probably loses him money. I love Mac’s new instrumental deconstruction of Non-Believers called Staring At Your Hologram. Yes, even more than “Slack Motherfucker.” I love that EP of Tropicalia covers he did in Brazilian Portuguese, too. I went to Augusta a few years ago to see him perform a few soundtracks he had written for some Maya Deren films, and it was amazing. So, I’m putting my vote in now. I want Mac to start a strange, singular big band like Stan Kenton or George Russell or Sun Ra and wear a colorful suit and make odd squeaks and squawks. It would be a cool turn for him, and he’d be great at it, I think.

Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City” from: Nebraska
I probably have an unhealthy fascination with organized crime. A lot of people do. Perhaps that’s why there are so many books and films about it. The mob’s power over certain aspects of U.S. infrastructure over the years—the devastation, violence and loss it has caused so many families, and the impact it’s had on our popular culture, in general— latches onto something primal in us. That this song starts with a reference to Philip “The Chicken Man” Testa getting blown up with a nail bomb by his rivals in the Philadelphia mob demonstrates the Boss’ fascination with this, too. It makes for great storytelling, and it makes for a great, dark song. I always wondered if Springsteen ever considered that he might be putting himself (and his family) on their radar in a bad way by singing about this so soon after it happened.

The Velvet Underground, “Candy Says” from: The Velvet Underground
I love the sound of Doug Yule’s voice on this. I have this image in my mind of Lou Reed standing uncomfortably close, being passive-aggressive toward the poor guy as he sings it in the studio. I know that’s probably not how it went down, but it’s how I think of it. I guess I feel like Andy Warhol (in the films) and Lou Reed (in this song) had an agenda with her or something; that they were exploiting Candy Darling for the sake of their art, and Yule was just innocently singing a pretty song without any agenda, even if he was somewhat in the dark.

Archers Of Loaf, “Wrong” from: Icky Mettle
The best part about this song is Eric Johnson’s guitar part.

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From The Desk Of M. Ward: St. Paul De Mausole, Saint-Remy-De-Provence, France

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

StPaul

Ward: After multiple mental breakdowns, Van Gogh went here to try to recoup some sanity similar to the Louisiana in Denmark. One of the best reasons to visit is the surrounding wildlife, gardens and general landscape—they also have a re-creation of his famous bedroom inside. Is it morbid to want to see the place of so much agony? I don’t know, but I was lucky enough to see some of the other towns in south France that he lived and suffered in and painted (Arles was my favorite), and it’s worth a tour—the cities have created monuments to some of his greatest paintings at the exact location they were probably painted.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: The Boxer Rebellion

On a night drive through the back roads of the big city, a woman finds her target. The Boxer Rebellion brings its new video for “Big Ideas” to life with a story of betrayal and love. Check out the clip below.

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