Essential New Music: Infinity Crush’s “Warmth Equation”

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Warmth Equation, like all of Caroline White’s work, is heavy, weighed down, even difficult to process. The sound of Infinity Crush becomes all the more complicated when one considers the sheer enjoyability of her songs, the comfort in being overwhelmed, exposed to the sincere, bare emotion of her small, gorgeously performed bedroom emo.

This is the contradiction that Warmth Equation works within—for all the existential frustration, all the struggling of the every day, life is still painfully beautiful. In these 11 small, dreamy songs, White does not attempt to divert attention from the pain. It’s all there, in the suggestive past tense of the sepia-toned refrain of “Everything Be Still” (“You were mine, you were mine, you were”) or in the one-foot-in, one-foot-out thesis of “Heaven” (“Heaven might be real”). But Warmth Equation searches for the beauty in the corners. Take “Drowning Here With All My Friends,” which White says is about the “tiny, microscopic acts of kindness” between friends, or the reckless romance of “Lilacs” (“I want to watch you blossom every autumn/‘Till you’re rotten”).

The record maintains the intimacy of previous releases like when we’re snow or stumble pretty while also providing something fuller, clearer, more polished than the project has ever produced. “Whisper” (which previously appeared on 2013’s something even in my dreams i am) shimmers crisply in its new form, an added percussion element and distant “ohh”s making the song feel deeper, more like an event in itself. Meanwhile, songs like “Spoiled” and “Pete And Pete” show off a jauntier version of Infinity Crush, sporting more upbeat frames for White’s vignettes.

Warmth Equation is a stunning portrait of young-adult melancholy, as well as the most complete and satisfying work of White’s career. It matches and exceeds the level of depth, beauty, and songwriting prowess of her previous (also wonderful) records while inching toward new territories of subtle emo. In a year studded with amazing releases in the genre, Warmth Equation certainly stands among the most powerful.

—Jordan T. Walsh

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Essential New Music: Allah-Las’ “Calico Review”

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Seeing as how three of the four members of the Allah-Las met while working at the record store mecca that is the Hollywood outpost of Amoeba Music, it’s no surprise that the band’s albums pay homage to cutout-bin gold. Their debut and its successor, Worship The Sun, both dabbled in Nuggets-worthy guitar gems with a sun-bleached topcoat. Calico Review expands on that sound while simultaneously narrowing its musical allusions, making the reverent references that much trickier to place.

The jittery “Could Be You” conjures the ghost of Another View-era Velvets, and “Autumn Dawn” sounds like a lost Animals/Doors collaboration. Sly allusions to the Beatles, Jan & Dean and even Pavement make Calico Review a delight for those whose lives might also resemble the premise of High Fidelity. The Allah-Las are frequently pegged as “retro” or “revivalists,” but like any record geeks, they deftly reshape their heritage into their own original catalog.

—Eric Schuman

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Normal History Vol. 392: 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.

The Message
Mother Africa walking along with Stephen Lewis. The dancers are dancing towards the camera. Hips moving real fast. A young woman in a school uniform, standing in front of the choir, singing a song perhaps she wrote for this occasion, this television opportunity. Make no mistake; it’s directed at you and me.

She sings, “Why me? Why him? Why her?”

But the real question underlies the theme. We know you have the drugs. You keep them under lock and key in the west away from us and you choose who lives, who dies.

Mother Africa takes off her large lens glasses and wipes her eyes. Stephen Lewis doesn’t look like he’s gonna cry. He takes the message back. Takes the message back to where it’s heard.

Why me? Why him? Why her? And do we choose who lives, who dies? Who dies?

“The Message” from the album The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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From The Desk Of Ann Magnuson: David Bowie And Carl Jung Rockin’ The Persona

At her funniest, musician/actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson skewers pop and celebrity culture like nobody else. And there’s a lot of that skewering on her new album, Dream Girl, Magnuson’s third LP following the strangely underrated The Luv Show and Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories. Magnuson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Dream on.

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Magnuson:  It’s hard to imagine a world without David Bowie in it, but … here we are. It’s been especially hard on certain folks in my generation. Bowie was our Starman, our Shaman, our Thin White Shape-Shifter who reimagined Jung’s archetype of the Cosmic Man as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and, well … “Bowie.” Many of us used the easy shorthand, “Bowie” (usually said in low, revered tones), to connote an entire ethos, an artistic way of life, and…dare I say it? A religion!

Bowie first appeared to most of us as an androgynous alien, an oversexed Pied Piper in kabuki drag who led us innocent teens out of Denim Hell and into a Moonage Daydream full of hedonistic highs (cosmically enhanced by Mick Ronson’s transcendentally sexy guitar work) until Ziggy/Zarathustra/Icarus fell from the peak, hitting his own all-time “Low.”

Ironically, Bowie ran from the Dream Factory of Los Angeles into the decaying arms of Berlin to try to save his soul. Drinking himself into a vomiting mess with Iggy wasn’t exactly the healthiest way out of madness but he did manage to shake off the Ziggy persona, which was well on it’s way to becoming the haunted mask that cannot be removed. By Bowie’s own admission, Ziggy Stardust nearly killed him. Plus there was all that cocaine. Given his history, it’s somewhat of a miracle that David Bowie managed to live to the relatively ripe old age of 69. (About 112 in Rock ‘n’ Roll years.)

All this and much more is brilliantly parsed in psychologist Oliver James’ new book, Upping Your Ziggy: How David Bowie Overcame His Childhood Demons—And How You Can Too. I just finished reading it and I have to say, it’s a must read for not only Bowie fans but for anyone in the arts (especially those in the theater!) Actually, it’s a must read for everyone because, as the author stresses throughout, we all adopt personas, often self-destructively, to cope with life.

It’s known to be unethical to analyze a person one has never met. However, these days everyone is doing it with Donald Trump (with good reason.) So much so that the American Psychiatric Assn. recently issued a statement reminding it’s members to avoid psychoanalyzing presidential candidates. There is an excellent op-ed piece in the L.A. Times explaining why. Having said that, Oliver James makes a compelling analysis of how David Bowie used persona therapy to save David Jones. Given Bowie’s own interest in all things Jungian, I think he might have dug it. (Then again, he was famously private and infamously obfuscating so, maybe not.)

While many musicians adopt stage names (and some, seeking similar success, full-blown Bowie-esque personas) Oliver James points out that:

“In most cases they fell far short of Bowie … The difference was that Bowie was using personas to understand his current psychology and it’s history. Like most art of any profundity, it was an expression of his inner conflicts—but in his case it was a desperate and more or less deliberate attempt to use personas to overcome then. Ziggy may have started life as a gag through which to achieve fame, but he was also the culmination of Jones’s struggle to experience madness in a safe way, much as the ‘schizophrenese’ of his lyrical style was a way for him to be safely psychotic. It was a means to develop multiple personalities without becoming a case of multiple personality disorder … The persona therapy that was the Ziggy project was his way of dealing with his family’s myth of genetically transmitted intergenerational madness and of addressing his personality disorder, caused by the way his parents cared for him. “

Oliver James’ main theory is that early childhood experience determines personality more than genetics. Actually he doesn’t believe genes have much to do with it at all. Comparing and contrasting the histories of David (Bowie) Jones and his half brother Terry —who went fully “mad,” was committed to an asylum and later committed suicide—James theorizes that David, often teetering on the edge himself, managed to escape a similar fate because a) he wasn’t treated as cruelly as his half-brother growing up and b) Bowie was able to channel his demons via his music and persona therapy.

Every performer knows that ‘acting out’ on stage (or in any art form) is a lifesaver. Every performer (especially The Method actor) is very aware of the line that can easily be crossed—onstage and off. Crossing that line on stage makes for a great show. Crossing the line off stage makes for a very messy life.

It’s no secret that David Bowie’s life got messy. Iman helped clean it up. She has said, “We both understand the difference between the person and the persona … I fell in love with David Jones. I did not fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a persona. He’s a singer, an entertainer. David Jones is a man I met.” Bowie likewise said (in 2005), “The Bowie character, for me, is strictly to be used on stage. With my family, I am David Jones, very much.” Both of them knew they had to drop the schtick with one another. Late-in-life marriages are smart that way.

Carl Jung firmly believed one had to recognize and integrate personas that compose our defensive (and often offensive) ‘provisionary’ selves in order to find wholeness and health; a process he called Individuation. Usually occurring in middle age (hence, the ‘mid-life crisis’) this self-actualization is an integration of the conscious and unconscious. The 12- step process of Alcoholics Anonymous brilliantly provides very specific steps that can lead to that integration. (In fact, Bill Wilson sought guidance from Jung himself when starting it!)

Bowie famously found sobriety in mid-life and probably engaged in some deep Jungian housecleaning. (This ain’t rock ‘n roll, this is persona-cide!) I wonder if he ever read James Hollis’ The Middle Passage: From Misery To Meaning in Mid Life? I’m on my fifth reading of it. I can’t recommend it enough. Hollis’ book is an excellent explanation of this whole process; a process that Jung believed every human being must go through.

It’s a process that Oliver James discusses very specifically in relation to David Bowie in “Upping Your Ziggy”. James’ book may, in fact, be the easiest way into Jung for novices– at least a first step. Especially for those who find The Red Book tough going.

David Bowie certainly knew his Jung. But just how deep it went, I didn’t know until I found Tanja Stark’s remarkable essay Crashing Out With Sylvian: David Bowie, Carl Jung And The Unconscious.

Tanja Stark is an artist and deep thinker who lectured on Bowie during the Australian leg of David Bowie Is…, the travelling V&A exhibit. She also made a series of very Jungian “pop art mannequins” of the various Bowie personas (featured in the extremely agonized Bowie video “Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy For The DFA-Edit).” The mannequins, ostensibly commissioned by Bowie’s “team,” are now housed in the Bowie Archive in New York.

In the Bowie/Jung essay, Stark writes: “When Bowie famously sung of ‘Jung the foreman’ on Aladdin Sane, with it’s iconic ‘lightning flash’ cover and word play on sanity, it seems the artist was heralding the pivotal resonance the psychiatrist’s ideas had upon his life. Forty years later, artist Tony Oursler, Bowie’s long-term friend and director of the Where Are We Now? (2013) film clip, affirmed Bowie’s deep and abiding connection to Jung. “David Bowie inhabits Carl Jung’s world of archetypes, reading and speaking of the psychoanalyst with passion,” revealed Oursler, who also accompanied Bowie to the first public exhibition of Jung’s Red Book in New York in 2009.”

She goes on to explain that “Bowie’s often cryptic, multi-layered work … often conceptual and poetic barely touching the nuances inherent in Jungian psychology but nonetheless compellingly suggests Jung has been a central influence upon (and compass for) Bowie as both men have navigated the mysterious, sometimes perilous, depths of the psyche.”

Stark’s essay discusses Bowie’s work in connection with Jung, The Unconscious, Dream Dystopia, Mystic Myth, Personas, the Numinous … and so much more! This stuff is must reading for Bowie fans. Indeed, for all artists and dreamers!

I first learned about Tanya Stark when she replied to a Twitter post by Oliver James (who had just begun promoting Upping Your Ziggy this past May). Stark pointed James to another essay she wrote on the archetypes of death in Bowie’s work, adding, “It’s eerie to read now.” The two Bowie/Jung enthusiasts then twitter about meeting and possibly collaborating. Now that should be interesting!

Gosh, The internet really can be an astounding place, can’t it? (Trolls notwithstanding.) No wonder Bowie took to it from the very beginning. Carl Jung would have, too.

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Film At 11: Band Of Skulls

Band Of Skulls has attached new song “Black Magic” to a storybook clip that draws from Bollywood dance aesthetics. The blues-rock/grungey tune becomes all the more vibrant with this bright and colorful look, doing justice to the band’s ability to really make this aged genre pop. Check it out below; By Default is out now.

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MP3 At 3PM: Kristoffer And The Harbour Heads

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Swedish band Kristoffer And The Harbour Heads will release EX/EX on November 4, and today we’re bringing you the opening track, “Right This Wrong.” The song’s misdirection is very exciting, spending a minute as a slow, moody dirge before erupting into jubilant synthesizers. Check it out below.

“Right This Wrong” (download):

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The Low Anthem: Lonely Eyeland

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The Low Anthem stripped its sound and membership down to the bare essentials to actualize Eyeland

On the subject of epitaphs, it’s been written that the quality of a life is not contained in the dates on the stone but in the hyphen between them. That sentiment is equally true when the dates in question describe the gap between a band’s releases. In the Low Anthem’s case, the five years between 2011’s Smart Flesh and the diverse and distinct Eyeland may have been the most productive and evolutionary period.

After a nearly two-year tour for Smart Flesh, the Low Anthem decamped to its Providence, R.I., base to contemplate its next moves. The band found itself engaged on a variety of fronts—it began a project to rehabilitate the Columbus Theatre in downtown Providence into a performance/studio space; lost its manager to corporate acquisition; its labels dropped the group as the gap between albums widened; and, perhaps most damaging, three of the band’s five members defected for varying reasons. It was a string of events that would have unraveled a lesser group.

“We were floating in free time, just me and Jeff (Prystowsky), the only other original member,” says frontman Ben Knox Miller. “We would look at each other and go, ‘Do you believe in all these other projects we’re doing?’ We agreed that this time was good to let the chemistry fully dissolve back down to the elemental.”

When the space—also named Eyeland—was operational, Miller and Prystowsky further divided their time by recording other bands in the studio and booking the theater. Having vast eyewitness experience on how not to run a venue gave them an upper hand.

“It’s a venue run by musicians, so you don’t walk into an environment where you feel like a fish out of water,” says Miller. “It’s not some corporate place; it’s like our living room and your living room, and it’s very personal. John C. Reilly played here and was interviewed for a New York Times piece, and he said, ‘It’s nice to see the inmates running the asylum.’ That’s the vibe we’ve cultivated.”

Simultaneously, the pair was taking chunks of time to work on what would ultimately become Eyeland. It was a long process made more difficult by the absence of management, finding a new label (they signed with Concord/Razor & Tie/Washington Square) and dealing with the loss of most of the band.

“The record has been like a painting you leave in the kitchen, and every time you sit down to eat breakfast, you’re like, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve got to cross that part out,’” says Miller. “It’s always there on the wall while all these things have been going on.”

When Miller originally came up with the name Eyeland, he and Prystowsky played a word association game in a local bar, working out the potential ways that listeners might perceive the title.

“There seemed to be a whole host of one-step associations that had very different suggestions,” says Miller. “Without any specific interpretation that this was bent toward, the fact of its interpretational ability gave us the confidence that there was room to explore and let it not be any one of those things. It was very much a process of discovery for us, and I’m grateful for the time we had to let that happen organically.”

As Miller was writing songs for Eyeland, he also conceived a 12-page abstract narrative intended as a liner-note key to connect the arc of the songs. With the shifts and alterations in the album’s form, that idea was shelved.

“At one time, it was very elaborate, and you could trace it from A to B,” says Miller. “Four years later, I’m not sure that’s still true. I don’t have perspective to know that anymore. There were 26 songs when we started looking for a place to record, and I think eight of them survived, so you have this constellation of moments from the story that are now abstracted by what’s been taken away.”

Eyeland was further influenced by the duo’s visit to San Francisco’s Audium, the immersive sonic theater experience that features life sounds mixed with music; Prystowsky subsequently bought a stereo field recorder and began capturing found sounds and atmospheres that added Brian Eno’s aggressive ambience and Tom Waits’ woodshed constructionism to the soundtrack.

“I was like, ‘OK, I get it, but now we also need the music to come the other half of the way to meet that,’” he says. “From that point on, it was like day one again. We had this whole new mission to give that collision some kind of order. That was one of those turning points where we thought we were done, but we were just getting started.”

—Brian Baker

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From The Desk Of Ann Magnuson: The Far Out World Of UNARIUS With Jodi Wille

At her funniest, musician/actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson skewers pop and celebrity culture like nobody else. And there’s a lot of that skewering on her new album, Dream Girl, Magnuson’s third LP following the strangely underrated The Luv Show and Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories. Magnuson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Dream on.

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Magnuson: There is nothing more cosmically “out there” than the UNARIUS Academy Of Science. Warning: This isn’t your grandma’s “science.” But it is your fairy godmother’s science!

I used to watch the UNARIES public-access show back in the mid-’80s when I first started hanging out in Los Angeles. The group’s very theatrical pageants presented personal psychodramas that involved past lives, extraterrestrials and a benevolent geriatric leader. Her name was Uriel (an acronym of Universal, Radiant, Infinite, Eternal Light), and she offered her followers unconditional love while channeling teachings and prophecies from the Space Brothers (a.k.a. advanced inter-dimensional beings who exist on higher frequencies). Oh yeah, and she looked like Barbara Bush dressed up as My Little Pony. It’s kind of hard to describe. An ex-boyfriend, who actually turned me onto UNARIUS, put it this way: “Imagine if Aunt Clara from Bewitched had a religion.” But that’s from a non-believer.

Jodi Wille is a believer. Jodi wrote the book on the Source Family and directed the extremely popular documentary about them as well. Both were hits among The In Crowd. (I’m not the only one who ascribes the current rage of young women dressing like ethereal hippie chicks to the publication of the Source Family book.) Now Jodi is doing for UNARIUS what she did for the Source Family, bringing their guileless message of love and healing to the wider world. Yes, even to the pithy cynics!

Ann: Jodi, the short film you did for The Front on the Unariuns is the perfect primer for folks just hearing about these UFO spiritualists. How can people see the film?
Jodi: Right here. They have a couple extra offerings on the site, too, including the article “What Is Psychodrama?” written by the Unariuns and Songs For Space Travelers, a ’60s and ’70s spiritual underground music playlist I curated.

Ann: Tell me what is so important about the UNIARIUS message, especially during this election year.
Jodi: Our world is such an apocalyptic mess right now. Anyone who can move past the cynicism and hopelessness, bring deeper meaning to our lives and point a possible way forward has value. Unariuns are unrepentant idealists who believe that there’s no greater power in the universe than love and that the future of planet Earth is positive and progressive. They don’t deny their dark side but aim to transform and heal it through self-examination and creative expression—painting, writing, singing, dancing, etc. Whatever they’re doing works for them and encourages them to be decent, caring people, the kind of quiet Americans who help hold this country together. If only we could get Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton—hell, most of Congress—to do a past-life psychodrama therapy session together re-enacting their regrettable deeds in the Orion galaxy 100,000 years ago, we’d have unicorns (or at least alpacas) grazing on the front lawn of the White House.

Ann: I vote unicorns! I wonder if the UNARIUS members used dreams in their work with psychodrama therapy? Certainly those films and plays they make are quite dream-like. Nearly all the stories represent the archetypal hero’s journey. Even if one doesn’t believe in the “reality” of past lives, the Unariuns have recreated legitimate archetypes that live within each person, spinning modern myths in a culture that has lost touch with essential life-transition rituals. Since we don’t have many left, we must create our own. UNARIUS seems to me a trippy example of how that can be done.
Jodi: Exactly. Plus, because of their practices, which aim to enhance their psychic and intuitive abilities, the Unariuns have extremely vivid dreams. They communicate with benevolent spirits and extraterrestrial beings in their dream state and receive personal guidance and revelations that frequently benefit them in their waking lives, even sometimes resulting in radical physical healings.

Ann: What are the similarities between the Source Family and UNARIUS?
Jodi: Both groups attracted a number of very good-looking, creatively talented, idealistic young people who were willing to dedicate themselves entirely to the experience. Both had charismatic leaders who are still beloved by most members of the group and who had a highly original, audacious sense of style—both in their teaching methods and in the way dressed. Both groups produced creative work (Source Family: music; Unarius: films and videos) that for decades was disregarded or mocked by many but that in recent years has become increasingly collected, respected and even revered by certain music and film aficionados, fashionistas, writers and artists.

Ann: How do millennials react to all this? So many young people were dressed up in cosmic retro-wear at the premiere (in L.A. at the Standard, Hollywood). Do you see a hunger for deeper meaning, healing and spiritual life—no matter how that may manifest—in an increasingly narcissistic culture?
Jodi: Absolutely. So many of the Source Family and UNARIUS fans I’ve met in their 20s and 30s seem to be drawn to the DIY collective and idealistic aspects of the experience, people coming together in a creative, wildly outside-the-box way to create a world they want to live in. The so-called kitsch and far-out aspects of both groups bring provocative, aesthetically exciting and even slightly dangerous elements, adding allure and a high playfulness that other spiritual groups and practices and things like yoga don’t really have.

Ann: How would you best describe Uriel, a.k.a. Ruth Norman (the spiritual leader of UNARIUS.)
Jodi: Today my friend Jon described her as “Divine meets Carlos Castaneda.” I like to say “Imagine if Glenda the Good Witch had a baby with Liberace on a spaceship.”

Ann: That’s the perfect description! What lies ahead for you and UNARIUS?
Jodi: We just returned from mounting an 100-piece UNARIUS art, photo, film and artifact exhibition at the Horse Hospital arts center in London, and I’m currently developing the material into a project I’m very excited about but can’t talk about yet. Meanwhile, on October 8-9, UNARIUS is hosting its annual “Interplanetary Conclave Of Light” weekend at their center in El Cajon, Calif., and the public is invited. This will be their biggest celebration in years, and they’ll have a full tour of the center including the video lab, printing press and costume room, with special workshops, a trip to the Space Brothers landing site, a procession down Main Street with banners and the Space Cad (which will release 33 white doves) and a screening of a brand new transfer of their 16mm masterwork The Arrival.

Ann: Wow! I better dig out my purple Quina gown and silver lamé cape and get down to El Cajon!

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Film At 11: Against Me!

Against Me! has just released one of the best albums of the year in Shape Shift With Me, an LP full of lovelorn punk-rock songs that acts as the fiery follow-up to the band’s incredible Transgender Dysphoria Blues. If you’re falling behind on Against Me! or have never listened, fear not! “333” is the perfect starting point—and we’ve got a fresh new video to show you, featuring Natasha Lyonne. Check it out below.

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MP3 At 3PM: LOOP 2.4.3

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LOOP 2.4.3 is interested in mind control. At least, that’s the impression we get from new track “Out To War,” which comes from the act’s latest LP Time-Machine_Music, a dizzying, even scary piece of work. LOOP 2.4.3 is described as an “improvisatory jazz/electro-classical/psychedelic rock ensemble,” and it does seem that “Out To War” is successful at jamming all of those disparate elements together. Curious what that sounds like? Check out the track below.

“Out To War” (download):

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