Sub-Radio Investigates What a Relationship Is in “What Are We” (premiere)

The title track from Virginia/DC-based sextet

Sub-Radio

, “What Are We?” asks one of the more pertinent questions in anyone’s romantic life: Is it just sex? Is it something like love? Is it fleeting or something more sustainable? The collective can’t answer the question definitively but asking it in the most infectious of ways for nearly four minutes may prove a better strategy. The hook is heavy and immediate and makes you wish that your volume knob could stretch a few dozen notches higher.

With contemporary dating nomenclature evolving and the means of communication coming in forms that the originators of love could not have comprehended, basic ideas become complex. Discussing the single,

Sub-Radio

offered this: “We looked around at our friends and peers and this struggle they’re all having with having to put labels on their relationships,” the band wrote. “Everybody’s ‘talking’ but nobody knows what ‘talking’ means. Maybe for some people that works but some of us are too neurotic for that kind of uncertainty. And sometimes even young people just want to lay their damn cards on the table. We wanted to write the soundtrack to that moment.”

And, maybe, get us to think more about what we’re saying while we’re “talking”.

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Annunci

‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ Is Better As a Comic

Julie Maroh’s

Blue is the Warmest Color

(Arsenal Pulp 2015) was originally published in French in 2010 and English in 2013, the same year as the English film adaptation. Maroh sets the coming-of-age story within the homophobia of the ’90s, compounding the lesbian love plot with political reverberations that offset its otherwise intimate focus. While the Abdellatif Kechiche adaptation won the Cannes’ Palme d’Or award, its source material may be the more compelling work of art—one intricately crafted with features unique to the comics form.

Morah’s use of color is its most immediately striking feature. As established by the title, blue is the central visual motif, one suggesting pleasure, usually romantic, often erotic—though a child’s balloon or a diary can possess the same glow. Initially Clementine’s adolescent world is a wash of browns and grays—until punctuated by her first glimpses of desire: first a boy’s blue shirt, then a girl’s blue hair.

Unclothed though, Thomas, Clementine’s first boyfriend and almost lover, returns to his undifferentiated dank shades. Emma, however, literally haunts her dreams, her blue hands exploring Clementine’s white body.

The simple color binary breaks down in the framing story when the adult Emma is visiting Clementine’s now elderly parents. The contemporary world is a colorful one. Emma’s turtleneck is blue, but her hair has grown back blonde, Emma’s mother wears a red sweater, and oranges and greens permeate the bedding and walls. Though Clementine’s old diary is still blue, the color no longer produces the same effect and meaning in the altered context. Despite the difficulties of Clementine’s identity-searching adolescence, its two-tone impressionism was a product of her own inexperience.

After her father disowns her and she is forced to leave her childhood home, a naked but now realistically skin-toned Clementine curls as if three-dimensionally above the panel layout. She turns 30 a page later. Her worst moment, a brutal break-up fight with Emma after Clementine confesses to adultery, Mahor infuses with the novel’s most vibrant watercolors. Though the greens of Clementine’s hospital deathbed scenes are both literally and metaphorically darker, the effect is muted by Emma’s renewed devotion. When Emma stands alone looking into a gray ocean, the final image is the novel’s largest and most realistic watercolor.

For all of Mahor’s attention to color, her skill with panel effects, unique to the comics form, is arguably greater. By establishing a book-length norm of three-row layouts and uniform gutters, Mahor creates opportunities for variations. Atypically wide horizontal gutters suggest a scene-breaking time leap or, when placed within an otherwise continuous scene, a psychological break—as when Clementine first glimpses Thomas from her cafeteria seat. When they first kiss, Mahor eliminates frames and so gutters entirely, instead floating the two figures in an implied full-width panel at the bottom margin of the page. Their unframed background communicates the momentousness of her first kiss by placing it in the same timeless white as the gutters. But when Clementine later flees back home after nearly having sex with Thomas, her two darkened panels instead float unaligned in one of the novel’s widest expanses of white space. Mahor repeats the two-step narrative technique with Emma, but in reverse and with intensified effects. After hanging up angrily on Emma, the lone figure of Clementine and her phone float in even wider unframed white space, and after the two have sex for the first time, their two unaligned panels float too, only now suggesting their time-escaping joy in a still wider expanse.

Mahor is equally masterful with juxtapositional effects between panels separated by standard width gutters. While Mahor varies her left-to-right reading paths with brief, two-panel sub-columns on roughly a fifth of the novel’s 156 pages, in two cases the stacked panels do more than shift reading direction. At arguably the most significant moment in the narrative, when Emma and Clementine make eye contact for the first time, Mahor draws Emma’s face in what could be a single panel but instead is divided into two thinner strips with a centered gutter separating her eyes from her lower face.

The result is closer to the original meaning of visual closure, in which the two parts are perceived as a single whole. The framing not only emphasizes Emma’s eyes, but, by also fracturing a single moment in half, Mahor disrupts the flow of perceived time too. She repeats the technique at another pivotal moment. When her closest male friend reveals that her circle of friends are avoiding her because they think she’s gay, Mahor divides his face too, but here the emphasis is on his mouth and talk balloon: “Actually … I think it’s more about you.” The next three-panel row features the novel’s only metaphorical sequence, as the ground literally cracks beneath Clementine’s feet and she plunges into crosshatched darkness. Two pages later, even her panel frames collapse around her limp body.

Mahor also employs insets with the same thematic skill. While caption box insets appear on most pages, often breaking panel frames, Mahor draws only a total of six image insets, all within a 17-page, mid-story sequence, and all intimately framing Emma’s and Clementine’s hands or eyes.

The first overlays panel content for a closure effect similar to the examples described above, but here, when Emma touches Clementine’s hair for the first time, the inset breaks the gutter alignment of both bordering panels, as if the moment cannot be contained by the standard rules of their world. A row lower and the inset of their clasped hands break four more borders. Two pages later Clementine’s inset eyes challenge Emma for never inviting her to her apartment. When she finally does, the next inset frames Clementine’s eye and a single, joyful tear as she has her first orgasm, while the next is still more explicit—Clementine’s hand between Emma’s legs for the first time.

The final two, however, move from easy eroticism to harder emotions. When Clementine touches Emma’s hair, the inset, while misaligned with the closest panel border, fails to bridge the gutter to the adjacent image—including the next in which Emma pulls her hand away, followed by her breaking off their affair. The novel’s last inset reverses the pattern of intimate touch to show Clementine shoving away a plate of food that Emma is serving her—prompting Emma’s confession that she’s keeping Clementine at an emotional distance to protect herself. When they overcome that distance, Mahor literally closes the door on their next sex scene, content instead with a visually more meaningful row of layout-breaking panels as the two move out of view.

The story’s nudity and sexual content would likely conjure an exploitive male gaze if the images were not drawn by a lesbian author—a quality that complicates the film adaptation. Mahor’s hand, however, is deft in so many ways, producing a visually and emotionally complex tale of coming-of-age love uniquely grounded in the comics form.

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VOWWS Updates James Bond-Style Spy Music with “Esseff” (premiere)

Australian/Iranian dark electronic pop duo

VOWWS

unleashes its new full-length,

Under the World

on 2 March via Anti-Language Records. To tide fans over until that the time, the hypnotic, dark-minded outfit has issued the single “Esseff”, a song that is heavy, mysterious, sinister but inviting, brimming with dark sexuality that’ll have you scrambling for your leather jacket and vintage black light before the first chorus.

Of the track,

VOWWS

offers this: “It’s like James Bond spy music updated for the modern world. We wanted to create a sound that felt like you were being chased by something scary, but enticing like a tornado, or drugs.” They continue, “We embrace menacing intent in our music, but that’s not everything – even the bleakest shit has light in it… so we turn up the contrast and make both sides of the coin shine.


The duo will visit the U.S. this spring with a string of dates in support of

Under the World

, a collection that follows 2015’s

The Great Sun

. The new record, the group is quick to point out, distances itself from obvious nods to industrial or post-punk, opting for different gradations of dark matter.


TOUR DATES

3.19 – 529 – Atlanta, GA

3.20 – Strange Matter – Richmond, VA

3.22 – Saint Vitus – Brooklyn, NY

3.23 – Meatlocker – Montclair, NJ

3.24 – Geno’s – Portland, ME

3.25 – Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA

3.26 – Cafe Nine – New Haven, CT

3.27 – O’Brien’s – Boston, MA

3.28 – Casa Del Popolo – Montreal

3.29 – Coalition – Toronto

3.30 – Now That’s Class – Cleveland, OH *

3.31 – Deluxx Fluxx – Detroit, MI *

4.1 – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL *

4.3 – Reverb Lounge – Omaha, NE *

4.4 – Hi Dive – Denver, CO *

4.5 – Metro Music Hall – Salt Lake City, UT *

4.6 – Neurolux – Boise, ID *

4.7 – Barboza – Seattle, WA *

4.8 – Tonic Lounge – Portland, OR *

4.10 – Old Nick’s – Eugene, OR *

* w/ Soft Kill and Choir Boy

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Reigen’s “How to Make Love” Isn’t Your Typical Love Song (premiere)

Born in Houston, transplanted to Brooklyn,

Reigen

soaks his latest single in cool, synth-driven R&B that will call to mind Years & Years, Sam Smith and Troye Sivan. Throughout, his voice remains a beacon of bare emotionalism, a reminder that we can find strength in times of doubt if only we ask the right questions.

The track is offered in the form of a free download and its remarkable lyrics speak to the vexing questions of the day as the world grapples with difference of many stripes and global political instability. A love song? Yes. A typical love song? No way.

Discover more of Reigen’s music on Soundcloud:

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‘Eastman Was Here’ Is Curious, Assured and Compelling

“What would Norman Mailer do?” “How would Saul Bellow write this bit?” “I’m almost as funny as Philip Roth!” These are thoughts that, one suspects, certain male writers of fiction have had in the past. Perhaps it still goes on: similar thoughts about Alan Bennett, say, or even Martin Amis — just not as sexy.

Eastman Was Here

, the second novel by Staten Island-born Alex Gilvarry, features a hot-headed, fading writer in his 50s in ’70s-era New York. Eastman rages at the dying of his literary light, and everything he does seems to be at once intense and half-hearted. He finds himself raising his hand for a writing assignment in war-torn Vietnam, mainly to try to win back his wife, Penny, who has left him and taken their children with her.


Alan Eastman belongs firmly to the chest-thumping, self-aggrandizing, tree-swinging school of male author, and it sees him ending up in many tangles of thorns that other people seem to avoid.


Gilvarry


is a scholar, of sorts, of Norman Mailer. He went to the Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown where he was, fairly reluctantly,


introduced


properly to Mailer’s work. Like many things in life, it’s not all black and white, and


Gilvarry


found elements of Mailer’s writing pleasing and commendable, particularly

Armies o




f




The Night

, where a humility “not always present in his other work” is on display.


With Eastman, too, it’s all a bit complicated.


Gilvarry


has that writers’ sleight-of-hand knack that makes you not dislike Eastman straight away, and side with him, even, when the going gets tough (although the toughness is usually of Eastman’s own making.) Both Alan and his wife have had affairs, Alan with a close associate’s wife, the skating on thin ice element of this undoubtedly appealing to Eastman. Hearteningly


Eastman, given time, distance, and spectacular distraction in Vietnam ends up growing up a bit. Perhaps predictably, he meets a female war reporter there and events, especially with those that involve her, help to streamline his sense of what might


turn


out to be lastingly important.




There’s a ghostly suggestion of Philip Roth’s writing voice in

Portnoy’s Complaint

in this novel; a relatively calm voice, this time in the third person, documenting the madness. It’s almost a supernatural talent in


Gilvarry


. He’s good enough and self-assured enough to use the word “cunt” fairly freely in sexual scenes, something that can hit a wrong note in a less confident and talented author, and it’s perhaps the


closest


Gilvarry


gets to his literary anti-


heroe


s


.


Gilvarry


has described the book as “feminist”. The female characters are indeed strong and strongly-written, and just generally better at life than Eastman if only because they have lives outside of ambition, sex, and manipulation. It’s funny, too, with lots of the laughs coming from the side alleys of the prose.


W


hen a


hotel worker bungles Eastman’s name and forever calls him ”


Easyman


“, there’s a nice, streamlined


joke in the fact that there’s nothing, just nothing, easy about Alan. At the beginning of the book, where a writhing Eastman manages to make a telephone fall on his head, it’s a portent of things of come, but also funny in itself.



Eastman Was Here




a


statement that refers to


the lot of


ground that Eastman covers





is a backward-looking but fitting book for our times. There’s no neat ending,


however,


which


would have been a bit on the


p


yrrhic


side for both Alan and Penny. The book is an interesting exploration of what can happen when certain strands of masculinity get mixed in with a stew of relationships, writing, and feelings:


each element, of course, reacting with the others — sex and sense sometimes not the best bedfellows. As Alex


Gilvarry grows older


his novels will, presumably, carry even more crackle


and wisdom. Something to look forward to.

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Hackensaw Boys Revitalize “Oval Room” for the Trump Era (premiere)

When Blaze Foley first released “Oval Room” in the 1980s, he was voicing his unease with the policies of the Reagan administration. It quickly became a classic protest song to all those slighted by political decisions. It set the theme for revolutionaries during the Reagan era as well as through both Bush presidencies, and now a band of roots mainstays is rebooting the song in light of the disastrous Trump administration.

Whether in Foley’s hands or in

the Hackensaw Boys

‘ collective grip, the song still has all of the scorching ardor, restlessness, and wit that it did when it was first released. The boys incorporate plenty of blues sentiment into their track, as well, giving it a swing and a swagger befitting of this string band’s politically-charged new release. It’s a wonder that this song is still as relevant as it is today as when Foley first recorded it, and in this case, that wonder isn’t such a blessing. What

the Hackensaw Boys

are doing here are taking on the torch from Foley and respecting his work by embodying every bit of the passion that he had for justice in their performance.

The Hackensaw Boys tell PopMatters that “Ferd showed us ‘Oval Room’ while we were on tour in Europe and the lyrics were spot on with how some of us were feeling about the negative political climate in our country, and, for that matter, around the world. We immediately knew we wanted to record our interpretation of this timeless song. It’s worth noting that Blaze Foley had Ronald Reagan in mind when he wrote this song in the early ’80s, yet we feel the words fit just as well with Trump and other dangerous heads of state around the globe. It’s ironic that Blaze’s melody feels fun and light-hearted. One can’t help but sing along happily to his words—words which, in truth, are so dark and shamefully still relevant today.

“The photograph used on the cover was taken by Jason Lappa – an amazing photographer from our hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Jason captured this image on Trump’s inauguration day in DC. Dangerous leadership can create an extremely polarized divide amongst citizens – a divide designed to tear people apart and thus give more power to the state. When a country’s leadership doesn’t take care of the needs of the majority of its people, undermines our health and well-being, and fills the public forum with hate, violence can erupt. We’re on the brink in America, and this image really gets to the heart of that.”

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Eric Benoit’s “Dragonflies” Foreshadows Uncomfortable Truths (premiere)

“When I was a child in the north New Jersey suburbs, circa 2003, I remember being terrified by the sight of two dragonflies mating,” says

Eric Benoit

. “I’ve always hated insects, and here I had found two giant ones fused together in some sort of nightmarish flying catastrophe.”

He continues, “I couldn’t have realized at the time how it would foreshadow my own sexual experiences. There’s passion in this song and sex, but not in the way you’re probably accustomed to.”

The NYC artist is delving into an immersive new sound on his sophomore album,

Heartrender

, set to be released on 26 January. Across its seven tracks, Benoit will captivate listeners with his blend of experimental dance, indie folk, and alternative styles. As is seen and heard with

Heartrender’s

lead single, “Dragonfly”, he also aims to unveil some uncomfortable truths on the record.

With a matter-of-fact dive into Benoit’s views on sex, love, and the human body, the record won’t be an album for the timid. It also relates to truth in all of us as he bluntly tells his story of a volatile relationship. In a way, it feels like an attempt for the artist to liberate himself as he comes to terms with sexual trauma. For all of the cinematic production and innate musical artistry present on “Dragonflies”, the most captivating part of it all might well be how achingly, tangibly real it is—more-so than most would have courage or audacity to show in their art. For Benoit to have done so, it means that his art is true.

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The Residents Celebrate the Death of Pop with ‘Third Reich ‘n Roll’

PopMatters readers are a bright bunch, so I’m sure you’ll be able to wrap your brains around this analogy. Imagine all the genres of pop music are made out of Lego – there’s a 500-piece kit for rock, 500 pieces for soul, 300 for disco et cetera and a helpful set of instructions included in the box. Well, in the Residents household, all the bricks have been tipped in the middle of the room, and no one can find the paperwork. To make matters worse, someone has tossed the 1,000-piece Millennium Falcon set into the pile as well. Also, everyone is drunk, so the constructions that emerge from these conditions have some of the elements of straight-ahead pop/rock/soul, but with weird, twisty bits stuck on for no real reason. Some of them are recognizable, some are mutated almost beyond recognition, but they’re all sort of beautiful.

Originally released in 1976,

Third Reich ‘n Roll

was the second Residents album. Cherry Red Records have got hold of the master tapes and

assembled a package

which will have every Residents aficionado frothing at the mouth. Over two CDs, you get the original album plus a stack of unreleased and live performances and a well-written set of sleeve notes. It’s a classy package. The liner notes hint at the incredible mythology of the Residents – a band about which much has been written, but how much is true is anyone’s guess. Who are they? Is this some kind of joke? It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that the Residents have grabbed pop music and stretched it to the point just before it breaks apart.

Third Reich ‘n Roll is a mixtape for an episode of

The Partridge Family

written by Timothy Leary. “96 Tears”, “In-A-Gadda-Da Vida”, “Hey Jude” and others are bolted together and beaten with sticks until bits start to fall off. Much fun can be had by playing the “What the hell did that used to be?” game. Some songs are shown a little reverence, whilst others are handled with sneering contempt. The two lengthy pieces that make up the core of this reissue, “Swastikas on Parade” and “Hitler Was a Vegetarian” are crammed with these fragments, with no attempt to blend them seamlessly, so songs crash into each other in a jarring, atonal, aural soup. But isn’t that how we think about music? We don’t play music in our heads like a jukebox – we’ll remember shards of songs before our attention turns to something else, although, if

Third Reich ‘n Roll

is an accurate depiction of the inside of your head, then I’d suggest you contact a health professional, PDQ.

The most interesting tunes here are the cover of “Satisfaction” and the Beatles medley “Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life”. If you thought the Devo version of “Satisfaction” was too “out there”, then this rendition is probably not for you. An approximate version of the iconic riff is played over ominous drones, and a distorted Captain Beefheart soundalike has some kind of seizure whilst singing what may or may not be a variation of Jagger’s lyric. Throw in a bizarre guitar solo, and you’re left with something that you’d need dental records to identify. What’s the point of making a note for note cover when you can do this to it? “Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life” is another thing altogether – it’s a sound collage of fragments of actual Beatles tunes looped, twisted and bullied into a seemingly random form. The first example of sampling? Maybe. Depending on your viewpoint it’s either hideously ugly or a beautiful re-imagining.

Pop music is an academic subject now. In the hallowed halls of learning, earnest young men stroke their beards whilst they wax lyrical about something that took 30 minutes to write, ten minutes to record and three minutes to listen to. Fortunately, we have Third Reich ‘n Roll to blow a giant raspberry at all that nonsense. It’s a cultural statement, sorbet to clear the palate and a damn good piece of Art. It was relevant in 1976. It’s even more relevant in 2018.

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Comedy Crime ‘Pulp’ Is a Woozy, Disorienting Movie

Quentin Tarantino’s

Pulp Fiction

(1994) wasn’t the first movie to be named after pulp fiction. That distinction belongs to writer-director Mike Hodges’

Pulp

(1972), a movie he made right after the British gangster picture

Get Carter

(1971) with that film’s main collaborators: star Michael Caine and producer Michael Klinger. They were “the three Michaels”, as somebody calls them in an extra, having founded a company together for this purpose.

The two films show a remarkable contrast.

Get Carter

is a lean, mean story whose anti-hero plunges through it as brutal and concentrated as a crossbow. The hero of

Pulp

, however, drifts and darts through a sun-dazed labyrinth in a state of confusion that hasn’t quite lifted by the end.

Caine narrates the film as Mickey King, the busy paperback writer who toils under various pseudonyms and cranks out sexy, hardboiled, sub-Spillane fiction with titles such as My Gun Is Long. His narration is appropriately overheated — now clipped, now purple — and as we discover, his description of events doesn’t always exactly match what we see.

Lionel Stander, looking every inch the sinister hitman in his latter-day gravel-voiced grotesquery, enters the scene as Ben Dinuccio, a go-between for an undisclosed celebrity who commissions King to ghostwrite his memoirs. King must join a tour group on Malta and await further complicated instructions, as if he’s a character in one of his own bad fictions, which he might be.

The man he takes for his contact (Al Lettieri) may be a case of mistaken identity, and when they accidentally switch hotel rooms, the latter winds up with his throat cut in the bathtub. Does this mean King was the intended target? This event is the first real development in an increasingly complex plot in which little is as it appears.

King’s client turns out to be a diminutive Hollywood star, now retired and in exile, who had been associated with the mafia before becoming an actor. Such is Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney), an aggressive and eye-popping little toad given to vulgarities, to preening before mirrors in his underwear, and to making a public spectacle of himself. His retinue includes the beautiful Liz (Nadia Cassini), who looks like a Eurotrash flower child, and shellacked ex-wife Betty (noir icon Lizabeth Scott in her final role), now married to a conservative political candidate.

Among the red herrings is a local official played by Robert Sacchi at the beginning of a career spent mimicking Humphrey Bogart, e.g.

The Man with Bogart’s Face

(1980). His character is listed as The Bogeyman. At one point, someone asks about a certain bird and is told it’s a Maltese Falcon. Because we’re in Malta, get it?

Malta is the movie’s secret power, lending an off-kilter air of beauty and mystery to every sequence. It’s such an attractive and distinctive place, loaded with natural production value, that the film is a continual pleasure to regard. The irony is that, as Hodges observes in a bonus interview, Malta was their second choice of capitulation after finding it impossible to shoot in Italy for reasons of elaborate criminal politics not unlike those implied in the film. It was a wonderful accident, for the movie seems made for Malta, or vice versa.




Michael Caine

and

Janet Agren

in

Pulp (1972)

(© United Artists / IMDB)

This is a woozy, disorienting movie whose rapidly edited cross-cuts, jump-cuts, and seemingly improvised narrative digressions are reminiscent of the cheeky films of Richard Lester and, just faintly, of Robert Altman’s

The Long Goodbye

(1973). It functions less as a pulpy mystery or gangster tale than as a spoof of same, albeit a spoof that retains a noirish sense of fate and power.

The ’70s was marked by projects that yearned to recreate the glory days of classic noir while also handling it as a put-on, thanks to a sense that the era had diminished such tarnished knighthoods and overwhelmed even their hardbitten cynicism. In other words, we could no longer take such things seriously, even though we wanted to.

Such projects are having their cake and shoving it in our faces too. Similar films include the aforementioned

The Long Goodbye

, John Frankenheimer’s

99 and 44/100% Dead

(1974), David Giler’s

The Black Bird

(1975), Peter Hyams’

Peeper

(1975, also starring Caine), and even Neil Simon and Robert Moore’s

The Cheap Detective

(1978). Even TV’s

The Rockford Files

can be seen as a kind of dour deflation of the classic gumshoe while insisting on flying the flag high out of sheer cussedness. Note that

Pulp

pre-dates all of these.

Largely well-reviewed and fondly recalled by those who swam in its unpredictable waters,

Pulp

has been restored and scanned in 2K under the supervision of its cinematographer, Ousama Rawi, who’s also interviewed. So is assistant director John Glen, and so is Klinger’s son Tony Klinger, who shrewdly states that the film’s closest comparison is John Huston’s

Beat the Devil

(1953), another larkish send-up that managed to avoid commercial popularity by the grit of its teeth. Also included is the trailer that Hodges states was never used but that he found on Youtube.

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Banda Magda’s Unique Sense of Over-the-Top Color Powers ‘Tigre’

There has always been a strong sense of playfulness in the globally focused music of Banda Magda. Led by Greek-born singer and bandleader Magda Giannikou, the group has members from four continents and, like so many of today’s leading transcontinental bands, has links to Snarky Puppy. While debut album

Amour, t’es là

went retro with cheeky

chansons

and sophomore work

Yerakina

brought us tight covers of international classics, though, new album

Tigre

has a timeless, reality-transcending vibe to it. Theatrical and multilingual,


Tigre


uses Banda Magda’s unique sense of over-the-top color, broad set of cultural influences, and knack for aural fantasy to escape into vibrant melodrama.

From the opening harp flourishes of “Tam Tam”, Banda Magda’s collective energy soars, buoyed rather than weighted down by layers of urgent strings and a backing vocal ensemble. Giannikou herself has a distinctive voice, one that often teeters on the edge of saccharine but never loses the sincerity that anchors it firmly in the realm of sweet. It’s a sincerity the whole group shares, and they take themselves just seriously enough to pull off nearly every fanciful track on the album. (The exception to this is a minute and a half of flat-falling narration that serves as a prelude to “Le Tigre Malin” and is easy to disregard, though still puzzling – was there no one in the studio that day who could be a little more enthusiastic of a storyteller?)

The lack of straight-up kitsch is refreshing. A Banda Magda live performance is always more fun for its winks to tackiness, but it doesn’t always translate well into an entire album. As exaggerated as

Tigre

is, though, it never feels too garish or childlike. It isn’t a disinterested kind of cool, either; it’s an exciting album that requires some heartfelt engagement from an audience that isn’t afraid to give it. To listen is to indulge and immerse yourself in story after story, to throw your head back to the exultant choruses of “Coração” and fall into the dreamy verses of Spinetta’s classic “Muchacha (Ojos De Papel)”. Banda Magda stomps its way forward with outrageous tango beats on “Venin”, only to float out into the sunset with closing track “Thiamandi” and never look back. Only the attentive, the curious, the fun-loving need apply.

Greek-language track “Ase Me Na Bo”, heard in a previous version on Snarky Puppy’s

Family Dinner – Vol. 1

, includes a refrain that translates, per Giannikou herself, as “Open your window and let me in / To light your dark seabed with stars / And make it shine turquoise.” On

Tigre

, Banda Magda’s light burns more brightly and with bolder colors than it ever has before, and does so on the band’s own terms. The result is a delightful blend of the traditional and the totally new, a remarkably modern set of sounds brought to life by the group’s love of music and utter joy in what it does. With heart, soul, and good, good feelings,

Tigre

marks the already outstanding genre-benders of Banda Magda truly coming into their own.

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