I saw New York-based composer (and former Battles member) Tyondai Braxton last week, performing at his record release show at National Sawdust Co. in Brooklyn. Anticipating his set, I remembered reading about him playing guitar surrounded by crazy pedals, manipulating loops and out-of-this-world sounds, and was expecting to see that. But his recent work, which you can hear on the Oranged Out EP, is analog synth stuff. It’s noisy, glitchy, and sometimes beautiful, especially with the glitchy visuals projected behind him, accompanying the work, .
26 (my age) has been an interesting year for me so far. A lot of the indie bands I read these days about seem so young, and the music they play feels cartoonish, like the musical equivalent of Archie comics. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it (or Archie comics) – I just don’t relate to it the way I used to. But New York is great because, among other things, it’s still called home by some of the most interesting, mature, forward thinking musicians and composers in the world, from Philip Glass and Steve Reich to the weirdos in bands like Oneida and Zs (the latter of whom also played a great set at National Sawdust Co. that night). I consider Braxton to be in that category of music makers.
I’ve been a fan of Braxton’s ever since coming across his name when I first read about Battles. It’s a shame he’s not still playing with that also-incredible crew anymore (playing along to sampled recordings just isn’t as good as performing with Braxton as a vocalist), but I can’t complain that he’s not still making great work.
My favourite little theatre in Williamsburg, Spectacle, is playing this 1974 biker movie J.C. this month, so I decided to check it out. Yes, the guy is supposed to be like Jesus, but only sort of. Despite being kind of an insane movie, J.C. is actually incredibly enjoyable and features a strong social commentary.
The basic plot is that J.C. left his small Southern hometown when he was young to go off and become a biker vagabond travelling the country with his motley crew. One day he gets a little sick of the road and decides he and his gang are going to go back to his hometown to hangout with his sister, who he hasn’t seen in a while. Of course, the townsfolk and the two policemen in town don’t take too kindly to these hairy, non-comformist biker types. The bikers tell them they don’t want no trouble, and indeed, they are a very well-behaved bunch, but the townspeople just don’t like the look of ‘em and decide they’re not going to give them any rest until they’re gone.
J.C. has a black friend, and in an unfortunate instance of timeliness, the police arrest him for some b.s., lock him up and repeatedly beat the crap out of him. J.C. and his crew try and negotiate with the police to let him go, but it doesn’t go anywhere. The bikers say they’ll leave town and never come back if the police just let him go. No deal. Eventually the bikers try to break him out…and all hell breaks loose.
The whole Jesus angle doesn’t get too deep a treatment in the film, but J.C. is a simple, relatively well-made film with strong characters. It deals with issues like intolerance – both of people’s race and lifestyle – in a blunt, effective way. I especially took note of how the barely-challenged power of the police seemed to be a corrupting force, and how defensively both the police and townsfolk reacted to anything outside of their ordinary, accepted culture. That being said, this is still a cheap grind house movie and there are plenty of WTF moments – as in any good grindhouse film. After Easy Rider, I’d say J.C. is now my favourite biker movie.
Considering how much people love the idea of giant robots fighting, of course Pacific Rim couldn’t be the first movie to show that on film. I don’t know if Robot Jox was the first, but it’s the kind of movie that simply had to exist: an 80s/90s B-movie with bad acting and cheap special effects in which giant robots (or mechs, really, since they have human pilots like in Pacific Rim) fight each other. Even better: America beats the Soviet Union. And thankfully it was directed by B-movie master Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond).
The plot is that in the future there are no more wars – when countries have a dispute, they send in their best mech pilots to fight each other and whoever wins wins. America has this pilot Achilles (Gary Graham) who’s a real hot shot. He has to fight the Ruski’s hot shot Alexander (Paul Koslo) to decide who gets Alaska. There’s also a girl involved named Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson) who’s a real bad-ass. The love story between Achilles and Athena is kind of lame, but the heart of the movie is the frenemy bromance between Achilles and Alexander. Forgetting all that though, the reason to watch this is for the cheese factor and fairly impressive non-CGI robot fighting. And Robot Jox has plenty of both.
Magical Power Mako was a dude named Makoto Kurito who started recording and releasing some really cool, weird Japanese psychedelic rock in the early 70s. I stumbled onto his best known work today, the 1975 album Super Record, and was totally enthralled. While there’s a lot of cool Japanese psych stuff from the 60s and 70s onward, what set Mako’s stuff on Super Record apart for me was that, like his early 70s home recordings that were later released as the HAPMONIYM box set in 2002, Super Record feels like a cool collage of weird, stylistically all-over-the-place music. It doesn’t feel like an album that was made to sell or impress anyone – it feels homey, intimate and diy. It’s also fairly mystical outsider music, and reminds me in that sense of Joachim Skogsberg‘s Jola Rota, which has a similar sensibility.
Since I just found Mako today, I haven’t had the chance to check out his other albums – which appear to be a bit less streaming-friendly – but hopefully I’ll get to them soon.