November 11th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments


Last night I tried to see Birdman at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, but at 9:40 on a Sunday night, of course, all the hipsters had decided to go see it and it was sold out. So my friend and I hopped on the L train back to Manhattan where we saw it at Chelsea Bow Tie cinemas with about four other people in the entire theatre. Classic.

When I first saw the trailer for Birdman, I didn’t have much desire to see the film. Its tone seemed goofy, even if the cast was impressive. Then the reviews started pouring in. Then I realized it was directed by Alejandro Inarritu, the guy who directed 21 Grams and Babel. Then people started posting about it on Facebook. And then I had to see what the fuss was about. And yeah, it pretty much lived up to the hype.

What the trailer of Birdman doesn’t get across is the film’s sheer relentless energy and the scope and superiority of the filmmaking. Inarritu has proven time and again he knows how to make a great film, and here he proves it once more, but in a very different, and, for him, unusual context. It’s as though the Mexican filmmaker somehow realized ‘you know, Michael Keaton is a much more capable actor than anyone’s given him credit for in a long time,’ and went from there, crafting a beautiful-written and intricate story about the challenges of art, celebrity, growing older with regrets, failed relationships, looming past successes and unfinished business.

The film is admittedly weird. It strikes an odd tone somewhere between serious, surreal, funny, tragicomic and unnerving. An odd balance that in lesser hands could have been absolutely disastrous, but Inarritu’s chops keep things tight, streamlined, entertaining, and rarely less than intelligent.

The camera work is impressive – a lot’s been made of the fact the film has barely any cuts – but the cast is also a large part of the film’s genius.

Keaton’s performance as washed up actor Riggan Thomson is incredible, with the character constantly veering from unhinged to delusional to ‘I got this’ and back again. Expect an oscar nod.

But Keaton’s performance is hardly the only notable one. Ed Norton‘s performance as the unpredictable but not-as-insane-as-he-wants-you-to-think actor Mike Shiner is a career best. And opposite him as something of a romantic interest, Emma Stone also stands out as Riggan’s jaded, pissy, back-from-rehab daughter Sam.

The subject matter of Birdman isn’t particularly original, but the story is delivered in such zany yet impressive fashion that the film winds up being unlike anything that’s come before. Its unlikely grandiosity and the finesse with which it’s handled make it a likely contender for a Best Picture oscar nomination. And if it isn’t there’ll be some grumbles. Definitely some grumbles.


November 8th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments


I’ve actually been blogging about New Orleans reverb-loving indie-prog rockers Caddywhompus for years. I haven’t posted anything by them for a long time but today I was going through my inbox and found an email from their pr company informing me they’ve got a new record coming out November 11th called Feathering A Nest. Listening to it, it’s clear the duo has just gotten better, more interesting and refined with time.

Vaadat Charigim Interview

November 1st, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments


Originally, Juval Haring, the lead singer/songwriter of Tel Aviv shoegazers Vaadat Charigim, emailed me asking if I’d like to interview him. I told him absolutely, since I loved the band’s music. Additionally, Israel was in the news at the time because of Operation Pillar Of Defence, so I thought there’d be special interest in Israeli indie rock bands who present a different side of Israel than most Westerners are exposed to via the mainstream news.

That was in 2012. I was living in Israel then, serving in the army. However, I would not succeed in conducting the interview until late this summer. Now living in New York, I bugged Juval via email again about a possible interview to coincide with Israel’s return to the headlines due to another and even more intense and elongated skirmish with Hamas, Operation Protective Edge.

After some failed attempts to communicate over Facebook and Skype, we finally managed to get the interview going, with me sending Juval questions via WhatsApp and him answering them via email.

GS: I read online that you were living in Berlin and came back to Israel with The World Is Well Lost‘s songs already written. Did the forming of Vaadat Charigim mark a new artistic endeavour for you or was it simply an evolution of your already existing songwriting?

VC: I came back from Berlin to a very depressing economic reality and mood among young Tel Avivians, who all felt that they’d had enough.

When I was in Berlin I hardly felt the impact of the 2011 social demonstrations, but there were around a quarter of a million people at one point who took to the streets for social justice. By communicating with people back home and reading a lot online, I got a certain general feeling, even sitting in Berlin far, far away from all the heat. A feeling of unrest. Of turmoil. I had never to that point felt that much social/national unrest in my life.

In a way it was a completely new endevour for me , to write in hebrew, to depend less on the “indie cliches” I had grown to admire, and more on communicating a message through songs. Also, at that point I had only played with my wife (drummer Mickey Triest) and her brother (guitarist Uri Triest) in a band called TV BUDDHAS, so playing with two guys who were not related to me was totally strange at first.

GS: So you’re saying that the protests in Israel at the time inspired you to write differently than before? Why?

VC: You have to understand that for the past decade or so “indie” music in Israel, which took the place of the 1990s rock scene, has been primarily in English; it is in some way ‘escapist’ [in its relation to the] Israeli reality in its need/attempt to leap from the tiny market “here” to the bigger international market “over there”.

This need developed, or rather, was always present, within the Israeli art world. Israel has a tiny cultural audience compared to the USA, for example. So when you are making noisy rock music with shouted-out vocals in English, you can probably expect little-to-no attention from Israelis. The more “radio-friendly” your music is, the better its chances are of gaining a level of popularity in Israel, regardless of the fact that it is in English and doesnt smell/look/feel either Israeli-nostalgic, or Israeli-middle eastern. There have been a few hebrew speaking exceptions to the general rule, but mostly Israeli-indie means English and “internationalizing”.

The protests showed me that the general public [in Israel felt a need] for a local, upfront message; the opposite of music that feels “from another place”. In that sense I was influenced by the sheer power of people’s thirst for an emotional proccess in their own language, about their own culture.

GS: You say that the Israeli public needed a  local message it could relate to more – is Vaadat Charigim spreading a certain message? Is it in your lyrics or is it simply that by existing as an indie rock/shoegaze band from Israel that sings in Hebrew you feel you’re making something of a political statement?

VC: I am not saying that the public needed a message and we are that message. There are many needs and many forms of messages, and every [artwork] either has a message or serves as a corruption or distortion of a certain message.

I am saying that there is a thirst today in Israel for a less “outwards-reaching” sort of art scene, and a growing need for a more “inwards-reaching” scene that touches our language, our dreams, our fears.

By singing in Hebrew I feel I am taking something of a political stand within the politics of the Israeli-indie music world, which is mainly centered around English-language bands, as well as influenced by them and in constant mimesis of English language themes and  English folklore. I feel that by singing in Hebrew, musically quoting Israeli bands, and directing my attention towards Israeli issues like war in the middle east, life in Tel Aviv, and the specific sort of depression you experience living in Israel, I am slowing down the process of thoughtless image borrowing that is being repeated endlessly by bands from outside the English-language world as they attempt to ascend in the music business.

I feel it is a choice I am making that is parallel to a choice an artist makes to create art that is to be experienced, but not sold.

GS: I noticed that you not only reference Israeli bands like המכשפות (The Witches) on your album [ed. note: track 8 is called “Mahshefot” in English, an English phonetic  translation of the Hebrew word for ‘witches’], but one of your music videos references the comic art of Dudu Geva. Are these references made out of frustration with an Israeli public and art scene that, as you say, is too often looking out at the rest of the world, specifically America and Europe, while ignoring the treasures and issues at home? Do you think this is a recent phenomenon? Were previous generations like this as well, as outward-looking?

VC:  I reference local art because it is the art I grew up hearing and seeing and it is closest to me.  I can understand having US/UK  influences, and we do have those in our sound (I love the guitar work of Beat Happening, The Feelies and many other bands, and I incorporate those influences into what I am doing) but I believe you need to find an honest balance between local and global. It must be something that an audience can look at and find natural. This is what I am going for as a Hebrew-language international act. Every generation dating back to the 50s and 60s in Israeli rock music has had to find that natural equilibrium. The indie generation has somewhat – though not entirely – let go of that need for balance between local and global in favor of “sounding international”. In Vaadat Charigim, we try to keep that balance be referencing local art/music and representing it to the world, but we are definately not the only ones. There is a lot of authentic as hell stuff going on in Tel Aviv that is just not getting the [attention it deserves].

The Blue Funz

November 1st, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments


Trans-Atlantic mystic folkies The Blue Funz includes members based in Kitchener, Ontario; Bristol, UK; and the Scottish Isle of Iona. Their new album, Songs For Ed Ricketts, will be released November 14th on the verrrrrry interrrestiiing Irish label Wist Rec. as a limited CD-R w/ watercolour zine. As if all the aforementioned didn’t sound quirky/obscure/artsy enough, the dedicatee Ed Ricketts was an American Marine biologist and good friend of author John Steinbeck (Of Mice And Men, The Grapes Of Wrath).

Listen Up Philip

October 30th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments


A movie about complicated, neurotic Jewish New York writers made grainy 70s style in Super 16mm? Maybe that doesn’t sound so appealing to everyone on Earth, but I’m definitely the kind of guy to go for that. Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip is a funny, brainy, exercise in recreating the kind of charming, intellectual, well-paced movie about writers, New York, old age, male-friendship and sour relationships that doesn’t really exist anymore. It is, indeed, very reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s Woody Allen.

Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is a writer about to release his second novel. His first novel was pretty successful and the success has very much gone to his head and made him a dick. He meets up with old friends and girlfriends for the sole purpose of shoving his success in their faces and belittling them. He wants everyone to know that he’s somebody now so fuck them. Additionally and understandably, his relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley Kane (Elizabeth Moss) is shaky.

Ike Zimmerman (an excellent Jonathan Pryce), an older, highly respected author – clearly meant to be a take on Philip Roth – enjoyed Philip’s books immensely. He soon befriends and begins mentoring Philip. He invites Philip to stay at his summer home with him, where they can write in quiet away from the city. The arrangement is a pleasant one for both of them, though the presence of Ike’s daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) makes it somewhat less pleasant for Ike.

A lot more happens that I won’t go into because the film, though mainly focused on Philip, after this point takes time to explore what happens to its other two main characters, Ike and Ashley, in lengthy and in-depth segments. It’s another nice, unusual touch that adds to the film’s charm, as well as its running time.

Though sympathetic to women – mainly by virtue of the time it devotes to Ashley’s story – Listen Up Philip is very much a movie about men. Not particularly likeable men, but, admittedly, interesting men. Philip’s lack of empathy and understanding towards the women in his life turns them against him one after another, but we also see how he can be charming and fun enough to attract them in the first place. Ike serves as a somewhat grim image of what awaits Philip in time: success, but loneliness, frustration, and ultimately misery tempered by the comforts of male friendship, which, lacking the issues of dependency inherent to romantic or business relationships, Philip and Ike actually manage well.

The one gripe I had with the film is that Philip and Melanie never hook up. When they first meet, Melanie tells Philip something like “I don’t find you charming. You’re just like him.” Of course she does find him attractive and the film makes that borderline clear, but Philip never takes advantage of this, perhaps fearing it may affect the one good relationship in his life, his relationship with Ike. However, it would have been wonderfully Freudian, if also predictable.

Some will despise Listen Up Philip for its lack of likeable characters and the parade of toxic relationships on display, but Perry makes sure that there’s just enough humour and sweet moments – like Ashley’s flashbacks to the good times she and Philip had together, or Philip’s time with Ike – to keep the movie from Cassavetes-esque viewing difficulty. And meanwhile, there’s the film’s intelligence and referential, self-aware style, replete with cool, jazzy soundtrack. Maybe it’s just because I’m now a neurotic Jewish New Yorker, but I got what Perry was going for.