Monday, 30 August 2010

Gig Review: Crystal Castles.


6 AUGUST 2010

One never really knows what to expect from a Crystal Castles show. Sure, there are constants. They're from Toronto, Canada. They're a duo. They consist of producer and sound-producing extraordinaire Ethan Kath and a diminutive brunette banshee named Alice Glass. When performing live, they have a live drummer who kicks some major ass (in this case his name is Christopher Chartrand). It's loud, it's intense, there are no slow moments, and nothing is expected.

Thus it was at the HARD Festival. Taking its name from a Los Angeles trance fest, the stately Fox Theatre in Oakland, California happened to be the first stop on a cross-country tour; taking their act on the road, I reckon.

Also featured during this glow-stick bacchanal were the DJs Rusko, Sinden, and PROXY! - each of whom, my concert-buddy R. and I agreed, distinctly resembled the strangely popular and bizarre tween phenomenon Justin Beiber. In absolutely no way am I saying that any of these fine purveyors of decent and "HARD" techno-house were lacking in talent; it's just that they were just so ... so damn young. As were our fellow audience members! Maybe I shouldn't be saying this, but I'm ... uh, quite a bit older than Justin Beiber. So's R.

I digress.

The cavernous interior of this lovely 1920's Oakland movie palace is filled with intricate gold accents, a brilliant dome, all sorts of terra cotta and lattice-work, with a distinctive Turkish architectural look and feel. Sitting on both sides of the stage are these giant golden statues of some sort of heavy-set deity-looking figure. The eyes, made out of some sort of translucent material, glow from a light that burns within. Have I mentioned that the Fox Theatre is quite literally one of the prettiest venues in which to catch a show? I haven't? Now I have. If you get a chance to visit the Fox Theatre in Oakland, do so by all means. You won't regret it in the slightest!

OK, where was I? Oh yeah, Crystal Castles! Well, they were fantastic - if indeed Crystal Castles are your thing. I'd gone to see them at the O2 in London with my girlfriend - they opened for Franz Ferdinand and The Cure at the NME Music Awards - and the two of us had completely different opinions as to what we had just witnessed. "She ['singer' Alice Glass] just jumped around and screamed at us," is how she put it. I've got admit that that's pretty much what Glass offers on top of soundmaker-extraordinaire Ethan Kath's sinister and icily jagged soundscapes, but I think it goes just a little bit deeper than that. But when you've got Kath and the drummer pretty much keeping to themselves in their respective spots on the stage, Glass provides the holy-fuck-this-show-rocks rock 'n' roll spectacle that a lot of electronic bands somehow lack.

I'm telling you; at the Fox Theatre that Friday evening in the cool evening air of the East Bay, Alice Glass was bouncing off walls during their one hundred minute set. Shrieking like a banshee who's just suffered an ice-cream headache from eating ice-cold shards of broken crystal, she leapt about to and fro like a thrown-about rag doll. She climbed the speakers. She lay on the floor and writhed like something out of an exorcism film. She tried to climb one of the statues. She climbed to the very top of the drummer's bass drum and, quite precariously, began to smash the cymbal with a stick. Frankly, that was the moment I was afraid she was going to hurt herself, she was so all-over-the-place.

Most of the set was devoted to material from their new album (also entitled) Crystal Castles [II], and I found that it melded perfectly with the numbers from the original Crystal Castles. "Fainting Spells," with Glass screaming like she'd just stapled herself in the sternum, glanced flawlessly into "Baptism," which brings to mind some of the best trance I've heard in quite some time. Then we arrived at "Courtship Dating," and the crowd just went batshit. Everybody in the house was dancing their asses off, and I've gotta admit it, I was feeling just as young as some of the Bieberesque kids that surrounded R. and I. "Y'know," I said to R. as "Crimewave" washed over us towards the middle of the show, "this shit wouldn't be the same without her screaming at us." R. laughed and agreed, and we kept on dancing, the long spindly spider-legs of Kath's synth-doodling supporting giant greasy beats and accompanied by an elfish lass with a pretty brunette bob who screamed like her life depended on it.

'Twas quite a show. After a thumpingly-hardcore encore featuring "Untrust Us" and "Intimate," Glass stopped in mid-gesticulation, smiled sweetly at the audience, whispered "Thank you," and dropped her microphone on the floor as she breezily exited the stage, just like a proper rock star.

And that's what seeing Crystal Castles live is all about. I recommend them strongly if they ever come your way. Go see 'em.


fainting spells
courtship dating
doe deer
air war
alice practice
black panther
untrust us
yes no

And here now, for your listening pleasure, is Crystal Castles' track, "Courtship Dating." Enjoy, my friendly audience!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Happy Birthday, Roland Orzabal!


Guess who turned forty-nine today? That's right - it's Roland Orzabal from the legendary Bath, UK electronic duo Tears For Fears. So today I'd like to take a look at his (and his partner-in-crime Curt Smith's) certifiable masterpiece The Hurting. I don't know about you, but thinking about it (and then listening to it) make me quite excited!

Sure, Tears For Fears are probably best known for their later work, such as Songs From The Big Chair with its rapid-fire pow-pow-pow of hits "Shout," "Everybody Wants To Rule The World," and "Mothers Talk." These are great songs in their own right, and I have to admit that they're really quite catchy. Please though, don't get me started on the dreck that followed after - namely "Sowing The Seeds of Love" and "Woman In Chains." Let's just say - uh, not so good, guys. But that's just me.

Anyway! Back to The Hurting. Released in 1983, this delightfully morose and inquisitively sensitive record was based in part on the writings of a psychotherapist by the name of Arthur Janov, who had written a book entitled "The Primal Scream." Orzabal and Smith, who had both grown up in troubled homes without their fathers, found in Janov's writings a way to work out their unresolved unhappinesses. Even their name comes from the good doctor's oeuvre: he had written that a good way to get crap out of your system was tears as a replacement for fears. So right there is a reason this record is so damn special - it's a concept album based on the works of a psychotherapist designed to chase out the demons of a spectacularly unhappy childhood.

Surprisingly, though, The Hurting is not necessarily a depressing listen. Sure, the lyrics themselves revolve around such dispiriting themes such as abandonment, loss, sorrow, madness, tension, and nervous breakdowns (Orzabal's father fell victim to one such breakdown after suffering most of his life with arterial sclerosis). But the music - the music! Utilizing a decent mixture of synths, sequencers, live and programmed drums, and guitar, there's a distinct ebullience present in these recordings. "Mad World," for instance, while it features a lyric stating that "the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had," still soars with its tantalizing mixture of tribal drums, brooding synths, and driving beat. "Pale Shelter" grooves along with a lovely acoustic guitar and bass backup, whilst synths noodle in the background. Curt does sing lines like, "And I can't operate on this failure when all I want to be is completely in command," but not in a mopey way at all. It's all an interesting juxtaposition, to be sure. Even arguably the saddest song of the bunch, the poppy "Suffer The Children," sung to the father who's abandoned his child, features in its coda a chorus of singing children, their voices (one of whom belongs to Orzabal's daughter) flitting about high in the cloudy sky like brightly colored birds. (Maybe I've seen The Shawshank Redemption a few times, ya reckon?)

So Happy Birthday, Mr Orzabal. By facing your fears (by exchanging them for tears) and exorcizing the demons of your unhappy upbringing with a band-mate who shared your passion, you've created a piece of art that will stand the test of time. I, for one, would like to thank you. We here at Second Drawer Up salute you!

And, in true Second Drawer Up fashion, I'd like to share with my delightful readers (you know who you are) a single from The Hurting. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith from Tears For Fears with their single "Suffer The Children." Enjoy!

Correction: I have been informed by an anonymous commentator that it is, indeed, Mr Orzabal's wife, not his daughter, who is providing background vocals on "Suffer The Children." My mistake! Cheers, Mr or Ms Anonymous!

Thursday, 19 August 2010


Happy Thursday, my friends. Do I have something to share with you kids today!

BEHOLD Zladko Vladcik, Molvanian pop idol!
BEHOLD his zappy zippy freaky Italo-electro cheesiness!
WONDER at where he wants to insert his plug!

Self-proclaimed "World's Biggest Washed-up SUPERSTAR" Zlad Vladcik is the creation of Melbourne comic and author Santo Cilauro, who is probably best known for his mock travel-guides (alongside co-authors Rob Sitch and Tom Gleisner) for such fictional destinations as Molvania, Phaic Tan, and San Sombrero. If you haven't read these comedic gems yet, then you're really missing out. Think The Onion Almanac, but a little less mean-spirited. Get thee to your favorite local bookseller!

Zladko is from Molvania, and quite possibly the country's most visible export! His breakout hit "Electronik Supersonik" was chosen for the 2004 Eurovision contest, but rather unfortunately he was arrested at the Istanbul International Airport for possessing recreational drugs. Upon his return to Molvania, he apologized in a press-conference for disappointing his fans, his family, and ... his dealer.

I can listen to this track all freaking day long. Sure, it's meant to be a joke - think Borat mixed with the most kitschy synth-pop music imaginable - but it works. And it's funny! Besides, how can you possibly resist his pink-wigged background vocalist/keytarist? You can't, I tell you. You just can't.


Fasten your belt seats, for here is Zlad!'s "Electronik Supersonik." Enjoy!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Look Around You!

Look around you. Look around you! Sorry, didn't mean to extend the histrionics. But. Look around you. Do you know what you're looking for?

If you're at all like me, you might be saying something like, Uh - gee, Thomas; where's the Gary Numan or Depeche Mode or Kajagoogoo? And that would, my friends, be a very good question. (On the QT: a small essay on a-ha's "Take On Me" is in the works, and will be followed up by "The Sun Always Shines On TV." Heads up!)

But we here at SDUFTL do quite like the British comedies as of late, and the new(ish) series Look Around You is our new favorite. Remember the scientific films you had to endur during your chemistry, life sciences, social studies, and *gasp* sex ed classes? These kindly gentlemen, Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz are here to remind you that they were just as creepy, boring, and stultifyingly awful as you remember!

Season #1 was just made available here in the US; maybe you'd like to buy it. But don't take my word for it - I'm sure you've always wished to know the finer points about, say, SULPHUR. In the following video, we learn a few things:

1. Its magnetic qualities.
2. What happens if you mix it with Champagne.

So there you go. Enjoy. Write the results down in your copy book.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Chauffeur.

Gather around, children. I'd like to tell you a tale that goes all the way back to the early 1980s, when the "M" in MTV stood for a little something historians like to call "music." Five young lads in the faraway (well, not too faraway if you live there) land of Birmingham, England decided to form a pop band. Taking their cue from the 1968 Roger Vadim-directed cult film Barbarella, they named themselves after the character Doctor Durand-Durand (yes, they removed the lower-case "d"s), and a cultural juggernaut was born.

From the very beginning, Duran Duran knew they wanted to be at the forefront of the world of music videos, and they dove into it with energy and zeal. For their second album, the 100% enjoyable 1982 hit-fest Rio, they decided (along with noted Australian film director Russell Mulcahy - director of Aussie schlock horror flick Razorback) decided to record a video for just about every song on the album. So it was that Mulcahy directed the videos for "Lonely In Your Nightmare," "Rio," "Hungry Like The Wolf," "Save A Prayer," and "My Own Way," along with many other Duran Duran singles from their first four albums. (Hell, Simon le Bon almost got killed during the filming of the post-apocalyptic "Wild Boys!")

But one video from that album that will stick in my memory forever was one that wasn't filmed by Mulcahy. That track would be "The Chauffeur." Directed by British animator and film director Ian Emes (if you've ever seen Pink Floyd perform live, his animation plays behind the band), I think the video for "The Chauffeur" stands out not only as a fine accompaniment to one of Duran Duran's most atmospheric songs, but also as a brilliant piece of art. Yeah, I said it. A Brilliant Piece of Art.

For one, it's the only video that doesn't feature the band in it. (Also, "The Chauffeur" is the only song on the album that doesn't have the title in the lyrics). Shot in a sumptuous black-and-white sheen that brings to mind the photography of Anton Corbijn, Herb Ritts, and the fetishistic BDSM work of Helmut Newton, the short film follows two hauntingly beautiful women as they dress up in revealing lingerie and traverse the London night by car and by tunnel on their way to a hot lesbian encounter in a parking garage. Once there, they're met by a third woman, a female chauffeur in an open-busted corset, whose erotic dance was designed to emulate Charlotte Rampling's freaking hot dance of the seven veils in the 1974 film The Night Porter.

Everything in this video rings awesome. The cinematography is crisp and clear, the framing is artfully efficient, the pacing matches the song's quite well, and - let's face it - the actresses are stunning.

Just a friendly note, kids, that this video is definitely NSFW. And in case you've ever wondered about that rather sinister voice in the background of "The Chauffeur"'s final coda (a wonderfully intense aural experience in its own right) - it's not Simon le Bon saying those things. It's simply an old nature show, with the narrator intoning seriously about "insects in the grass." So now you know.
Enjoy, then, 1983's "The Chauffeur" from Rio. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Electro Classic Jukebox: The Beloved.

The Beloved, based out of London, England, has a very cool story about how they formed in order to make beautiful music together. The founder, Jon Marsh, put out an ad in a music magazine in 1983 saying,

I am Jon Marsh, founder member of the Beloved. Should you too wish to do something gorgeous, meet me in exactly three year's time at exactly 11am in Diana's Diner, or site thereof, Covent Garden, London, WC2.
Exactly three years later, Jon Marsh was met by one Steve Waddington, and The Beloved (though at first they called themselves Journey Through) was born.

Initially a guitar-oriented band, they began to find success in the UK market once they began to embrace drum machines and a more decidedly dance-friendly sound. The Beloved saw band members come and go with some regularity, until only the original duo, Marsh and Waddington remained. Sadly, after their third record, a re-mix compilation entitled Blissed Out (1991), Marsh fired Waddington, who had faithfully showed up for that meeting back in 1986 Covent Garden. Marsh then proceeded to replace Waddington with his wife, Helena.

The Beloved (though with Helena, the "The" was dropped) didn't find true pop stardom until 1993, when they released their fourth studio album, Conscience. Or, better still, they released the super-fantastic single "Sweet Harmony."

Holy crap, is this song gorgeous. Easy-going, melodic, and full of lilting and sustained synths floating in and out of an ethereal backdrop (and a kick-ass saxophone solo), "Sweet Harmony" is one of those tracks that I just can't stop listening to. Everything about it screams lushness, and the fact that breathy female vocals consistently whisper mysteriously throughout doesn't hurt things, either. The video itself which I am helpfully posting here, is breathtaking. However, since it's full of naked women (and a naked Jon Marsh) artfully concealing their lady-bits, I'm not terribly sure how SFW it is. You might want to use some discretion!

Thanks for reading. Talk soon!

the beloved
"sweet harmony"

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Good Riddance, Proposition 8.

It is with great excitement and happiness that Second Drawer Up (a huge believer of equal rights and fairness for all) can today report that Proposition 8, long an unfortunate "voter approved" denier of the right for gays and lesbians to marry, has been overturned by the most honorable Judge Vaughn Walker, of San Francisco's District 9 Court. A lawsuit, filed by a gay couple from Burbank and a lesbian couple from Berkeley, maintained that their right to be happy and maritally joined with the love of their lives was thwarted by the voters who allowed this travesty of justice and common sense to become law. Here are some of Judge Walker's comments regarding the Proposition in question (from Huffington Post):
  • "Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as a characteristic of the individual. Sexual orientation is fundamental to a person's identity and is a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a discrete group. Proponents' assertion that sexual orientation cannot be defined is contrary to the weight of the evidence."
  • "Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation."
  • "Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions. Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners. Standardized measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship adjustment and love do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex."
  • "Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals."
  • "Same-sex couples receive the same tangible and intangible benefits from marriage that opposite-sex couples receive."
  • "The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships."
  • "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."
Thank God Herself for some plain and simple common sense! Governor Schwarzenegger himself approved of the ruling: "Today's decision is by no means California's first milestone, nor our last, on America's road to equality and freedom for all people," he said in a statement.

So, good news then!

And in Second Drawer Up fashion, I'd like to share a video to help celebrate the overturning of a bigoted, shameful, and disgusting law.

From the Montreaux Festival in 1985, here's Marc Almond from Soft Cell and Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat performing the classic hit, "I Feel Love."

Feel the love, dear readers!