Interview: The Cloak Ox

After the implosion of his highly regarded but underheard experimental indie band Fog in 2007, it took a couple of years for Andrew Broder to chart a new course as a musician. That’s not to say he didn’t keep busy, releasing nearly seven hours of ambient Fripp/Eno-style instrumentals in 2009, recording the soundtrack for Alan Moore’s audiovisual project Unearthing last year, and touring as part of Anticon indie-rap group Why? But with his new band Cloak Ox, he’s laying down the most straightforward and hard-charging indie rock of his career, backed by three longtime friends and former Fog compatriots, bassist Mark Erickson, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and drummer Martin Dosh. Cloak Ox plays a CD-release show for its debut EP Prisen Sept. 30 at Loring Theater. The A.V. Club met with the band after one of its weekly morning jam sessions—where the Creedence Clearwater Revival covers were the biggest clue how different this band is from Fog—to talk about the joys of keeping it simple.

Originally published Sept. 29, 2011 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Aztecs”

“The Aztecs” (season 1, episodes 27-30. Originally aired May 23-June 11, 1964)

“But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!” –The Doctor
“Anyone can make history. Only a great man can write it.” –Oscar Wilde

We’re back again in 1964, for the sixth serial of Doctor Who‘s first season. The main cast is the same as in the two shows from this era I’ve covered already—the tetchy old First Doctor, schoolteachers Ian and Barbara, and the Doctor’s teenage granddaughter Susan. And the stakes for the travelers are mostly the same as well: They’re wandering randomly through the universe in the TARDIS, and the question that comes up most commonly when they land is “how are we going to survive this?,” not “what wonders will we see now?”

That’s certainly one of the driving elements of tension in “The Aztecs,” in which the TARDIS crew find themselves stranded in pre-Cortez Mexico, and must survive in a culture whose religion is based on human sacrifice while trying to get back to their ship and escape. The Doctor isn’t a hero here in any conventional sense—all he’s really interested in doing is figuring out how to open the one-way door in the tomb of the recently deceased high priest Yetaxa atop the city’s main temple, where the TARDIS had the bad luck to land.

But this is really a story about Barbara—possibly her best in the series—as she’s mistaken for the divine reincarnation of Yetaxa and decides to use her newfound power for more than just her own safety, but to put a stop to human sacrifice. Ignoring the Doctor’s insistent advice, she takes the bull of history by the horns and tries to make it go down a different path. She fails, and her failure has a certain Shakespearian flavor to it—the moral of the story here is that a single person, even one temporarily mistaken for a demigod, stands as much chance of transforming an entire culture as Lear does of asserting his royal power in the face of a raging thunderstorm.

Originally published Sept. 21, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Review: Lawrence Block, Getting Off

New York writer Lawrence Block is best-known these days as a master of hardboiled crime fiction, with a diverse collection of noir series characters, including alcoholic gumshoe Matt Scudder, charming thief Bernie Rhodenbarr, and lonely but terminally professional hit man Keller. In his early career, though, he also wrote under a plethora of pseudonyms, including Jill Emerson, credited with seven novels of steamy lesbian erotica. He was young, he needed the work, but he wasn’t ashamed—in fact, he later republished at least one of the Emersons under his real name. Block picks up the Emerson identity again—sort of, anyway, since his own name is far larger on the cover—for Getting Off, the first hardcover published by stylish indie imprint Hard Case Crime, which specializes in classic reprints and new (but hardly virginal) works of gleefully sleazy old-school paperback pulp fiction.

Getting Off covers the same unabashedly tawdry territory as Emerson’s older oeuvre, with a twist worthy of Jim Thompson: The nymphomaniacal, blonde protagonist is also a sociopathic serial killer who drifts from town to town murdering her many men, motivated by lingering rage and abandonment issues left over from father/daughter incest that spilled over into patricide. Deceptively innocent, Kit Tolliver isn’t just a sex maniac (and remorseless knife-wielding maniac), she’s a pathological liar who changes her name and life story with unnerving ease to lull her victims. Reflecting her rootless existence, Getting Off unfolds chapter by chapter like a series of linked short stories, in each of which she meets and disposes of a new man. She’s icy and clinical about murder, but constantly overheated about sex. Aimless, she picks up some semblance of a life goal (and the novel picks up the threads of its loosely woven plot) when she realizes that of all the men she’s had, five have survived—which is unforgivably sloppy of her, and ought to be corrected.

With the same skill he’s shown in his more mainstream work, Block slowly ratchets up the intensity and violence, using each successive murder either to give a deeper glimpse into Kit’s twisted psyche, or push her one step further toward her psychotic but somehow distortedly logical goal. He also accomplishes the same trick Thompson often pulled of planting readers inside his killer’s mind just enough to understand her without sympathy, as well as Richard Stark’s trick of treating criminal behavior as just a job to be worked. And as with Thompson’s books, there’s a thick layer of dark humor bubbling throughout the swamp of Kit’s messed-up psychology—the street-smart but undereducated Kit mistakes a reference to Shakespeare’s Goneril for “gonorrhea,” and also encounters a kinky but violently untrustworthy threesome-seeking couple apparently named after Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Emerson/Block writes about killing and the sex with such shameless relish that it would be foolish to even suggest this is anything but exploitative trash. Especially when the phenomenally lurid cover art so accurately reflects what happens under the dust jacket. John Waters would love this book, and would be perfect to direct any future film version. Some trash can also be high art, but Block probably isn’t even trying for anything loftier here than entertaining sleaze. But for exploitative trash, it’s excellently crafted and lean.

Originally posted on Sept. 21, 2011. Read the complete article.

Interview: Dead Man Winter

Trampled By Turtles’ 2010 album, Palomino, was a well-deserved breakthrough hit for the Duluthian bluegrass band, but that doesn’t mean bandleader Dave Simonett is shackled to a single style. With Dead Man Winter, a side project also featuring fellow Turtles Ryan Young and Tim Saxhaug, Simonett explores his country-rock side. The band’s debut disc, Bright Lights, echoes the rootsy, world-weary vibe of predecessors like Neil Young And The Band, as well as a more homegrown strain of Minnesota heartland-rockers like the Gear Daddies and the Glenrustles. It’s certainly not a drastic shift from the Turtles’ music in either sound or spirit; instead the new band’s sound is compellingly different but complementary. Bright Lights even shares a version of the song “New Orleans” with Palomino. The A.V. Club talked with Simonett in advance of Dead Man Winter’s show tonight at First Avenue about balancing his two bands.

Originally posted on Sept. 16, 2011. Read the complete article.

Interview: Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu of Cinematic Titanic

Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu may not have invented wisecracking about mediocre B-movies like Doomsday Machine and Danger On Tiki Island but, as two of the stars of cult-favorite TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, they raised it to an art form. Though MST3K was canceled in 1999, it found new life on DVD, and in 2007 Hodgson and Beaulieu got the band back together, along with fellow founding movie-riffers Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Mary Jo Pehl for the spin-off project Cinematic Titanic, which has released about a dozen new DVDs carrying on the movie-mocking tradition. The Titanic crew kicks off an extensive fall U.S. tour with three shows at Minneapolis’ Parkway Theater Sept. 15-17, tackling Doomsday Machine, War Of The Insects, and Rattlers, the latter two of which will be filmed for future live DVDs. (For more, click here.) The A.V. Club talked with Hodgson and Beaulieu about raising the Titanic, staying frosty, and the secret of Torgo’s huge thighs.

Originally published Sept. 13, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Review: Ladytron, Gravity the Seducer

Like a modern-day, gender-flipped answer to Roxy Music, Liverpudlian electropop quartet Ladytron has a taste for gorgeous synthesizer melodies and a romanticism that manages to be heart-on-sleeve and icily detached at the same time. (Ladytron even winked at the influence on the cover of 2003’s Softcore Jukebox, in which co-lead singers Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie posed in swimwear in a PG-rated nod to Roxy Music’s Country Life.) Gravity The Seducer, the band’s fifth full-length and first new album in more than three years, is more atmospheric and wistful than 2008’s Velocifero, but stays well within Ladytron’s firmly established framework of chilly but hooky baroque-pop.

Given that the catchiest song here, “Ace Of Hz,” was first released on last year’s career-retrospective Best Of 00-10, the lack of a propulsive single to match earlier gems like “Destroy Everything You Touch” and “Sugar,” as well as an overabundance of instrumentals, suggests a band that’s spinning its wheels. Still, while Gravity is a bit cold to the touch, that wintry feel is also a big part of Ladytron’s charm. The group’s love songs have always embraced metaphors suggesting a lingering fear of the inability to connect emotionally, an android-like anxiety that pops up again repeatedly on Gravity, especially on the elegantly beautiful “Mirage” and “Melting Ice.” So what if they aren’t moving forward, when holding their ground sounds this good?

Originally published Sept. 13, 2011 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Girl Who Waited”

Hi folks—first off, if you’re wondering, no, Keith has not regenerated. I’m just filling in for a week while he’s off fighting crime, or perhaps committing crime, or whatever he’s up to. If you’re following the Doctor Who Classic writeups where I normally hang out, we’re pushing coverage of “The Aztecs” back a week to Sept. 18 to accommodate this shift. It’s 47 years old; it’ll wait for “The Girl Who Waited.”

The best thing about traveling with the Doctor is that he’s pretty much making it all up as he goes along. He always has been, in all his incarnations, ever since he stole the TARDIS in the first place. He bounces around time and space essentially at random, usually with no more solid plan in mind than seeing what fantastic new horizon appears each time he lands. Those guys on Star Trek are always talking about diplomatic missions and border patrols to explain why they’re traveling around, but on Doctor Who, you don’t need a reason, you just go. It’s the pure spirit of adventure, pure curiosity, that motivates him, and what’s more fun than that? That’s shown to great effect here by the opening scene of “The Girl Who Waited,” in which a typically ebullient Eleventh Doctor talks up the wonders of (but sadly for me, not the spelling of) Apulapuchia, or perhaps Appleapplechia, or perhaps Apoo-lapoo-chia, the second-greatest vacation planet in the known universe.

Originally published Sept. 10, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Review: Peter Wolf Crier, Garden of Arms

On their 2009 debut album Inter-Be, Twin Cities duo Peter Wolf Crier put an appealing spin on indie-folk thanks to the orthogonal approaches of its two creative halves, with the downcast, Nick Drakean songwriting and high-pitched, haunting vocals of Peter Pisano sent off in unexpected directions by the refreshingly experimental production of percussionist/engineer Brian Moen. Since it worked so well the first time, it’s good to find the duo doubling down on its collaborative technique on Garden Of Arms. Moen deepens and expands on Inter-Be’s rich palette, building out Pisano’s meditative and even somber songs into complex, layered creations spiced with surprising fills, melodic touches, and glitchier elements that keep the mood from ever settling in one place. It’s clearly a more polished piece of work than its predecessor, but never slick or lacking in personality, and never dull.

At the same time, the sometimes-confounding complexity also means the album lacks Inter-Be’s immediate charm. Sometimes the commendable desire to keep the sonic environment unpredictable and engaging gets in the way of a potentially great song, as on the lovely, lonely ballad “Having It Out,” whose abrupt finish undercuts the impact of its soaring, Arcade Fire-like emotion. But far more often, the constantly evolving layers of drum riffs and harmonies galvanize the material into something that practically demands repeated listens to savor its piquancy. “Right Away” and “Hard Heart” prove how compelling the band’s approach can be on more uptempo numbers, but the ethereal “Wheel” keeps the multi-faceted production in full spin without sacrificing its quiet and contemplative beauty.

Originally published Sept. 6, 2011 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Earthshock”

“Earthshock” (season 19, episodes 19-22. Originally aired March 8-16, 1982)

“Don’t look now, but there’s one man too many in this room, and I think it’s you.” –Groucho Marx

We’re joining Doctor Who this week towards the tail end of Peter Davison’s first season as the Fifth Doctor. If you’ve been following along with my previous TV Club writeups, the main cast here is the same as in Davison’s debut, “Castrovalva”: The youthful but fatherly Doctor, irritable air hostess Tegan (Janet Fielding), passive science wiz Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and boy genius Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). There is plenty to like in “Earthshock,” led by the always-engaging Davison’s performance and tension-building direction by Peter Grimwade that draws out the best of the adventure-story aspects of Eric Saward’s script. There’s plenty also that doesn’t work, some rooted in Saward’s script, some systemic things that the series as a whole struggled with at the time—a superficial focus on nostalgia and shock, poor characterizations, and slack plotting. “Earthshock” was notable at the time for the surprise return of the implacable robotic Cybermen, who had been mainstay villains during the Patrick Troughton years but had only made one other appearance after 1968, in 1975′s underwhelming “Revenge of the Cybermen.” But the major reason why “Earthshock” has such a major place in the history of Who today is a surprise disappearance: The death of Adric.

Originally published Sept. 4, 2011 on Read the complete article.

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