zenith [2021)

Jesus and Mary Chain.

Black tar.

Caramelized sugar.

A dangerous confection.

Hit to Death in the Future Head.

Summer is here.

I hear.

Vacuum cleaner solo.

Theremin.

Race cars.

Boys peel out.

High-speed boats.

And again with the UPC scan.

Breaking up on reentry.

Serious audio fuckery.

And from this right into kung fu.  Peter Sellers on Bowie’s Low.  Trance.  But really what we have here is excellent counterpoint.  Lunatic Harness.  Polyrhythms.  Album breaks down soon.  Fast.  Abruptly.  Mental block regarding Wuhan origin.  Harmonic outline you would never find in China.  Terry Riley.  A Rainbow in Curved Air.  Eno.  Visconti.  And the others involved.  A beauty that inspired Philip Glass.  This is what we have.  Low and heroes.  Symphonies.  Glass.  Riley.  Minimalism.  Album called zenith.  Track two already hits “Nadir”.  What’s the arc here?  Arc-en-ciel?  Arkansas?  Immediately pensive.  Very unnerving.  Pop rock track.  Into existential oblivion.  Abrupt modulation.  Uncomfortable.  Eccentric.  Was there a thought process behind this?  Commerce ruins everything.  Imperfect masterpieces.  The rules of the game.  Radiohead.  Joseph Arthur?  Sparklehorse.  The Magnetic Fields.  Gay baritone.  Sad sack confessional poetry in the world of Berryman’s Dream Songs.  Brian Jonestown Massacre.  The Verve.  Strung out in heaven.  J. Spaceman shooting up while praying.  Don’t knock it…  Drug addiction is real.  Mental problems are real.  Here we are.  2020 fucked us up.  And now we wait for the next shoe to drop.  Smashing Pumpkins.  “Silver Fuck”?  Into Sonny Rollins?  Epstein.  Gene Ammons.  Hard to tell it’s (not) real.  Which parts?  Yes.  No.  Fooling the ear with Dave Fridmann.  A totally schizophrenic record so far.  Here we go!  “Belgian Lace, Pale Black Mascara…”  This is more like it.  Rollerskate Skinny.  Martin Rev.  Lots of counterpoint here.  Fux me up.  Disney xylophones.  Internal rhyme-sanity.  Dylan puking up brilliance.  Always Roger Waters with the bass.  Always The Wall.  Pompeii.  Hail to the Thief.  Again and again.  Trying to break new ground.  And it does.  Yerself is Steam.  Album starts to make sense after five tracks.  1 & 5.  This is not bullshit.  I don’t know about the jazz.  I don’t know about the monotonous instrumentals.  Absolutely “Car Wash Hair”.  Suzanne Thorpe would be proud.  Seems to be talking about tits.  A good ride.  Drum machine chugging away.  Can still have a good groove.  Wild Acoustic Chamber Orchestra.  W.A.C.O.  Woodwinds and glockenspiel.  Boces.  What the fuck is this shit?  O.K. computer.  Sounds like some QAnon stuff.  I feel Carlos Santana coming on.  This is what Assange jams out to.  Lots of plays at Fort Meade.  Salsa.  James Brown.  Puerto Rican funk.  As AOC goes to jail.  Serious national security issues for lyrics.  Fictional charges?  Tracers everywhere.  This theory involves an actual conspiracy.  Criminal conspiracy outlined.  By players.  Event 201.  Short circuit.  Johnny 5 is alive.  Legalistic funk.  QAnon wet dream.  FISAgate.  “Spy Gate”.  Somebody send this to Sean Hannity.  Obamagate.  Where is John Durham?  Ryan Dark White knows the truth about Rosenstein.  How many coup attempts by the Left?  Back to Billy Corgan.  Ok, so we have an Alex Jones connection.  Early-’90s goodness.  Butch Vig.  Dream pop.  James Iha.  Bet this guy knows the real story about the Standard Hotel(s).  Great lyrics!  Must be some inside jokes here.  But HOLY FUCK!  He nailed the “Holes” trumpet solo.  Deserter’s Songs.  God damn it.  How did they do this?  The liner notes say Pauly Deathwish has also produced all four of these albums.  Kind of a Jimmy Page thing going on.  Great drum sound.  Yo La Tengo.  “Mayonnaise”.  Siamese Dream.  Benjamin Britten reference?  Slick!  So this guy basically had a music education on par with Jack Nitzsche.  And then went for scumbag rockroll like Phil Spector.  Gotta respect this weird marriage.  This fascination with grunge.  Dinge.  And the facility to clean it up like a chandelier.  Very fucking impressive.  No record label.  Kinda sounds like no funding.  No budget.  The Delgados.  Hate.  The Great Eastern.  More Spiritualized telephony.  The Wall.  Which is to say, Bob Erzin.  And as dark as Berlin.  Which is to say, Bob Ezrin.  Neil Young vibe.  Tonight’s the Night.  Some dark-ass shit.  Nick Kent, where y@t?  IV Thieves.  Coulda done this.  What if Chris “Frenchie” Smith had produced this?  This kid like a protege.  I hear the moniker (stage name) was bestowed by Frenchie Smith.  Strings good.  Eastern European orchestra.  Must have cost a small fortune.  Arcade Fire.  French cinema.  Romantic-era harmony.  But pierced.  Sophisticated.  Absolutely Floyd.  “In The Flesh”.  Last track on Harvest.  Words between the lines.  The promise of the ’60s went to shit in the ’70s.  Where’s QAnon?  Where’s Nakasone?  Where’s CYBERCOM?  Keith Alexander on Amazon board.  Velvet Underground feeding back.  Les Rallizes Denudes.  Primal Scream.  “Swastika Eyes”.  ADAT.  DAT machine.  Sampling.  Stereolab.  Back to another standout track.  “Chaconne”.  Will Smith in the summertime.  Some slick shit.  Messiaen.  Jonny Greenwood.  Lyrics world-class.  All those sand paintings.  Write and destroy.  Suicide girls.  Thom Yorke’s brain doesn’t have this facility.  He’s a great stylist.  Definitely an homage.  And to Godard.  Snow white and psycho.  Heavy shit for Laetitia Sadier and Tim Gane to check out.  Not far from Faust IV.  So sweet.  John Paul Jones.  Ramble on.  Charlotte Gainsbourg.  Keren Ann.  Last track noisy as fuck.  Lo-fi.  Tom Waits.  Sticks together.  Some sad shit.  Music from Big Pink.  Mournful trombone(s).  John Simon.  “Bird on a Wire”.  They don’t make records like this anymore.  David Bowie not dead.  Great phrasing.  Sinatra.  Mark Linkous.  It’s a Wonderful Life.  Believable bass.  Upright citizen.  Bayou curious.  Noise floor drops out.  Some perverse humor here.  An “album”.  It is.  Ten songs.  Ten different directions.  Some tracks stick together.  Like a deck of cards shuffled.  Lots of variety.  Circus peanuts.  The orange ones.  Pure sugar.  Chewy.  Strange texture.  Lots of melancholy here.  What’s this bloke so sad about?  Tell Thurston Moore.  You gotta hear this shit.  Pauly Deathwish’s 4th album (this summer!).  Is this guy trying to set a Guinness record or something?  And he already has a 5th one out.  Christ!

-PD

bucolic [2021)

It starts just like Charlotte Gainsbourg.

5:55.

Air.

Nigel Godrich.

But there is something different.

A shruti box?

A little distorto guitar.

Ah, yes.

Chuchotements.

Françoise Hardy.

A little Yo La Tengo.

Built to Spill.

Guitar carries it for a second.

Good lyrics.

All mood.

And then into an Amon Düül II warble.

Like Marc Bolan.

Jim Carrey.

Most annoying sound in the world.

Into Pink Floyd.

David Gilmour.

Circa The Wall.

Strange sadness.

Almost a premonition of impending doom.

Calm before the storm.

J. Spaceman telephony.

Floating with no highs and no lows.

All mids.

Strong opening track.

Very slow-moving.

Luxurious.

Immediate Delgados shift.

Paul Savage.

Pauly Deathwish.

Glasgow effect.

Great counterpoint for a pop musician.

But if you check this bloke’s CV…

You’ll know he went through Fux.

Gonna have to say Elliott Smith.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.

Megan Childs violin.

Around the warm fire.

Welsh.

Expansive.

Strings open up.

Hate.

More Fridmann.

Pointillism.

Schoenberg.

Timbre.

Richard James.

GZM.

Beethoven.

Another Welshman.

John Cale.

Orchestral bass that Lou loved.

This guy’s a bastard.

Jaded.

Hurt.

Is this a breakup album?

I thought the last one was a breakup album?

Ahhh…

Into Gorwel Owen.

1968.

Floyd.

Atom.

Mad cow.

The last GZM album.

Rockfield.

Bohemian.

String band.

Money never runs out.

Cheap air organ.

Tubes?

Fan.

A very apropos album title.

Woody.

Tobacco.

Spring water Scotch.

And then the Great Reset arrives.

Like a fucking spaceship.

Dark shit.

What is this glitch business?

Thom Yorke blasts upon the scene.

Drums James Brown.

Good groove.

Savvy.

Whoa!

Marching band.

Drumline.

Snares.

Caught by Lee “Scratch”.

Guitar all mangled.

Melodies solid.

Mogwai?

Bert Jansch out of fucking nowhere.

Definitely Lips.

Pet Sounds.

Track rejected by Bond franchise.

Convincing.

Acoustic to electric.

Now it’s Serge.

Requiem.

Stereolab.

Break beat.

Absolutely boffo.

BOF.

More Brian Wilson.

Van Dyke Parks.

Phil Spector.

High Llamas.

Still a sadness.

That the old world is passing away.

FUCK!!!

Right into some Leonard Cohen shit!

Scott Walker.

How the FUCK was this recorded?

Sounds like 2″ tape.

Question:

how has this Pauly Deathwish released three albums in two months?

I can’t even keep up with this guy.

Mercury Rev.

Deserter’s Songs.

Levon Helm.

Chamberlin.

Mellotron?

Like a Christmas album.

See You on the Other Side.

David Fricke.

A review in the liner notes.

“Everlasting Arm”.

Definite vibe.

Record pillaging wizard.

Baritone.

Lots of fucking glockenspiel on this record.

But it’s nice.

Like Ennio Morricone.

Cinema Paradiso.

Mandolins.

Jackie Gleason.

Dean Martin.

Herb Alpert.

Tchaikovsky.

Again with sugar plum.

Slick!

Very light.

Chiaroscuro.

Fresher than the sweetness in water.

Hearing Dungen.

IV Thieves.

Makes sense.

“Frenchie” Smith.

Dig CV.

Light, British, airy.

Good hook.

Hooky.

Is this the single?

A little neo-psych Hendrix moment.

It’s definitely GZM.

Repetition until transcend.

Stereolab first album.

Not looped.

Manuel.

Carpenters.

Messiaen.

Definitely some breakup here.

Sonic Youth.

Sister.

Experimental.

Thurston.

Lots of drum machine.

Drum and bass.

Panning.

Definitely holds up with Radiohead.

How the fuck was this made?

PD tells us that it was all made on an iPhone with only a Telecaster.

That is some serious trickery.

Ear fooling.

This is COMPLEX music.

Mixes sound polished.

Clarity.

Some Chinese stuff.

Noise floor fucked for the first time ever.

Bacon?

Rollerskate Skinny.

It’s THAT good.

Shoulder Voices.

How was this made?

This heralds a new talent.

But this bloke is 44.

Tour sponsored by Ensure.

Not hearing a sophomore slump here.

Two albums in two months.

Review third forthcoming.

This dude is emo as fuck.

I dig it.

This guy is a mystery.

What is his deal?

This sounds more like a cohesive album that Introversion.

Introversion sounds like a debut album…in all the best ways.

Songs saved up.

A greatest hits.

Go big or go home.

This album deals much more in subtlety.

Not every song here is a home run.

This album breathes.

Ambiance.

Negative space.

More Beach Boys vibes.

70s.

Sad.

Bathrobe.

But mentally sharp.

A spark of genius.

A little bluegrass.

Bill Monroe.

Dock Boggs.

The old world is passing away.

Jonny Greenwood.

Georges Bizet.

Live forever.

Nonesuch.

Elektra.

Hoyt Ming.

Incredible String Band.

Wales, Scotland.

Back and forth.

And across to Ireland.

Oh, no.

There’s the single.

“Makes Me Wanna Stay in Bed”.

Emma Pollock.

Hate is all you need.

Coming in from the cold.

New Radicals.

Delayed bass from The Wall.

Pavement.

Spoon.

Good fucking song!

Eisteddfod.

All Is Dream.

Hard following up.

Unenviable.

Emma Pollock solo.

With Alun Woodward singing.

The Great Eastern.

New Spiritualized.

Banjo.

Let It Come Down.

Abbey Road.

Coldplay.

A Rush of Blood to the Head.

This bloke is serious as fuck.

Sad eyes.

I’m sensing a Jandek promotional strategy.

Final track Richter.

Ravel.

Emperor.

Philip Glass.

Conlon Nancarrow.

City/country dichotomy.

Urban/rural.

Urban encroaching.

Something felt.

Big symphony night.

Excitement of New York Phil.

The fucking french horns!

Automation.

A story in dynamics.

Lesson.

A folk album.

bucolic.

Pauly Deathwish.

iTunes.

Spotify.

-PD

Introversion [2021)

Teenage Fanclub.

That glow in The World’s End.

But a sadness.

THE sadness.

Emily Dickinson.

Unrequited.

Unattainable.

My Bloody Valentine.

Sloshy grunge hats.

Edge echo.

Chris Bell.

I Am the Cosmos.

Yerself Is Steam.

Slowdive.

Rutti.

Brian Eno.

The disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Tom Petty.

You don’t know how it feels.

J. Spaceman.

Abbey Road.

Air.

George Martin.

Beck.

Badfinger suicides.

Loser.

Spiritualized.

Royal Albert.

I can only give you everything.

Rick Danko.

Loping.

The Delgados.

Dave Fridmann.

Black magic warded off by honesty.

Good timing.

Divine.

Sigur Rós.

Nigel Godrich.

Pocket symphonies.

Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Serge on the way.

Lenny Bruce, even.

Hit to Death in the Future Head.

Wait at least until track three to break it down.

Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

Gorecki.

Arvo Pärt.

Deserter’s Songs.

Absolutely.

The confusion of ridiculous counterpoint.

Aaron Copland.

Tonal, yet dissonant.

Thick Billy Corgan.

Siamese Dream.

Definitely a sadness here.

Dawn Upshaw.

Tabula rasa.

Death.

Immense Mellotron.

Tchaikovsky.

Abrupt modulation.

Sugar plum.

Lou Reed.

Ennio Morricone.

Cinema Paradiso.

All you need is hate.

Upstate.

Chaliapin.

Basso profundo.

Jussi Björling.

Dvořák.

Memorial day.

The Inflated Tear.

Columbus, Ohio with duct tape.

Debussy.

Posing with a bass clarinet.

Primal Scream.

Get Duffy.

Rock ferry.

Smokey Robinson.

Sad clown.

Dead clown.

Kinks.

Grasshopper.

Suzanne.

Woodwind quintet.

Did I ever write one?

Yes, I did.

César Franck.

Saint-Saëns.

Organ symphony.

Or is it contrabassoon?

Nadia Boulanger can tell you.

My teacher’s teacher (twice over).

The Left Banke.

LSD.

Herb Alpert?

Hummel.

Handel.

Strawberry fields.

Stereolab.

Unequivocally.

Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements.

A little lo-fi.

Vocal doubled.

Vox continental.

Great hook.

Changes that pull at your heartstrings.

More melancholy.

A fucking marimba solo?!?

Are you kidding me???

Makes sense.

Pauly Deathwish collaboration with Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes.

Lost Bayou Ramblers.

Gordon knew him as Death.

I have become death.

96 Tears.

Farfisa.

Partials.

Tim Gane tone.

Faust IV.

Doogie Howser?

Scary.

Impending.

Suspense.

Rock bass.

Ozzy.

Black Sabbath.

Amazing Grace.

Pete Townshend.

Front.

Back to J. Spaceman.

Dirty ass rock and roll with pristine horns.

Expensive drugs.

Sophisticated changes.

Éminence grise?

Is this the artist we’ve been waiting for?

Rodriguez?

R. Stevie Moore?

Wesley Willis?

Sounds like Jack Nitzsche.

Major Velvet vibes.

Suck-ceed twice.

Dylan with P-bass.

Mick Taylor.

Too much attitude.

Keith Richards.

Let it Come Down.

Shakespeare.

Fucker kicked the bucket.

First to be vaxxed.

Maricopa.

First Suicide album.

Bossa nova.

The Soft Bulletin.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.

Gimme some lovin’?

Steve Winwood?

How old?

La Monte Young.

Slow changes.

First rehearsal tapes.

Alan Vega.

Martin Rev.

New York City heroin.

Warhol Factory torn down.

Across from YMCA.

Trump dances.

Great throwaway lyrics.

George Harrison.

Sound of universe.

Spacemen 3.

Savage tone.

Revolution.

Direct into mixing console.

Fried signal.

White album.

Sonic Youth.

Derek Bailey.

Lou ecstacy.

Late Lou.

European son.

Blood pressure rising.

Brutal.

Frankie Teardrop.

I think I’m in love.

Dub bass.

Will the circle remain unbroken?

When I had dinner with Roky.

13th Floor.

First Velvets album.

Heroin.

Drug rush.

Invincible.

But you gotta buy it.

Dirty Baltimore.

Cop shoot cop.

Cheree.

On the jukebox.

Eat at the gas station.

On tour.

First time in Texas.

American Supreme.

Iceland.

13 Angels.

It’s definitely Bowie.

New career.

Same town.

New old.

Old is new again.

Mercury Rev.

Savvy programming.

Dynamics.

Break beat.

A fuck ton of flutes.

Flute loops literally.

Bowie sax.

Little fluffy clouds.

Every drop.

Gay glam chorus.

Tony Visconti.

Don’t underestimate.

Pere Ubu.

First album.

Méliès.

Boys peel out.

Boces.

Inspector Clouseau.

Phone.

French ambulance.

Pants.

Gives me pants.

Videogames.

Cutting hole.

Pink Panther.

Herbert Lom.

A Shot in the Dark.

Grandaddy.

Under the Western Freeway.

Weeping willow.

Under that.

With Sean Mackowiak.

Square waves.

WarGames.

Tympani.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Dublin.

Kevin Shields.

Comes back loud.

One song mastered soft.

Definitely Low.

The main influence of Pauly Deathwish’s debut album.

Honegger.

Pacific 231.

Chariots of fire.

Vangelis.

Such a groove.

Nancarrow.

Polyrhythm.

Immense sadness.

By the side of a freeway.

Under an underpass.

Not like RHCP.

Much darker.

Like Godspeed.

Philip Glass.

Eno.

Blackstar.

How did a Trump supporter make this album?!?

I thought all Trump supporters were redneck morons???

This is way fucking better than Ariel Pink’s dabblings.

This sounds like a debut album.

Songs saved up.

Like The Strokes.

Cinematic as fuck.

Glitch Radiohead.

Trail of Dead.

Makes sense.

Because Pauly wrote the string arrangement on IX.

Dark.

Killers.

Disco compression.

Distressed.

These lyrics!

Johnny Rotten.

Trump 2021.

Snot on the crowd.

Arcade Fire.

Makes sense.

Lost Bayou Ramblers lost sessions.

Montreal studio.

This was all made on an iPhone?!?

Guy Debord.

Aladdin Sane.

Time.

Rick Wakeman?

Olivier Messiaen.

Major 7ths in uppermost range of piano.

Almost indistinguishable from octaves.

Eerie.

Slight.

Only for the sensuous ear.

The Wall.

Waters delayed bass.

No nonsense drums.

Humble Pie reference?!?

Ha!

Great lyrics!!

Predating new Bob Dylan album.

Check SoundCloud timestamp.

This is definitely the QAnon anthem.

This hook should be on a million conspiracy videos.

“10 Days of Darkness”.

Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya!

My end is my beginning is my end.

Grinderman.

No pussy.

Early-’90s.

Nirvana’s wake.

Finnegans Wake.

Great debut album (if I do say so myself).

Usual suspects.

Spotify.

iTunes.

Pauly Deathwish.

-PD

Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive 🙂

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast 🙂

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read Finnegans Wake till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about 🙂

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50.  I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what Frank is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film 🙂

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed, Frank is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety 🙂

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no, Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right:  Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in Frank when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara:  Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the papier-mâché head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in Misunderstood (2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time:  Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in Frank revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that Soronprfbs bassist François Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes, Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD