Thursday, August 26, 2010


For me the most anticipated film of the upcoming Oscar season is Darren Aronofsky's latest, Black Swan. The trailer (below) reveals that Aronofsky is tangling together aspects of psychological thrillers and body horror in his follow up to The Wrestler. It's not clear if prima ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) is actually undergoing transmogrification or if it's simply all in her head. We will have to wait until December 1st for the answer to that query. As I fervently await opening night, I got to thinking about other films which have grossed out audiences by showcasing some truly disturbing alterations to the human form. Franz Kafka kick-started the genre in the literary world with his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis. In the near-century since then many directors and screen writers have put their own spin on body horror; creating an entirely new sub-genre of cinema.

The Black Swan? Could this be what Nina will turn into?

The body horror aspect is evident in this screen cap from the trailer.

Nina pulls a feather out of her back, apparently she is growing wings.
It is unknown if a copious amount of Red Bull is the cause.

The Brood (1979)
The trailer (below) only gives the viewer a peek at the monstrosities many of the characters in The Brood are afflicted with. The true horror in The Brood concerns the wife of the main character and the reveal is one of the most surprising curve balls in the history of celluloid. The plot involves a forward-thinking psychotherapist whose new technique called "psychoplasmics" has seriously negative physical side effects. This Canadian picture was written and directed by David Cronenberg, who was disturbingly inspired to pen the screenplay after undergoing a horrid divorce from Margaret Hindson. Cronenberg would use the body horror theme once more in 1986's The Fly. On a personal note, I recall watching this on television with a friend as a child and we were both terrified by the kitchen scene. I happened upon a copy a while ago and after watching it again, it's still disturbing but not as terrifying as it was to ten-year-old me. A remake is scheduled for 2013 and as many recent horror remakes have faltered, some bloggers and message board trolls are strongly opposed. However, I think The Brood could use an update which will hopefully build and expand on this creepy Canadian classic.

District 9 (2009)
Best Picture nominee District 9 not only features body horror but also speaks of the horror human beings inflict on each other through social segregation. Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp lived through the South African apartheid era and was in turn inspired to bring this tale of intolerance to the silver screen. The film's protagonist at first detests the alien prawns but soon becomes an alien in his own body and is forced to assimilate with the foreign arthropods. Now I'm certain had there been only five Best Picture nominees (the Academy reinstated the 10 nominee rule not seen since 1943) District 9 wouldn't have garnered a nod. However the reality this film addresses is all too horrifically real; case in point, most of the slums used in the film were genuine locations.

Splinter (2008)
Friday the 13th made audiences scared of the woods, Jaws made them afraid to go into the water and Splinter made everyone run in terror from... porcupines. (?)  This indie-horror gem finds a young couple (half of that couple is played by Wipeout hostess Jill Wagner) abducted by criminals while on their way to a camping weekend. Unfortunately for all involved the foursome run over a spiky mutant rodent whose quills can't be removed with tweezers. Holed up in an abandoned gas station, loyalties are tested and horror fans are delighted. Winner of six Screamfest Horror Film Festival Awards, including Best Picture, Splinter may be a bit overrated but remains a sharp entry in the body horror books.

The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's classic remake of the 1951 film is crucial to the body horror genre. The Thing features feelings of isolation, the trepidation of trust and a freeze-dried monster that would love to look just like you. As cheap and dated as the special effects are they still manage to provide scares and squirms. Watch for a prequel directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead coming in 2011. The all-male cast in Carpenter's interpretation is something that made the film unique, so we'll have to see how Heijningen works female characters into the mix.

The Faculty (1998)
Typical of the late '90s, The Faculty features many popular stars of the time thrown into some horrific situations.  Freshly-scrubbed students realize their teachers have undergone an abhorrent alien adjustment and fight to put a stop to the takeover before it's too late. What else would you expect from Kevin Williamson (Scream scribe) and Robert Rodriguez (director of From Dusk 'Til Dawn and Machete)? It's basically "Invasion of the Beverly Hills Body Snatchers 90210" and as a teenager I absolutely loved this alien invasion extravaganza. Look for a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart sporting a goatee and parting with some of his phalanges. (In a coincidence of blognormous proportions the substandard trailer (below) features the Last Hard Men's cover of School's Out that I mentioned in my last post on super groups.)

Cabin Fever (2003)
There's body horror and then there is plain disgusting. Years later I am still haunted by the opening sequence featuring that deceased canine. The scene where a character shaves her infected legs is upchuck inducing yet also illustrious as it speaks to her vanity insanity. Hostel creator/director Eli Roth's directorial debut is original as there are not many films that feature flesh eating bacteria. In addition, after viewing Cabin Fever you can say that that pile now pooled by your feet was originally food.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Numerous bands formed while the musicians were navigating through the perilous process that is high school. I wouldn't be the first writer to draw parallels between the present world of entertainment and the laborious languidness most face in the halls. As a defense many align themselves with like minded individuals and form cliques. While none of the super groups in this article formed that way, it's not difficult to imagine what kinds of cliques these groups would be classified as by listening to their music and analyzing their respective histories.

The Last Hard Men (the outcasts)
Kelley Deal (the Breeders, Kelley Deal 6000), Jimmy Chamberlin (Smashing Pumpkins, Zwan, Jimmy Chamberlin Complex), Jimmy Flemion (the Frogs) & Sebastian Bach (Skid Row)

I snagged the Last Hard Men's only album in a second-hand store a few years back for $6. There's a reason why it was $6. Uneven and eccentric, it's still worth a listen for kitsch value alone- especially the weird School's Out cover that appeared on the Scream soundtrack. Recorded in 1996 and 1997, Atlantic Records refused to release the album. Kelley Deal's label, Nice Records, issued a limited release of 1000 copies in 1998. Finally in 2001 Spitfire Records released the album with additional material included.

Monsters of Folk (the overachievers)
Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), M. Ward (She & Him) & Jim James (My Morning Jacket)

Refusing to be confined by the genre found in the band's title, MoF straddle the line between classic and soft rock. Formed while each member's hugely successful bands (by independent standards) were on hiatus; they have been known to switch instrumental duties during live shows in true overachieving fashion. (Every time I look at the album cover of their self-titled 2009 release I think 'why is Brian Posehn a Monster of Folk?')

Them Crooked Vultures (the punks)
Josh Homme (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) & John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)

Because Josh Homme is too restless to stick with one musical outfit, Them Crooked Vultures brings together three of the most prolific figures in modern rock. The album is a great pallet cleanser to all the mainstream pop of late and Mind Eraser (No Chaser) is without a doubt one of the best rock songs of the year. You can listen to the album in its entirety and watch some very inane tour videos on their official site.

Broken Social Scene (the arty kids)
Many members including Brendan Canning (By Divine Right, Len), Kevin Drew (KC Accidental), Lisa Lobsinger (Reverie Sound Review) & John McEntire (Tortoise), former and occasional members include Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk), Emily Haines (Metric) & Leslie Fiest (Fiest)

The collective voices in BSS reject the super group label due to the size of the band and the proclamation that everyone in the indie scene is involved with numerous projects at any given time. Mixing together elements of orchestral grandeur and indie rock, BSS broke through with their 2002 album You Forgot It In People. That album rightfully won the Juno for Best Alternative Album and includes choice cuts like Cause = Time and Anthem For a Seventeen Year Old Girl. Their latest, Forgiveness Rock Record, reached #1 in Canada, #34 in the US and has been shortlisted for the 2010 Polaris Prize.

The Highwaymen (the hicks)
Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson & Kris Kristofferson

When these four (then) living legends of country recorded and released the single Highwayman in 1985 they didn't have a name for the assemblage. After the song, a Jimmy Webb cover, rocketed to #1 the name of the group was a natural choice. Highwayman 2 would follow in 1990 and the last recording before Waylon Jennings' death was 1995's The Road Goes On Forever.

The Traveling Wilburys (the über-popular)
Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne (the Electric Light Orchestra), George Harrison & Roy Orbison

The name of this seminal super group came from the recording session for George Harrison's Cloud Nine. Whenever an error in recording would arise, Harrison would jokingly say to producer Jeff Lynne "we'll bury [Wilbury] 'em in the mix." The group came together when Roy Orbison, Harrison and Lynne traveled to Bob Dylan's house to record a B-side for Harrison's This Is Love. Harrison had left his guitar at Tom Petty's house and he returned from retrieving his axe with Petty in tow. Much like the Donnas and the Ramones, the band members adopted pseudonyms saying they were all half-bothers, sons of the fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury Sr. The original line up would be fractured by Orbison's death in 1988. As an homage to Orbison, when his vocals come up in the video for End of the Line a rocking chair cradling his guitar is shown. The album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Group or Duo in 1989. Handle With Care lived on to be covered by many artists, including Jenny Lewis with Ben Gibbard, M. Ward and Conor Oberst.

The Dead Weather (the goth kids)
Jack White (the White Stripes, the Raconteurs), Allison Mosshart (the Kills, Discount), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) & Jack Lawrence (the Raconteurs, the Greenhornes)

Jack White was struck by bronchitis while on tour with the Raconteurs in summer 2008. White asked Allison Mosshart of the Kills, who were the opening band, to sit in on some of their songs. The chemistry was so stirring that White suggested they try their hand at collaborating along with White's house guest, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stoneage. The result, 2009's Horehound, shot to #6 on the Billboard hot 100. Their second album Sea of Cowards was released earlier this year. As a side note I had the pleasure of being backstage during the Dead Weather's set at Ottawa Bluesfest 2009, although I was only there to chase down Dan and Alexei of Handsome Furs for an interview.

Bastard (the drop outs)
Courtney Love, Patty Schemel (Hole), Louise Post (Veruca Salt) & Gina Crosley (Rockit Girl, Veruca Salt)

Post-Celebrity Skin, Courtney Love attempted to bring her dream of an all girl rock band to reality by merging members of Hole and Veruca Salt. Unfortunately Love's usual combative ways spelled disaster and demise for Bastard. Conflict between Gina Crosley and Love is cited as the main reason for the dissolution. After a few attempts at recording material the band imploded. Nashville Pussy bassist Corey Parks was also briefly involved. No video, recording or image of the band has ever been released. As Love sings in Celebrity Skin, "My name is might-have-been, my name is never was."

BT photo
BT photo
BT photo

Love & Micko Larkin performing as Hole July 9 2010, Love's 46th birthday, at Ottawa Bluesfest.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


From photos that encapsulate the relationship between the photographer and the subject to art that was chosen because the musicians felt the artist captured exactly what they wanted to convey; here are the stories behind some great album covers. Covers that provoked discussion and inspired countless musicians, artists and music lovers.

Patti Smith – Horses (1975) -  photo by Robert Mapplethorpe
Controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo is probably the most recognizable image of Smith. The two lived together as lovers in the Chelsea Hotel during the ‘70s. Smith encouraged Mapplethorpe to pursue photography and many of their collaborations became album covers for the Patti Smith Group. Mapplethorpe’s work was very diverse and included BDSM, pictures of children and floral still life. When the relationship ended, the two remained friends and collaborators. Mapplethorpe died of complications from AIDS in 1989. Smith’s memoir detailing their relationship, Just Kids, was released earlier this year.


Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988) - photo/painting by Gerhard Richter
Sonic Youth’s breakthrough album features a photo-realistic piece by German artist Gerhard Richter. Richter would usually create his work thorough a multi-step process of representations. Gehard would begin with a photo, usually his own work, which he would then project on to a canvas and trace the image exactly. He would end the process by painting the image to look almost identical to the photograph. Gehard was such a fan of Sonic Youth that he allowed the use of Kerze (Candle) at no charge. The original piece, which is over 7 meters in size, now hangs in Sonic Youth’s NYC studio.


Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967) & Wheels of Fire (1968) - designed by Martin Sharp
Australian Martin Sharp is best known for his freaky, psychedelic posters of Bob Dylan and Donovan. Sharp met Cream front man Eric Clapton while at the famous London nightclub the Speakeasy in the late ‘60s. Sharp told Clapton about a poem he had recently written and Clapton informed Sharp that he was looking for lyrics to accompany some new music. Sharp in turn wrote out the poem on a napkin and gave it to Clapton. This odd collaboration gave birth to the song “Tales of Brave Ulysses” the B-side of “Strange Brew”, appearing on Disraeli Gears which Sharp designed the cover for. The following year Sharp designed the Wheels of Fire cover and won the New York Art Director’s Prize for Best Album Design.


King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) - painting by Barry Godber
The cover of In the Court of the Crimson King conjures up thoughts of madness, desperation and insanity. However disturbing the painting may be, what is more depressing is that the work found in In the Court of the Crimson King are the only compositions to ever be commercially produced by computer programmer Barry Godber. Godber died of a heart attack at age 24. The original work is now owned by King Crimson member Robert Fripp.
Fripp had this to say: "Peter [Sinfield] brought this painting in and the band loved it. I recently recovered the original from EG's offices because they kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of ruining it, so I ended up removing it. The face on the outside is the Schizoid Man, and on the inside it's the Crimson King. If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music."


Led Zeppelin IV (or Led Zeppelin’s fourth album or Led Zeppelin’s four symbols) (1971) - painting by unknown
Led Zeppelin IV is one of the best selling albums of all time having moved 37 million units world-wide and placed third on the best selling albums in the US list with 23 million. Jimmy Page has said that the inspiration behind the cover art was bringing over the city and country theme first explored on Led Zeppelin III.
“It represented the change in the balance which was going on. There was the old countryman and the blocks of flats being knocked down. It was just a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it,” Page told Trouser Press.
The 19th century oil painting was purchased in Reading, Berkshire. The painting was then hung on the internal, papered wall of the partly demolished house for the photo.
Page has also stated regarding the meaning of the cover: “The cover was supposed to be something that was for other people to savor rather than for me to actually spell everything out, which would make the whole thing rather disappointing on that level of your own personal adventure into the music.”

Elastica - The Menace (2000) - photo by M.I.A.
After the resounding success of Elastica's 1995 debut came this less successful effort. Band leader Justine Frischmann sought out burgeoning London-based graffiti artist Maya Arulpragasam, M.I.A., to create the pastiche of lips you see below. M.I.A. documented the band's tour in support of the album and became fast friends with Peaches (Canadian-born Merrill Nisker) who was the opening act. Peaches introduced M.I.A. to the Roland MC-505 drum machine and encouraged her to experiment. With an Academy Award nom for Best Original Song and two Grammy noms, I'd say it was a push in the right direction. M.I.A. also directed the video for the single Mad Dog God Dam.

The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967) - painting by Andy Warhol
Perhaps the most recognizable album cover of all time. Early copies featured a slogan inviting the listener to “peel slowly and see” which would reveal a flesh coloured banana. These editions are now sought after collector’s items.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Without making allusions to Woodstock or that awful (albeit awfully infectious) song from Grease- the words "summer" and "love" are frequently paired together. So what better way to celebrate the sweaty sentiments of summer than to revisit some of the most memorable musical match ups? Some are sugar-coated while others sting slightly sour; here are fifteen great duets for your auditory (and some visual, when I could find the official video) pleasure.

Jenny & Johnny - Scissor Runner - from I'm Having Fun Now (2010)
Jenny Lewis, queen of the '60s melody, has collaborated and shared the microphone with a long list of talent; Elvis Costello, M. Ward, Conor Oberst and Rilo Kiley cohort Blake Sennett. Here, Lewis and her boyfriend Jonathan Rice (who produced Lewis' Acid Tongue) have crafted an upbeat tune that proves she made the right decision when she switched from acting to music. Don't hold your breath for Troop Beverly Hills 2. Lewis will also be collaborating with Killers wailer, and owner of the most repugnant jacket ever, Brandon Flowers on his upcoming album Flamingo. In addition you can listen to Jenny and Johnny's next single Big Wave by clicking on the text within the video and download Scissor Runner on their site.

Deer Tick featuring Liz Isenberg - Friday XIII - from Born on Flag Day (2009)
Deer Tick front man John McCauley has been credited with making alt-country cool once more. It's easy to see why with two great albums under his belt, Born on Flag Day and 07's War Elephant, as well as their most recent release The Black Dirt Sessions. Friday XIII pits McCauley's gruff mutter against Liz Isenberg's soft as spider webs vocals. This ultimately makes for a dynamite duet about, in true country form, a doomed relationship.

Raveonettes - Love in a Trashcan - from Pretty in Black (2005)
Masterfully adept at mashing together pop harmonies with slick guitar work, Danes Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo sound best when singing together. The Raveonettes throwback to seemingly opposing music like that of the Raspberries and the Jesus and Mary Chain; whose musical styles are as opposite as love and trash.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes - Home - from Up From Below (2009)
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are kind of like the Polyphonic Spree- but high on weed instead of Jesus. That's not to say Alex Ebert doesn't have a messiah complex. Ebert conceived the character of Edward Sharpe as a figure who "was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind, but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love." Ebert and Jade Castrino's song of love is one part jam band opus and two parts tooth-melting sweetness.

PJ Harvey featuring Thom Yorke - This Mess We're In - from Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
If I didn't know any better I would think this song was about the tragic events of 9/11. With such ominous lyrics Harvey may have foreseen something the rest of us failed to. Radiohead's Thom Yorke provides a haunting caterwaul that is the perfect addition to Harvey's Mercury Prize winning album.

Gorillaz featuring Bashy & Kano - White Flag - from Plastic Beach (2010)
Grime stars Bashy and Kano were seriously ill with the flu on the day White Flag was recorded. Yet you would never know that fact as the agility of their rhymes and the quality of the track they laid down are impeccable. Kano said of the recording: "We weren't feeling great; the music was out of our comfort zone, it could have been a complete disaster." Rap? Flutes? Strings? Yes. Disaster? Far from it.

Queen featuring David Bowie - Under Pressure - from Hot Space (1982)
Perhaps the most widely known duet on this list, Under Pressure marked Bowie's first released collaboration and soared to #1 on charts around the world. John Deacon's bouncy bass line would later be sullied and sampled by the less talented Vanilla Ice on Ice Ice Baby.

Peaches featuring Iggy Pop - Kick It - from Fatherfucker (2003)
From two of the most avant-garde performers of our time, Kick It is as much fun as any electro-punk aficionado can handle. With a razor sharp hook and lyrics like "Some people don't like my crotch, because its' got fuzzy spots, but if you blame Moses and need burning bush baby, and that is just what I've got," the only thing that would make this better is if Iggy was bleeding all over the place. Or zombies... oh wait... see zombified "Georgia Y Romero" directed video below.

The xx - Islands - from xx (2009)
Brits the xx are the breakout stars of the year. In a short while they went from recording their album in a garage under moonlight to having the intro from that album used as the theme song for NBC's broadcast of the Olympics. Their sleepy, moody debut is chock full of silky duets. My pick, Islands, finds Romy Madley and Jamie Smith trading barbs while navigating through the darkness of a rocky relationship. The accompanying video shows black-clad dancers in purgatory and is trippier than a stilted clown on peyote.

The Breeders - Pinnacle Hollow - from Fate to Fatal EP (2009)
This one takes a while to get rolling, but if you love lo-fi DIY recordings then this Kim and Kelley Deal duet is for you. Pinnacle Hollow is perfect for lazy Sundays or downtrodden times. In addition to self-recording and self-releasing, the Pixies bassist and her twin even screened the LP sleeves themselves. You can read Pitchfork's interview with the Deals where they talk about Fate to Fatal and self-sufficiency here.

No Doubt featuring Sublime - Total Hate '95 - from The Beacon Street Collection (1995)
Before Gwen Stefani was just a girl and Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose at 28, No Doubt and Sublime joined forces to bring this pitch perfect ska song to the maladjusted masses.

Joan Jett & Paul Westerberg - Let's Do It - from Tank Girl Soundtrack (1995)
This cover of Cole Porter's cheesy 1928 classic is Jett at her rock grrl best. Interestingly, the track was originally recorded with Bad Religion's Greg Gaffin vocalizing the male half of this duet. Atlantic Records objected to Gaffin's work on the track and recorded Westerberg in his place. The original version can be found on the 2000 compilation Laguna Tunes, released on Jett's own Blackheart Records. The Gaffin/Jett version is strong, but I (and the Heathers at Westerberg High) prefer this take.


The Kills - Love is a Deserter - from No Wow (2005)
Allison "VV" Mosshart's and Jamie "Hotel" Hince's vocals separately are surreal in their own right. The combination of their voices comes off as grating and unsettling- in the best possible way. Love is a Deserter combines aspects of blues and punk, which is the Kills at their best. The morphology in the video fits the song perfectly. An odd video from a superbly odd band.

M.I.A. featuring Timbaland - Come Around - from Kala (2007)
Many critics have said that Timbaland's guest spot on Come Around is weaker than Lindsay Lohan's will power. I disagree and think Come Around is the best track on Kala. Sorry Paper Planes lovers (which I do love but mostly for the Clash sample.) As the story goes, Timbaland had planned to produce a large portion of Kala; however M.I.A. couldn't obtain a US visa due to her family's alleged ties to the Tamil Tigers. So Come Around remains Timbaland's sole contribution. Aside from the controversy that seems to always follow this Sri Lankan siren, the fact is M.I.A. is an innovative and original artist as Come Around and her latest single XXXO demonstrate.

Snow Patrol featuring Martha Wainwright - Set Fire to the Third Bar - from Eyes Open (2006)
Angelic and unmitigated, Set Fire to the Third Bar is the stuff great duets are made of. Written with Martha Wainwright in mind, Gary Lightbody claims he wrote the song in twenty minutes, the fastest he's ever written a song. The title comes from childhood memories of his aunt's electric heater. "If we were good and it was very cold, she'd let us put all three bars on," Lightbody said. He went on to say that the heater represents "a beacon of warmth within a song about distance." I feel all warm and happy inside already.