New Joy Division Documentary Released On DVD

Despite its title, Joy Division (now available on DVD) could’ve just as easily been titled Manchester. As we’re told in the film’s opening moments, this is a documentary about a city, not a pop band. Filmmaker Grant Gee, responsible for Radiohead’s 1998 tour doc Meeting People Is Easy, brings into focus the political and cultural revolution of a post-industrial British city and four young men who were looking for their place in the ruins.

To help with his informative chronological account of Joy Division and the genius of singer Ian Curtis, who hanged himself in 1980, Gee called upon just about every major player involved with the band, including surviving members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris (otherwise known as three-fourths of New Order). Sumner says that he never liked listening to the band’s first record, 1979’s Unknown Pleasures, and that Manchester was so ugly, he never saw a tree until he was nine years old.

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Silver Jews: David Berman Lets In Light And Love

For a moment, sandwiched between soliloquies on art and artists, David Berman pauses. He looks around his Manhattan hotel room. He looks up, down and at Cassie, his wife and bandmate. And then, as you wait for his words just as you would in song, he begins again: “I always say things I don’t believe.”

It’s a cryptic-enough statement from a songwriter whose lyrical abracadabra and syntax have kept fans hungering for more since he first started putting them to tape on 1994 debut Starlite Walker. Under the Silver Jews moniker, Berman’s development as an artist—and as a human being—has taken turns too numerous to count. It was here in New York City that it all began, Berman having started the group in 1990 with college buddies and Pavement upstarts Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich.

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THE NOTWIST: The Devil, You + Me [Domino]

The Notwist’s last album, 2003’s Neon Golden, was irresistibly catchy and irretrievably downbeat. Both of those qualities are muted on The Devil, You + Me, the German combo’s long-in-the-making follow-up. Brothers Markus (guitar, voice) and Micha (bass) Acher, electronics wrangler Martin Grestchmann and new drummer Andreas Haberl have woven a 20-piece orchestra into an already rich sonic field in which electronic beats and dubby effects co-exist with crisp guitar pop. No single component dominates; instead, a parade of endlessly changing sound effects and synth tones keep some structurally simple songs interesting. Take “Gloomy,” whose Brazilian-flavored acous-tic-guitar chords burst out of a bit of static, then slowly gain presence behind Acher’s fuzz-coated voice and a Windex-clean synthesizer. Keyboards, loops and horns coalesce and recede while Acher’s earnest vocal reels out a paradoxically defiant lyric. Each song performs a similar trick, working elements in and out of the mix. The Devil, You + Me’s flaw lies in its presumption that you’ll be so taken with the sounds that you’ll wait around for the hooks to show up. Ultimately, they do, but if they were buses, you might’ve already hailed a cab by the time they arrive. [www.dominorecordco.com]

—Bill Meyer

MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND: A Thousand Shark’s Teeth [Asthmatic Kitty]

If My Brightest Diamond’s 2006 debut Bring Me The Workhorse was singer/songwriter Shara Worden’s dramatic move away from the clutches of her bud/boss Sufjan Stevens, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is a damn fine second act. Beyond the too-grand operatic rush of her tunes, it should be noted that the New York-based Worden has a great shushy voice powered by a delicious warble at its center. It’s as if Björk and Jeff Buckley got together to listen to Queen’s A Day At The Races, only without ever becoming annoying. Worden writes powerfully worrisome, anti-romantic lyrics when she isn’t cribbing from Ravel (“Black And Costaud”), and she’s suspicious and carnivorous on the mammoth roar of “Goodbye Forever.” Star-struck by string sections, harps, vibraphones and horns, Shark’s Teeth is imbued with classicist elements throughout, from the rush of “Inside A Boy” to the tinkle of “The Ice & The Storm.” Though there are crinkled guitars and tiny beats slipped into the mix, they only add to the eloquence of the lush affair. [www.asthmatickitty.com]

—A.D. Amorosi

The Back Page: Sympathy For The Devil

It’s so very punk to want to slam dance all over the grave of the American Record Industry (b. 1929 – d. 2008). Good riddance to The Man. Let us gob on the memory of all those tone-deaf A&R men, greedy suits, house producers, misguided promotions foofs and slick payola palm-greasers. Let the mp3 rule, give the artist the power, long live musical freedom!

At this year’s induction ceremony for the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame, no less a rebellious iconoclast than Billy Joel (80 million records sold) introduced musical freedom fighter John Mellencamp (28 million units moved) with a note of triumph: “Congratulations, John! You outlived the record industry!”

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SLOAN: Parallel Play [Yep Roc]

From Big Star to beard-era Beatles, Sloan’s sprawling Never Hear The End Of It hit all the classic pop touchstones and more over the course of 30 songs. Two years later, the 13-track Parallel Play is a decidedly less ambitious effort, but it’s no less brilliant in its execution. Once again, all four band members have a hand in the songwriting, yet the Nova Scotia group’s ninth album is a surprisingly cohesive display of power pop’s key attributes. Bright vocal harmonies, handclaps, a keyboard squiggle here and there, an occasional Buddy Holly hiccup, razor-sharp guitar hooks—all of the genre ingredients are present in perfect measure. Indeed, if you’re the type who can’t fathom why power pop hasn’t taken over the world, you’ll experience an almost childlike joy within the first few fuzz chords of opener “Believe In Me” that will quickly turn to giddiness from the abundance of hooks deployed on the first three songs alone. There are exceptions to the formula, including skinny-tie punk (“Emergency 911”), Dylan-esque roadhouse blues (“Down In The Basement”) and an ill-advised exercise in white-boy reggae (“Too Many”). Parallel Play joins the likes of Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend and the Posies’ Frosting On The Beater in the pantheon of power pop. [www.yeproc.com]

—Matt Ryan

MY MORNING JACKET: Evil Urges [ATO]

“I just want it to be weird,” Jim James told MAGNET last summer, when his still-gestating Evil Urges barely registered as a nefarious inclination. By that standard alone, My Morning Jacket’s fifth LP has one outright success: “Weird” is definitely the word to describe the industrial-funk “Highly Suspicious,” the album’s third song and even-money lightning rod. Any MMJ fans wondering when James would give in and embrace his inner Divine will thrill at the track’s over-the-top nitrous-oxide giggles and breathy, orgasmic squeals; for the Kentucky band’s legions of Bonnaroo-lording, Skynyrd-loving beardo diehards, it may be akin to FBI lifers finding out J. Edgar Hoover liked wearing dresses on the weekends. That said, the weirdest thing here is that nothing else is remotely weird; it’s actually a far milder affair than the musical-genre Cuisinart of 2005’s Z. The evilest urges James has are to spin some bald Eagles soft rock on “Thank You Too” and sex up a bookworm on the Donovan-esque “Librarian.” There’s Prince-ly panting here and a little Lenny Kravitz crooning there, but the straight-ahead rock and country numbers (“Remnants,” “Sec Walkin’”) fare better. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part 2” has James remixing the album’s bland second track into an eight-minute, beat-based electro dream. Forget Evil Urges entirely; call this one Zzz. [www.atorecords.com]

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN: To Survive [Cheap Lullaby]

As violinist for Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Antony And The Johnsons and others, Joan Wasser possesses impeccable artistic credentials. As a former member of the Dambuilders and Those Bastard Souls, she has roots in more raucous styles. But as the leader of Joan As Police Woman, Wasser favors dramatic torch songs and artful ballads, and piano rather than violin. To Survive is both sparser and more polished than last year’s Real Life, JAPW’s acclaimed debut. Many of the songs build slightly on Wasser’s minor-key piano melodies, and they’re often serious contemplations of loneliness and devotion. (Wasser’s mother was dying of cancer during To Survive’s gestation.) A few songs open into something larger: “Holiday” begins as a soulful shuffle, then adds layers of dissonance; “Magpies” verges on blue-eyed soul, with horns and smooth, soft-rock backing vocals; “To America” finds Wasser drifting from the depths to the heights of her vocal range, and Wainwright does the same when he joins to duet. But nothing on To Survive equals “Christobel,” “Save Me” or the other stirring highlights of Real Life. [www.cheaplullaby.com]

—Steve Klinge

The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster: Memoir

In the 1980s, the Go-Betweens were every bit as brilliant as R.E.M. or the Smiths, making smart, jangly pop music that never found as wide an audience as it deserved. Led by singers/songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, the Australian band broke up at the end of the decade, only to stage a vibrant comeback in 1999. But just as the duo began writing its 10th album in May 2006, McLennan died of a heart attack. Forster recalls the serendipity that put the Go-Betweens together again.

In early 1999, the Go-Betweens’ record company decided to put out a best-of album called Bellavista Terrace. Before the record’s release, my manager phoned me at my home in Germany and asked what we could do to help publicize it. I suggested a whistle-stop world tour by myself and Grant. The idea was to hit small clubs in major cities around the world, doing interviews by day and playing acoustic shows by night. My other suggestion was that Grant and I do it under our own names—no “Go-Betweens” on the marquee. This was to take pressure off us and allow Grant and I to play what we wanted, even if that meant playing Go-Betweens songs all night. Also, with our solo careers still going, we weren’t thinking about the Go-Betweens. We approached this tour as solo artists and friends.

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Classic Alternative: The Ocean Blue “The Ocean Blue” [Sire/Reprise]

oceanblue

If Echo & The Bunnymen were the template for early-’80s modern rock—from Ian McCulloch’s gravity-defying hairdo to the Liverpool band’s omnipresent trenchcoats and rainy-day outlook—then the Ocean Blue brought up the tail end of that decade in similarly iconic fashion. When it was signed by Sire Records boss Seymour Stein (the man who gave the world the Ramones and Blondie and introduced American ears to the Smiths), the Hershey, Pa., quartet was still months removed from high-school graduation, playing local gigs with neighbors such as the Innocence Mission and Live. With jingle-jangle guitars and lyrics that found inspiration at the feet of various poets, painters and paupers, the Ocean Blue’s 1989 debut convinced most listeners they were hearing a band of British upstarts rather than a group of teenagers from the relative hinterlands of Chocolatetown, USA. That The Ocean Blue was recorded in London with Smiths producer John Porter further blurred the quartet’s provenance. (The band members returned to the U.S. after canceling their tickets for Pan Am’s ill-fated Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.) The propulsive, Bunnymen-like “Between Something And Nothing” and sax-driven Haircut 100-alike “Drifting, Falling” made the Ocean Blue instant darlings of the college-radio and MTV 120 Minutes crowd, driving sales of more than 150,000 copies. Later records such as 1993’s Beneath The Rhythm And Sound may have perfected the formula introduced on this debut, but the Ocean Blue would never again hit on all creative cylinders. [www.theoceanblue.com]

—Corey duBrowa