Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fractal Cat Interview
Conducted by Anthony Servante

Sunday nights I listen to experimental and local Rock and Roll. I was quite taken with the sound of Fractal Cat when I first heard "As You Fly", the video track from their new album, Lovingkind (2014). I tracked them down to Facebook and a message later I was in touch with Miles Gannett, guitarist/vocalist, producer and spokesperson for the band. Never has an interview been arranged so promptly. This time out, I will review the new Fractal Cat CD, "Lovingkind", immediately after this interview. Enjoy.


1. Can you introduce the members of the band?
Jason Armstrong Baker – drums Miles Gannett – guitar and vocals Kim Gravatt – flute and saxophone Keith Jones – guitar and vocals Andy Myatt – bass

2. How did the band get its start?
It started out as a recording project in my home studio. I invited Jason (whom I met through my yoga teacher at a Dalai Lama speech) to play drums on a couple of recordings at first, and then we started assembling the band from people we knew. Keith and I had previously played together in a band called The Supreme Now, and Andy was recommended by a mutual friend. Kim has just started playing with us after recording on the sessions for our new album, Lovingkind.

3. Can you tell us about your music? How do you classify it for the Record Stores?
We think of it as “Psychedelic Rock,” but that could mean a lot of things, I guess. We’re song people, first and foremost. We love so many different styles of music, and try to bring in aspects of various styles as it suits each song. Part of our particular psychedelic aesthetic is this sort of playful mixing or juxtaposition of seemingly disparate genres. I see music as being essentially spiritual, and I approach songwriting and playing from that angle. We hope our music is uplifting and inspiring to our listeners.

4. What are the musical and lyrical influences for your music?
We like a lot of the old 1960’s and 1970’s psychedelic music, especially artists like the Beatles, early Pink Floyd, Love, Gong, and Kevin Ayers. We also love early rock ‘n’ roll, classic R&B, classic soul, classic country, New Orleans music, John Coltrane, etc… I was heavily influenced in the nineties by electronic groups like The Orb and Massive Attack, and I think sometimes you can hear a little of that in my production. Lyrically, I think Keith and I are all over the place. My lyrics tend to be influenced by experiences I’ve had, and by stuff I’m reading.

5. Can you tell me about the song “As You Fly”? It reminds me of the optimism of the early Beatles songs. 
It’s funny that you should mention the Beatles in reference to “As You Fly.” The song actually came to me in a dream, and was sung to me in the dream by a voice I identified as John Lennon. I woke up and realized it wasn’t a Lennon song and wrote it in one sitting on the couch where I had been sleeping! Of course, the Beatles are a huge influence on us in general, but here it was pretty direct. Some of the lyrics came out of the dream, and others out of the haziness of waking up. It just kind of poured out. The song’s title and second chorus are a reference to William Blake’s poem “Eternity.” Several of the songs on Lovingkind were written either in dreams or upon waking, but this was the most memorable dream.

6. How do you divvy the songwriting chores?
Well, I just write songs, or they happen to me it seems. Chores are all the things I have to that aren’t songwriting! Keith always has a handful of songs he’s working on too, and we get together and bounce our songs off each other, to see what’s worth developing. If Keith is really excited about a song I’m working on, that usually pushes me to finish it. As far as the arrangements go, sometimes I have a clear idea for all the parts, or sometimes just a vague idea. Sometimes I know exactly the line I want the bass to play, and sometimes we just see what comes out of jamming on the songs in practice. On most of the songs, everyone in the band is contributing creatively to the arrangement in some way.

7. What are you into when not thinking about music?
I teach yoga, and I’m also in school right now doing an independent studies program. I like reading stuff like Ursula K. Le Guin and Phillip K. Dick when I don’t have to read for school. Everybody in the band has some sort of non-musical pursuit. Jason is a sailor, and he developed a game called Sounds Around the World to teach geography to kids using music. Keith is raising a little boy. Kim is a commercial diver. Andy is into scuba diving.

8. What’s on the horizon for the band? New CD? Tour?
We’re just starting to develop a new batch of songs, which we will start recording pretty soon for a new string of singles and eventually a new album.

Dressed as Lewis Carroll  characters

9. Do you have a concert schedule you’d like to share?
9/19 CafĂ© Nola in Frederick, MD 9/20 Dante’s in Frostburg, MD 10/18 Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD 11/15 Metropolitan in Annapolis, MD (with The Funky Bass and Beat Group Known as F and Voodoo Pharmacology) 12/27 8x10 in Baltimore, MD (with Telesma and Voodoo Pharmacology)

10. Can you give us your Top Ten List of Most Important Songs in your career?
Here are some songs that we like, and that have influenced me and Keith:

Top Ten Song List from Fractal Cat:

1. Beatles “I Am the Walrus”

2. Pink Floyd “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”

3. Gong “Master Builder”

4. Sly and the Family Stone “Sing a Simple Song”

5. Love “The Daily Planet”

6. The Jefferson Airplane “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds”

7. Nilsson “The Moonbeam Song”

8. John Coltrane “My Favorite Things” (Village Vanguard Live Again)

9. Syd Barrett “Octopus”

10. Kevin Ayers “Lady Rachel”

Bonus cut:
11. As You Fly (from Lovingkind)

Thank you, Fractal Cat, for that nostalgic Top Ten List. It is easy to see where your influences have come from.

It's been a pleasure having the CAT on the Servante of Darkness Blog. Pick up the new album and take in one of their concerts. But before we say goodbye, let's take a look at this new LP.

Fractal Cat "Lovingkind" 
The Review:

Fractal Cat has a new album out, and it's called "Lovingkind". It is a piece of retro Psychedelic Pop in the style of early Traffic and Pink Floyd. The songs are often upbeat jazzy, somewhere between early Split Enz and Herb Alpert (especially in the track Blue Sky), but "Tryptide" sounds right out of the 60s Pop culture, catchy and timeless. It would be my pick for radio play promotion. "Climb that Hill" is playful with both its lyrics and instrumentation. I loved the harmonies and hints of hard rock in the extended guitar and keyboard work. "Caterpillers" is the most Beatles-que song on the LP, with a driving beat and strong vocal interplay. It reminded me of an uptempo "I am the Walrus". 

Fractal Cat does not mimic the '60s Pop sound. It transcends it by bringing the style and spirit to the 2010s. For those unfamiliar with the 60s, the music will be an uplifting experience, but for those familiar with that decade, you be pleased with the nostalgic feel to these songs that you'll want to hear again and again. 

Lovingkind by Fractal Cat can be found on iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp, as well as Spotify. Here's the Bandcamp link, which is probably the best quality download: 
Thanks again!
Miles Gannett, Fractal Cat

Thank you, readers and music lovers, for visiting with Fractal Cat today. Visit again soon when we have more music, books, TV, and movies to discuss. This is the Servante of Darkness bidding vous adieu. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature
LUCY (2014) & Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

LUCY (2014)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Directed by Luc Besson

A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

The  Review:
Since I saw Scarlett's character 100% naked in Under the Skin, I felt obligated to see Lucy, where her latest character's brain is laid out 100% percent naked. So to speak. To be quite honest, I planned to skip this movie. I heard that it was so bad, it was good. And hilarious. I'm always up for a great bad movie. So I went. Problem was, it wasn't so bad and it wasn't very good. The movie sat on the fence and never quite committed itself one way or the other. It was kind of so-so.

Our story begins with Lucy being cajoled into taking a briefcase to a Korean businessman, Mr. Jang, and collecting a payment. The case contains a drug that Mr. Jang's henchmen sew into Lucy's abdomen. Three other "mules" (people hired to carry the drug across the border) also have the same packets of blue crystals in their bellies). Only, once in Europe in the hands of her connection, Lucy's packet is busted by a kick to the belly after she thwarts the captor's advances. The drug spills into her blood system and her IQ and DNA play a game of Quien es mas macho! As she grows smarter, she develops abilities and manipulating matter. Then the countdown begins. 20 percent brain capacity. 30. 40. The smarter she gets, the higher the body count gets.

The myth that humans use only 10% of their brain is not a bad idea for a movie, and the trailers truncate the best parts of the film, but when the trailers show all the good parts, one must be wary when attending these films, for the rest of the movie, the not-good parts, must surely be filler. And they are.

The story filler was the main problem. Director Luc Besson interweaves documentary footage of wild animals to underline important scenes, just in case his movie audience can't figure out what's going on. When the Korean thugs ponce upon Lucy, we next have a scene of a wild cheetah attacking its prey. Get it. Lucy is prey. And that's how the filler works: it condescendingly tells us what we are watching because we surely cannot determine that for ourselves.

Or not...

And besides the stock footage, there's the countdown, or, rather, the count-up. As Lucy's brain size increases, the screen notifies us with huge numbers showing what percentage of her brain she is using. I did laugh out loud once during the movie, and that was when the count-up jumped from 90 to 99%. I was half expecting 99 and a half. You see, the gangsters were closing in on Lucy as she was downloading all her brain power for Morgan Freeman, a scientist who didn't know that the 10% brain thing was all a myth. So, that 99% gave us one percent more suspense during that big finale.

All in all, there were some good moments in the movie to recommend it on a double-feature, but not as a single-feature. Not good enough to be good, not bad enough to be good, and no nudity. That leaves the flashes of gore and the stock animal footage. Although Scarlett Johansson fans are keeping this film in the theaters, non-Scarlett fans and Science Fiction geeks might want to go see Snowpiercer, my pick of the year, so far.


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Starring Chris Platt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Batista, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel.
Directed by James Gunn

Brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits-Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy's fate in the balance.

The Review:
A cross between Star Wars, the original--not the sequels--and Flash Gordon, with a pinch of Monty Python thrown in, Guardians of the Galaxy is a geek adventure for the whole family. I loved spotting the allusions to 70s music and movies. The humor was tongue-in-cheek, but the overall tone of the movie moved from pathos to bathos with relative ease.

As a matter of fact, each character has a "revealing" emotional moment that plays against character. Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, is a raccoon who's undergone extensive surgeries and experimentation to turn him into an intelligent warrior beast, but his scars run deep and it's a poignant moment when he admits the horrors he faced as an "guinea pig" for the scientists. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel in a minimalist but effective role, probably steals the show with his one line: "I am Groot." When he varies his one line, it breaks your heart. Hell, I was on the verge of tears when I found out why Chris Pratt's character was called "Star Lord".

As a kid, I was a comic book geek. I read everything fresh off the rack, from Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Amazing Spiderman number 1 to Superman, Batman, and the Justice League, and everything in between. But, Guardians of the Galaxy slipped by me. I remember reading Star-Lord oversize comic in a Marvel Presents issue, but I never connected the dots. I don't remember the other characters. I did recognize Howard the Duck (if you haven't seen the movie, it's no big spoiler, believe me). So, I was not too anxious to see this movie. It's been out for over a month and even the great reviews couldn't drag me to a showing. If it weren't for the fact that I was in the theater for LUCY, I wouldn't have stayed for a double-feature of Guardian of the Galaxy. And I'm glad I did.

It doesn't make me want to rush out and read all the comic books, because what director James Gunn did with this movie was create a unique universe of Hollywood cinema and second league Marvel heroes and elevate it to a level on par with the Star Wars universe and the tongue-in-cheek humor of Flash Gordon, the Sam J. Jones version, where the Queen soundtrack may just as well be a character in the movie. So, too, does the soundtrack of Guardians prove to not only set the tone of the movie but make it a nostalgic experience set in the future. If anything, I want to see this movie again and again, and look for more layers, more references and hidden jokes. This is the best movie out this year. Sorry, Edge of Tomorrow, but you are now runner-up for best Science Fiction action-fantasy of the year. And that is no small feat for a B level comic book to accomplish. When you leave this movie, you'll be Groot, too.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cinema Cinema CD Release "A Night at the Fights"
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

New CD


Cinema Cinema was established in 2008 when two Brooklyn-born and -raised cousins, Ev Gold and Paul Claro, joined forces. With Gold seamlessly intertwining guitar, pedals, and vocals, and Claro laying down a ferocious foundation, a new sound burst forth from the seeds of no-wave and hardcore.

Throughout the past six years, the two have financed and managed their own D.I.Y. touring schedule, playing over 350 shows, more than 30 U.S. states, and seven different countries.

Some of their most rewarding moments include five American tours with Greg Ginn (SST Records), opening multiple shows for Black Flag in their home city of Brooklyn, as well as touring Europe with world-renowned producer Martin Bisi.

They have released two E.P.'s and two full-length albums, one of which was recorded with legendary Inner Ear producer Don Zientara. They recently unveiled a 7" cover of P.J. Harvey's "50 Ft Queenie", and have just finished recording their third full-length with Martin Bisi, to be released soon.

CD Review:

Cinema Cinema releases their third CD on August 19th, 2014. Titled "A Night at the Fights", it continues the band's Punk energy fusion with 70s Progressive Rock experimentation. Ev Gold assaults the guitar, taming the tiger till its growl becomes a purr, while Paul Claro pounds the skins with rhythmic velocity and terror, matching the ups and downs of the tiger roars. In short, this is cerebral head-banging music at its best. 

The opening songs, "Broad Daylight", "Decades", and "Raging Bull" are easily the cornerstone of CC's sound. Lyrics are shouted but always understood. The unpredictable rhythms are reminiscent of Jazz fusion; they follow the beat only to abandon it in favor of soaring guitar work. And then return to the beat safely. By track 4, "Boxcutter", the rhythm relaxes and the song seemingly takes on the form of a traditional Progressive Rock song, but it is a false lure, a siren calling the sailor to the sharp rocks. The shift to basic Hard Rock echoes the work of bands like Camel and King Crimson while the lyrics ironically cry "Twist and shout". This is one of my favorite songs on the CD.

"Gowanus Ghost" revisits the Progressive structure of soft lyrics with hard drum work and wild guitar play. "Minute" was by far the most experimental, while "2010" was the most accessible, a Top Forty Song waiting to hit the airwaves. That is not a criticism. Cinema Cinema needs to reach a wider audience. So far, their audience has come from the crowds of their concerts. A little word of mouth wouldn't hurt a bit. And, lastly, "Shiner No. 4", the final track on the new CD, uses extensively pedal guitar to express sounds closely resembling 1970s synthesizer (think Rick Wakeman). It rounds out the earlier songs on the CD.

A cross between early King Crimson, the jams of Jimi Hendrix, and raw Punk Rock of bands like RANCID and DESCENDANTS, the new CD by Cinema Cinema brings its raw and savage sound to bear on the lazy Pop hits sentiments of today's generation. Every ten years or so, a talent of genius and skill shakes up the music of the current generation. Cinema Cinema is that band. They've earned a listen from you, and you deserve to listen to them.

Click here for tickets to their East Coast CD Release concert and receive a free CD. If you can't make it, click here for information about purchasing a copy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature
Snowpiecer & Under the Skin
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Snowpiecer (2014)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, Song Kang-ho.
Summary: In this sci-fi epic, a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet. The final survivors board the SNOWPIERCER, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. When cryptic messages incite the passengers to revolt, the train thrusts full-throttle towards disaster.

Review: Part moral fable, part social satire, Snowpiercer has a lot on its mind, and on its plate. As a metaphor, the train represents the 1 percent wealthy folks who live in the front cars, while the impoverished revolutionists make up the 99 percent. The rich eat sushi while the poor eat "protein", a black gooey brick that we find later is made up of something we probably would not want to put in our mouth. The back of the train is led by Gilliam (as in Terry Gilliam, get it?) played by John Hurt; the front is led by Ed Harris (Wilford), designer and engineer of the perpetual train. What makes it perpetual is also a surprise you won't see coming, and even if you do, it's still shocking. Gilliam is too weak to continue to lead the revolt, so he enlists the smart and stoic Curtis (Chris Evans, who is a long way from his Captain American role).

There are secrets galore, betrayals and double-crosses. Don't think for a minute that your favorite character will reach the front of the train, for they are each disposable. What's important is the journey, and that's where all the fun lies. Each car has a different danger or pleasure. We find out which is which just as our revolutionaries do as they open each door. There's a boxcar full of hatchet men in one, a sushi bar in another. At times we laugh, at times we flinch in horror. And each car looks like a creation from Terry Gilliam (see how that tied in?).  Bong Joon-ho, who gave us the great monster movie The Host, delivers another great story, this one almost as epic as those Homeric hymns. Tragic heroes and heroic villains inhabit this journey from car to car.

Ultimately, Snowpiercer is an instant classic, a film worthy of multiple viewings, with enough layers in meaning to keep even the nerdiest viewer finding new gems in the dialog or frames. What puzzles me is how did this movie end up in the arthouse circuit. Was it bumped by Transformers? Probably. So, if it passed your local theater, it is now available online and on some cable pay-per-view networks. But, if you can, see this movie on the big screen. Big vistas, big characters, and big story demand a big screen viewing.


Under the Skin (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Summary: A voluptuous woman of unknown origin combs the highway in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again. Based on the novel by Michael Faber, this film examines human experience from the perspective of an unforgettable heroine who grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin, until she is abducted into humanity with devastating results.

The Review: I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), directed by Mr. Psychedelic, Nicolas Roeg, so I know about intellectual Science Fiction movies that are more thought provoking than action adventure (like a Tom Cruise SF flick). To this day, I still don't know what I watched in the David Bowie film. I heard it's about money and corruption. I can see that. Problem is, I didn't see that. I saw a film about an alien from a drought-ridden planet who comes to Earth to try to save his planet. So, basically, we have two things going on: one, the movie we see, and two, the movie we "experience".

In Under the Skin, we see a alien creature (ScarJo) inhabit a human skin and set up dozens of men to be absorbed by a black floor made up of a liquidy tar goop. That's what we see. We can surmise that the bodies of the men are energy for their spaceship or food for consumption. Like the Bowie alien, ScarJo seems to have a plan and goes about it with repetitive workmanship, for about half the movie, I might add. I heard these early scenes where she lures the men into her van and leads them to their death were filmed with non-actors, real men in Scotland who thought they were being picked up for real, so the scenes play out quite realistically and make their deaths all the more empathetic. I also heard that only a handful of the men signed the waiver to appear in the film, but enough to take up half a movie.

We also see a guy on a motorcycle cruising through some beautiful vistas of forests and mountains. Is he her mate? Ask all you want, you're not getting an answer. What we can safely assume is that ScarJo becomes curious about her human skin. She saves one of her victims from the dreaded tar and abandons her mission to try her hand at being human. This takes up the second part of the film. We know she wants to be human because she tries to eat a slice of cake and attempts to make love to a man who tries to help her. Attempts because she's not equipped for human sex. Scene should have been funny; instead, it's poignant. Her curiosity has tragic consequences and the guy on the motorcycle waits at the rendezvous point alone.

That's what we see. What we experience is what you pay for. The play between dark and darker images begins with a point of light at the film's beginning. Is it the spaceship coming? Maybe. Who cares. It looks cool and seems foreboding. Each shot is picture-postcard perfect. There's very little dialog so there's lots to look at, and that's what carries the story. On a lark, I tried to follow a pattern to the plot development. The tar was earth, dirt or soil, of the elements. The open-spaces were air. So, by the end of the film, there should be fire, to complete the cycle of elements. Bam. There was fire. Congratulations. In typical nerd logic, the three elements, earth, air, fire, did frame the story experience. In essense, birth, life, and death. What do I win? Nothing. Just a good experience with a good movie.

So, film-lovers, this is the movie for you. Forget about the action movie humans versus aliens and simply be swept by the experience of the story frame by frame. Lots of ScarJo nudity, in good taste, more Penthouse than Playboy, but never Hustler. Some great panoramic vistas worthy of Ansel Adams. And for those of you who are up for the occasion, there is a story in there to be found. It may not be my "elements" framework, but it's one of those movies where we can share what we thought it was about afterwards over a cup of coffee.