Thursday, March 31, 2011

When you're bored with rock'n'roll...

I never thought it would happen to me - and I hope it doesn't - but I almost feel as if over the last few years I've gotten a little less rock'n'roll. I say that because I haven't heard any new music in years that truly got me going, excited me...I'd say the last band that did that to me was the Blues Explosion, and that was the 1990s. Brief highs from Slough Feg, The Upper Crust, Wolfmother, Enduro, The Black Keys, and other bands have turned me on from time to time but for the most part, I find myself listening to less and less rock music, and when I do, it's either a massive 1980s pop mix I made, or stuff that predates me, mostly heavy art rock ala Tull and Rush.

As of a few years ago, I started getting into jazz music, taking the time to understand it and whatnot...I've been into Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus since the mid-1990s but it's only been in the last few years that I've gotten to the point that I can truly call myself a jazz aficionado. But it's all old stuff. It seems new jazz is all Kenny G-esque, at least the stuff I've been exposed to, and I'm partial to Ornette Coleman weirdness, hard bop, and all that artsy 1950s and 1960s stuff (as for the 1970s, I was pleased to learn Herbie Hancock was actually pretty awesome, pre-synthesizer). But as far as new jazz goes, I hadn't heard any I liked until recently.

New Generation Big Band - "Shoot" - This young jazz band from the Netherlands has that old-time Benny Goodman big band feel...but they've got a modern touch I can't quite explain, with elements of hip hop, wawa guitar, and other stuff thrown in underneath some blistering horn parts and awesome solos, with the occasional female vocal. The biggest impression I had after listening to the opening track, "Durban Poison", is "this sounds like 70s cop show music." And indeed it does, as does the track "Shoot." You can hear some samples here. This stuff borders on artsy-fartsy, but avoids being academic. In other words, it's got soul, but its a soul informed by knowing what the hell they're doing. If you're in the mood for some classic big band sounds with a bit of modern grunge and grit, this could be entertaining.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've been really into this soft piano jazz band, the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, a Polish group, whose album "January" is very nice. This is exactly the type of music I would have NOT liked when I was young...it borders on elevator music, or the kind of "soft jazz" you might hear in an expensive restaurant. But there's something spooky, otherworldly, and almost New Agey about these guys that I really like, and it's been my record of choice when I want some relaxing background music over the last week or two. I heard them on NPR, and the reviewer praised their subtle, pretty melodies. Actually, more than anything, this sort of reminds me of the soundtrack music for all those Charlie Brown specials - not the main theme everyone knows, but those quieter ones...you can almost picture an adult Schroeder picking away at these tunes. I wish I could articulate what it is I like about this, but I'm not sure I can other than to say it's relaxing, compelling, and makes a good soundtrack for quiet down-time, reading, or whatever.

Next time, I'll talk about some Renaissance and Baroque era picks I've been enjoying.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Warhammeresque Movies

An old friend recently posted on facebook that the movie Red Riding Hood reminded her of a Warhammer game. I haven't seen it. But I have seen a few other movies that, to me, were very Warhammeresque, evocative of that grim feel we WFRP fans love. So here's my picks for "Movies That Are Like Warhammer."

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972). Directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski, this is a German movie about Spanish conquistadors. It follows the tale of Aguirre (Kinski) who does one of the best "spiraling into madness" performances I've ever seen. Aguirre and other conquistadors under the leadership of Pizarro are looking for El Dorado in the remote jungles of Peru, depicted perhaps accurately as a steaming, nightmarish hellscape. No spoilers here, but Aguirre eventually becomes the leader of a splinter group and he gets worse and worse, more oppressive and evil, as time goes on and he slowly loses his freakin' mind. Here's a typical example of his dialogue:

"Anyone who even thinks about deserting this mission will be divided into 198 pieces; those pieces will be dissolved; whoever takes one grain of corn or one drop of water more than his ration, will be imprisoned here 155 years... If I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees... then the birds will drop dead from the trees... I am the wrath of God. The earth I pass will see me and tremble."

This movie reminds me of Warhammer because it is grim as hell, and goes to show you don't need the Taint of Chaos to drive men mad - just heat, disease, and a bad attitude. The movie also reminds me a lot of Apocalypse Now, in that it gets weirder and more insane as the journey into the primordial landscape progresses.

If you see this, try to see it in the original German. Because nothing sets the WFRP mood like some German, no? And I don' t want to spoil anything, but I will say one phrase that I hope inspires you to see this fine movie: Death by Monkeys.

The Devils (1971). Directed by Ken Russell, who has done some of my favorite movies (Lair of the White Worm, Gothic, Altered States), this is hands-down the most bizarre and disturbing movie I've ever seen that I actually liked. It was apparently even more shocking in the early 70s, and it was banned in many countries and heavily edited in others. It's very difficult to find even now, and I could be wrong but I don't think it ever made it to DVD.

When I say "disturbing," I mean it features such things as witch-hunters administering boiling enemas, an insane hunchback nun (Vanessa Redgrave) masturbating with the charred femur of a priest who's been burnt at the stake, and other sorts of the craziness not out of place during a mass possession that takes hold a nunnery in a French town in the 1600s. A dissolute but popular priest (the vastly underrated Oliver Reed) has de facto control of a town after its ruler dies; Cardinal Richelieu, who runs France, is having city fortifications demolished to weaken Protestants. But the town holds out under some promise from the King not to give this town the same treatment. Because of this, and the ravings of a batshit crazy hunchbacked nun (Vanessa Redgrave) who is sexually obsessed with the priest...well, it's pretty convoluted but in the end there are supposed mass demon possessions, witch-hunters are brought in, and the protagonists generally come to a bad end. The best part is when the whole thing is clearly exposed as a sham or mass hypnosis, and yet it keeps going on.

The witch-hunters, the grim, bleak tone and an explosion of religio-sexual frenzy worth of Slaanesh him/herself is what, to me, make this a Warhammeresque movie. However, this is not for the weak. I can only watch it about once a decade.

Flesh & Blood (1985). This one is from Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) and it follows a band of mercenaries in 1501 northern Italy. They are led by Martin (Rutgar Hauer) who are swindled by a noble and robbed of their payment for a war (the right to loot a city). They kidnap Agnes (Jennifer Jason Lee), the betrothed of the noble's son, and do all kinds of frightful things to her. Eventually, though, she proves to be a master manipulator, and before long she has settled in as one of the gang. Martin has found a buried statue of St. Martin (who has a sword), which convinces them all he should be the group's leader. They take a castle whose inhabitants are dying from the plague, and set up shop. Martin and Agnes become king and queen of this motley group. Now it's never quite clear to me whether Agnes has some kind of Stockholm Syndrome or whether she's just playing the hand she's dealt (she may not either), but several times it seems clear she has real, if twisted, affection for Martin, who she eggs on into despotism.

Meanwhile, the kid she was supposed to marry, Steven (Tom Burlinson, who seems to be a Frank Sinatra tribute artist these days, among other things), is trying to get Agnes back. He seems like a weak and ineffectual kid at first. But he quickly shows how ruthless he can be. He raises a force and heads for a confrontation that involves catapulting plague-ridden animals, vicious sword fights, gigantic fires, torture, and a lot of just plain gross, over-the-top stuff (this is Paul Verhoeven, so...).

What makes this a Warhammeresque movie to me is mostly just the look of it. It was shot in Spain, which looks a lot like the way the Border Princes are often described, and the weapons, clothing, armor, and stuff are right out of the illustrations in the books (complete with poofy pants, ridiculously large swords, etc). The band of mercenaries is (except for Rutgar Hauer), generally weird-looking and have obviously rolled on the Distinguishing Marks table quite a few times (one of whom is steadfast 80s-90s supporting bad guy, Brion James). The movie does a good job of balancing colorful sex/action violence and a bleak, hopeless feel that can only be called grim. It does have a great ending, though, and it's exactly the way any player would hope it to.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cleaning House, Catching Up

Now that gonensworld.com is up, I've moved all of my gaming-related pages over there into the Workshed section. All that's left here is the Johnny Pharaoh Band page and my basic posts.

In other news, I've started a new band with some friends - Ryan from Rocket to Saturn and Matt and Corey from Captain Murgatroyd. So far we are having a good time and slowly finding our sound. No name yet. Ideas include Starfinger, The Big Bad, People's Republic of Fontavia, and the Pecan Sandies. Thoughts? Send 'em my way. Personally, I like Starfinger best, but we'll just have to wait and see. No sense in having a band name when you only have a song and a half under your belt. As soon as there's anything worth listening to I'll post a link.

Until then...

More Star Chamber Radio

Here's part two of Colin Campbell's story The Big Bang, which I've adapted for "radio." Hope you enjoy it!