Articles by

<Hannah Levine>

07/22/09 4:00am

The Rural Alberta Advantage make music that is intensely nostalgic, yet their sound is not reminiscent of anything specific. Their debut album, Hometowns, was born out of singer/songwriter Nils Edenloff’s feelings of homesickness after moving to Toronto from his native Edmonton. Yet despite many poignant Alberta-specific lyrics describing “dead roads” and “purple nights,” the album carries a sentimentality that translates to any town, in any county–any place left behind. The RAA’s dynamic acoustic sound is the happy, heartbreaking kind of sad that will either leave you in tears or drunk-dialing ex-girlfriends.

Opening track “Ballad of The RAA” is decidedly the album’s mission statement. “We invariably/left the prairies in my heart/since we never moved an inch,” Edenloff sings in an endearing plea of a voice. Entirely acoustic without sacrificing power, The RAA create a strained emotionality that is tragic and haunting. This sense of sonic distress enhances the restlessness and longing that Edenloff explores in his lyrics. His powerful folk guitar blends with his simple, honest verses and Paul Banwatt’s precise drumming to thoroughly capture “the ghosts of our town” that drift throughout the album.

“Edmonton” asks “What’ll I do if you never want to come back/sitting in a city that is always on the attack?” And while the concept of any Canadian city being “on the attack” is laughable, I love the un-whiny earnestness in Edenloff’s voice when he asks “What if I’m only satisfied when I’m at home?” In this song, and throughout Hometowns, there is an absent, lingering “you” that is most striking in the album’s single, “Don’t Haunt This Place.” Amy Cole, who plays a ridiculous amount of instruments on the album—everything from a tambourine to a glockenspiel–adds her vocal harmony to the refrain, “because we need this oh so bad, because I need you oh so bad,” making it even more (oh so) emotional. If you drink while listening to this album, you might want to throw your phone out the window. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a nostalgia-fueled drunk dial, and if there’s any album that will send your heart shattering back ten years, Hometowns is the one to do it. Pass the tissues, please.

07/08/09 4:00am

I am not a Shakespeare Snob. I appreciate a good modernization every now and again (especially a film version with Radiohead on the soundtrack) under one condition: the piece in question must actually be written by William, himself. Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, a production performed annually by the drilling compaNY, did not live up to this simple expectation. But at least my date and I got to touch up on our scoffing skills.

What at first warranted a half-chuckle – Lysander (played by blonde-pretty-boy Jordan Feltner) telling Hermia (blonde-pretty-girl Eileen Townsend) to meet him at Le Poisson Rouge, for refuge – was overplayed before we even got to the end of the second act, from Helena (Christine Dunn) crying “In Soho, I was not as fair as she” to Oberon (Ron Dreyer) proclaiming “thou shalt know him by the Uptown garments he has on.”

“We get it,” my date whispered. “The goddamn play is set in-” Her words, and the actor’s dialogue, were drowned out by a car alarm going off in the back of the parking lot.

But not only were the constant New York references kitschy, they were also inconsistent: Hermia speaks of escaping “Athenian law” and references to the forest are followed by talk of the L train. Furthermore, the modernizing elements of the performance – Quince (David Stadler), for example, reading the cast of Pyramus and Thisbe off his iPhone and pausing to wait for the email to load – did nothing to ground the play in a specific era; The fairies looked like Thriller extras, Oberon’s minions belonged in The Warriors, and Demetrius (Jasper Stoffer) was dressed for a 40s themed party at the McKibbin Street lofts.

The best part of the production, by far, was watching confused Asian American men cross the open lot, nearly dropping their groceries as they stared wide eyed at the 80’s-backup-dancer forest nymphs, who pranced around the stage chanting Titania (Selena Beretta) a “lul-ul-ul-ul-ul-aby” over and over, and consequently making a scene that was intended to be extremely brief last over four minutes.

It was much more difficult to determine the worst part. There was the pacing, which dragged as the actor’s slowly and egotistically recited their lines, as if they were all the main characters, and then there were the fairy dance-off interludes that served no purpose other than to show off their mad skills (admittedly, they really did have mad skills). And then there was the love potion, which was really bacon scented air freshener. Though maybe that was actually the best part.

For what it’s worth, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was entirely devoid of pretension – from the lawn chairs, to the “backstage” area, which was really just a camping tent, to the set, which only consisted of wooden crates and a banner backdrop that said “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot” in graffiti. For this reason, I feel a tad bit terrible critiquing it so harshly. But, I mean, c’mon, it’s Shakespeare, and who really wants unpretentious Shakespeare? Well, not me, apparently.

(photo credit: twobags via Flickr)

06/29/09 1:58pm

I always liked Studio B. Despite complaints about its patrons (insert misplaced stereotype of your choice here), perpetual sound issues and the buzz about shitty management, I dug the couches, which allowed you to decide whether a band was lounge-worthy or deserving of the energy it took to elbow up to the front (gazing longingly at Meric Long was well worth it). I even liked the cheesy chandeliers and the fake shrubbery on the roof deck. But not everyone shared my enthusiasm, especially the Studio’s residential neighbors, who accused the noisy venue of keeping them up at night. After months of legal issues and melodrama, Brooklyn Vegan reports that Studio B will shut its doors by the end of the month. This time, for good. Again.

As to be expected, BV’s comment section is flooded with residents hating on Studio B’s “whiny” patrons, patrons hating on its “whiny” neighbors, and random idiots sounding off on completely unrelated bullshit, yet still somehow managing to use the word “whiny.” In the “We hate Studio B” camp, there are complaints of the club’s “cruddy music that blasts forth some nights til 4am…and reverberates between the surrounding buildings…,” bartenders who are “hostile asshole” [sic] and patrons who are “whiny douchebags” and “suburban dregs.” The other side accuses the neighbors of being “whiny little self-important ninnies that thought they were still back in the midwestern suburbs” and “the worst whiny bitches I’ve ever met.” Who are these people, and why do they use the same adjective?

In any case, it looks like Studio B is actually closing this time, so both sides will have to find something new to whine about. Meanwhile, I’ll be on a hunt for another venue with super comfy couches.

06/10/09 4:00am

It takes a lot to shock me, especially when it comes to sex (my own mother used the term TMI last week while I was discussing a certain after hours adventure). So last Thursday when I went to check out Richard Kern’s retrospective at Rental Gallery I expected to see some Vice Magazine-style pretty, harmless, almost-pornography, like the up-the-skirt series Kern showed at Feature Inc. last October. I was wrong. Apparently, shock value does exist, or at least it did in the 80s.

I was riding my tricycle down the Brooklyn Heights promenade and watching The Little Mermaid during the Cinema of Transgression years, so I missed the boat on the cult of Kern. His only work I was familiar with was music-related—a portrait of a nude, dickless Marilyn Manson with “cunt” scrawled in blood across his chest, and the super-trippy music video for Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley 69.” The exhibition at Rental covered precisely the New York years I missed out on, culturally–when you were more likely to find a discarded needle than a Mocha Frappuccino on Avenue A–specifically, 1982-1999.

When I arrived at the opening, the gallery was already packed with hordes of Kern’s followers lining up for his autograph and milling about in hopes of catching Thurston Moore by the wine table. Schmooze-induced-laughter filled the room, making the frightened, naked women on the walls appear almost ironic. Adding to the chaos was the sound of nails on a chalkboard, screams for mercy, and piercing guitar feedback—the soundtrack to Kern’s films, which were playing in Rental’s smaller front room. Normally, just hearing the phrase “free wine” makes me feel at ease, but amidst smiling, whispering patrons and Kern’s intentionally creepy photographs, I felt strangely inhibited, even after glass three.

Kern’s lens focuses in on the darker elements of sexual nature. The women tied and gagged in his bondage portraits are not shown at the height of their sexual ecstasy—they simply look uncomfortable. Excruciatingly uncomfortable, and eternally trapped in the 90s (complete with pale skin, dark makeup, leather and excessive piercings). This discomforting awkwardness is only enhanced by the elements of innocence in Kern’s young subjects, which suggest a struggle towards sexual awareness.

While Kern’s newest fashion photography is casually glamorous (I picture all of his Vice models lounging in trust-funded Brooklyn lofts), his old work reflects the grittiness of the needle era they were taken in. In a sense, the retrospective at Rental was perfectly timed with the state of our economy and the city’s virtual unaffordability. Pre-glitz New York is a myth us twenty-somethings idealize as if it were Wonderland. This could also explain why there were so many young people at the opening, despite the fact that we were clearly sipping juice-boxes while Kern was shooting Fingered.

Surprisingly, the photo I found most disturbing did not feature gags or blood. It was a simple nude portrait of a not-so-attractive, slightly chubby redhead, cupping her breasts with a look of pained insecurity in her eyes. The shot made me question my own reaction–did I find the photo eerie because it showed an uncomfortably normal kind of sexuality I didn’t expect to see? Because it was blatantly un-sexy? Because the models self consciousness made me acutely self aware? Needless to say, many of Kern’s portraits left me feeling icky, but at least it was the contemplative kind of icky.

Very few of Kern’s vintage portraits represent women in positions of power, and when they do, that power is directly derived from phallic imagery, negating any hope of feminist interpretation (in fact, feminists, run for your lives!). In one of these photos, a heroin-skinny, almost-androgynous woman leans against her pickup, pointing a rifle. There is an eerie vacancy in her eyes and empty beer cans line the windshield. In the other, a woman aims her gun, and her strap on, simultaneously. Lovely. The works I most appreciated were perhaps Kern’s least extreme–the zombie-esque still shot of Lung Leg from Kern’s film You Killed Me First (that also became the cover of Sonic Youth’s EVOL), as well as his more voyeuristic, less masochistic shots.

I worked up the nerve to check out the film portion of the exhibition just in time to catch two women adorn their male lover with lipstick, then proceed to fuck him with strap-ons (in the mouth and ass, respectively). But wait, there’s more: the strap-ons (inexplicably) have the ability to produce jizz–a penis-envy dream come true! I could comment about how this might be a feminist statement, but I fear the National Organization for Women would come after me (with dildos).

After a clip of a vagina being sewn shut, I decided it was past my bedtime. I appreciate Richard Kern for proving that, despite years of Internet porn and an obsession with Henry Miller, I can still be shocked and disturbed by some truly fucked up art.

Richard Kern’s exhibition at Rental Gallery continues through July 5.