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The new Plone album Puzzlewood

Clearly I’ve been “in the tunnel” too long, because it somehow escaped my attention that a new Plone album was released this year. And what’s more, it’s really good! Entitled Puzzlewood, it’s a welcome return to form for the British synth-oriented musical concern, who hadn’t officially released music since the nineties. A number of once-defunct bands from the nineties and early aughts have gotten back together somewhat recently and taken another stab at things, but a new album of candy-colored electro exotica from Plone takes the cake as far as things I didn’t think I’d ever hear. Am glad they gave it another go.

This corner of the internet–Dave J. Andrae’s “Blog”–is now ten years old. A lot can happen in ten years, and a lot can not happen in ten years.

Here is the view out the window ten years ago:

And here is the same view now:

(The house was repainted, and we put new palm trees in place of the dying ones, among other things.)

My first post here occurred after Robert on his Lunch Break was cut together and I’d begun submitting it to festivals. At that point I only had an inkling as to how difficult it would be to get it shown outside my tiny social circle, in front of the sort of audiences who might value such a thing. Being couched in youthful idealism still, and also being more than a little naive about the ways of the world, I didn’t quite understand what a tough proposition it would be for mass audiences, or even the supposedly liberated ones who might flock to independent and “experimental” film showcases. Even recently, when I watched Robert on his Lunch Break for the first time in ages before writing a review of it on Letterboxd, it didn’t fully click and I had to watch it again the next day to really lock into it. So I guess now it makes perfect sense to me that this particular creative vision, and even a much more palatable effort like The Plants Are Listening are too obscure in stature and sensibilities to gain much traction in the world. That won’t stop me from keeping most of my films available on Vimeo for anyone who wants to see them, for the indefinite future.

But at some point during these protracted attempts to find larger audiences for these works, it dawned on me that I only have so much patience for shepherding, that the pleasure of working on something and then beholding the finished piece once the dust has settled far outweighs the more tedious (and let’s face it, often times demeaning) side of promoting it. I’ve known a lot of other artists who are in the same boat. At some point people like us have to be content with having made something we like, if we’re lucky, and letting the chips fall where they may. Recent events, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the drip, drip, drip of climate change hanging over all of us, have had the effect of rendering somewhat hollow one’s lofty artistic ambitions.

But while we’re here, we’re here. We might as well try to enjoy ourselves and take on the occasional creative challenge, if we can. At the moment I’m deep into my debut novel, as you can see here:

I have only one chapter left to write before sending it off to a line editor, but the coronavirus and the deluge of bad news in the wake of it have made it difficult to concentrate, even while practicing social distancing and having somewhat minimal responsibilities. Eventually though, if all goes well, the novel will be released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. You can expect a work of fiction with a lot more “action” than most of my films, but the usual amount of humor and wit in places.

I was originally tempted to do a rundown of this “blog” and delve into some of its stats and most popular posts and so on, but I think I’ll just let all of that stand as it is. At some point not long after starting to post here, I realized that the general tone here would be a bit more dry and congenial and not as potentially goofy or ardent as it might be for my posting elsewhere on the internet. This might make it seem like my life is more orderly, serene, and free of conflict than it is. Also, it should be noted, this page used to look pretty damn nice as is, but now, without AdBlock it’s an eyesore (Thanks, WordPress!). And you might have noticed by now that I’ve largely stayed away from addressing politics and current events here. The reason being, these things take up a lot of space just about everywhere else on the internet and the bent of this “blog” is mostly tailored for cinephiles, personal friends, and general art enthusiasts.

Kaji bids you “Good day.”

Here’s to another ten.

Max von Sydow in Jan Troell's The Emigrants

Legendary Swedish actor Max von Sydow died in his sleep, at age 90. He was the real deal, with a career spanning seven decades; a not-so-secret weapon in Ingmar Bergman’s stable of actors who found success acting in mainstream Hollywood films as well as the European “arthouse” fare he built his name on. The headlines of many eulogies today have made mention of his roles in The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist, but my favorite von Sydow role (of the ones I’ve managed to see thus far) is his part as Karl Oskar in Jan Troell’s must-see double feature, The Emigrants and The New Land. Von Sydow and Liv Ulmann had acted in some Bergman films together, so when it came time to work on this pair of Troell films, they had their on-screen chemistry locked down. Aided in no small part by Troell’s expert-level directing and cinematography, as well as the fertile source material, The Emigrants and The New Land are the most accurate depictions of emigrant and colonial American life I’ve yet to see. I know he acted in all kinds of films, from the brilliant Winter Light (Bergman’s best, in my book) to the likes of Flash Gordon and Minority Report. But these two Troell efforts reaffirm why cinema is even worth bothering with in the first place—Max von Sydow’s nuanced acting, in which micro-expressions could speak volumes, and less was often more, has a lot to do with why they still hold up. Rest in peace.

A fortune cookie I ate recently had this to say:

Anna Karina in Pierrot Le Fou

A “requiescat en pace” goes out to the inimitable Anna Karina, who passed away yesterday at age 79. A top-shelf actor during her heyday, Karina was Jean-Luc Godard’s muse in the 1960s and her unwavering charm and disarming looks factored heavily into why films like Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville, Vivre sa Vie, A Woman is a Woman, and Band of Outsiders et al. went over so well and are now considered classics. I’ve enjoyed many of these films but Pierrot Le Fou in particular holds a special place in my heart, and Karina’s contribution to it was essential–at turns luminous and dreamy, assertive, feisty, and comical. Karina also worked with such filmmakers as Fassbinder, Rivette, Schlöndorff, and Visconti, among many others. She wrote four novels and had a singing career as well. Much more could be said, but suffice it to say, she left quite a mark on film culture and will be missed.

Dave's Birthday Cake

I have somehow managed to turn forty years old. Have got more than a few pounds to shed, and no, my life isn’t near “perfect” most of the time, but an ambitious project is underway and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel where that’s concerned, so it doesn’t feel too bad to have my thirties behind me now. I happen to know some wonderful people too, and have a cool dog, so that helps.

This “blog” will be ten years old come March. Hopefully I can think of something special to do for the occasion. For now, though, thanks for stopping by and reading from time to time.

Cheers,

-Dave

David Berman of the Silver Jews and Purple Mountains

Am very saddened to learn of the passing of accomplished poet and indie musician David Berman, author of the book Actual Air and frontman of beloved bands Silver Jews and, more recently, Purple Mountains. The latter were slated to tour this year for the first time, on the heels of their critically revered self-titled album that was only released last month on Drag City, the loyal record label Berman called home, even in the literal sense during his final years. A large and readable book could be written about D.B.—on his life, true, but perhaps more importantly, on the unique creative universe he realized through various mediums. To try to sum it all up in a brief eulogy, in the middle of the night, wouldn’t do it justice, especially since I didn’t know him. I will say that I enjoyed the wry, often-imitated poetry of Actual Air and have long been a fan of his music. The Silver Jews full-length The Natural Bridge in particular remains one of my favorite albums of the 1990s—just a nice, concise, sorta laid back late-night indie rock record with light Southern/country music influences. The number of times I’ve sang along to the opening track “How to Rent a Room” must be in the hundreds! And I’ve known plenty of other people who’ve been just as smitten with his songs and their poetic edge, that was no doubt informed by Berman’s huge, discerning appetite for books and his penchant for observing life with a keen eye toward compelling details. Though he was troubled by various things, to me there’s always been a clarity of wit, and oftentimes humor, even during the darkest of times, running through Berman’s work, be it poetry, or songs, or comics he drew. This has made it seem like he was approachable as an artist and that somehow he always had the upper hand. For instance, while his singing voice has always been endearing in my book, not to mention instantly recognizable, Berman once remarked “All my favorite singers can’t sing” in a song. This was perhaps a defensive gesture toward his “critics” or a commentary against people upholding rigid standards of what constitutes “talent” in art, how those who possess it in spades can be often seem to be operating in some sort of contradictory manner in relation to the norms of their medium.

I only got to see Silver Jews once, with my good friend Will at the High Noon Saloon in Madison in April of 2006. Berman had a large band behind him, comprised of his wife Cassie on bass, two guitarists (one of them William Tyler), a keyboardist, and a drummer. Being newly assembled, Berman remarked that, in a sense, they were “younger than the Arctic Monkeys,” which of course drew laughs, especially when he started talking in a U.K. accent. And to be honest, some of the older Silver Jews songs did sound a little flat. But when the band played the tracks from their new album Tanglewood Numbers, especially “There is a Place” and “Punks in the Beerlight,” they were a force to be reckoned with, and the room was teeming with life. The records and books will remain, and always draw people in–the new song “Darkness and Cold” alone has been haunting my mind this week, and the rest of Purple Mountains is moving from start to finish. But it’s a major loss. Rest in peace, D.B.

Today marks the completion of my first proper soul mixtape, which is entitled Intermediate Soul.

It includes a number of different subgenres spanning at least a couple of decades, that all more or less fall under the banner of soul and funk, broad styles of largely African American-oriented music from the latter half of the 20th Century that I’ve been a fan of for long enough now to have accrued many desert island favorites. This is some of my favorite art made by anyone in any medium, in fact.

The tracklist is as follows…

Side A

Harrison – “Uncle Soul”
Dee Irwin – “I Only Get This Feeling”
Ernie K-Doe – “Mother In Law”
Patti Drew – “Tell Him”
Bobby Reed – “The Time Is Right For Love”
Sparkels – “That Boy Of Mine”
Bobby Rich – “There’s A Girl Somewhere (For Me)”
The Precisions – “Such Misery”
Dena Barnes – “If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life”
Mami Lee – “I Can Feel Him Slipping Away”
Tangeers – “Let My Heart And Soul Be Free”
James Brown – “Why Did You Take Your Love Away From Me”
Yvonne Fair – “Say Yeah Yeah”
Wilmer & The Dukes – “Give Me One More Chance”
Edwin Starr – “Running Back And Forth”
Zu Zu Blues Band – “Zu Zu Man”
Jimmy Burns – “I Really Love You”
The Jades – “Lucky Fellow”

Side B

The Hamilton Movement – “She’s Gone”
The Montclairs – “Hung Up On Your Love”
Swiss Movement – “I Wish Our Love Would Last Forever”
Roddie Joy – “Come Back Baby”
The Fabulous Dynamics – “Get Hip To Yourself”
The Esquires – “Get On Up”
Rokk – “Patience”
Pure Essence – “Third Rock”
Brother To Brother – “In The Bottle”
Frazelle – “Today Is The Day”
Lemuria – “Hunk Of Heaven”
Odyssey – “Battend Ships”
Split Decision Band – “My Love Just For You”
Beau Dollar & The Coins – “Soul Serenade”

I call this tape Intermediate Soul because it goes beyond the well treaded stables of Motown and Stax, for instance, but is still comprised of music that isn’t impossible to track down these days. Essentially what we have here is a compilation made from a handful of vintage 45s, several high-quality bootlegs, as well as some reissued cuts (from LPs and CDs), some of which may have at one point been very obscure but are now more widely available. (Several of these tracks were reissued by the likes of Grapevine, Numero Group, Athens of the North, Jazzman, etc.) So while I’m not at all a digger/”tastemaker” type, or a proper DJ bringing “unknown” tracks to light (as would be befit an “expert-level” soul outing, perhaps?), this mixtape still cooks!

Upon finishing it I realized that a bunch of all-time favorites didn’t get included (not enough room, unfortunately), so maybe by the end of the year an Intermediate Soul Vol. II will be in the works.

This tape isn’t available for purchase anywhere, but if you know me, hit me up and we’ll see if we can get you a copy in due time.

This week sees the release of Up at 4 A.M. – The Definitive Version, a revamping of the debut Tired of Triangles album from a few years ago, available now for the first time on CD (as well as 24-bit digital download). All eight songs were remixed, with a few overdubs added or replaced to take advantage of finer software/gear and my ear for putting together better mixes. The album was professionally mastered and I’m now much happier with the recording as a whole and feel great about it being the third release on Kaji-Pup Records. And as you can see the artwork turned out pretty nice, if I may be so immodest.

This is kind of an “insular” and moody album, made for late night listening, so if you want a party record I’m afraid Up at 4 A.M. – The Definitive Version won’t do the trick. But if you’re game for a good solo rock outing that explores a variety of emotions in just under 22 minutes, this is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve had to listen to it a zillion times in preparation for the release, and after all of the trials and tribulations that were endured to bring it to light, I’m still fond of it.

You can stream/purchase Up at 4 A.M. – The Definitive Version on Bandcamp at: https://tiredoftriangles.bandcamp.com/album/up-at-4-a-m-the-definitive-version

Or, if you like, you can listen to it on Spotify HERE.

Agnès Varda

It’s with heavy hearts that film lovers around the world lament the passing of Agnès Varda, a great filmmaker and by nearly all accounts delightful and gentle soul who’s left behind a bold, lively, and endearing body of work. Her 1985 feature Vagabond is one of my ten favorite films—full stop. It’s an uncommonly rich and well directed portrait of a young homeless woman and the people she meets in her final days as she makes her way through a sleepy coastal vacation town at the onset of winter. I’ve seen a lot of movies and narrative cinema doesn’t get much better in my book, but where Varda’s filmography is concerned Vagabond is just the tip of the iceberg. The third chapter of a novel I’m currently writing makes reference to Varda’s underrated effort Kung-Fu Master!, characterizing it as a controversial film that had to be handled with just the right degree of finesse and sensitivity, implying that otherwise the whole thing would’ve fallen apart or seemed like a stunt or mere provocation. This is just one aspect that set Varda apart from the average filmmaker, her ability to navigate her narratives with a gracefulness and fresh vantage point that made her work always feel inviting, regardless of the “difficulty” of a given film’s subject matter. Varda rose to prominence in the mid to late fifties along with a host of other filmmakers related in some way to France’s Nouvelle Vague, but in contrast to her more “prickly” still-living contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, she was very sociable for someone of her stature, even in her final years, where she found acceptance among Hollywood movie stars and mainstream directors, among others. I could go on about what a loss her passing is for cinema, but really Varda’s contribution to film (whether as a feminist, an “art house” giant, or a writer-director period) is such a wonderful thing that I think it’s best to instead celebrate her life and the singular path she took. She was a visionary no doubt, a courageous artist. Rest in peace, Agnès.

Agnès Varda