Must See Exhibition: ‘John Waters: Indecent Exposure’ Opens at the Baltimore Museum of Art

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There are very few places that are so viscerally associated with one cultural figure as is Baltimore with John Waters. And though he maintains an apartment in New York City (and can often be spotted out on the town), he stills ultimately calls the Maryland city home.

So it’s something of an “at long last” that the venerable Baltimore Museum of Art has just opened a monumental career survey on the provocative but eminently lovable filmmaker, fittingly titled John Waters: Indecent Exposure.

Launching his directorial career in 1968 with Eat Your Makeup, he would go on to have a string of hits from 1981 – 1994, including the by now camp classics Polyester, Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Serial Mom. The beloved Hairspray, of course, would go on to become something of a cottage industry unto itself.

 

 

The exhibition enlightens as to precisely how he matter-of-factly created his singular, inimitable aesthetic, exalting in the low-brow, the trashy and the humorously sexual. With more than a 150 photographs, videos, installations and sculptures, it’s a journey through an outlandish, always hilarious America, as only John Waters could have possibly interpreted it all. It also reminds of what a fearless provocateur he has always been, especially when it came to challenging gender norms. (A socio-cultural battle that yet still rages on.)

Waters himself once famously said, “I pride myself on the fact that my work has no socially redeeming value.” Indecent Exposure is the perfect opportunity, then, to discover exactly what he meant by that.

(N.B.  The exhibit runs until January 6. But Baltimore is the perfect autumn destination; read here our recent story on the city.)

 

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: BETS’ Captivating New Synth-Pop Track ‘Left My City’

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Photo by Margo Ducharme

 

Referring to her 2016 debut, Nylon said of BETS’ music that it’s “what it feels like to zone out and occupy your own little world.”

That dreamy little world is being revisited, as Brooklyn’s BETS (Betsy Hershey) releases her sophomore album Future Color this Friday, October 26. In the meanwhile, BlackBook premieres here the striking new track “Left My City.” The enchanting, minimalist synth-pop gem charms with melodic hooks and her captivatingly ethereal vocals. But it’s actually a bit darker lyrically, with a narrative about attempting to purge the cynics from one’s life – those who would hold one back for their own selfish reasons.

Indeed, she frustratedly relates, “I feel so lucky when you left my city / But you stalk on the corner every evening / And all you do is break me down.”

“‘Left My City’ is about negative people,” BETS explains. “Those people who love to say you can’t do something, you won’t be able to, you’re not good enough and on and on. I don’t have time for them anymore and I feel so damn lucky for that.”

Obviously, we’re quite happy for her.

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Striking New Test Shot Starfish ‘Flight Proven’ Video Confirms ‘Space’ is Hip Again

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Despite the significant defunding of NASA, space does seem to be quite the rage in popular culture these days. The latest, of course, is Ryan Gosling starring as original astronaut Neil Armstrong in First Man, which just opened this month.

Space also needs a good soundtrack (just ask Brian Eno); and decisively stoking the musical connection is LA duo Test Shot Starfish – Ryan Stuit and Kyle Schember – who are the official “composers” for Elon Musk’s Space X…possibly one of the most enviable jobs ever. Their unambiguously titled album Music For Space was just released, with song titles like “Sputnik,” “LC-39A” and “Return to Flight.” You get the theme.

BlackBook has a thing for space, too – and so debuts here the duo’s riveting new video for “Flight Proven.” With its enigmatic but exhilarating style of animation, it tells an astral story that seems to be left open to any number of interpretations. The song itself is equal parts haunting and pulse-quickening (think: The Cure, Slowdive), much as one imagines space travel would actually be.

 

 

“We got in touch with Cruel Coppinger from the UK,” explains Stuit, “who originally contacted us about making a mod for the video game Surviving Mars. He wanted to build a mod for steam players so that they could listen to Test Shot Starfish while playing the game.”

Schember continues, “While looking into his other work, I discovered that he was not only a coder, but a visual artist. We asked if he might be interested in using his style for a music video.  We didn’t hear from him for quite some time and then he appeared with this amazing visual for ‘Flight Proven.’ We are all in admiration of each others work, so this made for a perfect collaboration.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we are once again floating in space…

 

Listen: Sultry, Seductive New Sophie Auster Track ‘Mexico’

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Sophie Auster has serious literary pedigree – she’s the daughter of novelists Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt – yet also seemed destined for acting as a little girl, appearing as she did beside Jennifer Jason Leigh and Maggie Smith in 1997’s Washington Square…at just nine years of age.

But ultimately it was music that won her heart and steered her creative inclinations; and she’s been making it for a discriminating audience since her eponymous 2005 debut. Her fourth album Next Time will be out early in 2019, and anticipation runs high. In the meantime, she’s holding us over with the release of a sexy, exhilarating new single, succinctly titled “Mexico.”

Done up seductively in the accompanying video (which looks like it could have been filmed any time between 1950 and 1975), she tempts, “Come lie under a maple tree with me / You see I’ve lost my puppy / You seem like a nice kind of daddy / Can I share your money?” The Tijuana style brass, languid rhythms and sultry atmospherics of the song will have you reaching for a cold, sweaty drink in an attempt to beat all that sensual heat.

“After a trip to the Yucatan,” she recalls, “I came home humming the hook to ‘Mexico.’ The song is loosely inspired by Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 film noir Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Mitchum’s character goes down to Mexico to find his boss’ girlfriend, who has run off with all his money, and a torrid love affair ensues. That’s what incited the song.”

To celebrate the release, Senorita Auster will do an intimate performance at Berlin in New York’s East Village, Monday October 22. Expect it to be hot stuff.

 

Moroccan Songstress ABIR’s Debut EP ‘Mint’ is an Absolute Stunner

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Image by Jonelle Monzon

 

She’s been showered with praise from the likes of Paper, Complex and Nylon, the latter calling her “a genuine talent in a sea of wannabes.” And Moroccan-born singer ABIR is indeed uniquely exceptional, as especially affirmed today by the release of her excellent debut EP Mint. From the sultry, melancholy R&B strains of “Tango” to the breezy-pop self-reflection of “Reunion,” it’s an ideal showcase for her remarkably expressive voice.

“MINT was inspired by my Moroccan background,” she explains. “Growing up I always remember tea time being the time and place for shade with the obvious drink of choice being Moroccan mint tea! On this EP, I’m spilling the all the tea from love, life, friends, and more.”

We’re especially taken with previously released and distinctly groovalicious single “Young and Rude,” with its self-possessed proclamations of, “I’ve been breaking hearts, I’ve been breaking rules / But I can give it all up for you.”

To fête the release of the EP, she’ll be at THE FREEHOLD in Brooklyn tonight for a special celebratory show. She then heads out on a 16-date North American tour with Kiiara October 29, taking them from Chicago all the way to San Francisco on November 21.

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Jess Coppens’ Visceral New Single ‘Rain’

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She was the fiery little frontperson for Nashville’s Mirror Eyes, who honed a unique sound that was somewhere between 4AD ethereal and Jane’s Addiction fury.

Now Jess Coppens has struck out on her own; and BlackBook premieres here her stunning new single “Rain,” which wondrously exhibits the visceral richness of her songwriting talents. The singer has also recently come out, and the journey towards the discovery of her sexual identity has surely been a poignant one – as evidenced by the song’s gutsy lyrical confessionals.

“I’ve got issues that the doctors can’t explain,” she admits, before asking “Why don’t we let it all go / Right out the window?”

Musically, it’s a bit of a departure for her: an elegant, soulful ballad, with haunting atmospherics and a gentle but affecting dynamic arc.

“This song is about being ‘at ease’ with an internal struggle,” she explains. “I was in a very unsure state of mind during the writing process, and it refers to that feeling of not knowing which voice in your head to listen to. It’s almost like being right on the edge of giving up, but finding healthy a way out.”

We’ve all, certainly, been there.

 

BlackBook Interview: Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll on the Legacy of Rave, the Death of Youth Culture and the Joy of Making up w/ One’s Own Brother

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Of all the entities associated with the late-’80s-into-early-’90s rave phenomenon, Orbital decisively represented something beyond just the “Es and whizz,” – something surely more heady and thought-provoking than, say, “Ebeneezer Goode.” Though at the time it would have been cringe worthy to suggest it, they were really sort of the…Pink Floyd of dance music culture. (The expensive light shows were a common thread.)

Hardly surprisingly, then, they readily transcended that scene and kept going all the way until 2014, when the brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll suffered a quite significant falling out, which found them not speaking for more than three years. But time healed, and after at last patching things up in a pub (it’s the English way, innit?), they are back with a strikingly far-ranging new album, Monsters Exist, which could very well be their most accomplished to date.

Most notable are the wild mood swings and rollercoaster dynamics that make for such a riveting listen all the way through. And though the songs seem to be threaded together to tell a story, standouts include “Tiny Foldable Cities,” with its blip-bleep aesthetic recalling the earliest days of synth-pop; “The Raid,” flaunting ominous atmospherics and an eerily sampled voice warning that “life is a prison”; and the title track, replete with epic, foreboding soundscapes, which sounds like it could be plunked down onto Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration without a glitch.

This Friday they also launch a 15-date Europe/US/UK tour in Amsterdam, which takes them all the way to Manchester just in time for the Christmas break.

We caught up with Paul to chat about it all.

 

 

 

What was the mood around Orbital when you called it quits in 2014?

I couldn’t work with Phil anymore because of his unacceptable behavior – much to do with his hedonism, but also not pulling his weight. I just couldn’t deal with it, so I had to withdraw from it.

What made it the right time to come back in 2018?

A change of attitude. Funny, for a band that didn’t exist, we were getting some fabulous festival offers. So what did I have to do? I had to decide to communicate again with Phil. We’d fallen out quite badly, and hadn’t spoken for three years. To fall out with your own brother is terrible. So we got together for lunch in the pub and patched it up – and it’s much better now.

Do you believe the current musical zeitgeist is better for Orbital now? Or more challenging?

I think the fact that with technology, everyone now has the entire history of recorded music at their fingertips is a profound change. All time is now condensed into one moment – so the ageist attitude that existed around music before is gone; and there seems to be a genuine respect for the elder statesmen.

Do you feel as if the original rave revolution was genuinely a success?

Yeah, of course! We’re still doing this music thirty years later. Something was written in cultural stone back then, and it’s still going now. I also think it was the last great youth culture movement – there hasn’t been one since. Culture has dissipated, a lot of people are specializing in a lot of little things. In one way, it’s a shame, because I really liked those tribalistic youth culture movements. But at the same time, everyone is now able to just follow their own path.

Did it at last put electronic music on its proper pedestal?

No, I think people still consider electronic music as second class. As opposed to music made with guitars and real drums.

 

 

Some of the album – the title track, “The Raid” – feels sort of dark and ominous. Yet there are more playful tracks like “Buried Deep Within” and “Tiny Foldable Cities.” What was the overall mood when recording this album?

It was fantastic, I had a great time. But as for the mood of the songs…well, the track “Monsters Exist” came about earlier in the year, as a reflection on mankind’s desire to possibly destroy ourselves. And it seemed like a really good hook to hang the album on. We were getting into that political/socialistic thinking about the world, and the whole thing kind of fell into place.

Did you feel you were able to recapture the old vitality?

Absolutely! It felt like writing our first album again.

What surprised you most about the finished album?

Getting it done on time.

Your live shows were always sort of life-altering. Are you ready for another tour?

Definitely – we’re in the middle of programming the live set right now.

What can we expect from the shows?

We’ve got a lot of visual elements again, we’ve got a different stage set. We’re planning to play a mix of half new album tracks, and half old favorites.

How do you feel about the current state of electronic music?

Not much, really. I’m listening and not finding anything that I like. I’m actually more interested in the modern wave of British folk music now: The Unthanks, Lisa Knapp, Emily Portman, people like that. Actually, the reason I’m wanting to make electronic music again right now, is because I’m just not hearing what I want to listen to.

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Poignant Video for New Clara Mae Single ‘Sorry for Writing All the Songs About You’

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Image by Taylor Miller

 

It’s been said, do not date an artist – because when it’s over (and it will be), you’ll end up in their work…and it mostly won’t be pretty. In fact, for her latest single, Swedish songstress Clara Mae has gone and taken it meta.

To be sure, “Sorry for Writing All the Songs About You” is a song about writing songs about a former lover…if you hadn’t guessed. And she doesn’t see much reason to be subtle about it, as the lyrics make clear. Indeed, over a gentle, visceral, Debussy-like piano, she fires at the offending ex, “I know you don’t like when I’m nostalgic / No you never tried to understand / Say you’re doing fine, don’t think about it / Like I do.”

The accompanying video, which BlackBook premieres here, intensely captures her in all the emotional tumult the words speak of.

“I had such a great time recording this video,” she says, “it perfectly sums up the EP that I worked on for so long. I wanted to make a video that highlighted the lyrics; we had the title displayed in different languages to show my appreciation of my fans around the world.”

The track is taken from her debut solo EP (bearing the same title as the single), released last month on Big Beat. An acoustic version is out this Friday.

Expectations are high for her: Paper recently named her as one of the 100 Women Revolutionizing Pop. We very much agree.

 

 

 

 

Listen: Hyper-Romantic’s Sultry New Single ‘Millennial Heart’, ft. Martina Topley-Bird

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Richard Morel has a history that you probably really know nothing about; but you very likely have heard his work. Indeed, as a remixer, he has put his stamp on tracks by Depeche Mode, Pink, Yoko Ono, The Killers…even Mariah Carey. He’s also written songs with Cyndi Lauper and was even part of Bob Mould’s touring band.

Impressed? There’s more.

His latest project is the intriguingly monikered Hyper-Romantic; and a new single, “Millennial Heart” (released today), is indeed awash in romantic longings and fanciful musical gestures. On vocals is the wondrous Ms. Martina Topley-Bird, former creative accomplice to Tricky and Massive Attack – no surprise, she gives a spine-tingling performance, pleading, “Open your millennial heart to me / And seduce me with your hurricane” in the most sultry of possible ways.

The minimal house groove and majestic synth orchestrations give the song a distinct timelessness – sexy but also just a little world-weary. (Think: Pet Shop Boys at their clubbiest.)

“It’s a song about coming together,” Morel explains. “In a way it is a love song, but not in the usual sense. It’s about putting aside generational differences to find shared values and face the shitstorm we are dealing with. And…you can dance to it.”

And isn’t that what’s important?