Jadwiga Bronte, a student at the London College of Communication gained rare access to the residents of an institution in Russia where victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and other disabled or “odd” people are housed to keep them out of public view. She photographed them, along with parts of the jail they call home for a group exhibition at the college. Once the blunt-force reality of gene mutation seen in The Invisible People of Belarus fades, there’s a tenderness about her subjects, a testament to the sensitivity Bronte approached the project with. See them all HERE.
“There’s a party in my head, and no one is invited.”
For the last few years I’ve taken to making lists. I blame age along with technology’s incessant need for attention. Beginning Jan. 1, every time I hear a new record that I like, I add it to my master list. Same goes for all forms of entertainment and other things that give me pause. (Pause is vastly underrated.) This year, a number of the names on my list were female, especially in television and especially in twos. Things I would “Pin” this year, if I actually used Pinterest, included the Serial podcast, Monique Marvez (Friday nights on KFI radio), The Cobain documentaries (Montage of Heck and Soaked in Bleach), Kim Gordon’s memoir, Grace Randolph’s Beyond the Trailer on YouTube, The Militant Baker (and the entire body acceptance movement), the Coachella livestream, wood as an art medium, Wild Ophelia peanut butter cups and binaural beats. My personal achievements this year were numerous, but my proudest Internet moments were the flame wars I started on the Edward Sharpe Facebook page (in defense of Jade Castrinos) and Sarah Silverman’s page (in defense of faith.) It seems like every year there’s one artist that dominates my life. When I fall, I fall hard. Last year it was Against Me! (Way late to the party.) The year prior, it was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This year it was Tame Impala. Jim James don’t be jealous, you have my heart. Here’s what I liked in 2015, as seen partially in VCReporter. Happy New Year!
Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
There was a minute when Lorde was being hailed as the voice of her generation but I’d like to nominate Courtney Barnett for that distinction, though she’d probably giggle and craft a clever comeback on the fly. The charmingly disheveled millennial from down under (everything good seems to be coming from Australia these days) has a particular way with words. On this, her second record, she gives us a glimpse into the deep mysteries of her personal life: She’s saving money by using a cappuccino machine and prefers swimming to jogging — which sound exceptionally cool when vocalized over poppy garage melodies. Her ability to transmogrify her daily observations into profoundly catchy songs makes her one of the most brilliant and incisive musical artists to emerge this decade. And just when you think you’ve sized up all her quirk she shows you she’s just as comfortable in the deep end where the darker aspects of humanity, ecological destruction and the foils of love are handled with sublime aplomb.
Tame Impala — Currents
As long as he and his band keep processing those blissed-out beats, Kevin Parker’s awkward, barefoot, infinity-scarf hipsterism is forgiven. Though Currents is not my favorite of Tame Impala’s rapidly growing catalog, it was the fresh blood I needed to satiate my lust for the band’s electro-psych expositions. Not only was Currents the launching pad for the best remix of the year, HAIM’s sultry take on “Cause I’m a Man,” but it may have produced the most NSFW video ever seen outside the rap genre with its soft teen porn for “The Less I Know the Better.” (Niki Minaj, step back.) I’d like to see Parker et al. return to the heavier, less techno leanings of their earlier work, but I’ll take whatever I can get — Tame Impala just never gets old.
My Morning Jacket — The Waterfall
MMJ fans waited four long years for this baby to drop, and what a beauty she turned out to be. Crafted during frontman Jim James’ recovery from back surgery and a breakup, it’s a soaring, philosophical response to adversity with a big, fat, layered sound that’s just what the doctor ordered — for James and fans. Genre-defying almost to a fault, MMJ has mined every inch of modern music’s geography yet managed to escape the dreaded “derivative” label — that’s authenticity. With “Get the Point,” a breakup number to rival Ryan Adams’ Love is Hell period and “Compound Fracture,” one of the group’s best songs to date and my personal favorite of 2015, The Waterfall fits comfortably among MMJ’s best work.
Plus: Sleater Kinney, No Cities to Love; Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color; Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear; Joanna Newsom, Divers; Jill Scott, Woman; Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone; Parquet Courts, Monastic Living; Watkins Family Hour, Watkins Family Hour; Circles Around the Sun, Interludes for the Dead; Crooked Eye Tommy, Butterflies & Snakes; The Pullmen, Going Dark; Seth Pettersen, Sweet Reaper.
DISAPPOINTMENT Eagles of Death Metal, Zipper Down. Obviously an unpopular opinion at this juncture, but as an EODM fan from way back, I can with a clean conscience say this band has run its course. And that’s totally OK.
TELEVISION or whatever they call it these days
Broad City (Comedy Central) The YouTube series that caught Amy Poehler’s attention was a breakout hit when it debuted this year on Comedy Central. Created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, essentially, themselves — single Jewish slackers whose lives revolve around sex, weed and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons — nothing is taboo and anything goes as the hilarious besties navigate everyday life in the Big Apple. Bong and webcam not included.
Downton Abbey (PBS) I was woefully late to this party, but bingeing on five seasons at a rate of one episode per day (thank you, Amazon Prime) in 2015 made me an obsessive fan in no time. With the series’ final season premiering Jan. 3, I sip my tea (pinky up) and raise an eyebrow in solidarity with millions of other Cult of Downton mourners. From the Countess Dowager’s brilliant one-liners and Lady Mary’s purebred snobbery to the everlasting love between Anna and Mr. Bates despite constant tribulation, there is no such thing as too much drama where this British tour de force is concerned.
Mad Men (AMC) Though producers made us suffer through excruciatingly long breaks between seasons, even separating the final season into two parts, Mad Men will always be the gold standard for character-driven, haute television drama. What would become of anti-hero Don Draper was anyone’s guess but the final scene was pure redemptive gold. (Not to mention Peggy Olson’s iconic strut through the hall of McCann Erickson.) Goosebumps.
Unreal (Lifetime) No one saw this coming: a well-written, well-acted drama on the network known for its maudlin biopics and After School Special production values? Behind the scenes of a reality dating program that mimics The Bachelor, two female producers use their wits, charm and cunning to manipulate the cast for ratings and, ultimately, industry clout. The tension exists where their threadbare morals gets tangled up with their lust for power. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage) are perfectly cast as the conniving, two-faced producers who occasionally question their actions, but only long enough to knock back a whiskey and lick their wounds. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up for another season.
Wayward Pines (Fox) You may not have heard, but Twin Peaks and Lost had a baby fathered by M. Night Shyamalan (he directed the pilot and co-executive produced) and it’s pretty damn good. Adapted from a sci-fi book series, Matt Dillon is FBI big-wig Ethan Burke who finds himself thrust into a picturesque but isolated town that’s under constant surveillance. Using all his signature overacting muscles (with a face like that who really cares?) Dillon as Burke makes it his mission to solve the puzzle of Wayward Pines and deliver its denizens from their beautiful prison where detractors are publicly executed and children are secretly indoctrinated into the “First Generation.” A second season is coming next year.
Plus: Better Call Saul (AMC), Maron (IFC), Narcos (Netflix), South Park (Comedy Central), True Detective (HBO), Orange is the New Black (Netflix).
When technology began swallowing the music industry, musicians were pushed into a scary but ultimately freer new paradigm. Same thing has been happening in publishing, and now visual art. The art gallery could become a thing of the past (museums are immune for the most part) as artists are eschewing representation in favor of the friendly simplicity of Instagram. The New York Times wrote a salient piece not too long ago on the subject. But as someone wise once said: there’s a prize and a price for everything.
In case you weren’t aware, adult coloring books have arrived. Of course, they’ve always existed, but for the last year or so they’ve been trending like crazy (blame those damn hipsters?), and in an era where the human attention span is diminishing more with each device we plug into, grown ups are rediscovering how relaxing the simple act of coloring can be. Enter artist Laurel Huggins whose art nouveau paintings and lush textiles have been collected around the globe for decades. I visited Huggins in her studio at Bell Arts Factory during First Friday where I openly swooned over her gorgeous coloring pages. They are available on archival paper suitable for framing and regular paper just for fun. Get ’em now before they go viral, because they will.
This has particular meaning for me in light of the devastation to precious wildlife and resources caused by the oil spill in Santa Barbara. That’s the thing about art: it means what you want it to mean. Read about the project here.
These are some of the women who have influenced me most—be it my career path, my self image, my spirituality or my aesthetics.
Left to right, top row:Exene Cervenka, Erykah Badu, Patti Smith, Rickie Byars Beckwith, Erica Jong
Left to right, bottom row: Jess the Militant Baker, Dorothy Kilgallen, Annie Leibovitz, Norma Shearer.
Every city has its talent pool, some deeper than others. In Ventura, there’s very little room to swim, yet a few manage to stay afloat. Aaron Orbit is a rare talent in a world full of medium rare talent. He eschews the tag singer-songwriter for the preferred “composer” and it suits him. His compositions are violently human and his voice from on-high. On a whim… with only two days to prepare, he entered NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest. This is his entry. The song is a yet to be released hit. Hear it now and know why.
Grips are the superheroes of the film industry. They are real life MacGyvers and without them, no film could ever be properly made. They work 12-18 hour days and almost always come home bruised and battered. They rarely complain. Work pays well for union grips, and not quite as well for indy grips. Unless you’re on a regular series or in the union, there can be dry spells. Dry spells that last too long become droughts and no one thrives in a drought. Grips are the kind of people you want on your team. They can handle anything, solve any problem and they always step up to help. This particular grip is in a drought. That drought was recently complicated by identity theft. I’m reaching out to you in order to help him until the next rainfall. Please consider donating. For the price of lunch, your generosity will reverberate through the cosmos. Click HERE to donate. Thank you.
Yesterday’s announcement of the 2015 Coachella lineup got me pumped — not because I’m looking forward to three sweaty days of over-stimulation in the desert, but because now I get to fantasize about which acts will perform at the Ventura Theater during the event’s bye week. (Rob Antonini, Loanne Wullaert and Roni Osmer are you listening?)
Who I hope will play Coachella by the Sea (coined by moi, btw)
1. Ryan Adams
I will probably have a stroke if this announced and therefore be unable to attend, but I’m still rooting for it. Sure I’ve hated his last few records but I’m loyal to those I love and he will always be my main man.
2. Alabama Shakes
I’ve listened to their debut album way too much and it’s time I saw them live. It’s also time they put out a new record.
Because they’re on constant rotation in my car and they’re named after a Manson girl—the good one.
4.Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punks
FUCK YES. I’m a desert rock/stoner rock junkie and even though I’ll never get to see Kyuss, there’s still a possibility I can see someone from Kyuss other than Josh Homme (my second love after Ryan Adams).
5. Jenny Lewis
Jenny’s the shit. She’s like a cheerful, poppier Liz Phair. If “Jenny” on The League was a musician, she’d totally be Jenny Lewis. Also if she comes to Ventura, she’s bringing Ryan Adams with her.
6. Steely Dan
Haters gonna hate but who cares?
7. St. Vincent
Because I want to love her.
8. Ghostface Killah
Because I nicknamed my dog “Zoeface Killah” and because Wu-Tang.
9. Tame Impala
I get the feeling their shows are transcendent.
10. Action Bronson
A fat white rapper who’s a chef and sometimes writes about food. What else do you need?
Who will probably play Coachella by the Sea (based only on pad thai-fueled intuition)
Azealia Banks, this year’s Ellie Goulding; Off, we luvs us some punk rock; Run the Jewels, overhyped rap artist of the moment; FKA Twigs, even more overhyped; Lykke Li, critics love her.
2014 was a rollercoaster and I’m not a fan of rollercoasters. Fortunately, I had my earbuds in at all times. The biggest surprise, was my love affair with Against Me! which began when I saw them perform at the Ventura Theater. For me, this is the purest, most organic way to enter into relationship with a musical artist. Late to the party once more, it was also the year I finally”got” the Smiths which along with Against Me! and Brian Jonestown Massacre were the soundtrack of my year. In between, were the records that I listened to repeatedly. There were several new records that deserve the accolades they are receiving, but just didn’t click for me. Among them were St. Vincent’s self-titled release. My biggest disappointment was Ryan Adams’ Ryan Adams. If I wanted to hear a Tom Petty record, I’d put on a Tom Petty record, not a Ryan Adams record. Come back, dude. We miss you.
The LIST (mostly in no particular order)
Against Me!— Transgender Dysphoria Blues
No record this year strained my lungs and vocal chords as much as Transgender Dysphoria Blues. When bandleader Laura Jane Grace (the artist formerly known as a dude) came out about her transition in 2012, she took a massive artistic risk that resulted in some of her best songwriting to date as well as a potent antidote for self-loathing. “Drinking With the Jocks” (“There will always be a difference, between me and YOU!”) and “Black Me Out” are nourishing misfit anthems, while the title track beautifully crystallizes the pain of the transgender experience in one simple verse: “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot . . ..” A master work.
Lana Del Rey — Ultraviolence
Having filed this artist under “contrived/manufactured pabulum” based almost entirely on her name, I confess I did not give Lana Del Rey a fair shake until this year when I finally surrendered to Ultraviolence. Haunting vocals and lyrics that both betray this femme fatale’s dark side and belie her age are awash in a lush, moody production that makes for one seductive and hypnotic listening experience. Like a cat poised to bite the hand that strokes it, Del Rey shrouds her pathological love confessions in a girlish innocence that leaves us feeling a little dirty.
Sleaford Mods — Divide and Exit
2014 was the year Sleaford Mods broke. One of those overnight sensations that was seven years in the making, the duo’s second release, Divide and Exit, made virtually every U.K. “best of 2014” list, though it hasn’t fully caught on in the U.S. Jason Williamson’s unrelenting flow of working-class laments set to Andrew Fearn’s simple groove-beats speak to and of the desperate bleakness of these times, especially for the have-nots. If it weren’t for the humor and shock that Williamson’s spitballs of discontent intermittently provoke, the material could be a tad depressing: “Three words: cage, wheel, hamster.” On the other hand, someone needs to tell it like it is, even if the particulars are Brit-centric. And Williamson does it with a confrontational, if peculiar zeal that gratifies.
Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
Black Angels, Clear Lake Forest
Foxygen, . . . And Star Power
Beck, Morning Phase
Bass Drum of Death, Rip This
Tears for Fears, Songs From the Big Chair remaster (just because)
Jason Cruz and Howl, Good Man’s Ruin
Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways