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August 07, 2006 - Image 11

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2006-08-07

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

'Comets' bring back
fire to modern rock

The Michigan Daily - Monday, August 7, 2006 - 11

By Lloyd Cargo
Daily Arts Writer
MUSIC REVIEW
Comedian Bill Hicks used to have a routine
about mind-altering substances that went some-
thing like this: "I think drugs have definitely
done some good for us. If you don't think drugs
have done good things for us, then do me a favor.
Go home tonight and take all your records,
tapes and all your CDs and
burn them," he said. "Because
you know all those musicians Comets
who made all that great music on Fire
that's enhanced your life all Avatar
these years? Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal
fucking high on drugs, man." Sub Pop
Joke or not, Hicks couldn't
be more right. There have been songs written
about and influenced by drugs since the ori-
gin of popular music, but it wasn't until Bob
- Dylan smoked up The Beatles, and they took
that experience to the studio with songs like
"Tomorrow Never Knows" and "She Said, She
Said" that the music itself really began to sound
like it was on drugs.
As '60s popular culture became more and
more intertwined with drug culture, chemicals
became more responsible for shaping the way
people made music. For example, The Grate-
ful Dead sound-tracked Ken Kesey's acid tests
with meandering jams and colorful backdrops,
the aural equivalent of LSD-induced psychosis
- and the Velvet Underground authored a hyp-
notic dirge called simply "Heroin." The '70s
saw Black Sabbath creating stoner rock with
"Sweet Leaf" and cocaine informing the dull,

numbing blandness of disco. But it seems like
ever since Tipper Gore reared her ugly head
with the Parents Music Resource Center in the
'80s - and as our country has grown more and
more conservative - popular music has gone
straightedge.
Sure, you have Three Six Mafia telling kids
to "Stay High" and all the trap stars of the South
slinging rocks, but making music that talks
about drugs is different than, as the famous
Spacemen Three motto put it, "taking drugs to
make music to take drugs to." Basically, people
used to actually do white lines when they lis-
tened to Grandmaster Flash, but Young Jeezy
isn't really sitting on mountains of blow, and
neither is the kid on your hall blasting Thug
Motivation 101.
So, what does that have to do with Comets
on Fire? The California pysch-rock outfit ought
to be our generation's Led Zeppelin, and Ava-
tar ought to be their III, but Sub Pop would be
lucky to get 1 percent of those album sales. And
why? Because popular music has lost its balls.
Long gone are the days of the guitar hero and
the lead singer with leather pants and a hairy
chest swilling beer onstage. If the Rolling
Stones formed 40 years later, they'd be lucky
to get signed to Matador - we live in a world
where the top-selling artist of 2006 so far is the
ironically named James Blunt, and there's not
much hope in sight.
Maybe, just maybe, Avatar can break down
a few of those walls. The album opens in full
stride, with "Dogwood Rust" beginning mid-
solo. It doesn't ever slow down from there either,
as the next tune, "Jaybird," swirls and crescen-
dos, forming a great big mass of psychedelic
noise due in large part to the Allman Brothers-

The fire and the hope of modern music.
esque double drumming of Noel VonHarmon-
son and Utrillo Kushner.
The real power behind Comets on Fire,
though, is the double-pronged guitar attack of
Ben Chasny and Ethan Miller. The two totally rip
and wail, complementing each other extremely
well. They sound like Marquee Moon-era Tom
Verlaine and Richard Lloyd taken up an octave
and with a whole lot more distortion, especially
on "Sour Smoke." They are given ample room to
stretch out, with every song except one between
six and eight minutes.
Avatar is not just noodling jams, either, it's a
more song-oriented album than anything Com-
ets on Fire has previously done. Great atten-
tion is paid to pacing, with varying timbres
and tempos propelling the songs, making each
tune sound more like a suite. There is more of
a dynamic between verse, chorus and bridge,

and the textures they coax out of two guitars,
drums, bass and an electric piano are stunning-
ly powerful. It's quite an accomplishment, and
the whole thing reeks of weed.
Avatar is beautiful and stoned. It nods to
its influences - Hawkwind, Blue Cheer and
The Quiksilver Messenger Service - without
sounding nostalgic. It's a brilliant album, and
unfortunately it's nearly guaranteed to fly under
the radar, and that's a damn shame. Our country
needs to turn off American Idol, sit down, roll a
joint and play this album really, really loud and
maybe then rock music could become relevant
again. It'll never be the '60s again, but for the
45 minutes Avatar lasts, you can at least pretend
pop music doesn't blow, our country isn't grow-
ing more intolerant and irrational by the day,
and that Comets on Fire have released the best
album of the year to date.

Williams's darker side goes dim in the 'Night'

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Managing Editor
In "The Night Listener," aminor,fleet-
ing midlife drama in guise of a noirish
mystery, Robin Williams plays a fitfully
subdued version of
the lonely, aging
archetype his lat- The Night
est career shift Listener
has prescribed. At the Showcase
He did it well in and Quality 16
"One Hour Photo," Miramax
a ferocious little
number in which
he plays a photo clerk who becomes
obsessed with a young family, and best
in Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia," as a
man who claims to have killed a teen-
age girl. It's not an unfamiliar career
turnaround - the supposed confirma-
tion of a talent who has starred chiefly
in throwaway studio comedies - but
Williams has had an uncommonly good
run, with a coldly contemplative stare
and amoral drawl so convincing that
you wonder why anyone pegged him for
comedy in the first place.
But in "The Night Listener," as a sad-
sack radio host Gabriel Noone (get it?)
whose professional life is going down
the drain as quickly as his private one,
Williams's pale, depressive performance

reflects only shades of gray. His boy-
friend has just moved out, the radio sta-
tion where he made his name has run out
of patience and even his dog seems decid-
edly bored. Hope comes in the form of a
book, a remarkable tale of triumph writ-
ten by a 14-year-old boy brutally molest-
ed by his parents and now dying from a
host of STDs, who's apparently a fan of
Gabriel's radio show. The boy, played by
Rory Culkin (the youngest of the clan in
a role that's problematic in itself in light
of the film's main arc), now lives with an
adopted mother (Toni Collette, "In Her

Shoes") in rural Wisconsin, and daily
telephone calls become a ritual.
There is, of course, more than meets
the eye, and the film seems poised
to become either a cautionary tale of
obsessive fandom or a remote breed
of psychological thriller. Down which
path it ultimately descends is beside the
point, because neither is particularly
well supported by the rest of the movie.
The arbitrarily placed supporting cast
that carries the film along, notably San-
dra Oh and Bobby Cannavale, weave in
and out of the story and discuss only the

plot at hand. Gabriel,meanwhile,throws
himself so completely into the mystery
of the young boy that we're simply left
to wonder - even in the shortest live-
action movie of the summer - how
long it can possibly take for curiosity to
kill the damn cat.
As it turns out, quite a while. Under
the helm of Patrick Stettner, who direct-
ed a better and tenser situational thriller
with "The Business of Strangers;' the
film meanders more or less agreeably
for its first half before spiraling into the
bizarre, and, eventually, the absurd. The

characters are so mercurially tempered
and the tone so persistently solemn that
the film hums along like a low-intensity
boiler engineered to produce artificial
conflict. Its brief, perfunctory stab at.
genre going nowhere fast, it has only
its cast to recommend it, and the few
actors who actually seem to appreciate
the work - namely Oh, Cannavale and
Culkin - are precisely the three that
could have just as easily been cut from
the movie. The rest of the cast sighs,
walks away and calls it a day, a senti-
ment we're all inclined to share.

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