Oh-So-Cute & Creepy

Please give a warm welcome to our newest guest blogger, Caroline E. Willis! Caroline describes herself as “a writer and occasionally an archaeologist.” She also has a highly entertaining blog “about dressing up and hitting people with latex.” Needless to say, we like Caroline a lot. -Mer

“Sentimental” by Kathie Olivas, 2009, oil on canvas, 30”x40”. (Via)

“Most of us can agree on the artistic value of a Monet or Titian, but this work is for a daring audience, an audience open to exploring the strange beauty and the ecstasy inherent in our culture’s aversions.”

~Carrie Ann Baade
Guest Curator of the Cute & Creepy exhibition, FSU Museum of Fine Arts.

Drive past enough hazy bayous and bent oaks, sacrifice enough November butterflies on the altar of your windshield, and you’ll find something creepy in the heart of Florida. Carrie Ann Baade has collected the works of 25 fellow artists- works of beautiful, grotesque, adorable art- for the Cute & Creepy exhibition that’s currently taking Tallahassee by storm.

Over two-thousand people attended the opening- four times more than any other opening at the museum thus far, and some strange lure continues to draw unprecedented numbers to this show- a lure as hard to define as the subject of the show itself. Cute & Creepy is an exploration of boundaries, but the artworks on display do not so much “cross the line” as seem unaware that any boundaries exist. Each object is wholly itself; it is the viewers for whom categorization fails.

Toddlerpede 2.0” by Jon Beinart. 2011, mixed media sculpture, approximately 36”x36”x36”. Photo by Caroline E. Willis.

HTRK: Work (work, work)

After the tragic death of bassist Sean Stewart last year, the remaining members of Australia’s HTRK –Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish– have continued to record as a duo. Their latest release, Work (work, work), marks the beginning of a new route.

HTRK’s debut album, Marry Me Tonight (2009), produced by The Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard, was a modern take on the familiar musical connection between Berlin and Melbourne, a route frequented before by Howard himself, Nick Cave, Anita Lane, Phil Shöenfelt and other heroes of sultry, sticky new wave. Acute guitar structures and thick, uneasy basslines added an aggressively shuddering, no-wave influenced quality; Standish’s detached, blasé vocals completed the impression of intriguing discomfiture.

HTRK vocalist and co-composer Jonnine Standish, wearing Poltock & Walsh.

Work (work, work) is a different story, devoid of previous aggression, and filled instead with aloof blankness and withering instances of resignation. The music draws from popular retro-futuristic sources, exploring an imaginarium of digital decay, postindustrial wastelands, soulless end-of-days decadence and chemical cures for chronic anhedonia. There are echoes of mid-90s dystopian reverie, in which humans seek respite from their growing boredom and anxiety in cyberscapes or mechanical sex practices or drug delusions… although HTRK paints these millennial fears in more fashionable dress, using a production palette of all the sounds currently en vogue. Work (work, work) presents indifferent vocals, deeply steeped in slowly pouring, liquid-metal synths and distant waves of guitar noise. The songs, languidly spinning, encourage the listener to melt them together into a thick soup. Or paraffin. Or diesel oil.

The downtempo qualities can even evoke an image of post-2000 trip hop: washed out soul, dub influences, marijuana-induced laziness. Work (work, work) maintains  just as suffocatingly stuffy an atmosphere – and becomes equally as decorative as trip hop eventually grew to be. At times, it sounds like a nihilistic version of electronic sentimentalists and mood creators like The XX. The band’s new music has an oddly warm quality, yet it’s a warmth more resembling an engine cooling down than a sentimental smile.

Press photo: Nigel Yang & Jonnine Standish.

Purchase Work (work, work) and other HTRK output at your local indie record shop, or directly through their record label, Ghostly International.

Upcoming HTRK Tour Dates:

  • Sept 06 Portland OR – Mississippi Studios
  • Sept 07 San Francisco CA – Public Works
  • Sept 11 Los Angeles CA – The Echo
  • Sept 14 New York NY – Home Sweet Home
  • Sept 17 Brooklyn NY – Secret Project Robot
  • Oct 12 Krakow PL – Unsound Festival
  • Oct 24 London UK – The Garage
  • Oct 30 Kortrijk BE – Sonic City Festival

The Unyielding Mystery of Catalog No. 439

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yet another wonderful post from our longtime contributor, Jeffrey Wengrofsky! This past year, he’s been keeping busy with all manner of projects, and this Sunday, April 3, his Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers will be screening “The Gospel According to Reverend Billy” as part of the Prison is an Angry Father fundraiser at Goodbye Blue Monday (1087 Broadway, Bushwick, New York). It’s a benefit for a prisoner’s rights project created by the Sanctuary of Hope. The event will include live performances of an almost musical variety, as well as the screening of several more short films in addition the Syndicate’s. Doors open at 8pm. Showtime for “The Gospel According to Reverend Billy” is 10pm. This event is free of charge.

Last year I spent my summer vacation working on a feature film in Detroit.  While creeping around the city, I could not help but notice its mountainous Masonic Temple – the largest in the world – whose muscular shoulders rise above its environs as if Charlton Heston’s urban fortress in Omega Man were carved into Yosemite’s El Capitan.  I was even able to arrange a private tour of the windowless monolith by its hospitable and wily Grand Master, including many meeting rooms and a majestic 4,004 seat auditorium (numerologists take note), all of it a visual feast for anyone with a taste for dramatic architecture, grotesque beauty, or even cryptography for that matter.  While in the lobby, our guide offhandedly revealed three levels of meaning behind a seemingly random painting, and the stately oddities awaiting us in floors above and below nearly exploded with symbolic resonance.  Unfortunately, the photographer I brought with me was so spooked by the whole experience that he ran screaming into the long night, ever since unreachable by phone or email.

And who can blame him? The uninitiated public can never comfortably claim to understand the true raison d’etre and inner machinations of secret societies because any scholar or spokesperson or self-declared defector may actually be a shill for the organization, planting seeds of misinformation and spreading misleading rumors.  Even joining such a society does not entitle one to understanding the ways of its upper circles.  Circles within circles, dear reader.  Are you getting sleepy?  The cinematic accoutrements – vaulted iron doors, masks, handshakes and cloaks – provide the perfect canvas for our fears of the unknown and desires for hidden order beneath evident chaos, conjuring a veil behind which we may never knowingly trespass.   Consequently, it can never be definitely settled as to whether any or all such societies are actually: cults of mystical inquiry; wholesome gatherings of those serving laudable Enlightenment values of science and public service; the core of a dastardly “power elite”; congresses of people who enjoy rituals involving aprons (not that there’s anything wrong with that); or some combination thereof.

Last year, Fantagraphics reproduced Catalog No. 439 of the DeMoulin Brothers– the most extensive depiction of initiation contraptions and ritual outfits used by Freemasons and other fraternal orders, like the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, and E. Clampus Vitus. Bearing the title Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes, this wacky book may shed a shred of light into the outer sanctum of these associations – unless, of course, it is actually a hoax disseminated to lead us astray.  Bracketing but never disregarding this notion, the readership of Coilhouse may discover certain Truths regarding these quasi-mystical clubs from perusing its glossy pages.  Even if Enlightenment should, as always, prove ever elusive, the illustrated designs of Edmund DeMoulin and the handiwork of his brothers Ulysses and Erastus, as reproduced in Burlesque Paraphernalia, will still deliver amusing, if sadistic, anthropology.

Franchised Goodies for the Children of Dune

In light of the charming Goodnight Dune children’s book that’s making the rounds online right now, today seems like a great time to share some treasures from my personal stash of weird, random, off-color, No-Seriously-WTF-Were-They-Thinking movie franchise ephemera.

These, for your delectation, are scans and photos of various pages from the astoundingly age-inappropriate Dune activity book series, published in 1984 to promote David Lynch’s movie adaptation of the classic Frank Herbert novel, produced by Universal Studios.

You know, FOR KIDS:

Yes, that’s a coloring page of Dr. Yueh preparing to assassinate Duke Leto with a dartgun. And up at the top there, that’s a floppy, diseased sex organ-reminiscent Guild Navigator, presented a-la la la “Connect the Dots”.

And here’s another cheerful coloring page of the fresh corpses of Duke Leto and Piter:

Heeeeee! Who the frak was in charge of marketing? More to the point, what kind of Melange were they smokin’ during the merch meeting, when it was decided that producing this series of vengeful activity books for a K-through-8 demographic made good business sense?

Well, whoever they were, Coilhouse salutes them.

Explore the childlike wonderment murder, intrigue, suppurating boils, phallic symbolism and knifeplay after the jump.

The Marvelous, Multi-Talented Mister Marcellus Hall

If you like folksy, bluegrassy, skifflepunky, lyrically deft and tenderhearted wonderfulness, you need to give Marcellus Hall’s new solo record, The First Line, a listen. It’s out this week. This is Marce:

I first met the accomplished musician/writer/illustrator at the Mercury Lounge in NYC in 1998 after my shambolic, sloppy-drunk gig opening for The Gunga Din. Honestly? NOT the best night… until Marce found the dark corner I was hiding in, said “Hey, I like your style,” and asked me to play violin with his band. Something about the guy made me say yes without blinking. Maybe it was because he reminded me of Conan O’Brien’s younger, more soft-spoken brother: tall, thin, fair, somewhat ageless, he had that same quick and kindly wit. After saying yes, I realized I should probably ask him what sort of music he made.

“Well, I used to be in this band called Railroad Jerk.” Oh, yeah! I had some notion of Railroad Jerk. Weren’t they one of the first bands to sign to Matador? They were on that What’s Up, Matador? compilation with John Spencer Blues Explosion, Helium, Guided by Voices, Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, etc…

“Yeah. That’s done,” he said. “Now I have a band called White Hassle.” White Hassle? “Yeah, um. It’s a pun. You know, White Castle.” Well, hey. Why not. I remember much of my decade in NYC as a sad, scrambling time, but all of those shows and records I did with Marce’s “junk folk pop ’80s rock electro-blues” outfit (in cahoots with drummer Dave Varenka and an assortment of other wonderful players) are among my fondest memories.

In more recent years, Marce has been crafting a new sound. It’s a bit softer, more contemplative than the huge, herky-jerky energy of his previous work, but those razor-edged lyrics, rich guitar chords, feverish harmonica solos and spot-on vocals are bright and sharp as ever.

Marce has always been a thoughtful guy, and while his songcraft might seem like straight-up, uncomplicated acoustic country fare on the surface, listen more closely and you’ll realize there’s a lot more going on with his lyrics and presentation than the usual, weary old “my dog died and the old lady left me” American folk tradition scalp-taking. Marce’s wry, self-aware humor is evident in references to emailing, texting, even the act of songwriting itself in the title track. From a recent review over at The Observer:

Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Dylan, and the Everly Brothers are obvious reference points—Americana fans will love this album—but Hall doesn’t really go in for nostalgia, and careful listeners will also hear echoes of the Modern Lovers, Einstürzende Neubauten, and New York’s No Wave bands. Like them, Hall lets the sounds of his city seep into the recordings; the tracks sound simultaneously organic and artificially distressed.

In addition to making great music and poetic lyrics, Marce does wonderful illustration work for The New Yorker, the Village Voice and others. You can learn more about that and other facets of his career at his personal website. Obviously, by now, you’re aware that I can’t say enough good things about this fella. If your curiosity is piqued and if you’re not already familiar with his work, I almost envy you: you’ve got 20+ years of fantastic Marcellus Hall music to get acquainted with. I heartily recommend starting with The First Line, and going from there.

Clearsignals: Stars Lost Your Name

It’s been nearly a month since Portland-based, multi-disciplinary artist John C. Worsley released Stars Lost Your Name, and it’s still my daily work accompaniment. The twelve-track album begins as a beautiful, dreamy blend of minimal electronic grooves and sedate guitar riffs, then slowly escalates, fluctuating between waves of intricate, restless layers, and muted ambiance. At times measured and brooding, at times brimming with anticipation, this is easily one of my favorite albums of 2010 so far. Bonus? Every song is named after a star, the album thus forming a constellation.

I’m a sucker for a concept album, and Stars Lost Your Name happens to be one of those. The official story goes like this:

On the 24th of February, 2010, a moving truck was picked up in Portland. Over the course of the following 6 days, 12 states, and 3096 miles, while helping a friend move from Portland, Oregon to Cambridge, Massachusetts, these 12 songs were initially composed; in motels, in living rooms, and in the passenger seat.

After returning to Portland by air, 6 more days were spent recording and arranging before the album was deemed finished at 66:48 in length on the 12th of March, and released the following 24th; a roadmap, memoir, and secret constellation.

You can download Stars Lost Your Name in its entirety, for free, here. Thank you, John. However, if you like what you hear, the album is also on iTunes. Love it with money!

Scream Awards Undercover

The Scream Awards are Spike TV’s answer to the ho-hum award ceremonies that take over televisions several times a year. Scream focuses on sci-fi, fantasy and horror, with an amusing array of categories, like “Most Memorable Mutilation”. Despite such enticing details, I feared Hollywood asshattery and hesitated to accept the invitation, kindly offered to me by my workplace. Fortunately, I came to my senses quickly, bought a questionable dress, and went for the hell of it.

At first, my friends and I were overwhelmed by a rapid onslaught of attendees in Halloween costumes and alt-fashion refuse. They crowded around the end of the crimson rug, anticipating fresh celebrity blood. Fleeing our re-surfacing cynicism, we rushed into the Greek Theater where the real show was about to commence.

Inside, Very Important PAs herded new guests to their seats while beer and wine were passed around. There was a sullen Backstreet Boy in a row next to ours, unamused by the neon dragon and flaming torches on stage. Soon, the fun began. And I do mean fun – as much as I wanted to turn up my nose at the event put on by “bro TV”, I just couldn’t help but feel this was a special night. The stage spat fire, the beer was free and, suddenly, even the Backstreet Boy seemed to be having a good time. Though it’s redundant to call an awards show “star-studded”, it is of note here. As this LA Times article points out, for genres long-treading the line between fringe and mainstream, this year’s Scream awards were a culmination, a triumph, an arrival at last.

The Scream Awards presented a pop-culture environment where filmmakers like Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan shared the same stage as comic-book writers such as Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy who said that in the old days Hollywood would strip-mine comics and scoff at the creators. Now, they walk on the same red carpet…

I won’t spoil the show for those intending to watch it tonight on Spike, but one moment must be mentioned: Tim Burton’s balloon landing. Several balloons to be exact, strapped to a striped box with Burton’s name written across its base in the Nightmare Before Christmas font. This video clip’s caption admits this was a “precarious” happening and while that’s true, it was also very, very slow. The entire descent took several hair-raising minutes, in which the danger of being vomited on from above seemed all too real. The audience expressed concern between yelps and toasts, but our fear was unfounded. Landing went about as smoothly as expected and Winona Ryder greeted the slightly ruffled director onstage with open arms. As much as I’d like to delve further into the rest of this spectacular night, I’ll resist – you’re better off seeing it for yourselves.

After 2 hours of sitting on theater bleachers we were ready to afterparty, hard. The post-show festivities took place at the beautiful Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood. Dancers dressed as absinthe fairies frolicked in the courtyard and absinthe was indeed served. There was an array of yummy treats for starving guests – everything from mini burgers and fries to pizza and chocolate. After satiating our hunger and acquiring libations, we danced and drunk-texted the night away in true Hollywood fashion. If any moral is to be taken from all this, it’s “Comics have arrived”, “Fun is where the free beer is” and “If at all possible, don’t mix the free beer with absinthe”. Sorry, mom.

The 2008 Scream Awards will air in full tonight at 9pm on Spike TV.

Following the Bunny Slippers down the Rabbit Hole with Peter Ivers

In Heaven Everything is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre by Josh Frank and Rabbi Charlie Buckholtz (New York: The Free Press, 2008)

Every decision you make is the chance to become a hero.
– Peter Ivers

Political correctness notwithstanding, some people are born with a creative pulse and an innate set of skills that set them apart from the rest of us. In Heaven Everything is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre is the oral history of one of those people – Peter Ivers – and the cultural milieu he helped create. It’s a celebration of the bizarre, a story of love, and a tale of the magic of creative combustion set at Harvard in the early 1970s and in Los Angeles for the duration of the decade and into the early ‘80s. It ends in murder.

Who was Peter Ivers and why should we care? He was the epicenter of some of the most influential American artists in film, theatre, music, and television of his day: David Lynch, Devo, National Lampoon, Harold Ramis, Francis Ford Coppola, Saturday Night Live, as well as perfomers in the burgeoning Los Angeles punk scene. More than just a lynch-pin, Ivers brought a dazzling array of talents and sensibilities to his work: he was a blackbelt in karate, a yoga enthusiast, and a habitual pot smoker. And it was none other than the great Muddy Waters who called that Jew boy “the greatest harp player alive.”

45 Grave performing “Evil” on New Wave Theatre.

Ivers’s accomplishments and collaborations included: writing the theme of Eraserhead (for which this book was named), dating Stockard Channing, working with John Lithgow on college theater, recording five albums of distinctly strange music for unappreciative major labels (Epic and Warner Brothers), performing in diapers and bunny slippers at Lincoln Center, and, as opener, on separate occasions, for the New York Dolls and Fleetwood Mac (whose fans booed him off the stage). Most of all, Ivers is known for championing all things genuinely queer as the puckish host of New Wave Theatre, an early cable access program showcasing the efflorescence of musical talent then found in the Los Angeles underground.

While some people are takers – they take your ideas, they take your time, they take lives – others, like Peter Ivers, the tragic hero of this tale, are BUILDERS. New Wave Theatre began on Los Angeles cable access and was soon picked up by the USA Network as part of its “Nightflight” programming, making Peter Ivers the Johnny Appleseed of American alternative culture. New Wave Theatre simultaneously created a space for people to shine and projected the generated light into the American living room, inspiring a thousand flickers of oddness across the country.

Ivers interviews the Castration Squad on New Wave Theatre. (Photo via Alice Bag, thanks!) L-R: Tiffany Kennedy, Elissa Bello, Dinah Cancer, Shannon Wilhelm, Peter Ivers and Tracy Lea.