Friday, November 29, 2013

Music Review: Al Kryszak, 'Lullabies For People Who Don't Need Sleep'

Bless the unknown musician who, despite a constant output of musical creation thrown to the wind unheard, continues to burrow through the icy and crowded stream of musical culture with his latest, soon to be unheralded collection of songs.

Al Kryszak, creator and front man of Buffalo-based alt-rock outfit REV, is one such musician. With four full-length REV albums and several classical music and film score releases distributed from his one-man operation,  Kryszak continues to produce and release fiercely independent music that goes largely unheard.

His newest, first alt-rock solo release, Lullabies for People Who Don't Need Sleep is an intricately woven but wildly stitched pattern of acoustic composition adorned with a light arrangement of sparse background collage that support the subtlest, and often sweetest, of melodies.

The lingering melody rises above a low hum and rattle industrial soundscape in the somber "Shadow of A Coal Plant". Kryszak's soft acoustic plucking, and a swirling, decidedly '70s style church organ paint a lovingly polluted blue-grey sky over a dominating, watchful coal plant. It's a sad, nearly resigned protest song set in a post-apocalyptic-like urban wasteland where citizens work their cancer-causing impossible gardens "in the shadow of the coal plant". It is the outstanding track on this album.

The organic acoustic compositions, often adorned with low-key techno arrangements, snake through a jungle of urban and emotional angst that finds modern blight suffocating the artist sadly strumming his guitar at its center.  Album opener "Declare Nothing" is a downcast of anger with overdubbed vocals and altering guitar riffs. It finds the composition of music and its empty reception, a lifestyle where "talking to the mynah bird" is the art of writing a song.

Elsewhere things get a bit more cheery. "The Rock I Came From" is a funky acoustic jam that explores the genre of rock music, or existence itself, as a rapidly disappearing entity where flowers still grow. "Trying To Remember" is a warm slice of dreamy psych music with the slightest detection of an old Neil Diamond guitar chord at its base.

One gets the impression that when Kryszak touches upon a musical nirvana, such as the peaceful plateau he reaches on "Trying To Remember", the field is ripe for further exploration. But he quickly moves up the path, searching for another riff or melody, as if snuffing out any commercial weeds growing in his garden. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. It makes for wildly creative music, but you may want to linger a little longer on the breezy summit of "Trying To Remember", which is just over two minutes long.

Lullabies For People Who Don't Need Sleep is a little rough around the edges. The naked, likely first-take vocals are sometimes harsh, when you know he can sound better, as he does when he supports his own voice with background vocals. It is his choice for the organic sound of the recording, a precious expression of a genuine artist.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: 'A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir' by John Grant

Ask the question, "What is film noir?" of film buffs and you'll likely get diverse answers. Ask them "What is neonoir?" and you're liable to start a fight. Passionate arguments abound about what is and isn't film noir, and if the term "neonoir", a term used to describe noir made after around 1960, is a valid genre in the canon of cinema.

 In his humongous volume, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir (Limelight Editions, 2013), author John Grant defines film noir - a term first coined by French movie critics to describe the wave of American black & white crime movies of the 1940s - as "knowing it when you see it". His complete definition is more thorough and complex, but "knowing it when you see it" is an apt description of this elusive movie genre that most often incorporates shadowy lighting, black & white cinematography, urban settings and crime.

With over 3,250 movie entries listed in encyclopedic fashion, the book is a page-thumbing romp for movie buffs with a passion for noir. The short introductory chapter is an interesting history that finds the genre evolving, not from artistic creativity, but from a limited movie budget which sacrificed elaborate set designs for shadowy rooms narrow in scope. We learn the French coined the term in retrospect, after viewing American films of the 1940s denied to them during the Nazi occupation of WWII.

One man's film noir is another man's detective story, or police procedural, or gangster film. It's a highly subjective categorization that the author admits will find discourse among readers. It is my opinion that Thelma and Louise (1991) does not belong here, while David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006), should have been included. You may disagree or feel validated by several of the author's inclusions.

The listings include production credits, national origin, year of release, and cast. Several obscure foreign film noir are among them. The sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy plot synopsis are often wordy and strictly subjective. I wish the author had omitted his critical analysis of the films in favor of their relation to the genre of noir. The premise of the hard-boiled, white-knuckled paranoid crime thriller D.O.A. (1950), a classic black & white film noir, about a man hunting the killer who gave him a fatal dose of poison, is described as enchanting. It is not. It is mean and raw.

Still, the book is a welcome addition to any film buff's library. It's communicative to the point that you may yell out loud in disagreement. It includes glossy publicity photos of selected films, and selected filmographies of directors, actors and authors.

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