Thursday, October 30, 2014

The return of Coven – 'Jinx'

Last Halloween I wrote a blog entry about the pioneering shock-rock band Coven and its lead singer, Jinx Dawson (read it here). That piece evidently interested a bunch of readers, as it has been one of the most popular entries on this blog.

At the end of that article, I noted that Jinx had announced on her Facebook page that the band was back together recording an album. A few months after my post, Nevoc Music (spell the first word backward) released the first new album by the band since 1974. The CD is titled Jinx, and it is a kind of “sampler” that finds Ms. Dawson and company tackling a number of different rock genres. As a result, not every track will please every listener, but when it works, it does indeed sound like the group is picking up where they left off.

The ten tracks on the album fit nearly into about a half-dozen genres: “old school” metal, thrash metal, Sixties “hard rock,” early Eighties “new wave,” dance music, and the coolest throwback to the infamous banned debut LP by the band (Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls), spoken-word Satanic prayers and spooky sounds (making this, of course, an ideal album for Halloween).

The brief liner notes indicate that Jinx features the five original band members: Jinx, Steve Ross, Oz Osborne, Rick Durrett, and Chris Neilsen; the bands Wolfpack 44 and We Are Hex play on three tracks. The album breaks somewhat neatly into two halves: the first “side” contains the tracks on which, unfortunately, Jinx's voice is hidden beneath the instrumentals (if I could pinpoint any problem with the album, it is that). The second side features the songs on which she is front and center, and the results are great.

The songs all involve the occult (even the dance tune is called “Danger/Ju Ju Goat”; it can be heard on YT here). Those familiar with the infamous first Coven LP will recognize the single from that album, reborn here as “Wicked Woman '13.” This reworking is done in thrash-metal style and does indeed obscure Jinx's vocals. By comparison, here is the original track as it appeared on the debut LP (with images from the movie Heaven Can Help, a film I've seen since I wrote the entry on Coven – Jinx is fascinating, the movie, not so much):

Jinx brightens incredibly – if it's OK to use the word “brighten” for a band that travels “the left-hand path” – when Jinx's vocals emerge in “Epitaph” and “WDMRS” (named after the aforementioned debut LP; take a listen to the song here). The two sharpest, most atmospheric songs were wisely put at the album's end, right before the closing prayer, “Ave Satanas.”

“Black Swan,” which had first appeared on the Metal Goth Queen – Out of the Vault” CD (now out of print) is top-notch, old-fashioned rock melodrama that has all the atmosphere and vocal trills of Seventies hard rock.

The longest track on the album, “Quick and the Dead,” benefits from two great instruments: Jinx's voice and a killer organ, played by the great Rick Durrett.

Photo by gregthemayor
At its best, Jinx reminder of how versatile and underrated Coven were and are. I hope there will be more music from Jinx and her associates before another decade passes. Are live performances too much to hope for? (Today's squeaky-clean pop-rock scene could benefit from a nice Satanic mass on stage.)

An “ad” for Jinx is on YouTube. This contains only songs from the first “side,” plus a greeting from Jinx:

The album is available on iTunes and Amazon, but it's best to buy straight from the artist. The discs Jinx sells on eBay are signed and numbered by the lady herself; she also sells jewelry, “left-hand path” materials, a legal CD of the first Coven album, and ornamented jackets, like the one she's wearing in the photo -- the lady doth not age! Enter her eBay store here. 

Note: all pics in this blog entry come from Jinx's Facebook page and the Coven FB fan page.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Uncle Jean in three dimensions: 'Goodbye to Language'

Older filmmakers are not big on innovation. Funhouse deity Jean-Luc Godard is not your standard older filmmaker, though. He’s an icon, a cinema-poet who has always attempted to engage and provoke viewers. His latest feature, Goodbye to Language (opening in NYC this Wednesday “with a national release to follow”), is a prime example of this — shot in 3-D, the film is an exploration of themes that have obsessed him for decades. It is also a sensory experience in which nearly every shot seems composed with the notion of “deep focus” in mind.

3-D is a mostly ridiculous gimmick, which re-emerged about a decade ago for the same reason it was invented in the Fifties, to lure movie fans back into theaters. It has primarily been used for big-budget action movies and kiddie features. Three filmmakers have used the technique beautifully for artistic rather than commercial reasons: Werner Herzog (in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 2010), Wim Wenders (in Pina, 2011), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo, 2011).

Godard has always been head and shoulders above most other filmmakers in terms of bringing cinema “back to zero.” With his use of 3-D here (he already experimented with the format for a short included in the 2013 feature 3x3D), he toys with the nature of image-making, the notion of counterpointing silence and sound, and the idea that a series of narrative incidents can be assembled into a plot if the viewer wishes (if not, just enjoy the ride).

Goodbye isn't meant to be “received” like the average multiplex movie, or even the latest indie or arthouse hit. It fills – and sometimes confuses – the senses, as Godard toys with the “life-like” clarity of digital filmmaking by editing crystal-clear, jarringly beautiful images together with shots that are disorienting (even sporadically out of 3-D “focus”) and take a few seconds to process.

The characters here act out the “battle of the sexes” that has been one of JLG's main concerns since Breathless (1960). In this instance, the film's action involves only a few characters, but only two really matter – a couple who spend time in an apartment talking, fucking, and arguing. The man (Kamel Abdelli) looks a great deal like Serge Gainsbourg and indulges in some Gainsbourgian toilet humor (the sensory trip here does briefly include shitting noises, a first for Uncle Jean's cinema!).

Both the man and the woman (Heloise Godet) are seen naked, but Godard as always dwells on the woman's body, providing us with yet another painterly study of a nude (see Passion, 1982). In this case one can't help but think that the woman's one imperfection – a scar above her lip – holds another fascination, since the 3-D allows Godard to “explore” his actors like never before.

The “performer” who attracts the most attention here, though, isn't one of the human actors, it's Godard's dog Roxy (whose last name is Mieville, meaning he is co-owned by Uncle Jean and his partner Anne-Marie Mieville). He uses the dog as a sort of “anchor” for the film, as it wanders from place to place and is shown both in beautiful, bucolic settings and in the apartment, where the two lovers have presumably “adopted” it.

Roxy takes part in his master's playful spacial dislocation. One of the many eye-catching shots in the film finds the dog in the foreground as the background is switched using digital effects. As is the case with all dogs, Roxy doesn't care, but we are reminded once more that the life-like quality of digital video is just one more element in the modern filmmaker's bag of tricks. 

Godard could've delivered a visually intoxicating feature, filled with gorgeous landscape shots and beautiful 3-D images like the one we repeatedly see of a woman and man behind a barred gate. Instead, as noted, he mingles crisp, visually arresting sequences with ones that are somewhat indistinct or “off.” He returns frequently to a dark image where our attention is grabbed by a small white dot – as in an eye exam, Godard wants your eye to travel exactly where he wants it to go.

But the moments that stay with one most deeply are indeed Godard's gorgeously composed exterior shots (many featuring his pooch) and his “studies” of the couple. He plays with the parameters of 3-D throughout, and in one case “violates” visual logic by having a character move from one space to another, visually “rupturing” the image. In the two instances in which he uses this technique, a character moves quickly to screen right, with one eye's visual information remaining static while the other's continues to move, until different images are being transmitted to the left and right eyes.

The character who broke the image serves as the focal point, and the images in both eyes coalesce shortly thereafter. It's a bravura editing trick that underscores how receptive Godard is to technical innovation, and also to new methods of conveying how artificial and manipulative film and video can be.

The content of Language is thus so inextricably linked to its form that I'm not certain how it will play as a 2-D feature. As it stands, the film is yet another of Godard's cinematic poems (with distinct elements of essay) that revels in objets trouvés Рsnippets of classical music, film clips (including moments from Les Enfants Terribles, Only Angels Have Wings, Metropolis, the Frederic March Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, and The Snows of Kilamanjaro), and a plethora of quotations from a host of writers.

But the whole picture is tied together by the visual experimentation. In this regard, Goodbye continues the poetic and mostly non-narrative approaches of his recent films Film Socialisme (2010) and Notre Musique (2004). It helps, of course, if one has seen the recent work that JLG has been doing; his fragmentation of cinema started in his classic Sixties works, but he's been following a brilliant, very unique path since his best work of the 21st-century, In Praise of Love (2001), his first fiction feature to incorporate digital effects.

As I've noted before, we are very lucky to still have new Godard features coming out on a regular basis. It's rare than an octogenarian (Uncle Jean is currently 83) can continue to redefine the medium he's working in, but Godard does so with each new release, and will hopefully continue to do so for the foreseeable future.