THE BOOKSTORE: Manchester’s Factory Records (see 24 Hour Party People) is remembered almost as much for trailblazing graphic design as the bands (Joy Division, Happy Mondays) it launched. Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album (Chronicle) explains why — not just by gathering Peter Saville’s iconic sleeves for hits by New Order et al, but (much better) by documenting the near-infinite array of not-for-sale ephemera that Americans have never seen.
David Byrne’s latest extra-musical creation, Arboretum (McSweeney’s), gathers sketchbook drawings where related concepts are diagrammed as eccentric family trees, often with positive connotations (“balance,” “harmony”) in the branches while negative ones (“butt itching,” “fingernail biting”) lurk below in the roots. It’s less readable than his The New Sins, just out in a Gideon’s Bible-style paperback with, naturally, added material. Isn’t making fans buy the same thing twice kinda sinful?
As part of some kind of laid-back world-domination plan, Joe Ely has recently issued records both new and old, mounted an all-star tour with John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett, and (I think) designed a line of sneakers for Nike. If you can’t make it to Austin to see the Ransom Center exhibit of his drawings and journals (with two related concerts there on March 31 and April 1), check out U.T. Press’s Bonfire of Roadmaps, which may be an easier way to digest it anyway.
THE MOVIE SCREEN: The coolest music movie to hit stores recently is this week’s re-release of Don’t Look Back (Docurama), a fancy little box set that gathers D.A. Pennebaker’s classic Bob Dylan doc with new footage culled from 1965 outtakes, a reprint of the 1968 companion book, and a very cute flip-book of the iconic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sequence.
Other recent docs range from the micro-obsessive (the latest Under Review disc isn’t a full-on U2 portrait but an examination of pivotal album Achtung Baby) to the big-picture (American Hardcore, a great intro for punk newbies), with oddly focused flicks in between (The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which details his political hassles without showing much of the charm that made his opinions a big deal).
Add that to welcome new performance films — discs on John Prine from Shout, Antonio Carlos Jobim from DRG Brazil, and Fats Domino (with friends Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis) from Time Life — and there’s only one music movie left worth discussing.
I speak of the one that, if there were an Oscar for “Best Use of Pop Music” would have murdered all other nominees: The Departed. Yes, you can get the soundtrack, but there’s nothing like watching the movie a third time to appreciate the sometimes gentle (Patsy Cline) and sometimes head-slamming (Dropkick Murphys) ways Scorsese deploys other people’s music in his movies. The most haunting tune in the film, by the way — Van Morrison’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” — brings up the rear of At the Movies (EMI), a new comp of Morrison songs used in films.
ONLINE: Speaking of covers, L.A. radio station KCRW has compiled Sounds Eclectic from its archive of live shows, with treats like Radiohead redone by Flaming Lips and the Magic Numbers doing “Crazy in Love.” It’s on the Hear Music label, meaning you’re supposed to buy it at Starbucks. For those of us with a juvenile grudge against the java giant (you know who you — um, I know who I am), it’ll also be sold at Hearmusic.com. Navigating the site, I’m sorry to report, is as annoying as waiting through a crowd of mocchiacialattecino fiends to buy a record.
From media-mogul-collected covers to the web-based DIY version: Oliver Wang’s music blog Soul-sides.com made waves a while back with Soul Sides Vol. 1, a killer comp of rare grooves that (unlike most blog mixdiscs, which appear online and immediately disappear for copyright reasons) was released to retailers through the label Zealous. The track list to Vol. 2 is just leaking out (it hits the streets in May), and damn, is it good, cherry-picking both famous covers like Al Green’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and obscure ones like Esther Phillips’s wrenching take on Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”
Wang’s ear is so keen I’m tempted to hover by my computer, waiting for him to upload some other rare groove that will disappear in 12 hours. If I do that, though, I’ll never make it out to the umpteen gillion live shows awaiting me in March.