Hippies invade the Whitney Museum: and Dengue Fever put Khmer music on the map.
From New York’s tiny Mark Batty Publisher comes Rene Siegfried’s new book ‘The Serif Fairy’: a clever mix of sweet children’s story, elegant picture book and subtle typography tutorial for the offspring of pushy art directors everywhere. Each illustration is constructed from typefaces stacked together to form the forests (grown from Garamond) and crane-busy city skylines (built from Futura) that the fairy visits on her way to Shelley Lake. Not since Alphabetti Spaghetti have mere letters seemed so wholesome.
The Crimea is a name resonant with history – but usually more Light Brigade than “lights, camera, action”. Yalta Film, however, is aiming to put the region firmly back on the film production map. The studio, co-founded by brothers Artur and Andrei Novikov and English director Robert Crombie, has risen from the ashes of the moribund Ukrainian-Russian Yaltynska Kinostudia.
“We are unique in Ukraine in that we’re trying to make movies as opposed to just selling off land,” says Crombie. Crimea made sense for Yalta Film because the infrastructure was already in place. Despite Crimea’s Russian ties, the new Yalta Film is a decidedly Ukrainian concern that leaves the former mother country out of the loop. In the past decade there has been a shift eastwards for filmmakers as new territories with cheaper overheads open up. “This is a European process that Russia will never be part of – it’s still too bureaucratic and closed to outsiders – so, logically the last stop on the trail is the Crimea. Our huge advantage is the natural beauty here,” says Crombie.
Indeed, with its guaranteed 300 days of sun a year and Mediterranean-like coastline, the Crimea has already doubled as the Greek island of Lesbos for Yalta’s first major picture, Sappho, due out later this year. And the profile of the studio is rising: Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk, whose last film, 9th Company, was Russia’s biggest-ever blockbuster, has just built sets here for his futuristic new film, The Inhabited Island.
“Films set in the future are safe,” says Crombie, “They are not politically dangerous. It is noticeable now how directors try to find subjects which avoid the political situation in the interests of having a long career. But we have a completely different political climate from Russia – we are much more European. In 10 years we hope to be the new Prague.”
New York’s Whitney revisits the explosion in art, music, film and graphic design fostered by the social change of the 1960s. While rock music’s psychedelic zenith was short-lived, the drugs worked better for its attendant industries: album covers and promo posters ended-up as art. Bonnie MacLean’s era-defining posters (Yardbirds at the Fillmore pictured left) meet Richard Avedon’s portraits of the Haight-Ashbury high-rollers and Jimi Hendrix’s painting. Summer of Love is at the Whitney Museum of American Art until 16 September.
During one fateful truck ride through the Cambodian countryside in 1997, Ethan Holtzman found a new musical direction and a unique band name. His companion, infected with mosquito-borne dengue fever, was up front with the driver, while Holtzman could only shout enquiries from the back seat, “How are you feeling?” and finally, “What is this music?” The driver would respond by turning up the volume.
Holtzman was getting his first taste of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea, Khmer pop stars who mysteriously disappeared during Pol Pot’s regime. Their surf-influenced psychedelia inspired the musical backbone of Holtzman’s new band while his friend’s febrile disease gave the group their name. Dengue Fever were formed in LA in 2001 with his guitarist/vocalist brother Zac, saxophone player David Ralicke, drummer Paul Smith, bassist Senon Williams and Khmer singer Chhom Nimol, a Cambodian pop idol whom they found living in Long Beach.
While the re-release of their debut, Escape from Dragon House, is keeping Dengue Fever in drum skins and guitar picks, they are currently finishing up their third album, a collection of 12 originals with such titles as “Monsoon of Perfume” and “Tiger Phone Card.” Dengue Fever have evolved from a cover band with a great gimmick to an unlikely incarnation of Cambodian-American garage rock, bringing the Western-inspired 1960s sound full circle.
After gigging at indie clubs and world-music festivals, the band travelled to Cambodia last year to perform, meet their singer’s family and spend time in the studio with master musicians who survived the cultural revolution. Film-maker John Pirozzi documented the journey, the result, Sleep Walking Through the Mekong, premiered at this month’s Silver Lake Film Festival.
French singer Keren Ann’s first four acclaimed, fragile, Franglais pop records may not have achieved as much worldwide success as she deserves, but her fifth is poised to turn critics’ felicitous phrases into airplay. Keren Ann is a lush summer swoon propelled by acoustic guitar, soft-pedal piano and the singer’s own vocal heat-haze that recalls Cat Power snoozing in a hayloft: double dreamy.
Hey Eugene! reinforces Pink Martini’s reputation as genre-busting, globe-trotting musical magpies. Although their third album is a stylised attempt to throw in the kitchen sink – tossing in a pinch of Japanese film noir and a jaunty Arabic love song to the usual melting pot of chanson, bossa and samba – Portland’s campest cocktail-monikered popsters stop their stock-in-trade becoming shtick by virtue of their virtuosity and pure joy.
Oh, My Darling
Many a songwriter has dismissed the slog and sweat of the creative process by lying that they dreamt it, the song was a gift, there was a visitation. Such is the essential nature of Basia Bulat’s debut, Oh, My Darling, that it’s perfectly possible songs really do grow on trees in her hometown, the forest city of London, Ontario. Country and folk infuse 12 dazzlingly beautiful tracks in an irresistible album of chamber pop perfection that, without fanfare, also marks the rediscovery of the humble hand-clap as lo-fi pop’s percussive gem.
Sky Blue Sky
Over 12 years and five albums Wilco have proved the finest band to emerge from Chicago’s early-1990s alt-country circuit while their persona has swayed artfully from dusty troubadour to roustabout rocker to sonic experimentalist. Sky Blue Sky takes a step back to take two forward; embellishing its country-rock template with jazzy Hammond workouts, bluesy fluency and pedal-steel torch songs about laundry and heartbreak. Musically, lyrically, beautifully, Wilco’s sixth studio album, in their 13th year, is simply a masterpiece.