Moving Pictures

The Cinematic Underground's widescreen approach brings Annasthesia to life.

"Essentially," he continues, "one of the main questions we get to ask ourselves in life is, are we going to choose to escape, or are we going to choose to engage with what's around us? We all are afraid of risks. You want to be comfortable and you don't want to do things that put you out on a limb -- especially with love. That's like the biggest risk you can take. This album, if I could sum it up, it feels like a finger that just touches a nerve. There's this Chesterton quote that I really love that's on the inside of the album, about art being this thing that makes us remember what we've forgotten. I feel like what it does is just put a finger on this nerve that hurts. And that's all it does. It just touches it."

Annasthesia definitely touches a nerve. Painting from a rich, sonic palette that references everything from the buzzing, symphonic-like cacophony of OK Computer to the stark, contemplative moments of solitude on Pink Floyd's The Wall, to the hoarse, unnervingly intimate vocal textures of Sparklehorse's It's a Wonderful Life, Annasthesia is nothing short of a masterpiece. (You can listen to the full album at www.cinematicunderground.com/anna.php.) And live, the piece has become the larger-than-life spectacle that Johnson once dreamed of creating. Using all sorts of unorthodox instrumentation -- a wine-o-phone, for example which consists of various wineglasses filled with water at different levels, then placed in a suitcase and miked -- Johnson and crew perform in front of cinema-sized slides of his brother Zach's elaborate watercolor illustrations from the novella.

The Cinematic Underground is Radiohead for people who don't like Radiohead anymore. And Annasthesia is the type of album that fans had hoped Thom Yorke and company would release after OK Computer.

Cinematic for the people: Nathan Johnson (center) 
and the Cinematic Underground.
Cinematic for the people: Nathan Johnson (center) and the Cinematic Underground.

Details

With Meese and Katie Chastain, 7 p.m. Monday, May 15, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $7, 1-866-468-7621

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Johnson says his bandmates are so pleased with how the record has translated that they're petitioning him to re-record the disc with the band. But there's no word yet on when, or even whether, that will happen. Instead, after the Denver date -- which finishes off a tour that began in September -- the musicians will go their separate ways, taking time off to devote to other projects. And though they'll reconvene in late summer to do some more dates on the East Coast, Johnson says some things will need to change before the band can embark on another year of touring. The money situation, for example, because this past tour was done without the support of a record label.

"I feel like we've jumped off the deep end this year," says Johnson. "But a funny thing happens when you actually move from living as individuals into living in a small community. One of those things is that it frees up resources. We were all living in a big house in South Boston together, which really cut down rent. And we'd all eat dinners together, and we were eating these gourmet meals on two bucks a night, per person."

They didn't spend much on the road these past eight months, either. "It should be impossible to tour twelve people independently, without label funding," Johnson points out. "But we've got this bus that runs on vegetable oil. So literally, for our fuel, we pull up outside of restaurants and take their used grease -- which cuts out the ridiculous price of gas. I feel like part of the story of this year is this idea of, 'If you don't require their rewards, you don't have to live by their rules.'"

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