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Kamrooz Aram: Realms & Reveries

Say you were in a room with Iranian-born artist Kamrooz Aram, who has an exhibit opening at MASS MoCA this weekend, and you just finished looking at his work. You might be tempted to tell him how beautiful it is; if you did, he’d be all right with that. Sure, this particular reaction used to drive him, he recently told an interviewer, “crazy,” but he’s past that: “I’m OK with that now. Now I know that there’s more and [the audience] can’t ignore it.”

Inspired by the designs in Persian carpets and “early Nintendo game graphics,” Aram draws/ paints intricate works, bursting with color, that are as dense and stylized as they are inviting. Thus, the “beautiful” tag. But Aram is after more than craftsmanship in his complex, layered images. He strives to create “abstract narratives exploring such diverse and common subjects as love, longing, freedom, conflict, war and oppression. . . .” That’s what he means by “more.”

Kamrooz Aram: Realms & Reveries will open this Saturday (Jan. 14) at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.) in the Prints and Drawings Gallery. This exhibit will include paintings and drawings, along with a site-specific work created for MASS MoCA. For more information, call (413) 664-4481.

Hard-Fi

‘We’ve got a lot of ambition,” says Hard-Fi drummer Steve Kemp. “I just don’t see the point in these bands who want to be a big fish in a small pond. We always wanted to be a really big band; that’s one of the reasons we got into this.”

At home, Hard-Fi already are big. Since the release last summer of Hard-Fi’s self-financed Cash Machine mini-album, the British press has been bending over backwards to lavish superlatives upon the young band. Four- and five-star reviews poured in from the likes of Q and The Guardian. NME called them “a great deal better than The fucking Clash.” Their debut full-length was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize. And just this week, Hard-Fi received two nominations for the 2006 BRIT Awards—one for Best Rock Band, the other for Best Group, a category in which they’re up against Coldplay, Gorillaz, and Kaiser Chiefs.

Via telephone from his home in London, Kemp jokes, “We’re probably not gonna win.” But they could—the BRITs are far more likely to reward an underdog than, say, the Grammys. And they’ve got the product to back up the hype: Stars Of CCTV is a dizzying mashup of postpunk, dub reggae, disco, and classic ska. Somewhere between Sandinista! and Parklife, it’s dirty, danceable, and very, very British.

The band’s sound, explains Kemp, is a product of their environment. “If you grew up in England in the last 25 years, you can’t get away from the dance-music culture. We’re as much into hiphop and . . . techno and dance stuff as we are into guitar bands. We really like bands who use one thing and make it their own, like the Clash did with reggae, and . . . New Order, who had the whole Chicago house-electronica thing going on.” He cites the Specials, the Smiths, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Massive Attack as other influences.

“All these different influences come across in the way that we play. It’s not really a contrived thing, like ‘let’s do a reggae bass line here’ or ‘some punk drums here’ or ‘some soul guitar playing here’ or whatever. It’s just the way that we are.”

And the Staines, England, natives have a work ethic befitting their origins: To record Cash Machine, they set up their own studio in an abandoned taxicab office; they returned there to complete Stars of CCTV upon signing to Atlantic. “No one else was going to make it for us,” says Kemp. “We’ve got a lot of good ideas, and at that point we had a lot of time on our hands.”

That work ethic will be on full display as Hard-Fi set out on their first full stateside trek this week. “If you want to break America—if you really want to sell records over there—you’ve got to play everywhere,” says Kemp, “so we’re going right across the country. We want to be big everywhere, so we want to play everywhere.”

Everywhere begins right here in Albany, where Hard-Fi will headline a “low-dough show” at the Skyline Nightclub (90 N. Pearl St., Albany) this Wednesday (Jan. 18). New Order-beholden Long Islanders Nightmare of You open. Tickets are only $1.27. For more information, call 472-8150.

—John Brodeur

8-Track: The Sounds of the 70s

The press release for 8-Track: The Sounds of the 70s calls the show a “surefire cure for cabin fever,” and we’re not about to dispute that claim. Heck, when’s the last time a musical-theater presentation came to town that prominently featured platform shoes, leisure suits, and songs by the Carpenters, Helen Reddy, and Three Dog Night? Maybe 30 years ago, but never with such clear hindsight. Over the last few decades, it’s become abundantly clear that the 1970s was the last time that the term “carefree” meant anything to anyone—how else to explain the era’s fashion, music, politics, and general attitude? Free love? Casual sex? Hardly.

Rick Seeber, creator of Beehive: The 60s Musical, concieved and directed 8-Track, which crams 10 years’ worth of gas crises, bell-bottom pants, the Captain, and Tennille, into less than 90 minutes of performance time. For baby boomers and hipsters alike, the show promises to be a whirlwind retrospective of all the things that made the ’70s our most glorious decade. If nothing else, it should make for a fun, if not wholly honest (much like that last sentence) review of the era before cynicism became a national pastime.

8-Track: The Sounds of the 70s opens with five nights of preview performances, beginning tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 13); the official opening night is Wednesday (Jan. 18). The show runs through Feb. 12. For showtimes and ticket information, call 445-7469.


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