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Daniel Lanois – Here Is What Is

A further day of pause in the IOU Series to bring you my report on our viewing of this DVD, which was one of my lovely wife’s birthday gifts, this week. 

I should preface all of this by saying that she enjoys the work of Daniel Lanois, I remember For The Beauty Of Wynona from early in our dating days, for example… Myself, I was more sceptical. From a musical side, I think most of what he does is pretty same-y. From a production side, I think he tends to make every band he produces sound like Daniel Lanois, and that’s a disservice to those bands’ sounds. But let’s not hate on it before we see it, right? Right!

Here Is What Is covers the creation of the album (of the same name), and aims to show us Lanois’ process of making and recording music. Frankly, I think they were fucking high.

Part-NFB film, part-art installation in some fly-by-night gallery, part-grainy Rattle And Hum wannabe doumentary, it plays like some 12-year-old’s film school project, with so many visual effects slapped on scene after scene. At a certain point, you get the feeling they were like ‘hey, what does this button do? Cooooool…’

As for content, we get conversations with all the key players, and run-throughs of the songs. Oh, and let’s not forget the random appearances by a half-naked woman interpretive dancing, apropos of absolutely nothing. We could not, for the life of us, figure out why she was in this damn film. Oh, and Brian Eno, from some of what he says here, really should have been a flamboyant interior designer, instead. “(paraphrasing) Have you seen such choices of colours used in a rug before?” and “I could rearrange my life around this Indian chest of drawers…” Er, OK… As it went on, even Lanois was just listening and nodding, kinda putting up with him… same thing when they started trying to equate music to religion… blah blah blah just play, man, just play…

There were a few things I enjoyed about this: I loved seeing Jim Wilson and Marcus Blake (of Mother Superior, and also the last ROLLINS BAND line-up) playing on here. Garth Hudson’s keyboard work is always so goddamn gorgeous, let’s be honest. Brian Blade’s jazzy drumming is stellar. He has such a tall approach to every hit, very physical but also with control and subtlety. Lots of other players here too, like Brady Blade, Daryl Johnson, Tony Garnier, Steven Nistor and Aaron Embry (among many others).

There are a few flashbacks to Lanois’ work with other musicians like Sinead O’Connor, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, U2, Billy Bob Thornton, and so on. I think they were meant to be instructive and explanatory at strategic points in the film, but really they felt like a reminder of other famous people he knows.

The music here (from the album) is the soundtrack for this film, and it sounds like Lanois. He does that thing that he does, and he does it well, and it’s all very nice and calm and slightly trippy. And his steel guitar is all over most of it, as usual.

In Sum:

I wouldn’t call this essential viewing. I could have cut it down to a twenty minute short film, with what I’d need to see in it. Mind you, if you were tripping balls, this would be some really deep, existential shit punctuated by faces you know. And hey man, have you ever really looked at your hands? I mean, really looked?

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