Saturday, December 4, 2010

David Bowie - "Rare And Unseen" DVD

These unauthorized DVDs tread dangerously close to glorified bootleg status, but this 64-minute collection of Bowie interviews proves to be interesting and well-worthy for fans of this rock legend's extensive catalog. Centered around a rather poor and directionless interview by UK TV personality Russell Harty (who asked Bowie condescending, inane and sensational questions), this set inexplicably fails to document contexts for the clips, often juxtaposing 1970s-era interviews with 90s, seemingly without reason or relation. Points off for that. And Bowie's actual music was not licensed, either, so a celebrity imposter chimes in with sounds between clips. But those gripes aside, this was a really fascinating watch. Bowie is a complex individual who synthesizes avante and left-field musics and places them into a more pop/rock context. Genius or charlatan, he's great fun to watch. Overall, "Rare And Unseen" is an engrossing and informative (yet flawed) look at Bowie the man, and well worthy for serious fans. (MVD Visual)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Secret - "Solve et Coagula" CD

This band blew me away instantly with an absolutely punishing sonic maelstrom. Hailing from Italy, The Secret's devastatingly powerful grindcore/black/doom/noise metal muscles it's way through 12 tracks in under 35 uncompromising minutes. With a surplus of big, seething, and dynamic riffs, tectonic drumming, and throat-scarring, lung-searing vocals, The Secret all but annihilate on this, their 3rd LP (and first for new label Southern Lord). The aggressive nihilism never relents, from the initial "Cross Builder" all the way through to the final track, "1968". It's a nonstop ride of blistering torment, wicked grind/metal noise, and feral abandon. Production by Kurt Ballou (Converge) is clear and up-front, pushing the group's intense sound even further into the red. In fact, I'd say his production is a key ingredient here. I've heard few bands this year who are this intense. Wow. This one's all killer, and no filler, indeed. (Southern Lord)


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"America's Music Legacy" DVD series: "Soul", "Folk", and "Blues"

These early 1980s-era TV programs are less historical documentaries, and more simply period showcases of the era's prominent players. And that makes for some rather hit and miss performances. Coming into the indulgent 80s from the disco 70s isn't too encouraging, either. Each volume runs 2 hours, so there's plenty to wade through.

On the "Soul" volume, it's all kicked off in a powerful way with the immortal James Brown, who singlehandedly makes this one worthy with his tireless and charismatic performances. The grooves he and his band kick out are tight and positively feral. Awesome. Standouts are also seen from Ben E. King, Otis Redding, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. In-between some of these fine performers are several cringe-worthy and schmaltzy pop tunes. I say, buy this one for James Brown and Gladys Knight.

The "Folk" volume doesn't fare much better. Buffy Saint Marie is splendid, with her unusual and creative meldings of folk and Cree Indian sounds. Hoyt Axton is cool, too, though he pushes into country strongly. Josh White Jr. brings a strong and soulful acapella showing, and John McEuen's "Old Man From Missouri" is an amazing bit of banjo virtuosity. As with the previous volume in this series, there are plenty of awful moments, with the squeaky-clean New Christy Minstrels being a prime example of glossy dreck. Ugh. And Glenn Yarbrough's silly falsetto folk is effectively a stereotype of its own. Far too much kitsch here to warrant purchase.

Finally, we have the "Blues" edition. The always-amazing B.B. King is a highlight, with 3 songs featured. Joe Williams is another legend here, as is Brownie McGhee, Buddy Guy, Pee Wee Crayton, and others. Some classic blues here, with a fair share of glossy, over-embellished material, but nonetheless, "Blues" is a mostly entertaining watch. (MVD Visual)

December 2010 beer tastings are upon us!

Ah, the holydaze season is upon us, so like it or's time to drink. Forget the malls and shopping centers. Support your local breweries, brewpubs, and independent businesses. It's been a busy time for beer, with all kinds of seasonals hitting store shelves, as well as craft beer's big "mainstream" break, the Discovery channel TV show "Brew Masters", featuring Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. Stock up and herald the craft beer renaissance. Here are some thoughts on some recent tastings of mine. Remember that ratings run the gamut from 1 to 5, with 1 being toilet bowl dredge and 5 being holy water (and yeast, and malt, and hops!). Hut, hut, hike!

Commendations to Anheuser-Busch for supporting the growing number of people with gluten (wheat or barley) allergies. However, don't let that dissuade you from trying this one, as it stands on its own merits. Pouring a nice red-amber with average lacing, this sorghum-based beer has a sweet molasses nose, and a rich and malty flavor. The hops content seems subdued, pushing this one towards an overbearing sweetness rather than a well-balanced mix. Still, an easy-to-drink beer, and certainly steps above mainstream American lagers.

NEW BELGIUM - TRIPPEL (Fort Collins, CO) - 5.0
This classic Belgian abbey-style ale with a redesigned label initially pours an unimpressive pale gold, but the thick head and dense nose brings to mind cinnamon, ripe fruity banana, and clove/coriander. The taste is a bum-rush of spice up front, followed by a mellow maltiness, then a stronger alcohol sting (it's 7.8%). A perfect example of this style, and made in America. New Belgium's Trippel is a delightful and delicious beer.

Goose Island seems to have stepped up their brewing in the last couple of years, and this is another triumph. This rye ale is an attractive deep amber with a rich foam and a fruity, biscuity nose. So far seems enticing! Taste is a surprisingly smooth and spicy, with a hint of clove. Subtle and tasty, this one's definitely enjoyable.

A curiosity here - a seasonal ale flavored with peach and pecan. Odd and not necessarily a typical cold-weather brew, but Shiner's always been dependable enough for a good tasting beer. Nonetheless, I'm not overly fond of this one. The sweet flavor is followed by a nutty finish, which sounds well enough, but this is just not one I'd purchase a 6-pack of, at least this year. Maybe next year's batch will be better?

CAVE CREEK - CHILI BEER (Mexico) - 1.0
This creative beer (there is an actual whole green chili pepper inside every bottle) opens with a sickly pallid complexion and a nonexistent head. The only scent I get is, not surprisingly, jalapeno. The taste is, well, like hot sauce. The pepper far overpowers the ultra-light lager beer it's suspended in. I have to admit, it's a nice novelty for the beer fan who THINKS he/she's had it all, but this one is just not appetizing at all. I'm not one to ever waste a beer, but this one's a pourer.

KINGFISHER LIGHT LAGER (Bangalore, India) - 1.0
Pours a decent golden, with thin lacing. Smells of butter and honey, with maybe a little corn. Taste is similar, with only a heavy malt presence and no hops detectable. Seems quite drab and unremarkable. This one doesn't stand out in any way, though it does have more body than most American adjunct lagers. Still, this one isn't crisp or tasty at all. Wouldn't have another.

This attractive and arty beer (complex and creative bottle renderings) pours a deep amber with an average head. The olfactories reveal an odor of fruit and yeast. Quite appealing already! The taste is crisp and even sweet up front, followed by a slight hop zing in the followthrough. Seems stronger and heartier than most lagers, and this one was a pleasure to finish.

Pours an attractive amber-red, with average lacing. This rich all-malt lager also boasts of a lovely ripened fruit bouquet, and the first taste reveals a biscuity flavor, with a slight zip of hoppy citrus in the finish. Tasty and well-done, and a perfect example of a lager done the right way.

Poured into my ale glass with a major amount of froth, this well-regarded classic makes its presence known with a slightly spicy, clean scent and a clouded golden appearance. The flavor brings to mind grains and spices, like baked bread with a followthrough of clove. Tasty, balanced, and the best hefe I've had in some time.

A thick, dense head on this malty Bavarian-style unfiltered hefe, with a nice scent of caramel, clove, and banana. The taste is bold and roasty with hints of buttery biscuit and clove - spicy and tangy. Not bad, but I found this one somewhat lacking in balance, with perhaps a tad too much of the spiced element.