Sunday, December 25, 2011

Killing Joke - "The Death And Resurrection Show", trailer 2

Another trailer for the upcoming Killing Joke movie, "The Death And Resurrection Show". This, along with the similarly-awaited Ministry documentary, "Fix", top my "most wanted" on DVD list this coming year. See what you think, and don't be afraid to comment.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Folks Are Talking: Oral Histories From The 1970s Gathered by Garret Mathews" 2xCD

Longtime Evansville (Indiana) Courier columnist Mathews here collects a wealth of his experiences and interviews while traversing the backroads of his Appalachian home in Bluefield, West Virginia. Compiled from 1972 to 1987, Mathews narrates his stories over 2.5 hours and 2 full compact discs.

As an account of old-time Appalachian culture, Mathews succeeds, bringing the sometimes larger-than-life characters he covers (back) to life. He accents the tales with hints of bluegrass music, making his coal miners, snake charmers, backyard storytellers, moonshiners, gravediggers, prisoners, horse traders, cock fighters, and other working class mountain people seem as real (and alive) as you or me. It's an impressive set of pure Americana, illustrating the rich and vibrant culture and hard-living lifestyles of the era.

Mathews himself sums it up better than I can, saying, "These men and women are from a bygone era and most are long dead. I wanted to record our time together as a way of keeping their stories alive". Amen. For anyone interested in a true American way of life, before the era of iPods and Facebook, "Folks Are Talking" is a timepiece and history lesson rolled all in one. Bravo!

Interview with Garret Mathews, Evansville Courier columnist from 1987-2011, and creator of the "Folks Are Talking" project.

1. Why did you opt to release these stories in audio form? Were they previously available in one of your books?

"In 1979 and 1983 -- when I wrote for the Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph -- I published FOLKS 1 and FOLKS 2 that were collections of feature stories on men and women I interviewed in southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia. I selected a few of those tales for the CD project, but most of the recording was not included in the books. I chose to do audio because I had never done a recording before and thought it would be both fun and interesting. I wanted to add music to increase the depth of the project. I wanted to leave a historical record -- copies have been furnished to libraries in the two-state area as well as to Appalachian scholars from across the country -- and thought audio was the best way to go. My mailing list is extensive with more than 350 outlets. These men and women are from a bygone era and most are long dead. I wanted to record our time together as a way of keeping their stories alive. What they shared with me, I want to share with future generations."

2. What is your perceived audience for these tales and remembrances?

"I felt young people would be more likely to listen to CDs than read a book. The project will be a success if a goodly number of schoolkids hear this material and are inspired to learn more about Appalachian history."

3. Do you think these stories illustrate a particular time period in American history, or are they more timeless?

""Folks Are Talking" definitely illustrates a particular time period (the 1970s). Most of the men and women I wrote about (early United Mine Workers, coal handloaders, former sawmill workers) aren't around to tell their stories. They need a conduit to the modern day and I welcome that role.
The double CD costs $17 plus $3 shipping and handling. Checks should be made out to Garret Mathews. The address is 7954 Elna Kay Drive, Evansville, Indiana 47715."

For samples and ordering info: Folks Are Talking website

Manic Bloom - "In Loving Memory" CD

Nashville act Manic Bloom's second release is an 8-song set of melodic rock tunes that punch with an edge, yet manage to stay clean, ear-friendly, and song-based. Opening with the instrumental electronic moods of "La Naissance", these boys ratchet up the energy on the single-worthy "Never Back Down".

Fans of stuff like 30 Seconds To Mars, Kill Hannah, or Muse (especially on the proggy "Toynbee") will likely find something to enjoy in Manic Bloom, as the band's sparkling melodies and cohesive, well-produced sound is both deep and still radio-friendly. "In Loving Memory" boasts of several potential hit songs, and given the right backing, I'd expect to hear these guys again quite soon. (Brinklebrand Records)

Richard Kern - "Shot By Kern" DVD

"Shot By Kern" is a collection of 20 short "webisodes", created by famous underground filmmaker Kern. His subjects? Women. In this series, Kern photographs natural women, most often nude (at least as much as they want to show), all the while interviewing them about their lives, attitudes, family, etc. And though prudes out there may disagree, this is not pornography. There's no sexual acts, just all types of "everygirls" giving us, the viewer, a somewhat voyeuristic look into their private lives. Call it exhibitionism, too, and Kern just happens to be the catalyst to capture it. These ladies want to be free, and Kern is their portal.

The beauty of Kern's work is that he bucks the trends, never showcasing artificial women. We get ladies of a variety of styles, from lesbians to aspiring Brazilian models to alternative/punk rock girls. Kern doesn't embellish or airbrush anything, and, if anything, that makes "his" girls so attractive. You might know one.

That said, the first episode is an extended visit with Sasha Grey herself. Of course, she's a wee bit more comfortable being photographed naked than most of the other girls, but she's a fascinating subject nonetheless.

In short, "Shot By Kern" is a very worthwhile, even unforgettable series of vignettes presenting women on their own terms, being themselves, and not "performing". It's a breath of fresh air in a world of artificiality and marketing. I am looking forward to volume two! (MVD Visual)

Richard Kern website

X - "The Unheard Music" DVD

Originally released 25 years ago, this well-deserved reissue is a classic documentary of the legendary L.A. punk band X, recorded at during their prime, and featuring the participation of all members of the band, most notably both John Doe and Exene Cervenka.

Interspersing superb and intense live footage with interviews, behind-the-scenes images, and stock footage to illustrate the times, "The Unheard Music" examines a band at it's peak, and at odds with the music industry. Major record company executives are, entertainingly, also interviewed expressing their confusion at X and their supposed "lack of commercial appeal", while forgotten glam rock bands are mentioned as "the next big thing". Just hilarious! But best of all are the candid and honest conversations with Doe, Cervenka, Billy Zoom, and D.J. Bonebrake. There's plenty of prime live footage, as well, illustrating how very unusual and innovative X really were in melding their Americana/country-tinged rock with rockabilly and punk.

This movie often gets cited by those "in the know" as one of the great rock documentaries out there, and after seeing it, I'm not doubting the validity of that claim. And having not been too familiar with much of the band's catalogue (and history), this made me a fan. Bravo! (Angel City Media/MVD Visual)

X website

Colin Quinn - "Long Story Short" DVD

Veteran stand-up comedian Colin Quinn (of SNL and Comedy Central fame) here presents an audio-visual document of his Broadway show, and it's an insightful and entertaining blend of history and comedy, with stylish visual aids (and a well-done set) as support.

Directed by Quinn's friend Jerry Seinfeld and originally seen on HBO, this 75 minute show has Quinn detailing his own brief history of the world and the great empires, past and present. His brand of humor is laid-back and easily digested, as he relates the greatest and most innovative cultures of the world to today's world.

An enjoyable show, and worth a look for anyone into Quinn's everyman style of comedy. (MVD Visual)

Official website with trailer

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dead Milkmen - "The King In Yellow" CD

It's been a long 16 years since the last Dead Milkmen album, and this comeback proves a worthy addition to this Philadelphia folk/punk band's considerable back catalog. Having been college radio staples back in the late 80s, these guys held an important part of my adolescence. Having grown up with stuff like "Big Lizard In My Backyard", "Eat Your Paisley", and of course, "Punk Rock Girl", the Dead Milkmen's slackerly every-man delivery and fun-loving, cynical attitude immediately hooked me. They had some commercial success before splitting up in 1995, and with the unexpected death of member Dave Blood, it's refreshing to hear these guys regrouping for more upbeat but deadpan songs like "She's Affected" (where a hipster girl "dresses like Johnny Marr"), or "Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song", which needs no explanation. Any old fan will not be disappointed, as "The King In Yellow" picks up right where the band left off. Cool. (Dead Milkmen)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lou Reed - "Live Performances 1972 & 1974" DVD

Filmed for European TV, this set compiles a pair of 1974 shows (Paris and Brussels), but the transfer quality is really sub-par, most definitely a degraded VHS. In fact, some of this is so obscure, it's really a sort of rip-off for any Reed fans expecting a serious release. Consider this a bootleg at best.

To further beat this dead horse, Lou Reed in this era was at his most flamboyant, all glammed-up and with a mainstream commercial backing band that butchers classic cuts like "Sweet Jane" and "I'm Waiting For The Man". This is an period best left forgotten, thank you very much.

The only saving grace is the 1972 version of "Heroin", performed with John Cale in Paris. Sublime and classic. Appended to the end as an afterthought, this short clip is the best thing here, by far. Only the most devout Lou Reed fans need apply here. (XXL Media/MVD Visual)

Lou Reed website

Craft - "Void" CD

Vicious and fiery black metal from Sweden that transcends the usual black metal sound by going even more brutal. For their 4th album, Craft dredge the depths of despair and fan the flames of hate with a powerful and crusty attack of simplistic but bowel-churning riffs and rhythms. Solid, solid work here. (Southern Lord)


Dexter Romweber - "Two Headed Cow" DVD

This excellent documentary was begun over 18 years ago as a look at life on the road with indie/garage rockabilly act the Flat Duo Jets. In their prime, the Flat Duo Jets toured with the Cramps, and were a part of the thriving Athens, Georgia indie rock scene of the late 80s alongside R.E.M. Their influence can be felt most prominently with Jack White (who is interviewed here), as well as fans and friends Cat Power and Neko Case, among others (who are also featured here). As time elapsed, and the band crumbled due to a variety of issues (including alcoholism, depression, and paranoia), this film was put on the back burner.

Now, with full participation of prime songwriter Romweber, this tale can be told, now focusing on the perils and lifestyles of a touring musician and a band on the verge of stardom.

Compiling original black-and-white footage of a young Romweber with drummer/Flat Duo Jets partner Crow Smith, this film is both historical document and fascinating look into the mind and career of one of America's most unique songwriters and characters. Recent footage puts everything in perspective, as Romweber today tours with his new group, the Dexter Romweber Duo. He's much more level-headed and balanced, and he tells candidly of the destructive lifestyle he's thankfully left behind. "Two Headed Cow" gives me a new appreciation of the Flat Duo Jets, and this is a superb documentary for anyone interested in the life and times of an indie artist who's survived. (Cape Fear Filmworks/MVD Visual)

Flat Duo Jetspace (likely not official)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Darshan Ambient - "Dream In Blue" CD

An ambient electronic homage to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, "Dream In Blue" cruises along with spacious jazz-based grooves, hinting at the exotic Indian and African notes of these masters. Still, this falls more on the 'ambient' side, rather than 'jazz', per se. Darshan Ambient's Michael Allison evokes similar moods to his heroes, while retaining his own identity. Lovely and recommended. (Lotuspike)

Darshan Ambient website

Friday, December 2, 2011

Zola Jesus - "Conatus" CD

At only 22 years of age, operatically-trained rural Wisconsinite Nika Roza Danilova has already released 3 albums and several EPs of her darkly-shrouded ethereal rock. "Conatus" unveils some richer, less monochromatic textures, and even some (almost) dance beats into the mix. "Vessel" is a crushing assault of industrial-style percussion alongside Danilova's haunting vocals. "In Your Nature" is both stark and anthemic, like a female-fronted Joy Division. The closer, "Collapse", is a dramatic and moving lament, with Danilova backed only by an electronic drone. Imagine a cross between prime Siouxsie, Kate Bush, and Fever Ray, and you'd still be underestimating the wonder of Zola Jesus. Superb work from an artist who's matured well beyond her years. (Sacred Bones)

Zola Jesus website

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Justin Vanderberg - "Synthetic Memories" CD

Composer Vanderberg's second album is a delightful and wistful collection of deep ambient electronic sounds that gently ebb and flow in a relaxing manner. It's an ambient album with depth and clarity, combining the best of modern electronics with a timeless, Eno-esque quality that works equally as well as background listening or immersive contemplation.

"When I Walk" is a droning, meditational piece with celestial inclinations, while the title track brings a gorgeous collage of serene strings alongside percolating sequencers, like classic Vidna Obmana meeting Vangelis somehow. This is a standout, being simultaneously majestic and mysterious. "The Path" ushers in a heavy rolling rhythm of an almost trip-hop or industrial nature, which works well alongside the crystalline strings."Dusk" shows a hint of darkness around the edges, but remains true to the album's gentle overall vibe. "Synthetic Memories" is a superb work from a composer I'll be curious to hear more from. (Spotted Peccary)


Thursday, November 24, 2011

"My Stepdad's A Freakin' Vampire!" DVD (director: David Matheny)

This low-budget indie horror/spoof did an admirable job holding my interest, despite some obvious shortcomings. What won me over?

Despite a silly premise and plenty of unnecessary reliance on CGI monsters (which were well-done for the budget), "My Stepdad..." boasts some relatively decent acting, and a likeable lead character (Lahcen Anajjar). Sure, this is a mild horror film with comedic elements tailored for a teenage audience, but "My Stepdad" is entertaining, if light, good-time that didn't have me cringing (or reaching for the 'STOP' button). The gore was fair (mostly green goo rather than bloody evisceration), and a lack of nudity didn't affect this one at all.

The camera work was well-done, with interesting angles and activity, and the score (by Douglas Edward) was also professional, stylish, and tiers above similar films. I say, well-done for vampire fans. I can see a promising future for director Matheny if he can maintain this level of professionalism. (MVD VIsual)

official site with trailer

Monday, November 21, 2011

Haken - "Visions" CD

English progressive metal outfit Haken's second album is a huge and dramatic effort, packed with 71 minutes of well-done atmospheric and melodic metal.

The opener, the piano-and-strings-laden instrumental "Premonition", brings a sense of fantasy to the table before erupting into a complex metal behemoth with weird jazz and pop juxtapositions. It's a promising and beguiling opening. "Nocturnal Conspiracy" follows, and showcases vocalist Russ Jennings' rich vocals alongside a strong sonic palette that incorporates, again, classic metal with complex arrangements and an almost jazzy sense of jam and space. The remaining tracks follow in this pattern, taking the listener on a surreal and theatrical journey. With high production values and top-tier musicianship, Haken's "Visions" are clear and engrossing. Fine work. (Sensory/The Laser's Edge)

Haken website

New York Dolls - "Lookin' Fine On Television" DVD

Hailing from New York (of course) in the early 70's, the NY Dolls were progenitors of the yet-to-break punk movement. The band, centered around frontman David Johansen and guitarist Johnny Thunders, rocked with as much swagger and androgyny as the early Stones, only with less blues and more of a raw, garage vibe, inspiring bands from the Sex Pistols to Guns 'N Roses in their wake.

This DVD collects a number of rare and long-lost TV appearances from the bands' heyday, and it's obvious that these VHS tapes were on the verge of decay. Fortunately, the poor, grainy, and often black-and-white footage is collaged and seamlessly mixed with quality audio and interspersed interview and backstage bits. So this turns into a cohesive 70-minute set of prime Dolls. Well-done, especially with the limited footage and resources. Maybe this one isn't a must-see for most punk fans, but completists will find "Lookin' Fine" more than essential. (MVD Visual)

New York Dolls site

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Killing Joke - "The Death And Resurrection Show" film trailer

Now, this is something I will need to see and experience...possibly the most intense and fiercely intelligent aggressive rock act in the world, the mighty Killing Joke are profiled and documented in this upcoming feature-length film. Check this trailer and see what you think. Wow. I am impressed and anxious.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Haunted Changi" DVD (director: Andrew Lau)

This film blurs the lines between reality and fiction and does so fairly well. Like a Singaporean cross between "The Blair Witch Project" and "Ghost Adventures", "Haunted Changi" purports itself to be a documentary, as a small crew of young filmmakers set out in Singapore's infamous haunted Old Changi Hospital to capture apparitions and ghostly presences.

The amateur hand cam style is rough, gritty, and realistic, though there are some rather professional edits and effects in some spots that belittle the "indie" credibility somewhat. The young actors are fine, with "producer" Sheena Chung being a standout. And the numerous shots of the run-down, dilapidated hospital are eerie and well worth a look. This is, after all, a seriously well-documented hotspot for paranormal activity. Kudos to the crew for choosing the actual Old Changi Hospital as their setting. Tension is fairly high, though actual "jump" moments are few and far between. Overall, an enjoyable ghost-hunting experience, not without a few problems, but nonetheless, I liked this one. (MVD Visual)

Haunted Changi website

"For Christ's Sake" DVD (director: Jackson Douglas)

A farcical comedy featuring several MadTV alumni as well as a cameo from John Schneider (Dukes Of Hazzard), "For Christ's Sake" is a silly tale of a Catholic priest who inadvertently loans his brother a huge amount of cash from his church's emergency fund. The trouble begins when the brother reveals the money wasn't used for cancer treatments, but to fund a porno movie. Crises of faith abound, and this lightweight film is charming and entertaining, and quite fun. (MVD Visual)

"Thankskilling" DVD (director: Jordan Downey)

With tongues firmly set in cheek, director Downey and friends present this splatstick horror comedy that could become a cult favorite with some time. The campy, cheesy, almost Muppet-like cover art begins by promising "boobs in the first second", and it doesn't falter on this boast. Trash points already! Truth be told, this is a fun and gory parody that goes far and isn't afraid to look stupid for a laugh. And that it was filmed over only 11 days and on a paltry $3500 budget is amazing.

The "villain" here is a smack-talking, smarmy turkey, reincarnated after a Native American curse and aimed at wreaking havoc on the Pilgrims. The turkey, who's full of lame one-liners, gets himself into some precarious spots in his attempts to murder and maim hapless teens. One unforgettable scene involves "Turkey" "stuffing" a slutty coed -- shocking and hilarious. You've never seen a sex scene like this before, trust me.

Sure, the acting is stiff and the writing fairly flat, but the premise of a killer turkey in the spirit of Troma or early Peter Jackson is pure drive-in sleaze greatness. For fans of stuff like the "Evil Dead" series, "Reanimator", or any Troma flick, this is a must-see. (MVD Visual)

Thankskilling site

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More Beer, No Fear...

The craft beer revolution continues! Amidst failing global markets, failing stock markets, multi-national conglomerates, and the decimation of the "middle class", craft beer has not only sustained, but actually shown growth, while the corporate monoliths slip, slip, slip...Bravo! Scales are, as always, 1 is awful, 5 is awesome. And a one, and a two, and a here-we-go!

The dependable Widmer's entry into the Oktoberfest sweepstakes opens with a cloudy amber appearance and attractive spoke-wheel lacing on the glass. Superlative presentation! The aroma is caramel and wheat, and pretty well typical for the style. But the taste, you ask? It's sweet, with the caramel malts up front alongside hints of a nutty, even almost roasty character. Very well-done, and an enjoyable brew.

This is a perfectly-executed porter, with a deep black appearance and overwhelming carbonation that leaves some extraordinary retention on the glass. First sniff reveals a nutty, roasty character, with a chocolate or cocoa overtone. Nice! Tastes burnt, with more bittersweet cocoa at the finish that seems to sweeten up as it warms. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this one, and any fans of porters or stouts will be pleased.

I wanted to like this one, being from Maine and boasting of a spooky-cool Ichabod Crane character on the label. But alas, this clear and golden ale with limited head and no lace proved disappointing. The nose seemed lagery, grainy, and thin...not very pumpkin-like at all. The flavor was also mild and bland, even. Imagine a typical adjunct lager beer with some pumpkin flavoring dropped in, and you have this unimaginative brew. Thanks, but no thanks.

This seasonal macro-posing-as-craft-beer pours a cloudy copper, with an average head and very little lace. Smells of pumpkin, rather than spice. Not bad so far. But the worst is yet to come! The flavor is metallic, with a weird artificial-tasting pumpkin-spice mix. To boot, this one's watery and thin-bodied. There's something missing here. Avoid!

Harvest-time beer reviews, continued...

More beer reviews sadly neglected last month. Most of these can be likely found in most Midwestern United States-area stores, and these are all solid craft beers. Remember the system...1 is awful, 5 is awesome. in-between, well, let's just say that 2 would be bleah, 3 drinkable, and 4 worthy. Make sense? As always, judge on your own taste buds, and give these breweries your support.

This Fall seasonal from Chicago's fine Goose Island pours a fittingly rusty amber, and boasts of an ample head and stunningly gorgeous spiderweb lacing. The aroma is malty - like Fall leaves and grains...robust and sturdy. Tastes well-balanced, with a biscuity malt profile at first, followed by a hoppy, sharp bitter finish. Very good, and a welcome break from the usual Fall Marzen/Oktoberfest styles.

Nice clean pine-amber color, with a modest head. Slight but attractive lace.
Aroma is pleasantly pine, with some orange tones.
Easy-drinking hops presence, but very well-balanced with the malts. Flavor reveals more pine and orange/citrus character. Fine and likeable, this is a superb session-worthy pale ale.

This dark red/amber English-style old ale pours with a massive and lovely retention on the glass. A strong start, for sure. The aroma says roasty, peaty malts. Earthy, like wet leaves and yeast. Nice. Taste is huge - strong peat-roasted malts, followed by a dry hops sharpness. The strong 8.7% alcohol isn't too apparent, but it is there underneath all the powerful flavors. I get even more of a pungent licorice, raisin, and tobacco taste upon slight warming. A potent, heavy, and complex ale. High marks here.

GUINNESS BLACK LAGER (Dublin, Ireland) - 3.5
Deep and black (as Guinness well should be), this new brew leaves a large but erratic lace on my pint glass. Nose is grainy like most lagers, barely hinting at the flavors to follow. Tastes mildly burnt/roasty - but still light on the body, as opposed to the usual heavier stout. Very enjoyable, and though I'd rather sip on a warmed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, this one hit the spot.

Holydaze craft beer roundup!

The time is finally here for more beer reviews. I hope to catch up and post several more months worth soon, but meantime, here are some craft brews worthy of your attention, taste buds, and hard-earned cash. My rating scale goes from 1-5, with 1 being awful and 5 being awesome. As you see, nothing here was outright crap. Support craft beer, and especially your local craft brewers. On we go...

GOOSE ISLAND - PERE JACQUES 2010 (Chicago, IL) - 3.5
This bottle-aged, living beer is a Belgian-style ale, and it pours a rusty amber (with visible sediment) and a minimal head. I get virtually no lace, either. Not really impressive. The aroma is boozy, with hints of dried fruit esters and yeast. The flavor is similar, with notes of candied fruits and crusty bread. It's pleasant but heavy on the palate, and with a strong alcohol kick (8%), this one's a sipper. I like Pere Jacques, but wonder what it would taste like with a few years of aging to smooth it all out.

This hazy amber ale pours with medium carbonation and only a half-finger of lace on the glass. Nothing spectacular in the presentation. The nose is spiced, malty, and rich. Not bad. Upon tasting, I get more spice, and some tones of fruit and nuts, with a slightly bitter finish. Boulevard has captured some appropriate flavors for the holidays, and this ale is solid, if unremarkable.

Ah, Widmer rarely disappoints my taste buds, and this clean red/amber ale pours with an impressive head and a luxuriously thick lace on the glass. The nose is caramel malty with some definitely hoppy flair tucked in there. Impressive. The flavor seems malty at first, but with a clean hops finish that places this more in line with a pale ale. Delicious and worthy!

BELL'S WINTER WHITE ALE (Comstock, MI) - 4.0
The respected Bell's presents their venerable Winter seasonal here, and it's a Belgian-style wit beer. This one pours a hazy yellow-orange with plenty of fine, white carbonation and a little retention. The aroma is definitely spices (I get a little clove) and citrus (namely orange). The taste is balanced and mild, with sharp wheat notes and orange zest playing leisurely with a little spice for warmth. Pleasant and enjoyable.

Bruce Springsteen- "DVD Collector's Box" 2xDVD

This set of unauthorized documentaries/critical analyses is basically a re-packaged set of 2 previous titles. The first I viewed, "Under Review 1978-1982: Tales Of A Working Man" is a look at Springsteen's albums, "Darkness At The Edge Of Town", "The River", and "Nebraska", and traces their inspirations and recording processes from the points of view of bandmates, music journalists and biographers. There are, as with most of Sexy Intellectual's productions, plenty of photos and some archival interviews with "the Boss" himself, and segments of songs to illustrate. This is a well-done piece for serious Springsteen-o-philes.

The second disc, "Under The Infuence", is a little thinner, and shares some of the same footage, but works well as a companion piece to "Under Review". This DVD traces Springsteen's initial inspirations as an artist, and provides a broad overview of the artists that Bruce himself took closest to his heart growing up. Here, we get profiles of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Phil Spector, Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Gary (US) Bonds, Mitch Ryder, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger among others. Perhaps this isn't an essential viewing, but it does provide an interesting and honest assessment of Springsteen's musical lineage and his place in rock history. Solid set here. (Sexy Intellectual/MVD Visual)

Springsteen official site

Voyager - "The Meaning Of I" CD

From the unlikely climes of Perth, Australia comes this accomplished melodic/symphonic prog-metal act, and "The Meaning Of I" is their 4th album in 8 years.

Led by the clean, clear, and spot-on vocals of Daniel Estrin, the band's technical prowess is evident. "Seize The Day" is classic metal at it's heart, but the dense layering and mixing, as well as the complex structures and symphonic (even electronic) elements add textural depth. Voyager stretches themselves far beyond the usual metal limitations, embracing Tangerine Dream-like electronics and even near-synthpop (witness "The Pensive Disarray").

Heavier-than-thou metalheads may find this stuff a bit too well-studied and mature, but Voyager still sounds heavy, with a concise, riff-heavy attack that's firmly metallic from most every angle. Sure, it's not feral or "brutal", but Voyager's interpretation of metal involves complex arrangements, melodic song structure, and emotion, rather than noise. Solid, solid work here. I can't compare to any other artist in particular, as these guys are working their own path. A great change of pace from sludgy grindcore or black metal, as these guys are serious about their music, and their complexity is their strength. (Sensory/The Laser's Edge)

Voyager website

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wilco - "The Whole Love" album

From the glitchy electronic noise that opens the album on "Art Of Almost", it's obvious that this is Wilco moving back into their more playful experimental mode, after a couple of albums of more straightforward rock. The noise gives quickly way to become a rather gentle folk-pop song before exploding into a swell of post-Krautrock improv jamming. "Dawned On Me" is a scrappy (yet mature) slice of Summertime pop, complete with Jeff Tweedy whistling, whereas "Black Moon" goes more introspective and low-key, proving that Tweedy and company are at the top of their class. The remainder of the album beautifully and skillfully teeters between well-written and upbeat pop songs and almost somber melancholia. The 12-minute "One Sunday Morning" combines a disjointed guitar/piano melody with minimalist drones and reflective words from Tweedy to spectacular effect. It's a perfect bookend to this magnificent album. (dBpm Records)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Winchester Club - "Negative Liberty" CD

The second album from a London-based instrumental post-rock act, Winchester Club's driving, swirling rock will be most appreciated by fans of stuff like Explosions In The Sky or the shoegazer set. You know the formula already: tension-building guitars and pummeling drums, double bass players, dramatic dynamism, and moments of lonely quiet interspersed within tumultuous cascades of guitar. There's only 5 tracks here, but they are, after all, lengthy pieces. Witness the 12-minutes of "The Lonely Robot", or the gradual 15-minute build-up of "R.D. Laing (Little Chemical Straightjackets)". They haven't really found their own unique voice yet, but, nonetheless, this is fine work. (Exile On Mainstream)

Winchester Club site

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Collide - "Counting To Zero" CD

Beginning with the texturally complex, almost psychedelic "Bending And Floating", this veteran Californian electronic duo have taken aspects of their last effort (the all-classic rock covers album "These Eyes Before") and synthesized them into the band's signature dark-edged electro-rock template. "Lucky 13" is a slinky, seductive groove with an almost bluesy swagger. "In The Frequency" is a low-and-slow trip-hop gem, and "Slow Down" is a trippy kaleidoscope of ambient rock. "Further From Anything" begs for club play. There are other standouts, as well, but I'd be rambling. Suffice to say that Collide's expert synthesis of electronica, moody rock, and dark dance is among the finest you're likely to hear anytime soon. "Counting To Zero" finds Collide firing on all cynlinders. Kudos to Statik and kaRIN! (Noiseplus Music)

aTelecine - "The Falcon And The Pod" album

Featuring well-known actress Sasha Grey (look her up if this name doesn't ring a bell), this avante-experimental noise group crafts twisted electro-horror and post-industrial sounds that you won't hear anytime soon in your gothy club. "A Secret Ratio" is like prime Throbbing Gristle or early Chris & Cosey, with otherworldly oscillators and submerged female voices. Other cuts are more ambient ("4AM"), but this whole release echoes the dark and decadently primitive electronica vibe of TG or early Cabaret Voltaire. Enjoyable. (Pendu Sound Recordings)


The Janks - "Hands Of Time" CD

Los Angeles-based indie pop band that channels both Freddie Mercury and Thom Yorke on "Billy The Kid", which is both daring and pretty damned impressive. Other cuts of note include the rockier "Rat Racers", the theatrical "Separation From Your Body", and the playful "Child Prodigy". Imagine if a less pretentious Muse were an American band, and you wouldn't be too far off. Enjoyable. (Sprouted Records)


Janks website

"Unexplained Explained: Ghostly Paranormal Activity" DVD

English filmmaker Paul Wookey here collaborates with psychic Diane Howe and a small film crew to attempt to document some paranormal activity in the historic Anchor Pub in Dales, England. It succeeds, mostly.

The large part of this 75-minute documentary is Wookey interviewing eyewitnesses and historians about the area and it's dark history. The conclusion is a Ouija-style seance where some rather seedy spirits make their presence known.

This is a rather amateurish affair, to be sure, and it skirts the lines between believability and skepticism. Still, with the great atmospheres of the dingy old English pub, I found myself drawn in to the ceremony and mood. A fun, if unessential piece for fans of "Ghost Hunters" or "Ghost Adventures". (World Wide Multi Media via MVD Visual)

Feersum Ennjin - "Feersum Ennjin" CD

Cheesy band names aside, Feersum Ennjin is Paul D'Amour, a founding member of prog-metal heroes Tool, and this is his first full-length solo release. No surprise that there are several Tool-style rockers here. In fact, the opener, "Fishing Grounds", will quickly appeal to fans of his old band. "The Wilderness" is an epic rocker that brings to mind Failure -- anthemic (and melodic) modern rock with progressive elements. Some good stuff here. (Dissociated Press)


Lennon And McCartney - "Composing Outside The Beatles" DVD

I confess...I didn't make it through this exhaustive 2.5 hour documentary. Covering the years 1973-1980, this examines, with the usual historians and collaborators (including former members of Wings), the period post-Beatles when John Lennon and Paul McCartney struck out on their own with solo projects.

As with others in this series, there are plenty of photos and video clips to illustrate the albums and singles. For Beatles fans, this could be considered an essential critical evaluation. For me? It's just too much. (Pride DVD via MVD Visual)

Bonnie Prince Billy - "Wolfroy Goes To Town" album

Louisville native Will Oldham is an indie folk/country icon, and this, his long-awaited (16th?) album, marks a return of sorts to his earlier, starker acoustic days. Whereas his last major release was more upbeat and country-influenced, this one's spare, intimate, and almost meditational. Highlights include the lonely English-style folk of "New Whaling", the rollicking "Quail and Dumplings", and the stunningly sad "We Are Unhappy". Superb! (Drag City)

The Royal-Stable (the best Bonnie site, maintained by fans)

Rachel Taylor Brown - "World So Sweet" CD

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, pianist/songwriter Rachel Taylor Brown's seventh recording is a lovely and haunting indie-pop set. A spiritual sister to Lisa Germano, "World So Sweet" gets dark and unsettling beneath the sunny baroque pop song structures. Idiosyncrasy and individuality? Rachel Taylor Brown has them both in spades. I salute her. (Penury Pop)

Rachel's own website

All The Apparatus - "self-titled" CD

An epic 11-piece band from Hawaii? ATA mine a territory less "tropical" and more whimsical. Self-described as "avante-garde dirty gypsy klezmer jazz indie anti-folk rock", there's melodic pop sounds, heavier groove weirdness with kazoos, funky horns, anthemic Arcade Fire-meets-Clash rockers, and more. The schizophrenic approach may lose some, and although there's some good stuff here, it all seems too "kitchen sink" to gel. (Faulty Records)

ATA bandcamp site

Burn Halo - "Up From The Ashes" CD

Fronted by former 18 Visions songwriter James Hart, Burn Halo's second album is a radio-friendly, squeaky-clean rock/metal album, readymade for FM play. I'm neither surprised or impressed by the same old vocals (thanks, Layne Staley, for the template) and recycled "rebellious" pop-metal rhythm section. And is that a drum machine in there? This will find plenty of fans, but if you're looking for adventure in music, there's nothing original here, and nothing you've not heard elsewhere in the past 15 years. Avoid. (Rawkhead Records, aka Warner Brothers)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Nazi Hunters" 2xDVD

This fine documentary series traces, through a combination of archival footage, modern interviews, and dramatic recreations, the processes that led to the ultimate capture of 9 former Nazi war criminals, many taking refuge for decades in South America. Through 8 episodes, devoted "Nazi hunters" tell of their heroic, dangerous, and off-the-radar attempts at tracking and, ultimately, bringing to justice some of the men responsible for the thousands of murders in concentration camps during World War II.

Described here in detail are the plots to capture infamous names like Klaus Barbie and Josef Mengele, as well as others less known, but equally as heinous. An engrossing series, well-suited for conspiracy theorists and historical fans. I enjoyed just about all of this one. (Cineflix/MVD Visual)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Evil United - "Evil United" CD

Texan metal maniacs Evil United summon the ghosts of classic thrash with their self-titled debut. "Dawn Of Armageddon" reminds of Iron Maiden or Megadeth, as vocalist Jason McMaster's fearsome falsetto is pure NWOBHM. All the while, the band lay out a rumbling assault that isn't so much innovative or brutal as it is disciplined and unflinchingly adept at classic metal affectations. I get some Slayer in there somewhere, too, which isn't a bad thing, necessarily. "Speak" is another standout, bringing out some more atonal assaults ala Pantera or Treponem Pal. Well-defined and reverent, Evil United have the chops and the sound. (MVD Audio)

Evil United site


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Patrick O'Hearn - "Transitions" CD

With an impressive resume behind him (he was in Frank Zappa's band, among others), O'Hearn has quietly crafted a gorgeously subtle album of quietly introspective songs that skirt the lines between ambient and new age. "Transitions" consists of 9 mostly electronic instrumentals, based around emotive melodies and simple motifs. Don't expect any sort of bombast or cinematic drama here, as tracks like "Patterns" are brilliantly low-key, playing with sub-melodies and fragile minimalist structures. If you find Brian Eno too cold and detached, O'Hearn's "Transitions" would make an ample replacement, with plenty of mesmerizing, lilting atmospheres. Brilliant! (Patrick O'Hearn Music)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Iggy And The Stooges - "Raw Power Live - In The Hands Of The Fans" DVD

What can I say about James Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop) that hasn't already been said? He could be my father (or your grandfather, possibly), yet he's more fit than me and could likely kick my ass (or yours). The man is a marvel, to put it succinctly.

This DVD sees the remaining members of the "Raw Power" era band reunited on stage for the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival. "In The Hands Of The Fans" refers to the fact that most of this was shot on video by actual Stooges fans. As in non-professionals. That said, the result is decidedly MUCH better than bootleg quality. Indeed, this is an excellent and well-done look at one of rock's greatest bands, on stage and untamed.

The "fans" were chosen via contest, as the hardest-core Stooges fans (not because of any technical prowess), are also given a chance to interview the band after the show, which turns out candid and quite enlightening, too.

As for the content, you get stuff like "Search And Destroy", "Death Trip", "I Wanna Be Your Dog", and plenty more. Iggy and the Stooges are tight, wild, and punker than you, mate. This is a must-see for any self-respecting Iggy/Stooges fan. A keeper, for sure. (MVD VIsual)

Iggy official news site

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Hangmen - "Lost Rocks - The Best Of" CD

Raw and honest garage/roots punk from Los Angeles, these guys (and girl) have all the rock swagger and snarl of the greats. There's some Stooges, some Stones, some punk, Johnny get the picture. "Bent" is a junkies lament, with a good amount of Americana thrown in for good measure. This is top-tier, high-octane rock. Some tracks are produced by Mike Ness (of Social Distortion), so you know the pedigree must be good, and fans of Social D will easily appreciate these gritty and streetwise songs. "Desperation Town" is nothing but a classic rock song you don't yet know. Ditto for "Wild Beast". "Rotten Sunday" carries a massive guitar riff that's as ugly as the Stooges and that's a great thing in itself. If you're looking for balls-out rock without pretension, this is it. All hail the Hangmen! (Acetate Records)


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wolves In The Throne Room - "Celestial Lineage" CD

Opening with the ethereal ambiance of the 12-minute "Thuja Magus Imperium", complete with female vocals, it's evident that this isn't your typical black metal album. If anything, "Celestial Lineage" is a post-black metal album, delivering much more than just blasting beats and demonic vocal stylings.

Underneath it all, these eco-warriors eschew the genre's trappings, and create majestic songs that herald a new age of back-to-nature idealism. In fact, both members (and their families) even live (and work) a natural lifestyle and grow their own food. But that's beside the point. The music here blends black metal with ambient, psychedelia, post-rock, and drone in an unusually cohesive fashion.

"Subterranean Initiation" is a bruising and fiery tempest of rolling metal that opens up to a low-and-slow psychedelic/krautrock thud, like a mix between Neurosis and Can, before refueling back to a torrent of cascading black metal stylings. "Woodland Cathedral" is a beautifully evocative stab at medieval Popol Vuh-style ambiance that conjures just what the title implies. "Astral Blood" is another dynamic and masterful 10-minute journey that blasts, lulls, and blasts again. The closing piece, "Prayer Of Transformation", is an epic swell of symphonic post-metal rich with bombast and beauty. A tremendous work, "Celestial Lineage" is Wolves' sonic tour-de-force. (Southern Lord)

Wolves website

Kyng - "Trampled Sun" CD

Here's some well-baked heavy California rock that reminds me of Black Sabbath, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Soundgarden. There are some radio-friendly tracks here, but overall it's a riff-tastic classic rock experience, full of big thump, pummel and wail. I liked this one. (RealiD Records)

Kyng official website

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Paul Ellis - "From Out Of The Vast Comes Nearness" CD

Over 70 minutes of shimmering and rhythmic electronic space music from veteran composer Ellis. Tracks like "The Click And Chime Of Passing Time" are far more linear and melodic than ambient, though. Imagine a melding of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream and you won't be far from this pleasant extended 5-song collection. "Firefly Rising Outshined By The Moon" is sonic wallpaper, I'm sorry to say, not engaging in the least. The title track brings a little more depth (and darkness) to the party, though, with swells of ominous drone and wispy electronic effects. "Watch The Stars Come One By One" is vivacious and lively, with piano-like melodies and angular rhythms creating a music box-like effect. A solid set of meditational tunes, not without fault, but worth a listen for space music heads. (Lotuspike)

Paul Ellispace

Stemm- "Crossroads" CD

Mainstream heavy rock with it's feet firmly entrenched in metal, Stemm's clean, punchy, melodic sound reminds me at times of Metallica, other times of Pantera, and other times of Creed or Nickelback, unfortunately. "Dead Inside", for example, is a total concession to radio, being a clean and catchy modern ballad. Ugh. I can see that Stemm are capable of some potent and heavy sounds, but littering it with power ballads does nothing to convince me. Not even a fairly reasonable cover of Sabbath's "Supernaut" can save this one. No, thanks. (Catch 22/MVD Audio)


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SWANS - 09.17.11 Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN

Having satisfied a longtime wish of finally seeing the mighty SWANS live last year in Chicago alongside longtime Godsend/Goatsden friend MXV (keeper of the Punk Vault), I was more than pleased to be able to catch them so soon again, this time much nearer to home, in cozy "Music City", Nashville. Oddly enough, this same night the city hosted shows by both Taylor Swift and Earth.

Performing in the tiny Mercy Lounge (upstairs from the larger Cannery Ballroom, where I saw Nick Cave's Grinderman last year), possibly due to a wedding party being downstairs (funny, that, seeing the ladies and gents in their nicest dresses and suits--hah!), the show opened fairly promptly with former Sun City Girls frontman and Sublime Frequencies founder Sir Richard Bishop. His brand of Middle-Eastern and Indian-tinged guitarwork was fun, lively, and quite good. After a while, Bishop's between-song banter became off-kilter, surreal/dada storytelling, beat poetry, and some freaky folky stuff that likely harkened back to his proto-punk days with Sun City Girls. As keeping with M.Gira's unusual and left-field opening choices (last year he featured transvestite vaudeville performer Baby Dee), Bishop was a reasonably well-received opening act. During this time, SWANS' steel guitar player Christoph Hahn took a seat next to us. Though we introduced ourselves and shook his hand, he turned down an offer of a beer, and didn't hang around long.

A short intermission between acts, and after what seemed like an interminable period of guitar feedback from the empty stage (it must have been at least 15 minutes), Thor Harris appeared, adding chimes and percussion to the din. There was plenty of shrill overloaded noise, and members of the crowd held their ears as they were assaulted by the painful sound. Drummer Phil Puleo took stage next, adding more drums and noise. Gradually, Hahn, bassist Chris Pravdica, and guitarist Norman Westberg joined in, with Michael Gira appearing around the same time.

The group continued with the assault, building and building to a feverish overload, before beginning with "No Words/No Thoughts", from the latest SWANS album, "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky". The band was tight and prone to expanding the songs into densely-packed clots of heavy-duty, cement-packed walls of sound. Pravdica's bass had some troubles early on, and showed Gira becoming visibly agitated. In fact, his orchestrations led the group, and I witnessed all the members intensely watching him for their cues throughout the show. Indeed, Gira is the mastermind and leader, and his humble but commanding presence warranted the band's full attention at times. Crossing the man was simply not an option, and this reminded me of the Chicago show where Gira stopped the show to point out, shout at, and spit on a slam-dancing goon who was disrupting other fans' enjoyment of the show. Bouncers soon converged and threw the fool out. Bravo! Nothing of the sort happened here in Nashville, though. The audience here was respectful and reverent.

The band ground through many of the songs from the latest album, and I noticed what seemed to be a couple of new songs, as well, presumably from their upcoming release. As well, a singular throwback to the old days was dusted off, that being "I Crawled" from "Young God", which ended up being 10 minutes long. Most of the tracks tonight seemed to be expanded and broadened, showing more in common with both the gut-churning density and aggression of early SWANS and the "Soundtracks For The Blind" era, with broadstrokes of instrumental post-rock atmospheres and orchestrations. Whereas last year's tour had more linear songs, this one was more sprawling, epic, and mountainous. And much stronger.

Forget half-baked metal, SWANS are as vicious and monumental as anything out there, even 30 years after their initial inception. This was an amazing show, with such a tremendous volume that my ears rung for a day afterwards, and the impact of the bass was felt throughout my body. Stunning! Gira still has it, and he's collected a band that has all the sheer power and tension that SWANS were known for in the past.

After the show, we managed to meet most all of the band and shake hands. Gira himself appeared in a new, clean shirt (and graciously signed my brother's copy of the now-rare book, "The Consumer" as well as posing for photos and chatting a bit). He was good-spirited and very affable with fans, some of whom we spotted holding a stacks of vinyl for him to sign. We also approached drummer Puleo, and reminisced about his days in Cop Shoot Cop and their 1992 show at laundromat/bar/venue Sudsy Malone's in Cincinnati, where we saw him after a Skinny Puppy show across the street. He remembered Sudsy's and was a gracious host as well, and so thanked him before hitting the highway for home. All-in-all, a wonderous night, dulled only by our ringing ears.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Left Spine Down - "Caution" album

This Vancouver electro-punk act has been around for a few years and has shared some members with Front Line Assembly. But LSD is more rock song-based, not industrial dance-oriented. I liken their sound more akin to Mindless Self-Indulgence. "Stolen Car", for example, is a sneering punk song with electronics. Decent work, but not something I'd seek out. (Metropolis Records)

Left Spine Down site

"Sex Psychedelia Collection" 2xDVD

This 2-disc, 4-movie set compiles some of the freakiest, most far-out post-60s/early 70's-era porn I've ever seen. Let's begin the rundown, shall we?

"Ramage (Mobility Cathexis)" is an odd and disjointed art film that somehow attempts to be hardcore, as well. Or is it a porno that aspires to be an art film? I dunno, but it fails, regardless. Dreamlike and surreal imagery and narcotic narration are interspersed with seemingly nonsensical sex acts. The straightjacket scene is fascinating and odd. Dig the Carl Stalling meets Beefheart meets Les Baxter soundtrack.

"The Last Bath" is a tale of a young photographer who hitch-hikes a ride with a pair of lesbians, who treat him very well. But all may not be as it seems. Could this be a suicidal fantasy, or real life?

"The Bat" takes the cheesecake prize. A caped vampire figure (a large and hairy man who calls himself "The Bat") stalks the San Francisco streets for strange. He seduces them into compromising situations, and they unwittingly become his hoes. All the while, a girl in a bee costume is trying to undo his evil ways. She gets caught at a wrong address with a pair of horribly stereotyped Native Americans, who engage "Queen Bee" in their own threesome. Sound campy and cheesy? It is. Amusing, if embarrassing, really.

Finally, "It Came From Love" isn't far behind in the cheesecake contest. A poorly-lacquered frog/fish-head alien travels to Earth to capture breeding human couples to repopulate it's own failing planet. Absolutely campy Z-grade cheese here, though some of the copulation scenes (thankfully NOT employing masks) are well-done and enjoyable.

Truly, this is a set for collectors of low-budget grindhouse/porn film oddities. Entertaining, overall, but not easily recommendable. (After Hours Cinema)

"Nico Escondido's Grow Like A Pro" DVD

Presented by High Times, this extensive, informative, and fun tutorial shows, first hand, all the best ways to grow your herb, courtesy of internationally-respected horticulturist and writer Nico Escondido.

Visiting medicinal gardens in Colorado and California, Escondido demonstrates successful growing techniques and green-friendly ways to maximize harvests without undue environmental stress. As well, he looks at growing conditions, ventilation, fertilization, pest control, and every essential aspect of farming. As a host, he's knowledgeable, likeable, and charismatic. In short, even for non-growers like me, this is a lively and entertaining watch. At around 2 hours, this is superb, and essential for true aficionados. "Grow Like A Pro" may be the most comprehensive documentary on medicinal marijuana production ever produced. Get this! (High Times Productions)


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Con-Dom - "The Eighth Pillar - A Confession Of Faith" CD

Originally released in 1992 by a small French label, this 5-track album by English noise artist Mike Dando is 41 minutes of old-school industrial. This is raw and primitive noisemaking, of a similar vein as early Throbbing Gristle or SPK. "Seven Pillars Of Wisdom" opens with an ominous gray static, punctuated by declarative and reverbed shouts with cascades of ghostly drone. "Triumph" is more gray static with similar violent tendencies. "Confession Of Faith" pulses for almost 17 minutes with odd and seemingly random sounds, including a choir, what seems like engine noise, drones, TV & tape voices spliced in, and declarative vocals. "The Eighth Pillar" closes it out with a collage of distant bells, howling winds, and calliope sounds in the distance -- at once lovely yet haunting. A fine album with plenty of mystery and sinister darkness to wile away the late late hours to. (Tesco Germany)


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Untimely Demise - "City Of Steel" CD

This Saskawawan metal band has all the classic thrash elements down well, and "City Of Steel" is their full-length debut. Produced by former King Diamond/Megadeth axeman Glen Drover, "City Of Steel" is a driving set of energetic and evil tunes that recall both the excesses and economy of Megadeth as well as the Accused (with the shrill, bilious vocals). Not a bad mix, if you ask me! "Hunting Evil" is ripe with wild guitar solos, whereas the title track is a potent and speedy assault of riff and rhythm. "Unmaker" begins as a melodic ballad at first, before erupting into a fury of anthemic metal mayhem. Superb work, and at only 32 minutes, a concise trip into a mad metal world. (Sonic Unyon Metal)

Untimely Demisespace