Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Gil Scott-Heron - “Black Wax” BluRay (director: Robert Mugge)

Poet-prophet and proto-rap icon

Anyone not familiar with the work of Gil Scott-Heron is really missing out on one of America's finest and wisest musical storytellers and a major (major!) inspiration for the early rap scene even. Scott-Heron was a profoundly political and socially responsible poet and musician, working in the avenues of spoken word and music both separately and simultaneously. 

Here, in this 1982 film, director Mugge pretty much hands over the controls to him, and to great result. Juxtaposing funky live footage of Scott-Heron with his band and in-the-streets-and-on-the-move spoken poetry, “Black Wax” is an intimately personal portrait of an artist at the top of his game. Don’t expect any sort of history lesson, as there’s no background or historical info here, but simply a “day in the life” of this brilliant man.

Sadly, Scott-Heron passed away in 2011. But thanks to MVD Visual, this lively and enlightening document is seeing a new life on remastered BluRay. It looks and sounds great, and the words of Gil Scott-Heron resonate still today. Superb film!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Chronotope Project - “Dawn Treader” CD

Lovely selection of exotic, diverse soundscapes

This is the first I’ve heard of Jeffrey Ericson Allen, whose Chronotope Project has been active for several years releasing evocative and often cinematic electronic music. “Dawn Treader”, inspired by the C.S. Lewis story, is an intensely visual and sometimes playful listening experience, with plenty of twists and turns. 

Opening with the percolating sequencer sounds of “Dawn Treader”, the music gives way to the languid and introspective track, “The Scent Of Evening Flowers”, which gradually works itself into a bleepy outer-space soundtrack. “Basho’s Journey” brings an Asian influence to the table, no doubt due to the prominent use of the traditionally-tuned 13-string Japanese koto. “Ocean Of Subtle Flames” is a spiritual journey, complete with light rhythms and flutes punctuating the otherwise fleeting ambient textures. “Canticle For The Stars” is a kind of space music/classical hybrid, with blippy synth sequences alongside electronic strings. “She Who Hears The Cries Of The World” brings it all together into a wonderful melange of exotic textures, fleeting melodies, and evocative world music-meets-ambient vibes. It’s a celebration of all things musical, artful, and worldly.

Chronotope Project

Stone Roses - "Made Of Stone (director: Shane Meadows)” DVD

Doc on foppy Madchester fools

Manchester’s Stone Roses were partially responsible for one of the worst late 80s/early 90s music trends...the foppy, baggy-trousered “Madchester” scene that sadly tried to meld acid house club music with slackerly psychedelic rock. These guys inspired some even more insipid acts (anybody remember the atrocious Inspiral Carpets?), and even the notoriously  pompous Gallagher boys took the Roses’ self-congratulatory praises themselves all too seriously, and all the way to the bank with their vastly overrated Oasis. Any band who heralds themselves as "the best band in the world" or “better than the Beatles” deserves a swift kick in the nads, right?

The Stone Roses, however, despite becoming a huge (and hyped) act with the release of their 1st self-titled LP in 1989, could never quite rise above, with label and personal squabbling taking a fatal toll on the group as soon as fame and fortune raised their greedy heads.

This documentary traces an ill-fated 2012 reunion that brought the members together for some high profile gigs, only to see attitudes tear up the band again. Fans (anybody out there?) will be enlightened by this well done doc, but others unconvinced of the brilliance of the Stone Roses (me) will want to steer clear.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Time Being - “A Place To Belong” CD

Lovely minimalist ambient

The second album from micro-ambient composers Phillip Wilkerson and Jourdan Laik begins with the icy digital drone tones of “The Wind Has Called”. “Every Memory” is a more ethereal trip into the clouds at daybreak, and “From Where We Are” brings a piano element alongside the fragile drones. If any album release were tailor-made for the wee hours, or for the waking dream state, this is it. Wilkerson and Laik’s gentle and unobtrusive ambiences are both soothing and narcotic.

“Farther Worlds” is an awakening of sorts, with big ominous bass drones amongst the shimmery tones. “Here Is Life” is more typically ambient, with a shifting juxtaposition of darker elements with lighter, lilting fields of cinematic sound, and the finale, “An Infinite Home”, reminds of a superb Eno piece, a seamless and refined statement in minimalist ambiance. 

A beautiful release of gentle and evocative sound.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

“In The House Of Flies” DVD (director: Gabriel Carrer)

Unfulfilling torture indie

This micro-indie abduction horror/thriller is notable mostly for the voice acting of one Henry Rollins, who performs as “The Voice” — an unseen abductor who traps a young couple and confines them to a dark basement while he performs cruel tricks and mind-games on them. The pacing here is very slow, and there’s a lot of forgettable scenes and dialogue that really don’t do much to help.

To their own credit, main stars Lindsay Smith and Ryan Koteck (the teen lovers faced with starvation and torture) are quite believable in their roles as victims. The claustrophobic setting is effective enough, but the film’s lack of action nor depth makes for a  pretty tedious movie overall. And although this comes close to an outright horror film, the lack of much real gore or viscera is a definite detractor, too. It’s like “In The House Of Flies” holds itself back from the level of a “Saw” or other torture horror films by going a cleaner, milder route. And it just doesn’t quite work.

Ultimately, “In The House Of Flies” is unfulfilling and forgettable, and with that, I can’t justifiably recommend it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

“Rebel Scum” DVD (director: Video Rahim)

Dirty document of drunken derelicts...

Sometimes, documentaries are welcomed as intimate looks into celebrated artists, celebrities, events, or historical incidents. This is none of the above. “Rebel Scum” looks at Knoxville’s scuzz-punk band the Dirty Works, and particularly their damaged and recklessly self-destructive frontman, Christopher Scum. Now, I’ve been closely involved in underground music and transgressive art for 30 years, and I’d never heard of this band. Is this even a real documentary? Wild Eye Releasing have done some pretty awful films before…hmm.

Regardless, this purports itself to be a real documentary, so I’m reviewing it as such. The band here is pretty much an inept bunch of drunken rowdies, with an audience that numbers, well, maybe in the tens. Mr. Scum, though seemingly a pretty nice guy, has a serious and alarming problem with substance abuse. The film follows the band around, showing some of the most embarrassingly painful scenes — sloppy, slovenly, and sickeningly drunken and drugged.

Why anyone would like to see this is beyond me. There’s little to be said for watching a man and his friends slowly kill themselves. “Rebel Scum” shows a band who are not so much making music as making a desperate cry for help. I hope someone hears it.

“Immoral Tales” Blu-Ray (Director: Walerian Borowczyk)

Notorious and scandalous sexcapades!

Probing sexual taboo and deliberately poking a big “middle finger” at contemporary mainstream morals and “values”, Borowczyk's infamous selection of erotica vignettes (released in 1974) is as raw and consciously inflammatory as can be, even 40 years later. “Immoral Tales” is a great deal of fun, and it’s more than obvious that Borowczyk wasn’t taking things too seriously beyond his provocative stance. This isn’t a snooty “art” film, nor is it simply pornography. It seems to inhabit a world stealthily in between.

The 5 stories contained within, though unrelated in any way but thematically, each delve into another facet of incendiary sexuality, from spiritual fellatio on a beach (beautiful in it’s own way) to explorations into lesbianism, bestiality, masturbation, incest, and beyond. There’s no taboo here, as Borowczyk’s slandering of Catholicism and “morality” is purely confrontational in every way. 

A celebration of decadent perversity and unashamed sexual liberty, with a liberal amount of nudity (furry beavers, boobs, and butts are the cameraman’s prime focus quite often), this film is a titillating enough experience on merely a surface level. There are plenty of flaws, from poor dialogue to some marginal set design to questionable acting, but “Immoral Tales” remains a landmark in confrontational cinema. Is it art or is it porn? You be the judge.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cider: WILDCIDE Hard Cider

A most excellent cider

As the cider market explodes in America, many craft breweries are getting in on the action, and that’s a good thing. More variety means more experimentation, and this new brew from Gordon Biersch (under their new Aurum Cider imprint) has something unique going for it. Using nature as it’s inspiration, WIldcide is flash-pasteurized, meaning there’s no sulfites added to preserve the product. This is a more natural cider without chemical additives. Ingredients? Apples. Period. How cool is that?

I was lucky enough to be able to taste this fine cider for you, dear readers, and here’s my review, done as I review any craft beer.

Appearance: Pours from the bottle a pale clear-yellow in color, with very little retention or lacing on my pint glass. I attribute the watery look to a lack of artificial coloring that may be present in some of the more mainstream ciders. Good on Wildcide.

Aroma: Fresh, juicy apples, pure and simple. Can’t argue with that.

Taste: Clean and smooth, and clearly more mellow than the competitors. This is a combination of 4 kinds of apples (Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious), and maybe that (along with the lack of harsh preservatives) makes this one so much cleaner and satisfying. The finish is dry and certainly not too sweet, either. Wildcide is all about balance, and for that I give this one high marks.

A premium cider that’s, in my eyes, a better cider in just about every way. Prost to Aurum Cider Co. and to Colin Baugh/Emblem for getting this cider to my belly!

“Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)” DVD (director: Scott Crawford)

The quintessential DC punk document

A welcomed and superb full-length documentary on the DC punk scene by longtime scene journalist Scott Crawford, “Salad Days” is as comprehensive as they come. Just about every major scene player is interviewed here, including Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl, J. Robbins, Craig Wedren, Kevin Seconds, and tons more.  

As well, there’s an abundance of great live footage of all the bands, Dischord-based and otherwise (Positive Force and the straight-edge movements are discussed here, of course, too), including Minor Threat, Fugazi, Marginal Man, Embrace, Egghunt, Government Issue, Dag Nasty, Gray Matter, Beefeater, Holy Rollers, Soulside, and more. Detailing the beginnings and endings of the whole scene, from the earliest teenage days to the alternative explosion of the early 90s, “Salad Days” highlights the reverence and relevance that the punk scene had and continues to have today. It’s a loving portrait of the misfits and freaks behind the scenes making a difference and changing attitudes in a city where bureaucracy and corporate interests undermine basic humanity. For anyone with even a passing interest in classic punk rock and the idealism it embodies, this is a must-see. Superb!

Zero Ohms - “Process Of Being” CD

Quiet, minimalist ambience

Veteran ambient composer Richard Roberts is Zero Ohms, and his catalog goes back nearly 20 years with a deep selection of work both solo and in collaboration. “Process Of Being” examines Roberts’ realization that “Being is not a static state, It is not ‘becoming’ anything. It is a process, through which we each exist”. That in mind, the album begins with the ultra-hushed drones of “The Present Perfect Tense Of Being” — 14 minutes of barely-perceptible drones that set up this contemplative and subtle release of gentle, receding ambient music.

“Glimpsing The Eternal” brings flutes and a semblance of structure to the proceedings, though it’s still a minimal and fragile exercise in restraint and elegance. “The Dream Dreaming You” is another flute-led piece of fragility, with a singular string drone floating just overhead. 

On this album, Zero Ohms produce a very gradual and quiet set of evolving sound-sketches, echoing the ever-so-subtle motion in which we exist from moment-to-moment, second-to-second. As a concept, it’s fascinating, and as a recording, this is a fine work.

Zero Ohms Bandcamp

Monday, October 26, 2015

Phillip Wilkerson and Chris Russell - “Vague Traces” CD

Subtle ambient dreamscapes

Two ambient artists combine forces here for “Vague Traces”, a subtle and dreamlike album of lucid waking-dream textures and deliberately amorphous sound washes. The opener, “Far Past”, is a gauzy drone that summons hypnagogic states quite nicely, as does “The Diamond Sky”, which layers gentle wafts of gentle tones into a swirl of fragile sound-clouds. “Across The Sun” sounds almost more urban, with distant dreams of automation in the background, like a narcotic awakening in an urban soundscape pre-dawn.

The rest of these tracks fall nicely in line with this feeling — drifty, narcotic, and softly-enveloping clouds of sound. But fairy dust or window dressing this ain’t — Wilkerson and Russell’s music is edgy and realistic, with hints of darkness alongside the contemplative fragility. 

“Vague Traces” is a sublime and beautiful work of art, and one that can be enjoyed best at late night or during early morning hours. I am impressed.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Csillagkod - “Silent World” CD

Deep and mysterious ambient

Transylvanian-born Oliver Dombi is Csillagkod (Hungarian for “Nebula”), and this is his debut full-length release of deep and evocative space/ambient music. The opener, “The Communication System Between Civilizations Of The Universe” is a fairly static collage of cloudy, layered drones and darkened rumblings, like a less-focused Lustmord, almost, Being a longtime fan of classic “industrial” sounds, I have no problem with that, but luckily Dombi moves along from there on “Silent World”.

“Empty Galaxies” lightens up a bit, moving outwards into the celestial heavens. Dombi really hits his stride with the evocative space music of “The Birth Of The Solar System”, which brings a melodic slant to his drifty and cinematic universe. “Water From Another Planet” is a sublime and beautiful journey, with swells of dramatic strings and tender plinkings, while “Kettoscsillag” is 4 minutes of reverberated chimes and dark undercurrents.

“Silent World” is a surprisingly mature and subtle debut, packed with mystery, emotion, wonder, and majesty. Csillagkod is an artist to watch, and this is a wonderful album.

Peter Pan Speed Rock - “Buckle Up And Shove It!” CD

Rough & tumble punk metal rawk shit!

Dutch punk act PPSR don’t mess around. They’ve been around for 20 years, and this new album is a seriously intense burst of energetic and frenzied punk metal madness. “Get You High” starts things off with a sound reminiscent of Motorhead and Black Flag’s bastard love-child. Pretty damned sweet. And speaking of damned — the band’s superb cover of the Damned’s classic “New Rose” is instantly recognizable and most welcomed. Influences like these don’t lie — Peter Pan Speed Rock know their shit. “Whatever Man” sounds like a maniacal Henry Rollins-era Black Flag, which isn’t a bad thing, either. The rest of the album is just as unrelenting, too.

This album is PPSR holding their influences on their sleeves while making some heavy, balls-out rock and roll without pretense. I can get behind that. Great stuff!

Paul Ellis - “Moth In Flames” CD

Light sequencer meanderings

Vancouver, Washington-based veteran ambient electronic composer Ellis’s 2015 release begins with the deceptively-titled “In Flagrante Delicto”, a light and airy ambient sequencer tune whose casual and decidedly non-threatening tones have nothing to do with any sort of offense, the least of which being sexual, as that title implies! Not sure if Ellis is being ironic here, but it’s a pleasant track, nonetheless. “Moth In Flames” is another casual and gauzy analogue synth exercise, as is the almost synth poppy “Birds Migrating Over The Prison”.

Ellis admittedly pays homage to the classical Berlin sequencer sound founded by folks like Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, and Klaus Schulze, and that vibe permeates his work on “Moth In Flames”. He brings a well-defined melodic slant to his spacey, drifty electronics, oftentimes bringing a blippy, retro kinda vibe that recalls the eighties synth pop heyday.

I find “Moth In Flames” to be a pleasant, if rather forgettable work of analogue ambient synth work, not adding a whole lot to the stew, but not offending, either.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

“The Beast (aka La Bete)” Blu-Ray (director: Walerian Borowczyk)

Controversial Euro-sleaze!

This classic (and infamous) Euro-sleaze film from 1975 is given a new lease on life with this beautiful new Blu-Ray, adding plenty of bonus features, retrospective info and a crisp, clean video quality that is surprising given the age of the source material. 

Without giving too much away, “The Beast” is an adult re-telling of the “Beauty & The Beast” tale, with some shocking and very mature scenes. Where to begin? A wealthy American heiress is set to marry a reclusive French aristocrat in his crumbling castle when she discovers his past harbors a dark secret. It seems one of his ancestors was attacked in the woods nearby by a strange beast. This scene is relived through fantasy sequences as the heiress finds the sexual nature of the attack, well, titillating, herself. Things get wet and wild, with some extraordinarily explicit fantasy scenes of the woman and beast in flagrante delicto. All the while, the heiress finds ways to pleasure herself before her marriage.

The opening scenes of horses copulating are off-putting and quite disgusting, as director Borowczyk apparently really wanted to outright assault the boundaries of good taste with this film, which falls somewhere between weird horror/fantasy and porno. Despite all the revolting content here, the film is beautifully shot, with colorful visuals of the French castle and grounds. Art film? Surely. Trash film? Without argument. Watchable? Mostly. Erotic? Questionably. Unique? Most definitely. This is a film viewers will remember, undoubtably. But beware, as this one goes pretty far!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shane Morris & Mystified - “Evolution” CD

Evocative modern primitive soundscapes!

The third piece in a trilogy, this 5-track, 60-minute album charts organic life as it, well, evolves from the primordial stew into complex life forms. Using predominantly electronic instruments, Morris and Mystified (aka Thomas Park) craft sounds that evoke the imagined “proto-music” of primitive man. Basic percussion, tribal drums, minimal scratchings, gongs, and the sounds of the natural world all around are here, haunting, mysterious, and somehow alluring.

The “music”, or perhaps more appropriately ambient sound, on “Evolution” is subtle and quiet, but never static. The elements of mood and texture are all present, and even semblances of near-melody. But don’t expect a wistful set of cheery background sounds. This is a heady, rich, and immersive sound-stew that conjures vivid mental imagery, like a gradually-moving cinematic experience.

“Fire Gathering” is a dark night-time ritual — lighting torches in a ravine with the ocean breeze wafting along the treeline. “Growing Into New Territory” combines light percussion with the sounds of water running, and deep drones — like a tentative visit into an undiscovered cavern under a clear, starry night. It’s lovely music really, with a swell of wonder and a tingle of darkness. 

“Evolution” is a wonderfully rich and subtle (yet heady) work of electronic ambient sound sculpture. It’s a spacious travelogue to times long since forgotten. Fully recommended.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Against The Grain - “Road Warriors” CD

Revved-up Motor City rawk!

The fourth album from this veteran Detroit rock band pulses with energy and attitude, equal parts punk rock, sludge metal, and Kiss. Frontman Chris Nowak’s melodic but sometimes gruff vocals do echo prime Gene Simmons in spots, thus that comparison. I get a genuine sense of classic rock here, with a blend of sludgy heaviness, breakneck speed metal, and a “party-on” sense of fun.

“Sirens” is a well-executed slab of boggy boogie/doom metal that just sounds dirty (and that’s a good thing here). “Eyes” even recalls some Black Sabbath, so you know where these guys are coming from. My favorite track is “Run For Your Life”, a furiously fast speed-punk-metal assault that just slays. 

Overall, a solid, unpretentious case of serious rock and roll, raw and gritty and worthy of their heritage as Detroit rock city denizens. Killer, dudes!

“Soaked In Bleach” DVD (director: Benjamin Statler)

Cobain conspiracy?

It’s safe to say that there’s a glut of Kurt Cobain conspiracy theories around, despite the case of his suicide being closed and documented already via other media. Personally, I’m content to accept that Kurt couldn’t handle the fame and pressure of being a role model to thousands of troubled teens. Nonetheless, this film does present compelling evidence for the reopening of Cobain’s 1994 “suicide” case. Certainly, this film treads dangerously close to tabloid journalism with dramatized sequences, but the release of recorded phone interviews courtesy of investigator Tom Grant are examined and presented here, and definitely cast a shadow over Courtney Love’s alleged motives and involvement in the arranging of her husband’s death.

Grant, who it seems has made a business of exposing Cobain’s death “hoax”, is the central focus here, and he does present a wide-ranging and convincing argument to those who would listen. “Soaked In Bleach” does manage to illustrate the missteps taken by the Seattle Police Department, as well as seemingly capturing the obviously drug-addled Love in some bold-faced lies regarding Kurt’s overdose and intentions (she was facing an ugly divorce when Kurt was found dead). So was Kurt Cobain murdered? There’s no definitive answer, despite this film.

Overall, this film is a serious look at the “myth” of Cobain’s suicide. Taken with a grain of salt, it’s still an engrossing and curious document of a hidden side of America’s musical history. You may not be convinced of the worthiness of this, but it’s still an interesting watch.

“Kung-Fu & Titties” DVD (director: Joseph McConnell)

Leave all semblance of manners behind in this celebration of tits!

If the title doesn’t adequately give it away, this is truly a trash film far from the boundaries of “good taste”. As far as the synopsis goes, I’ll give it a word or three regardless, as “good taste” shouldn’t be a factor in this kind of cinema anyways. Sean Molnar plays the disgraceful kung-fu fighter Richard Titties, who sees his luscious girlfriend (played by the tantalizing Seregon O’Dassey) abducted into a netherworld of absurd, almost surreal nonsense centered around an “evil dictator” called Zeefros who really just wants to see everyone’s titties. Hmm. So he must save her from his clutches, and finds a companion in a weird trash-talking Brooklyn comic (Mike Marino) in a bad gorilla costume.

Former TV star Bronson Pinchot appears here as a side note, as does B-movie scream queen Raine Brown, but they certainly can’t save this sub-Troma comedic farce that isn't funny or worthy in any way unless you crave cheap thrills and tons of titties. Yes, there are plenty of breasts here, which I suppose is the film’s sole saving grace. That’s enough said already. You know if you want to see this one or not.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Leather Nun - “Whatever” CD

Superb return from Swedish legends

Returning to the scene after a 20+ year absence, Sweden’s Leather Nun have created a stunning and powerful return to form with “Whatever”. Known mostly in the 80s for their association with Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records (who released their debut EP in 1979) and their flirtation with stateside success with their darkly catchy “I Can Smell Your Thoughts" single in 1987, Leather Nun’s sound falls somewhere alongside Iggy Pop’s artier experiments (in and out of the Stooges) with a trace of Velvet Underground and a touch of industrial around the edges. 

This album of mostly new material opens with the lovely and introspective “All Those Crazy Dreams”. “Outside My Window” is a rumbling rock song with an ominous air, before the tongue-in-cheek interlude “Dancing In The Rain (I’m In Love)”. “Red Hot Gwen” begins with a late night piano before erupting into a sleazy big blues sound, albeit with Jonas Almqvist’s trademark Swedish-accented English. It’s a mix that’s distinctive and unique. The revved-up electro-blues of “Godtherapy” takes its name from the Jonas-led post-Leather Nun band of the same name, and fits well alongside the other cuts here.

Other standouts include the anthemic “Star (Yes You Are!)”, the haunting “I’m Not Afraid”, the swaggering “Mainstream”, the touchingly sensitive piano remake of “For The Love Of Your Eyes”, and the atmospheric “Another Rainy Day”. Yes, the whole album is top-tier.

“Whatever” is anything but negligible or passive. This is a complete return to form for a band on the verge of being forgotten (at least in America), and is the perfect continuation from the band’s past. Any fan of the Leather Nun’s “old days” will be delighted by this collection of melodic-yet-often heavy, sleazy-yet-romantic, and well-produced rock sounds that snarl darkly alongside a cheeky wink or two. A great album, period.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pearl Jam - “Long Strange Road - 25 Years At The Edge” 2xDVD

Repackaged retro

This unauthorized extended documentary combines the previously-released “Under Review” DVD with another previously-released DVD, “In Their Own Words”. So serious fans should scrutinize this accordingly if it’s worth their time. Sure, the gatefold packaging is nice and all, but this isn’t clearly marked as a “re-packaged” set, so the intent is to unscrupulously sell this to the uninformed. Beware!

That said, for the Pearl Jam novice, this set is a massive (170 minutes total) collection of biographical info (DVD 1), with the usual journalists and music writers chiming in their opinions over photos and films. DVD 2 is a load of haphazardly-arranged interviews with the band from TV over the years. Supposedly, most of these are already available online for free viewing, so again, this set is only recommended to the most fervent Pearl Jam fans.

Casual fans need only see Cameron Crowe’s superb official documentary, “Twenty”, rather than this amateurish collection.

Pride/Sexy Intellectual

Nirvana - “In Utero - 20th Anniversary Tribute” 2xDVD

Repackaged retro

This repackaged set of 2 full-length “unauthorised” DVDs from Pride DVD (aka Sexy Intellectual) is a pretty solid wealth of info for serious Nirvana fans. Disc 1 is simply “In Utero: A Classic Album Under Review” from a few years prior, which of course examines the band’s rise and fall with a focus on their final studio album. Plenty of journalists and biographers are interviewed here, as well as several people who were close to the band. There’s nothing here that will shake the ground for Nirvana fans or solve the supposed mystery/conspiracy theory of Kurt’s suicide, but expect plenty of obscure anecdotes and stories from some folks who were supposedly there for the band’s rise.

Disc 2 is a lengthy (90 minute) collection of extended interviews from the first disc, including deep conversations with Cobain’s grandfather and former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing. Again, there’s a load of collection trivia represented here, and proves a fascinating (if exhausting) watch.

Serious Nirvana fans, this may be a must-see. Casual fans like me? Take it or leave it.

Pride/Sexy Intellectual

D.O.A. - “To Hell N’ Back” DVD+CD

Bounty of live footage of Canadian punk legends

Ah, the inimitable Joe “Shithead” Keithley and DOA still bring it, being Vancouver’s far-and-away godfathers of punk. This 90-minute selection of live footage covers some of their gigs from 2011 to 2013, and it’s a fine showing of blitzkrieg punk in the classic vein like few others can do. Quality here is decent to good, and certainly better than bootlegs, so fans (you know who you are) need to grab this one pronto.

Plenty of the greats are here, from “Police Brutality” to “Class War” to “Fucked Up Ronnie”, with around 27 others to pummel and educate you, and that’s not even including the bonus footage.

And to further sweeten the deal, there’s a free CD attached, as well, that being the band’s 2012 album “We Come In Peace”, which you can believe is packed with essential punk-ass madness like only Joey Shithead can conjure. You get guest vocals from Jello Biafra on a remake of the band’s classic “General Strike”, and several other less-notable guests to add color to DOA’s already diverse sound. 

DOA’s political side is more than evident as always, as are their odes to marijuana and beer, but that’s not telling you anything you don’t already know. DOA basically wrote the book on punk in Canada, so here’s a toast to one of the greats. Hail DOA!

Monday, July 13, 2015

“The Point” DVD (director: Fred Wolf)

Charming kids fable with classic folkie Nilsson

This beloved children’s cartoon from 1971 is as charming as it gets, really. Featuring some old school pen and ink animation, and based on (and featuring) songs by the great Harry Nilsson, this is a timeless fable that’s suited for pretty much any age.

It’s the tale of Oblio — a boy born into the Land of Point, where everyone and everything has a “point” on their head. Oblio is round-headed. Suffice to say, Oblio gets into trouble when a mean-spirited pointy boy picks on him and gets him (and his trusty dog Arrow) banished from their society. Oblio goes on an adventure and learns many lessons on his travels in the Pointless Forest.

Cute and educational without being too preachy or heavy-handed, “The Point” includes the voice talents of Mike Lookinland (aka Bobby Brady) and Ringo Starr (the narrator). And Nilsson’s beloved folk songs throughout give this one a homespun and human element that much of today’s animated features lack.

A wonderful film for kids or adults alike.

“Every Everything: The Music, Life And Times Of Grant Hart” DVD (director: Gorman Berchard)

Husker Du alumnus deserves a look

Having not been much of a fan of Minneapolis’ most inspirational punk/post-punk band Husker Du, I’ve never truly explored much of either Bob Mould or Grant Hart’s careers over the past 20+ years. Well, a shame that is, as this excellent documentary proves.

Looking at the life of drummer/singer/songwriter Hart from his own viewpoint (Hart is interviewed extensively here), his art is examined beginning pre-Husker Du and progresses through that band’s highs and lows, as well as his forays into solo rock and pop with bands like Nova Mob, his relationships with William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith, Bob Mould, Black Flag and the SST label, and even his visual art. Hart himself “hosts” this film, so it’s a very personal and honest portrayal of the events in his life.

Director Berchard has done a masterful job in collecting rare photos and films, and Hart’s well-spoken and charismatic personality more than provides a great intro to his world.

A wonderful film about a great artist who deserves more notice. Fans both casual and hardcore need to check this one out.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

“Freestyle - The Art Of Rhyme” DVD (director: DJ Organic)

Hip hop culture historical

This documentary dates back to an original theatrical release in 2004, but that doesn’t tarnish the impact and importance of its message. Taking a deep and historical look at the early days of hip hop and the art of improvisational rap, “Freestyle” traces the lineage from Jamaican toasting to gospel preaching to modern street hip hop, all the while illustrating it with interviews and rare footage from early proponents and important figures like Mos Def, the Last Poets, and Aesop Rock, to name just a few.

From a historical standpoint, “Freestyle” is pretty well a definitive lesson in itself of the culture, eschewing most commercial angles and pop culture icons and focusing on the reasoning and skills of the early street MCs themselves, some obscure and forgotten but all very skilled and worthy.

This is a fine documentary and should be a must-see for anyone who professes to live or respect hip hop culture. Superb!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

“Scream Park” DVD (director: Cary Hill)

Mediocre slasher with Ogre and Pinhead

Another ultra-low budget horror flick with an affinity for the classic 80s slashers here, featuring a couple of notable cast members. Unfortunately, there’s little else here worthy of mention. The premise is simple — a failing amusement park owner decides to create a “media sensation” by hiring insane redneck thugs to commit murders at the park. The park’s teen employees, enjoying a night of drinking and partying, end up being hunted, one-by-one, by the maniacs (one played by an often-masked Ogre from Skinny Puppy).

Not much else to say here, aside from a memorable appearance by Doug Bradley (Pinhead from “Hellraiser”). The usual grisly killings are here, alongside some mediocre acting, and a bit of nudity (the appealingly busty Kailey Marie Harris drops some wondrous double-D bombs), but overall this one just falls flat (unintentional pun), not distinguishing itself from a thousand others just like it.

“Scream Park” isn’t terrible, but it is unremarkable and fairly pedestrian. Serious slasher fans could do worse, but casual horror geeks can take it or leave it in good conscience.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

“The Search For Simon” DVD (director: Martin Gooch)

Sweet and nerdy British indie

Nerdy manchild (played by producer/director/writer Gooch himself) David is convinced his brother was abducted by extraterrestrials 30 years ago. His continuous search ‘alienates’ him from his friends and complicates what could be his love life. He travels the world searching for clues into the alien abduction phenomenon and relays his findings through a network of internet vlogs. He is a man obsessed, and it takes a series of unlikely coincidences (and a confession from his mother) to uncover the truth that may ultimately set David free.

“The Search For Simon” is billed as a comedy, but it worked better for me as a sad and sweet portrayal of a man on the fringes of sanity and madness who just needs a helping hand. David is well-played by Gooch, being a likable and good guy who just believes wholeheartedly in a truth that isn’t popular nor mainstream. When even his nerdy friends reject him, David finds solace in a lovely young lady who does her best to help him find “the truth” that’s out there.

Well-shot, and with surprisingly good special effects, “The Search For Simon” is an enjoyable and kind-hearted British indie film that has heart and soul, and as so deserves some notice. 

And with endorsements from a pair of Monty Python alumni on the case, how could you go wrong?

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Fall - “Re-Mit” CD

Superb and traditionally odd post-punk

After more than 35 years and over 70 albums (30ish of them studio), the venerable Mark E. Smith and his merry band’s 2013 offering is a solid work of weird indie post-punk mayhem. Smith’s usual muffled, incomprehensible vocal ramblings are like those of a streetside drunk (albeit a very literate, well-read one). Witness the scruffy, stumbling “Kinder Of Spine”, which brings a loose and playful 50s-style groove alongside Smith’s larger-than-life persona.

“Noise” is a slice of electronic sound poetry, while “Hittite Man” brings a swaggering almost Birthday Party-esque madness. “Pre-MDMA Years” is more skittering electronic sound poetry, actually quite effective, while “No Respects rev.” is a swanky, upbeat pop tune. That is, until Smith chimes in with his gruff and growly vocals. “Irish” is a cool post-punk beat that’s faithful to the Fall’s history as indie rabble-rousers.

This is a solid, listenable, and often experimental Fall album (witness the computer game blips opening the otherwise appropriately-titled “Jam Song”), and among the better I’ve heard in some time. Strong work!

Cherry Red

The Fall website

DeeperNet - “Impossible Landscape” CD

Superb electro grooves

Portlander Andrew Miles’ second album as DeeperNet continues the deep and dark electro grooves of his fine debut of a couple of years ago. Opening with the exotic “Aether” (which could almost be a trippy Coil outtake, and that is high praise), the album then pursues a more dubby trance groove with the pulsing “Fractal Dimension”.4

The rest of the album is a diverse set of quality electronic sounds, from the melodic “Fluid In Blue” (featuring the ethereal vocals of Zefora) to the upbeat synthpop of “Illuminated By Ultraviolet”. Other standouts include the percussive yet tender “Falling Through” (again featuring the soft vocals of Zefora) and the 10-minute finale, “Quantum Teleportation”, which flows in an astral trajectory with deep near-goa beats. A fine and more than enjoyable album by an artist who knows few boundaries.

“3 Holes And A Smoking Gun” DVD (director: Hilarion Banks)

Slow and convoluted indie thriller

A complicated drama about a university student’s world class screenplay that inspires his once-successful instructor (a Hollywood screen writer himself) to go to extreme ends to attach himself to. Dark secrets are exposed in this smart but convoluted film. First time acting lead Zuher Khan does an admirable job as the student, while James Wilder is menacingly sly in his role as teacher-liar-extortionist. Aside from that, there’s little here to report or notice.

Pacing here is slow and dialogue-driven, but there remains something else missing here. The characters here inspire little empathy, and this micro budget indie, though not entirely unwatchable, is best left in the bins.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

“EM3 (Eenie Meenie Miney Moe)” DVD (director: Jokes Yanes)

Well-done Miami crime thriller

Raul (played well by the likable Andres Dominguez) is a Miami tow truck driver, but he quickly discovers that in this dirty city, he needs to find other means to make a living. So he gets involved in the crime scene, stealing cars and, in concert with his friends, selling the drugs he gets (from the dealers whose cars have been swiped and chopped) as a side business.

Things are going well. Raul has met a fine lady (the sweet and delectable Belkys Galvez), and he plans on making a life with her, before he discovers that this lifestyle has its downside. 

That’s as close to a spoiler as you’ll get from me. I will say that this film is quite nicely paced and acted, with characters being believable, dialogue seeming natural, and the characters multi-dimensional. Director Yanes has a keen eye for cinematic flair, playing with light and sound (and even some subtle CGI). 

“EM3” is a strong showing in the realm of crime thrillers, with a modern electronic-based soundtrack (including a couple of tracks by Miami bass madman and Skinny Puppy collaborator Otto Von Schirach). I enjoyed this one.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

“All This Mayhem” Blu-Ray (director: Eddie Martin)

Skating fall from grace

Chronicling the lives of Australia pro skaters Tas and Ben Pappas, this superb and hard-hitting documentary details the rise and fall of two brothers who reached the top of the skating world. But, with such success came pitfalls, and this sad and cautionary (but never preachy) tale shows how their “rock star” lifestyles came to a head in a tragic way.

Blessed with determination and mad skills, Tas and Ben moved to America to compete in skating championships in the early 90s. They successfully competed head-to-head with the greatest, including Tony Hawk himself. However, their youth and inexperience dealing with fame and money got them into serious drugs and partying, and eventually led to Ben being arrested, and his getting involved in other criminal activity (and eventually to his untimely passing at the age of 28).

“All This Mayhem” isn’t just for skating fans, and although it’s centered around the sport, director Martin tells the tale like a biography, with tons of rare VHS material of the Pappas brothers, interviews with them (and their family and friends), and archival photos. It’s a fascinating and engrossing film, and one that shouldn’t be discounted by anyone with an eye toward the highs and lows of human existence. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

“On Tender Hooks” DVD (director: Kate Shenton)

Flawed look at fringe subculture

Fakir Musafar and Re/Search’s “Modern Primitives” have a lot to answer for. This documentary centers on the growing subculture of “suspension”, i.e. hanging oneself from meathooks. Director Shenton follows several practitioners in England, as well as partaking herself in a suspension ritual in the final chapter of this marginal film.

As shocking as this film purports to be, I found myself bored and restless, but not because of the “taboo” subject matter. The focus on a small and idiosyncratic group of piercing and suspension fans doesn’t include any history or clear lineage of the practice. Nor does it really touch upon much of the spiritual or cultural significance behind these body modifications. What is the genesis of such a practice? Why would modern-day people return to these rituals? “On Tender Hooks” strikes me as a personal document of Shenton’s experience, but does little to illustrate why it should be significant to an outside audience. As I don’t know Ms. Shenton nor have any insight into her life or history, I’m just left watching someone else’s experience, with little insight. Maybe this one has its own fringe “in-the-know” audience, but to an outsider like me, there is little to glean here, sorry.

Devo - “Hardcore Devo Live!” DVD

Well-done live document 

The fact that I’m not a big fan of Ohio’s legendary Devo doesn’t affect my appreciation for their unique contribution to modern music. Being so instrumental in the developments of both American punk as well as early electronic pop isn’t a feat that should be ignored, as Devo were certainly inspirations to bands from both genres. And although some may only know the band from their mega-radio hit “Whip It” from 1980, they have had a number of memorable and popular cuts that transcend description and era.

Despite the loss of Bob 2 (Bob Casale) in 2014, the band soldiered on with a series of shows called “Hardcore Devo” — focused solely on their earliest, classic material (1974 to 1977). This DVD documents that tour, complete with early and obscure proto-electronic rock tracks that continue to wow and bewilder fans. It’s a seriously professional document, recorded impeccably with multiple cameras quality angles. And, of course, the music is still pretty weird. You get greats like “Bamboo Bimbo”, “Midget”, “Uncontrollable Urge”, You Got Me Bugged (Booji Boy)”, and a ton more.

Fans will already own this one, and if you consider yourself a serious Devo-tee, this one’s for you.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Front Line Assembly - “Kampfbereit ” DVD

First digital live document of veteran industrial band

Vancouver-based electro-industrial group Front Line Assembly have been around for almost 30 years now. It’s a damned shame, but this is their first ever live DVD. The classic 1996 film “Live Wired” has shamefully never been converted to DVD from it’s VHS format, so this is, well, the first, believe it or not!

“Kampfbereit” documents FLA’s 2011 “Improvised.Electronic.Device” tour in Canada, and it does so quite well, especially for the shoestring budget of Anastasia Blink (aka Nasty Byte), who basically crafted this as a labor of love. Without a heaping of digital effects (one of the main complaints about the aforementioned “Live Wired”), Nasty Byte captures the energetic live antics of bouncy frontman Bill Leeb and his team with intensity and honesty. And although I’m making this sound like a bootleg, keep in mind that this well-edited DVD features multiple camera angles, a great mix, etc. It’s far and above the best live visual document of FLA out there, bar none.

Highlights here include classic tracks like “Circuitry”, “Plasticity”, and “Millennium”, and the encore, “Liquid Separation”, all physically intense with the addition of Jason Bazinet (SMP) on live drums. Simply said, any serious fan of FLA (and I include myself in that category) needs to pick up this DVD pronto. It’s a great document and a fun show.

“Memory Lane” DVD (director: Shawn Holmes)

Flawed indie sci-fi

This indie sci-fi/thriller goes in some interesting directions, for sure, but ultimately doesn’t seem to capture the intensity the subject matter deserves. “Memory Lane” follows a troubled war veteran who meets a lovely lass just as she is about to commit suicide. He ends up in love with the mysterious girl (whose full name he never even knows), even going so far as to buy a ring and a house to share with her. Well, when she ends up dead in a bathtub, he convinces himself that she was murdered, and somehow receives visions or flashbacks when he himself attempts (and fails) his own suicide.

He, with the help of his friends, revisits death (via garage-bathtub-electrocution) to reconnect with these visions, hoping to solve the mystery of his love’s passing. It’s a fairly cool premise, but I failed to feel much for the protagonist and his lover, or their predicament. 

Director Holmes definitely has some skillful flourishes as a filmmaker, and some vision, but the overall execution here fails. Editing needs some work, cameras are overly jerky and lighting/dialogue are obscure and sometimes meandering. The acting here is average, but the film’s pace and cinematography made me lose interest quickly. Yes, this one was tough to sit through.

Friday, April 3, 2015

“Necrophile Passion” DVD (director: Tom Heidenberg)

German sicko trashiness

Taking obvious cues (even the box art and font are rip-offs) from the German sicko "classic" “Nekromantik”, this rather foul and explicit descendent/copycat (also, oddly, from Germany, complete with English subtitles) does take itself quite shockingly far, with loads of nudity and rather dubious and vile sex scenes. 

The protagonist is a lonely, troubled, and unlikeable lout with a history of abuse (from an annoying and unloving girlfriend, which seems to be his main hangup). He graduates from simply cutting himself to even more nefarious deeds when he discovers a nude, freshly killed young woman in a woods. It needn't be told what he does to the corpse after a bit of rumination. The lout is played in a mostly wooden fashion by Gunther Brandl, who spends his spare time lazily sulking around his house considering more vile deeds or suicide. I say more power to him, as this guy is really unlikeable in just about every way. Anyway, he eventually decides to get revenge on his hateful girlfriend. Without giving away any spoilers, the ending is indeed a surprise. 

I give “Necrophile Passion” trash-film points for being pretty well disgusting, and with no short supply of breasts or explicit sex scenes. Otherwise, the acting is shallow and unconvincing, the effects adequate at best, and the script pretty unoriginal. Best to leave this one in the bins and invest in Jorg Buttgereit’s great (and still disgustingly shocking) “Nekromantik”.