Categories
Music Reviews

The Intelligence

The Intelligence

Boredom and Terror

Omnibus

A-Frames’ drummer Lars Finberg branches out on his own with this album of absurd and delightful lo-fi post-punk. It doesn’t stray all that far from the loudmouthed, Wire-influenced A-Frames, but Finberg leans more heavily on brash and confrontational punk angularity, cramming 13 songs into 26 minutes, stacking them with equal amounts of repetitive dance-punk, No Wave aggression and pure sonic bliss. The multi-talented Finberg plays every instrument himself, creating a layered and dense backing for his manic vocals.

Boredom and Terror lives up to its title; this being the sound of ramshackle confusion performed with anguish and seeming necessity, Finberg casting himself as some last post-punk standing, with much to say and too little time to say it. Not everything on here is equally interesting, though. Some of the songs sound like accidental filler-material. Some strict editing could’ve nailed this down to an amazing 8-track EP. Still, Finberg never dwells on his ideas for too long, and the album does retain a sense of passion and intrigue throughout — evidence that the final word in post-punk has yet to be spoken.

Omnibus: http://www.omnibusrecords.com/

Categories
The Sound of the Crowd

What’cha Gonna Watch? One And Two

What’cha Gonna Watch? One And Two

Couple of things on TV this weekend caught my eye…

Herein lies one of the most illuminating lessons of The Jesus Factor: If you have the conservative Christian vote in an American election, you can dispense with almost everyone else. Doug Wead, a Bush family friend and political consultant on matters concerning the religious right, estimates that evangelical Christians make up 25 percent of the nation, and that of those who vote, a solid two-thirds are Republican. But wooing this demographic is a delicate business, as evidenced by the 1992 Republican convention in Houston, where hate-mongering speeches by right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan and televangelist Pat Robertson turned many moderate Republicans off the party. And the impression that George Bush the elder was pandering to the religious right helped pave the way to a Clinton victory. But in contrast to his father’s colder, more elitist public persona, George W. Bush melded a folksy populism with genuine religious fervor and found a way to parlay these attributes into a second term as governor. Southern Baptist leader Richard Land recalls the afternoon of Bush’s second gubernatorial inauguration, when Bush gathered a few trusted colleagues in his office to announce, “God wants me to be president.”

And, quoting directly from Eric Alterman’s Altercation…

Eric will be debating media bias with the well known conservatives, Christopher Hitchens and Patrick Buchanan on Scarborough Country on MSNBC at Ten on Sunday Night, (following more trouble, no doubt, for Tony B).

This should be good. Granted, it probably won’t be the excruciating train wreck that Alterman’s appearance on the Dennis Miller show was, but nevertheless, this should be good.

Categories
The Sound of the Crowd

Audacity

Audacity

I agree with about 98% of this CBS News opinion piece. The author asks:

“What is the word that has more gall than gall? Nerve? Cheek, chutzpah conceit, arrogance, condescension? You name it — the squadron of chickenhawks that steers both the campaign and government of President Bush’s have pots of it. Where do these people come off impugning John Kerry’s Vietnam era guts and patriotism? John McCain, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge or Chuck Hagel might have some moral standing, but not these chickenhawks.”

Then, later:

“Allow me to add a stray point: these chickenhawks had a great influence in the decision to wage war on Iraq. After the civil war, William Tecumseh Sherman noted, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry for blood, more vengeance. More desolation.”

The most forceful advocates for war in the administration had seen the least of it. The rationales for war were cerebral, and I bought some of them, probably to my discredit. “

Good stuff.

Categories
Screen Reviews

Hellboy

Hellboy

directed by Guillermo del Toro

starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden

Sony

Move over Batman, step aside Superman, hang it up Darkman, there’s a new force in the comic book film world! His name is Hellboy and he kicks ass!

Mike Mignola deserves every bit of money he earns off of new Hellboy movie. Throughout his career in the comics industry, Mignola has been true to his art, never selling out or doing anything cheap, silly or knock-offish. His Hellboy comic series is wholly original, inventive and interesting. As a franchise Hellboy has all the great trademarks of a powerful epic: love, hope, faith in humanity, good versus evil and the struggle to know oneself. In its current form, Hellboy endures as an enjoyable collection of stories because it is intelligent, articulate and witty without being too silly or cavalier.

All of this makes Hellboy‘s leap from the comic pages to the big screen even more successful. Now I know what you are thinking: we don’t need another comic book film etc… and you are probably right. However, Guillermo del Toro’s filmed adaptation of Hellboy is something special indeed.

For starters, Hellboy broadens the comic book film genre by taking guys with powers and goofy suits and adding character development, heart, integrity and a sense of humor. This film transcends the now-redundant ‘mutant as savior of humanity’ plot trappings in favor of a lighter script with moments of rage, loss and destiny. Make no bones about it; this film is not an X-Men knock off.

Hellboy tells the story of a baby demon, Hellboy, who was thrown into our world in 1944 during a freak attempt by the Sorcerer Rasputin (Czech actor and del Toro alum Karel Roden) and his Occult-crazed Nazi henchmen to open a Gateway to Hell that would unleash the Demonic forces of Hell to their control. A group American GIs, led by noted occultist Professor Bruttenholm, interrupts the Nazi ceremony and closes the gateway, leaving the demon infant to grow up with humanity. Hellboy becomes the ward of Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and the BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense. The BPRD was founded covertly by the US Government to “push back” at things that go bump in the night. Hellboy grows up in secrecy, mentored by the Professor on the ways of humanity.

Although Hellboy resides happily with Federal Agents and other mutants, the Aqua-Mer-Man Abe Sapien, he is in inner turmoil. Hellboy is searching for who he is. The only thing that soothes this savage beast is his love for fellow mutant Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a mutant girl who immerses herself in flame when she is angered. The problem is that Liz has left the group to live in the outside world and find herself. Things become upended when the Professor realizes that he is dying. Concerned for Hellboy’s future, he recruits BPRD agent Jon Myers to replace him as Hellboy’s handler. Myers (Rupert Evans) quickly realizes how difficult this task really is. Hellboy is brash, brutish, snide and temperamental. It takes all of his patience and understanding to work with Hellboy. Their relationship becomes sticky when Myers’ pursues Liz, with comedic results.

Unbeknownst to Hellboy and his friends, Kroener, an evil Nazi psychotic killing machine, has revived the dormant, demonic conjurer Rasputin. Rasputin has sinister machinations: through black magic, he intends to bring about Ragnarok, the opening of the Gates Of Hell on Earth. Rasputin carefully sets a trap that will lure the gateway’s keynaster, Hellboy to him. This sets in motion an epic battle of muscle and wits that climaxes with Hellboy having to choose how he wants to live his life, as a demon, or as a human.

Ron Perlman (Hellboy) has spent the last two decades consistently building an impressive body of work. This solid albeit unheralded actor is best known for his work on the ’80s series, Beauty & The Beast as well as his TV cartoon voice work. He has worked with del Toro previously in both Cronos and Blade 2. However he may best be known for his great turns in City Of Lost Children, Romeo Is Bleeding, and Alien Resurrection. Perlman’s performances have always been rock solid, and in this film, he gives Hellboy some charm by adding some comedic touches to his gruff exterior. Firing off one-liners, he gives “Hellboy” some needed levity. He also says a lot by not saying a word. As Hellboy, his expressions, mannerisms and movements portray a hero who is conflicted, anxious and unsettled.

Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Down To You) is an emerging actress who gets better and better with each passing film. In Hellboy she plays Liz as an intelligent, cerebral and conflicted girl whose sense of caustic despair and gloom makes the audience immediately feel her pain. Liz is torn apart by her affection for Hellboy and her desire to understand her powers.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, it is a nice ensemble. Karel Roden’s performance is diabolically enjoyable. He has nailed the comic book villain archetype perfectly. He plays Rasputin as a bloodthirsty, ruthless and aggressive baddy. He is the puppet master that drives the evil of the film, and he doesn’t allow Hellboy to fall flat. After all, every good hero needs an evil nemesis. Although not given much to work with, Hurt gives his character a sense of dignity and paternity that really helps with softer moments. Rupert Evans, a TV veteran in his film debut, is also enjoyable as Agent Myers. He aptly conveys the frustration and grief that undoubtedly comes with having a friend like Hellboy.

Hellboy is Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece. He has managed to capture the illustrations of Mignola’s comics on film, and taken the Hellboy comics to a new level. For the film he preserved the aesthetics and atmospherics of the comic books themselves while creating a rich film with lots of visual texture, detail and subtlety. Mr. del Toro has carved a career for himself as cinematic visionary. His films usually involve the supernatural and feature dark backgrounds, eerie sets, religious iconography and Steampunk-looking mechanical contraptions. He gets great performance from his ensembles that result in complete, tightly pact films that titillate visually without sacrificing plotlines. His first feature, Cronos (1993) ushered in a wave of interest in Mexican vampire films. In 2001 his film, Devil’s Backbone was a huge success on the festival circuit and even garnered international acclaim. Two of his films, Blade 2 (in 2002, with Mignola also involved) and Mimic (1997) were big budget films that slightly disappointed at the box office.

However, Hellboy is simply terrific. Despite having a hokey plot, culled from an amalgamation of stories from the run of the comic book, it remains hot as Hell. Stellar performances from Perlman and Blair mix well with the amazing effects, great action sequences and terrific sets, set off by Marco Betrami’s amazing score. There are other superhero films out there, but few of them will entertain new audiences while retaining enough faithfulness to their comic origins for hardcore fans. In the case of Hellboy, red means go!

Hellboy: http://hellboy.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

The Kite-Eating Tree

The Kite-Eating Tree

method: fail, repeat…

Suburban Home

The Kite-Eating Tree wear their influences on their sleeve for all to see. Equal parts of Jawbox, Braid, No Knife and Drive Like Jehu come from all directions to splat into a lovely stew of angular, rockin’ post-punk that the kids will love.

More than any other band, though, the songs on method: fail, repeat… sound like a pre-For Your Own Special Sweetheart Jawbox with No Knife’s vocalist. While somewhat angular and mathy, the songs are mostly straightforward with only occasional guitar weirdness and dissonance. The drums are proficient and well played, but they are a bit low in the mix, making the overall feel of the album less powerful. The bass guitar is mixed fairly high, giving the record a bit of meat and thickness. The vocalist has the standard mid-to-late 1990s emo vocal style (e.g. old Braid); he’s pretty good, but is not memorable.

Had this come out in the late 1990s, I would have probably ignored it; being that most bands have abandoned angular math emo in 2004, I actually find this album more appealing. It sounds fresh in today’s post-punk climate, and there’s an indescribable “something” that makes these songs special. I can’t explain it, and I don’t know why, but I’m sure I’ll be listening to this record for quite some time. And like my old Jawbox records, I will revisit method: fail, repeat… from time to time.

Suburban Home Records: http://www.suburbanhomerecords.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

Crossfade

Crossfade

Crossfade

Columbia/Earshot

With a sound that incorporates bands as diverse as Metallica, Incubus, P.O.D. and even Nickelback, South Carolina’s Crossfade is an intriguing outfit. Blending powerful, crunching nu-metal riffs with surprisingly melodic interludes, the band doesn’t really possess an original sound. Yet, it’s easy to see the crossover potential here.

The first single, “Cold,” is formulaic enough to warrant an assault on the charts, with vocalist Ed Sloan sounding uncannily like Nickelback’s Chad Kroger. “Starless” is better, and perhaps more representative of Crossfade’s sound — a sound showcased most impressively on the intense, anthemic “So Far Away.” The P.O.D. influence comes across most prominently on “No Giving Up,” while “Dead Skin” is a more restrained track, emphasizing Crossfade’s dark, brooding lyrical themes. The standout track, though, has to be “The Unknown.” It is an epic, carefully crafted offering which again shows another side to the band’s sound.

As a result of the differing styles on Crossfade, it can be argued that the band is still trying to find its own voice. However, the diversity of the album indicates that there is something here for all modern rock enthusiasts, even if they may have heard it all before.

Crossfade: http://www.crossfadeonline.com/

Categories
The Sound of the Crowd

Eric Alterman Has More

Eric Alterman Has More

…than a few good things in today’s Altercation, including exceprts from and a link to a Wall Street Journal article on the Woodward book:

“There is a tendency among Mr. Bush’s critics to think that if word just gets out — if Americans find out what he is really like — they will toss him from office. An example of that kind of thinking slipped onto the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post, in a story arguing that the president’s “skillful use of language and images” had enabled him to retain high poll numbers despite misadventures in Iraq. The story seemed to suggest that Americans were tricked by clever public relations into supporting Bush and his war.

Hogwash. That’s “Blue America” elitism at its worst. By now, all Americans have taken fair measure of their president. And their sharp disagreements have less to do with who he is and what he has done than with who they are and what values they hold. Mr. Bush has become the ultimate Blue America-Red America litmus test. Your response to him determines which side of the great divide you populate.”

To which Alterman responds, in part:

“Of course, the fact that the book places all of the WMD blame on CIA Director George Tenet certainly didn’t hurt. Indeed, Woodward quotes Bush as initially not buying into the WMD argument: “One of the book’s best moments is when the president reacts skeptically to intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Tenet shuts the discussion down by rising up, throwing his hands in the air, and saying: “It’s a slam-dunk case!”

Whether that actually happened or not is irrelevant to the White House. Bush has boxed in Tenet via Woodward, who has given the President a “fall guy” for the catastrophic failures in intelligence. Any Democrats who question the President’s intelligence or political acumen would do well to pay attention to this brilliant bit of manuevering.”

Check it out.

Categories
The Sound of the Crowd

God, I Miss This Man On The National Scene

God, I Miss This Man On The National Scene

The New York Times has an opinion piece by Wesley Clark on the “medals” flap with which Republicans are trying to attack John Kerry.

Categories
Music Reviews

Brando

Brando

943 Recluse

Recordhead / Mr. Whiggs

Brando’s Derek Richey has never been coy about his affection for ’90s indie rock champs Pavement, but he has over the last couple of albums moved towards more sonically advanced, subdued performances and production, making such comparisons less blatant, if not less relevant. 943 Recluse, however, sees him returning to the early cassette-days of the band, again recording on a 4-track, self-constrained from the endless possibilities of a proper studio. And while this is most likely a temporary move, for now it feels just right.

Brando may emulate the sounds of early ’90s indie rock, but that hardly implies that they’re one-minded disciples to it. Over the years, Richey has carved out a unique voice and tone, and due to the stripped-down nature of the album, his songwriting is more in focus here than on recent albums. Songs like the stumbling “Seine to the Rhine,” the careful “Planes by Delta” and the magnificent opening track “Brooklyn” show that Richey delivers the goods even in this new setting, displaying his intense vocal performance, the band’s minimalist but complex delivery and the unique tightness of the band. Even the two (listed) bonus tracks are brilliant, making another case for these guys’ impressive productivity and their sheer breadth and scope.

Sure, they sound more like Pavement fans than they have in years, but they sound like fans doing something creative and affectionate, making music that will last on its own terms. For those unfamiliar with the band, this is probably the best place to get started, as the music is more immediately moving than on previous albums. Judging by advance press, Brando may finally be getting the break they deserve this time around. If that happens, it’s a good thing it’ll happen with this album. Another great disc from one of the best US indie rock bands today.

Luna Music: http://www.lunamusic.net/

Categories
The Sound of the Crowd

Ink 19 Update

Ink 19 Update

Peplab.