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Album Reviews Coming Soon: From Eden To Exile - Modern Disdain

Friday, February 29, 2008

Film: Be Kind Rewind

A large percentage of cinema-goers who will see the Be Kind Rewind trailer before deciding to see the film will certainly be caught off-guard by this. What initially appears to be another plain old slapstick comedy turns into something far more interesting. Good old Michel Gondry, he’ll always keep you on your toes.

It’s all fairly straightforward. Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) owns a run-down video store and he leaves his loyal employee, Mike (Mos Def), in charge while he takes a few days off to work out how to fend off the threat of imminent closure. Mike’s error-prone friend, Jerry (Jack Black), subsequently manages to wipe every single videotape clean by magnetising himself whilst attempting to sabotage the local power-plant. The only way to keep the customers happy is for the hapless pair to film their own versions of the tapes with surprising results.

Sounds like a goof-a-thon, right? Well, partly. Certainly whenever Glover’s character is off-screen it’s a barrel of laughs. Mos Def and Jack Black surprisingly make quite the comic pairing. Cue the hilarity as a sudden horror-movie soundtrack plays with the duo pulling agonized faces as they realise the tapes are all blank. Throw in the neat effect of the whole cinema screen warping and fizzing with static as Black approaches and you’ve got comedy gold. Melonie Diaz’s character adds another dimension as they all set about shooting zero-budget remakes of ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Rush Hour 2’, ‘King Kong’ - whatever the customers ask for. Director Michel Gondry refused to allow his stars to view the original films before they shot them which might explain why the subsequent mayhem has a particularly random flavour to it. Black, for instance, had never seen ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and his dismal portrayal of the lead character leads to some clever on-the-spot scripting or possibly witty improvisation by his fellow actors. Each of their quick-fix films features ingenious ways of pulling off those famous scenes - the use of a cement-mixer to recreate the ‘Men In Black’ tunnel car-chase is a fine example of what’s on offer.

On Mr. Fletcher’s return, however, there’s a sudden lull in events. Glover’s character is the father figure embodying the gloom of the financial state of the store. It doesn’t appear to be intentional but his re-introduction effectively instantly changes the impetus of the film from comedy to sentimentality. Despite the anti-climactic feel to subsequent events it brings with it a change of pace, a chance to re-evaluate and inject warmth into the film. Suddenly the importance of the town, its heritage and its people are of higher importance and with the main characters established it gives us a different picture entirely.

In the final analysis there are parts of the plotline that remain undeveloped and there’s a patchy understanding of realism but then, like Gondry’s past films, those things have never been high priority. You could watch this bitter-sweet, and surprisingly quirky, film for many reasons but I feel, perversely, you may end up disappointed by the very reason for which you went.

This website is well worth a peek at. From here you can view trailers of all the film remakes the cast did: http://www.bekindmovie.com/


© Johnskibeat

Commissioned by Local Secrets online magazine...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Album Review: Thrice - The Alchemy Index, Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth

Here we have the much anticipated second installment of Thrice’s conceptual ‘The Alchemy Index’ recorded in the band’s own studio and engineered by guitarist Teppei Teranashi. “Although we wrote and recorded all four discs in the same time period, there was definitely a different approach to each one”, says singer Dustin Kensrue.

Starting with gently plucked guitar and softly spoken vocal ‘Broken Lungs’ brings to mind Funeral For A Friend’s recent sequence of downbeat releases. Yet it’s the hushed, wispy background noise of ‘A Song For Milly Michaelson’ that identifies these opening songs most effectively as the “Air” half of the album. There’s plenty of evidence that some sections have been pre-selected for inclusion with a finely-balanced dynamic structure obviously bent to include such intricate instrumentation. The drums remain fairly anonymous, happy to sit behind the star act of clean-cut guitars and soaring vocals.

“The Air disc is almost like a conglomeration of all four EP’s - it seems to be a bit more all over the place.” points out Teranishi. He turns his attention to the “Earth” disc explaining, “We knew that we wanted it very stripped down, with few electrified instruments or full drums. We recorded all of it in an empty wood room”. ‘Moving Mountains’ kicks off the “Earth” half and starts with echoed footsteps across this wooden floor as a raw banjo picks out a country jingle. Immediately a twangy generic vocal begins to jimmy out a rhythm but it‘s not upbeat enough to kick off a hoe-down. ‘Digging My Own Grave’ transports us to a saloon with jangling piano and a heartfelt song of love. ‘Child Of Dust’ brings proceedings to a close and is a sonnet composed by Kensrue, set to music, yet organised in the traditional English structure and rhythmic fashion. Humanity’s failings may be a fine subject matter to sing about, but I‘m sorry, in my disappointment I‘d dropped off to sleep by this point.

What is lacking here is one of Thrice’s trademark buccaneering, punchier tracks to inject some urgency, life and even bile. I understand why there isn’t one but it doesn’t make it okay to leave one out. The closest we get is the chorus of ‘Come All You Weary’ which is more of a hang-dog lament than a chance to bully-off. I’m sorry but this just doesn’t cut the mustard and serves notice of a move towards a band made weaker for being allowed to rattle off ambitious new ideas out in independent waters.

Album Review: Sylosis – The Supreme Oppressor

Brutal and yet also coyly melodic, Sylosis are so much more than their simple self-assessment as “Shredding from Reading”. This UK quintet are a mix of crunching guitars, ball-busting vocals and battering double-kick and snare combinations. Then just when you think you’ve got them pinned they throw in a long cyclical sequence of melodic guitars and softened vocal or a even a thread of hushed, sonic backwash. It’s Lamb Of God bitch-slapping Opeth while their backs are turned.

From the rolling thunder, falling rain and whispered guitar intro right through to the ricocheting, mesmeric guitars, on final track ’Blind Oppression’, this is an album with plenty of ideas. Take ‘Slowly Consumed’ – thickly-laden with feisty riffs and intense, pistoning drum kicks it pushes through into a repeating underscore of roared vocals which lend the track a rich, menacing darkness. Moving on, it’s followed by the surprising instrumental track ‘Silence From The Sky’ with it’s gentle, picked acoustic guitar and flighty waves of back-fill.

Sylosis pit the raw power of a bully against an uncanny ability to transform into best-friend at a whim with seemingly effortless mood-music. They nearly manage to pull it off but there are moments in the album when it’s just a step to far. It becomes busy, intrusive and just doesn‘t gel like it could or, even should. Perhaps they need to follow-through on their promise and extend their short melodic sections further. The sequences of punishing vocal and drums disintegrate when faced by a more restrictive structure. With a little more finesse the band’s bravery combined with their potential could really propel them into the big-time. Sylosis, remember the name.

Also online @TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2008/03/sylosis-the-supreme-oppressor/

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interview: Ungdomskulen

Ungdomskulen, a Norwegian trio of uber-geeks, are currently melding rock and dance together to produce some staggeringly vibrant and compelling sounds. They can be found supporting The Young Knives up and down the UK on the back of their latest release, 'Cry Baby', and I managed to yank the band's Kristian Stockhaus away long enough to quiz him on his knowledge of his homeland and The Dark Knight.


Can you describe what life is like back in your home city of Bergen in Norway?

It’s like Fawlty Towers but without the old drunken general spinning around and lots of RAIN.

You’ve been through several band name changes before finally settling. What were they?

Standing Ovation, Goddamnit and Thundersome which we used for one concert only.

I liked the band name ‘Goddamnit’ by the way. Any reason why you changed?
We changed that name ‘cause we really wanted to crack the Christian-rock market.

As I understand it Ungdomskulen is Norwegian for ‘youth school’. Did you choose it because you have fond schoolboy memories?

We had very mixed feelings about school, but the vibe in "middle school" is intense and all over the place, and that’s what we wanna be as well.

Tell us about the song ‘Ungdomskulen’. Is it really a tribute to yourselves?

Yes, it’s a tribute to ourselves and the trials and tribulations that we have gone through over the years. It’s important to give the band a little carrot that a tribute-song can be, when they’ve/we’ve worked so hard.

You’ve been labelled as “math-rock” and “frantic dance-punk” before but how would you describe your sound?

Punk-prog covered in digital ketchup.

Your first album was called ‘Surf’s Up’. Do you enjoy riding the waves?

It’s about surfing porn and not about surfing waves. We wouldn’t last a minute on a surf-board.

You’re a trio of musicians and have likened yourself to a three-headed jungle animal. What would your mating call sound like?

It would sound like the voice of god laughing through a thick layer of flanger.

You keep a blog of your various exploits. Do you feel it’s important to provide a particularly personal insight into your world?

Yes and no. I think that band’s homepages can get a bit serious and anal. A blog is more vibrant and experimental and helps to keep things fresh. It’s not really newsworthy stuff we put on there but more of general vibe of the band as far as thoughts and art goes and if the common man is interested that’s a killer.

I understand you didn’t particularly enjoy our capital’s Underground system! What happened?

We do enjoy it. It’s only a bit confusing for the naive country-lads that we are. We are not used to metal-horses cruising the underworld but we are really for public transport. Save the planet!

Last time we interviewed you guys you’d just about to release ‘Cry Baby’. Has the extra media attention and increased audiences changed your daily routine much?
It’s hard to keep any routine as we are on tour a lot, but I guess it’s healthy to break patterns and see things in a different perspective. As far as media goes they’re like fart, you know it’s out there but you pretend it’s not.

Have you any plans on how to top ‘Cry Baby’?

More sugar, less boogie, more underwater-love. We are gonna make it cool like a weekend-dad with a Harley.

We learnt last time that you quite like Batman. What makes him your particular favourite?

Batman really reflects our decay as a society by having it all and not being happy. He’s like a modern version of the character in “Citizen Kane”, looking for love in the body of a pricy object. He’s got a big heart but a lost soul, taking it out on the scum of the street as a total cleansing of his vendetta-fuelled mind. What’s not to love?

If you could have just one of the Dark Knight’s amazing gadgets which one would you choose and why?
I think having Alfred around would be pretty amazing. The geezer got heart!

You spent some time recently filming and editing your own video. How did you set about creating it?

For the ‘Batman’ video we got together one night and just filmed in √ėyvind’s living room - he’s the only one in the band with a nice clean white wall. We collected a lot of sheets and clothes and stuff, and then we just got loose and improvised in front of the camera. It was a total free-jazz jam of the body.

Was it an enjoyable process?

Yes, we had a ton of fun, but it was also hard honest work. Not really for the weak spirited or lazy.

What music usually gets played on the tour bus?
It’s a broad variety of stuff I’ll tell you. We are really into anything that doesn’t suck and sometimes we are even into that stuff as well. But we don’t like really sucky stuff.

You’re touring the UK in February and March. Which venue are you looking forward to playing the most?

We are looking forward to them all. It’s wrong to call favourites - some venues might end up getting jealous and we don’t want that now do we?

Finally, have you got anything special in store for us in your upcoming shows?

No, just the regular boring stuff.

Also online @ Subba-Cultcha = http://www.subba-cultcha.com/features/article.php?contentID=12921

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gig Review: Athlete + Broken Family Band @ CornEx, Cambridge, 5/2/08

The Broken Family Band, hailing from Cambridge (and bits of Foxton and London), are the city’s most successful band of recent years. They’ve been receiving all sorts of plaudits and not just from local press. NME, Rocksound, The Independent, The Guardian (I could go on) all talk highly of their music with Pitchfork claiming them “a triumph of urban wit over rustic convention”. So we’re expecting big things then.

Well, from way back here in the Corn Exchange’s curious V.I.P. area, below the upper balcony, it’s hard to get into such an unenthusiastic band. Those that are here for their brand of shoegaze/alt-country melancholy seem thin on the ground judging from the crowd reaction. Steven Adams, the lead singer, looks like Dec (of Ant + Dec) would look like after a hefty drinking session. He’s sporting a baggy checked shirt and it matches his tired banter with the crowd. “We don’t usually enjoy playing in Cambridge but you’ve been great”, he drones miserably. He follows that up with a resigned “Athlete are nearly on”. To be fair the band barely has time to get the crowd going but they have a go and ‘Don’t Change Your Mind’ and ‘It’s All Over’ are well-received.

From the moment the charisma of Athlete’s Joel Pott hits the stage everything changes. As he sings the first bars of opener ‘Tokyo’, from latest album ‘Beyond The Neighbourhood’, the crowd comes to life. His hard-edged, lilting yet urgent vocal is crystal-clear over the music. It’s pretty unusual to be able to catch every single syllable but that’s what both he and his sound-crew have managed to pull off. Every… single… syllable. ‘Westside’ is a joy with Pott standing alone in the spotlight, all eyes glued to him, as he slowly leads up to where the band provide the back-boost and the crowd join in with that damnable catchy chorus - “Wherever you look you can see that everybody wants to be part of the rock scene”. It’s the leaps in pitch delivery and subtle timing of the words that is so compelling - some are drawn out, others rapid-fire. The band have always managed to produced these perfect pop hits, brimming with clever lyrics and bounding, upbeat melodies, but not always received the acclaim (or airplay) each one deserves. Structured to appear impossibly difficult to perform they are just layer after layer of simplicity and are fiendishly clever.

Athlete have completely hooked the crowd by now and they begin impromptu clapping which the band encourages until it bullets them into hit single ‘Hurricane’ and searchlights swing over the masses searching out the loudest voice. Immediately mobile phones are held aloft, shining out in the darkness, each capturing their own personal memories. Behind the boys on stage four banded strips of neon light change hue and create shapes to each song whilst swathes of beams provide a backwash of colours – it’s quite a lightshow. There’s a brief respite in the songs and a face in the pit shouts out for his favourite song. “24 hours!” he yells. “We’re not playing for that long” retorts Pott with a wry smile. Then he’s suddenly serious informing us of the presence of St. John’s Ambulance and Security and promises that no-one will get hurt. We wonder where he’s going with this before he implores “So, we’ll be very disappointed if there aren’t a few people on shoulders for this next song”. The band strike up ‘Beautiful’ and a bunch of heads obligingly pop up above the crowd.

Throughout the set there are numerous guitar switches from electric to semi-acoustic and back again with a roadie scuttling on and off stage - he’s being kept busy tonight. Steven Roberts’ drums are thundering away under the quieter tracks whilst Tim Wanstall concerns himself with tinkling the ivories as well as flicking switches and turning knobs to create those “organic beats” of his. Bassist Carey Willets spends most of the gig completely absorbed in the music, swinging his head to and fro.

‘Wires’ inspires an impromptu singalong which the crowd take up and repeat back three times – all this without the band making a gesture or uttering a line and without backing. It’s quite a moment and Pott sounds honestly chuffed with the reaction. “Thank you. That’s the first time that’s happened”. ‘You Got The Style’ prompts a round of waving down the front which he returns with a warm smile. It’s tough to find anything wrong when a band is so on form and tight as this. He’s almost apologetic when revealing that they need to leave the stage before the encore - “We need to take a piss”. Such is the response that he retorts “What’s happening? I thought Cambridge was such a reserved town!” They bustle through ‘24 Hours’ take their bows and the fully-engaged crowd enthusiastically chant for more of their blustering piano-driven guitar pop-rock. They return with ‘Shake Those Windows’ and ‘Flying Over Bus Stops’ and as we all decamp to the bar or homewards we discuss nothing but just how heavily under-rated and completely unstoppable Athlete truly are.

Also online @ Music-Zine = http://www.music-zine.com/reviews/?id=420

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Gig Review: Baroness – Water Rats, London 02/02/08

As a venue, the Water Rats is incredibly cramped, stiflingly hot and utterly lacking in rules or regulations. It would give any Health & Safety or DEFRA committee member a heart attack were they to discover there is no barrier, glass is allowed in the gig room, there is no security to control the crowd and there is seemingly no limit on levels of volume. Yes, it is utterly fantastic.

The gig has completely sold out and, even better, Taint has been added to the bill. They are quick to blow us away with their high-tempo rock n’ sludge groove. A large chunk of their set is naturally off the well-received 2007 ‘Secrets and Lies’ album.

The bassist, Chris West is spending a lot of time at the bottom end of his fretboard giving the three-piece a punchy, vibrant quality. Lead singer Jimbob urges the crowd on with little pep talks. “Step forward – the more you give the more we give”, he yells and we all surge in on him. They invite a mouse-like flautist to take the stage before launching into the fantastically epic ‘What the Crow Saw’ with its blinding momentum and Led Zep flair. The lads from South Wales are definitely one to watch out for.

We quickly realise how loud psych-metal outfit Kylesa are going to be when they begin setting up a second drumkit. When they finally kick things off it’s like the police have invaded a ‘Stomp’ live show! Wailing siren guitars scream bloody murder as the two beaters thrash out a syncopated series of thunderclaps creating their own mini-wind chamber of soundwaves. The hefty overdrive on the guitars blanket everything in a dizzying wash of volume. Singing duties are split between the good, the bad and the ugly triumvirate out front – the hirsute Philip Cope, blonde scream-queen Laura Pleasants and the scary-as-fuck, headbanging Catweazle look-a-like Corey Barhorst. It’s a fearsome combination and they are truly worthy of our adoration.

Baroness emerge from the gloom like battle-hardened heroes. All heads turn to the ringmaster, John Baizely, with his mighty beard, flip-down jaw and bulging eyeballs.

A man of many talents, Baizley’s artwork is selling like hot cakes at the merch stand, particularly the special poster he’s drawn just for this gig. But it’s here, with his white Gibson in hand, where he most excels. Though a combination of step and sustain effect vocals he plays the haunting opening bars of ‘Rays of Pinion’, gradually bringing in the lead riff which after an age the drummer grabs hold of and we kick off into the wonderful prog-rock and stoner metal world that Baroness have created for us. Their set is heavy on new ‘Red Album’ material and that’s exactly why we’re here cheering as ‘Birthing’, ‘Wanderlust’ and ‘Isak’ are whipped out.

The long-lost music combined with the stage’s flashing fairy lights and big gothic columns are enough to send the sanest man a bit nuts. Lo and behold, here comes our nutter. Emerging on top of the heaving crowd he is surfed right to the back of the room before being turned and fed all the way back forward. Eventually he is puked up onto the stage nearly taking out the bleary-eyed bassist Summer Welch. He clearly hasn’t finished and begins crashing his skull into the cymbal in time with the beat. After a couple of minutes of this one fan finally has had enough and plays security getting up to push him off stage before taking back his position at the front.

Throughout the band are unmoved in their determination to play seamlessly, without pause, from start to finish. The wonderfully upbeat ‘Wailing Wintry Wind’ invites us to dance with reindeers and jingle our sleigh bells. On the busier numbers the melee of whining guitars actually start drowning each other out turning the clever guitar interplay to a thick sludge. No matter though as there are plenty of songs that pound with simplicity and ‘O’Appalachia’ has that in spades. “Raise…your… voices…” belts out Baizley and we all join in with pumping fists and strained vocal chords. They end on ‘Grad’ and deafened, but delighted, we cheer them from the stage.

Photo courtesy of Rich E

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2008/02/baroness-%E2%80%93-water-rats-london-020208/