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by Thomas Hauner

8 Dec 2009

Recording artist Elvis Perkins and his multi-instrumentalist band of minstrels visited the Bowery Ballroom last Friday, gently closing the gap between folk and rock along the way.  It was the first of two stops in the city in support of his latest effort, Doomsday EP, recorded with his trusty backing band Dearland.  Fittingly, the group’s set began with a dirge, Perkins and his associates main lining through the Ballroom for “Slow Doomsday” before fully unwrapping it upon reaching the stage.  Their sound ached and moaned in all right spots—something that Elvis Perkins in Dearland maintained all night.  Though the audience’s dysfunctional dynamics often became their own distractions (the quiet half of the crowd yelling at the less attentive half to shut up; couples making out while groups of guys high-fived each song; Facebook updates from the first row) Elvis and his brilliantly adaptable band managed to transcend it all.  Jumping from folk intimacies like “While You Were Sleeping” to “Stop Drop Rock and Roll,” Perkins proved his bygone lyrics could transform any style in his repertoire.  But it wasn’t entirely Elvis.  A pair of violinists provided swaths of drama to numerous tunes while a trumpet player joined trombone player, gorgeous harmonizer, and instrumentalist Wyndham Boylan-Garnett for a brassy introduction to the full-throttled version of “Doomsday,” which wrapped up the band’s set.  Its beer-hall oomph was rowdy and visceral enough to get even the meekest crowd members bobbing (namely the boys from opener Bowerbirds yelling out to Elvis from the front row.)  The brief revelry felt as old-fashioned as Perkins’ standard-issue frames, but his insightful lyrics and beautiful arrangements won’t go out of style anytime soon.

by Gregg Lipkin

8 Dec 2009

“This is the new sound; just like the old sound.”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Ashes in the Fall”

It’s one of rock’s most apt paradoxes.

By 1999 Rage Against the Machine held a singular place in the rock and roll landscape. They had suggested a new genre, rap-metal, with their self-titled 1992 debut, and given the genre legitimacy with their 1996 follow up Evil Empire. Both were vivid, visceral works that made Rage Against the Machine Masters of the Form. 

The Battle of Los Angeles, which would prove to be the band’s last album of original material, was another step forward displaying a musical focus and strength of songwriting absent from their debut and only hinted at on Evil Empire. The album itself is a musical paradox, a work of sonic maturity burning with youthful fire that favors the force of textured subtlety over mere blunt force. The Battle of Los Angeles is an album of revolutionary new music that leaps forward while pointing back towards the band’s previous work, and upon its release it was a new sound that sounded just like the old.

“With precision you feed me”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Testify”

Rage Against the Machine and Evil Empire had both sounded unplanned, like works of musical spontaneity—the first of anger and the second of invention. There is nothing spontaneous about The Battle of Los Angeles, it is a measured masterpiece, a collection of songs that sound deliberately plotted and precisely performed without ever feeling deliberate or stale. The entire album still feels spontaneous because it continually yields unique sounds for rabid Rage fans to devour. Drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford play like pistons in an engine of fury. The album bristles with rhythm that is excessively heavy, increasingly funky and incredibly supportive of Tom Morello’s musical experimentation. Morello is in masterful form throughout, and much of the album’s entertainment value stems from how he coaxes new sounds from his guitar and effects pedals. 

Rage Against the Machine chased listeners through random speakers before violently attacking, but The Battle of Los Angeles puts listeners at the opposite end of the struggle. “Testify” opens with a swirling wall of guitars that listeners fight through in order to get to the song’s riff and the wall continues to swirl through each of the verses before giving way to the riff again when the chorus hits. “Calm Like a Bomb” is nearly consumed by the high pitched clean tone that weaves its way throughout the excessive crunch of the rhythm, like a fuse’s lit flame that inches its way closer to the inevitable explosion. Morello is more DJ than guitarist on “Mic Check” and “Sleep Now in the Fire”, which find him treating his guitar like turntables and scratching the solos, and part blues singer as he delivers an amazing “harmonica” solo on “Guerilla Radio”.

“Whatcha say, whatcha say, whatcha say what!”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Calm Like a Bomb”

If The Battle of Los Angeles has a flaw it lies in its lyrical content. Zack de la Rocha had clearly grown as an MC from Rage Against the Machine to Evil Empire and that growth continues on The Battle of Los Angeles, but as a lyricist it can be argued that he gives the average listener, even an incredibly intelligent listener, too much to handle.  He is incredibly verbose and he seems to go out of his way to point out every social injustice that angers him. So, as on the group’s first two albums, while it is abundantly clear that he is angry, it is just a bit difficult to keep track of all the things he’s angry about. However, his vocal performances on The Battle of Los Angeles are easily his best out of all three of the band’s releases. De la Rocha does more than simply scream as proof that he is impassioned. He whispers and growls. He utilizes volume as a vocal instrument on “Born As Ghosts”, “Maria”, and “Voice of the Voiceless”. More than anything though, his passion is so accessibly packaged that it becomes far more intoxicating than his anger. It’s invigorating to hear him take a stand even if you’re unsure exactly where he stands.

“I’m deep inside your children”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Sleep Now in the Fire”

The Battle of Los Angeles is angry, inventive, and exhilarating to listen to and it is a fitting final chapter for Rage Against the Machine. The band reintroduced anger to rock and roll, and in doing so, they connected deeply with teenagers who were angry and in need of music that would reflect that. Rage did more than connect; they penetrated the soul like a tattoo and became permanent. They were true Masters of the Form that roared with passion and prompted an entire generation of teenagers to do so as well.

by Mike Schiller

8 Dec 2009

This is a tremendous collection of Sega Genesis games with a couple of Master System and arcade classics thrown in for good measure.

There’s an “art gallery” that lets you look at the covers and cartridge art for each game, which is good for a browse. The best of the extras are the smattering of arcade and Sega Master System titles thrown in, like the Phantasy Star and the arcade version of Altered Beast, which allow true Sega aficionados to play things they may long have forgotten about. I mean, Zaxxon is in here! This is a good thing!

The sheer scope of this collection of games we used to love—and the wide variety of genres and franchises represented by it—is enough to prompt the question of what we’ll be nostalgic for 15 or 20 years from now.

by Christel Loar

8 Dec 2009

This international Emmy winning show simultaneously manages to be a credible period cop show, a futuristic (yet ironically retro) science-fiction thriller, and something of a current social commentary (with a critical eye cast on the recent past). With these box sets, American audiences finally get to own the award-winning, original UK series upon which the ABC remake was based. It’s about time! For those who may not yet have seen either and are forced to choose, see this one, set in Manchester, 1973. While I personally enjoyed the Jason O’Mara/Harvey Keitel US remake quite a lot, the original is simply so much better on nearly every level: the retro situation our detective finds himself in provides a new ‘fix’ for the cop-show-mystery inclined; police methods and technology we take for granted no longer apply; and our world as fans, like Sam Tyler’s, is turned upside down; things are simultaneously familiar yet strange. A show of this caliber doesn’t necessarily need any DVD bonus features, but we get great ones here, anyway. In series 1 there are audio commentaries with the cast and crew for each of the episodes—often something of a rarity on series sets—and, naturally they are quite entertaining and informative; series 2 provides a documentary about the show, a featurette about the intriguing storyline’s conclusion, and behind the scenes footage. Life on Mars: Series 1 and 2 is a keeper, and although the UK series is over, the nature of the story will age well for years to come—in a way, it already has.

by Bill Gibron

8 Dec 2009

With Billy Bob Thornton’s keen eye and Daniel Lanois’ laconic musical score, Sling Blade provides a level of dread and anticipatory suspense into what is already a classic character study. Indeed, this is one of the few multi-genre successes, working well within the categories of drama, comedy, thriller, and mystery. It’s an ensemble where one man is clearly the main focus, a tour de force where everyone gets to share in the critical praise. Thornton would go on to a rollercoaster career in Hollywood, courting success and scandal as only the truly gifted and incorrigible can. No one can take away what he did with Sling Blade. In fact, he can make a million Armageddons and a bunch of Bad News Bears and still not tarnish this terrific film. Whether or not it takes mental deficiencies too far, one thing’s for certain—Thornton triumphs in an arena where few of his colleagues have excelled. Sling Blade is the exception that defies the rule.

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