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by Alan Ranta

5 Mar 2009

Although sales never came up to par compared to 2003’s Beatitude, the 2007 full-length from Finnish crazies Pepe Deluxé was by far their greatest achievement to date. Critics gave it an Emma (the Fin Grammy), but a lack of US distribution meant few outside of Europe knew it existed, which is a shame because the beating heart of the record was largely influenced by the American psychedelic movement of the late ‘60s. These three videos will tell you their story.

Pepe Deluxé - “Mischief Of Cloud 6”

Pepe Deluxé - “Go For Blue”

Pepe Deluxé - “Pussycat Rock”

by Tyler Fisher

5 Mar 2009

Since his 2007 mixtape 100 Miles and Running, which included the great “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.” remix of Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.”, it seems like every indie website pretending to like rap has been bouncing his material. The difference here, however, is that Wale is actually good. 

After a slew of great material headlined by 2008’s Seinfeld tribute The Mixtape About Nothing, everyone started taking notice to this fresh star, and Interscope signed him. They plan to release his debut studio album this year. Already, Wale himself has announced production from the likes of Mark Ronson, Kanye West, Justice, and more. 

2009 also marks his next mixtape, Back to the Feature, produced by 9th Wonder. On Wale’s website, he posted a track from the new mixtape entitled “Nightlife”, which features Tre and Young Chris.

Immediately, the production sounds cleaner than any of Wale’s previous material, and if this is any indication, his new album could explode as soon as its released.

Wale
“Nightlife (Dirty Version)” [MP3]
“Nightlife (Clean Version)” [MP3]

by Robert Celli

5 Mar 2009

Some bands hit you over the head like a sledgehammer, while others, gently stroke you with a velvet glove. Thee Oh Sees hit you over the head with a sledgehammer while wearing a velvet glove. I recently saw San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees perform as part of Noise Pop—the annual indie music festival, now in its 17th year—and still can’t remove the smile the band carved into my face.

The band led by John Dwyer (the Coachwips, Pink and Brown, the Hospitals) have a sound soaked in reverb and revved up like a muscle car on death ride. They conjure Halloween at the end of February and could re-animate a zombie crowd into shimmying teenagers.

Guitarist Dwyer and singer Brigid Dawson alternate between call and response and dual harmony, conjuring the Cramps and the B52s. This is garage-psychobilly done with vim and vigor. The songs are a bit one-dimensional but it’s a great dimension to inhabit. The rhythm section, comprised of Mike Shoun on drums and Petey Dammit also playing guitar, complete Thee Oh Sees nightmare vision.

Their most recent release, last year’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, is a delight and is the perfect accompaniment for a midnight drive down a deserted road. It might even turn even a casual listener into a drifting killer. I can’t get set and album opener, “Block of Ice”, out of my mind and “Adult Acid” has the swagger of Johnny Cash on LSD. This a band to line up for if they decide to go on a killing spree in your hometown.

Thee Oh Sees will be off to South by Southwest and have new record entitled Help in limited edition vinyl only out now, with a full release soon. 

by Bill Gibron

5 Mar 2009

The end of the world. The extinction of mankind. It is humanity that has brought itself to the brink, and it will take superhumans to save them - or at the very least, make-believe masked versions of said supposed heroes to end the threat once and for all. The question becomes - do they really want to, and more importantly, is the human race really worth saving? In their sensational graphic novel, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons matched Cold War paranoia with basic personal angst to turn caped crusaders into lost, alienated anti-heroes. Watchmen will always remain a seminal literary experience, and for many including the author, an unfilmable piece that no attempted cinema can match. Now Dawn of the Dead/300‘s Zack Snyder has stepped up to attempt the unimaginable - and has sort-of succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

When famed fallen idol (and former US undercover agent) The Comedian is killed, his former colleague in crimefighting Rorschach decides to investigate. His inquiries lead to a horrific conclusion - someone may be murdering masked vigilantes in an attempt to keep them from interfering in world events. Outside of true superhero Dr. Manhattan - a scientist transformed into a literal god when a radiation experiment goes awry - the former crusaders are the only individuals influential enough to prevent an oncoming World War III. When Rorschach is framed and sent to prison, it is up to his only friend Dan Drieberg, aka Nite Owl II, to rescue him. Along with new lady love Silk Spectre II, he will try to spring his friend. In the meantime, the Doomsday Clock ticks ever closer to Armageddon, and all paths appear to lead through former champion Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt and his massive multinational conglomerate.

Somewhere between the off-target outright dismissals and the overindulgent geek praise lies Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, and it’s a sensational sight to behold. This is a very, very good film, a flawed yet fascinating bit of social and psychological commentary masked as the story of forgotten vigilantes and dead personal purpose. It is not the abomination Alan Moore would have you believe, nor is it the perfected vision of the graphic novel Kevin Smith cooed about more than six months ago. It does represent some of the strongest, most compelling mainstream moviemaking in quite a while and reeks of imagination and the visionary. It is also a wholly insular experience, one that will probably have a hard time connecting to an audience unfamiliar with the original source material. Snyder deserves credit for being so bold here. He also requires admonishment for biting off a bit more than he, or any director for that matter, might be able to chew.

Luckily, there are several factors that make Watchmen a must-see entertainment. The acting overall is superb, while certain casting choices - Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman - continue to cause concern. No one underperforms here, but when you’ve got turns as mesmerizing as Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the doomed Comedian, and Patrick Wilson as the wistful Nite Owl/Dan Drieberg, everyone needs to be on their A game. The sole singular standout? Jackie Earle Haley’s Oscar worthy performance as last masked avenger holdout Rorschach. As narrator, anti-hero, and primary mover of the Watchmen universe, he is crucial to the success of Snyder’s approach. Without a strong Rorschach, nothing could save this film. With Haley’s heartbreaking turn, combined alongside the story Moore has provided, a new revisionist myth is born.

Snyder also deserves credit for what he accomplishes from behind the lens. This is more than just a photographic recreation of Gibbons’ precise panels. It’s also not the landmark comic as cinema style he perfected with Frank Miller’s 300. Instead, Snyder is working both within and outside his comfort zone. The action scenes, complete with the director’s signature start-stop slo-mo fight sequences, are accomplished and arresting. The last act jailbreak is an exercise in controlled chaos. But we also get moments of solid emotion, times when we sympathize and even grow to care for these larger than life characters. This is especially true of Rorschach’s human alter ego, Walter Kovacs. Haley’s repugnant walk down memory lane, meant to give us insight into how one man becomes so monstrous, is blood and tear soaked. Snyder and his cast are so spot on you won’t know whether to cringe…or cry.

Indeed, a lot of Watchmen offers this kind of massive mood swing experience. On the one hand, it functions outside of formula to become yet another example of The Dark Knight redefinition of the genre. While we anticipate heroics, we don’t expect such a bleak version of said gallantry. For that reason alone, it’s an important, impressive work. But it also does little to bring the uninitiated and uninterested into the fold. Unlike Christopher Nolan, who repositioned his comic book cult outside the categorical realms, Watchmen appears locked in them, faithfulness the ongoing justification for such insularity. Also, at almost three hours, there’s still enough time for everything. While subplots involving the Tales from the Black Freighter and Under the Hood are missed, it’s the past history of masked avengers - including the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre - that get the rawest deal. Such historical context is clearly missed.

Still, outside such minor quibbles, what works about Watchmen is so gobsmacking and glorious that you instantly ignore anything that doesn’t. From the opening montage which establishes the parallel universe we’re visiting (complete with callbacks to the Kennedy Assassination and the drug-soaked dramas of the ‘70s), to the final threat which almost destroys the entire planet, Zack Snyder has stepped up and delivered a complicated, dense and very dark spectacle, the kind of film that’s potentially off-putting at first but miraculous upon subsequent revisits. There will be wild extremes in experience, those for whom any adaptation of Moore’s work suppresses his muse. But when viewed in time, when taken out of its event module and given room to breathe, to thrive, to exist, Watchmen will work as the quasi-classic it is. Dismiss or delight in it, but there’s no denying the bravado up on the screen. If this is how the world ends, it’s time for such an apocalypse now.

by Thomas Hauner

5 Mar 2009

It was one of those nights when the headliner legitimately got outplayed and outperformed. Which isn’t to say that Blitzen Trapper put on a bad show. It was a solid performance with their sound and set well balanced, along with all the other trimmings that one comes to expect from a band coming off their most successful year and most lauded album to date, Furr (8.5/10 on Pitchfork; #13 album of 2008 on Rolling Stone; #4 single of 2008 on Rolling Stone, if you’re keeping tally).

But the Montreal trio, Plants and Animals, was in it to win it. They played one of the most broadly satisfying sets I’ve heard from anyone in months. Its scope was large enough for each song to feel new and captivating, but consistent enough with their natural idiosyncrasies to know that it flowed from the same spring.  So post punk numbers ended up sounding like jam-band musings and vice-versa. 

Though no battle of the bands, they played with a feverish reckless abandon yet compelling earnestness and epic, carefully constructed, songs became filled with intuitive improvisations.  Drummer Matthew Woodley was prolific and at once contemporary and old school with his traditional grip. On “Faerie Dance”, his hard beat evoked the laissez-faire groove of Sublime, as did the harmonic “la-la-la’s” in the fading chorus. Singer Warren Spicer was an amalgamation of Kurt Cobain’s dissonant melodies and blonde hair and Freddy Mercury’s flamboyant exuberance and epic vocals. The latter was particularly true because I was convinced that their song “Bye Bye Bye” was a Queen cover. It was not. But its contrapuntal chorus (“Bye bye bye”) and main lyrics (“What’s gonna happen to you”) over piano power chords was a total characterization.

With each member perspiring out of sheer intensity, they still had their heads on right and seemed genuinely unpretentious. At one point Spicer even asked, “You guys are feeling this, right?” 

His question put the pressure of pleasing ephemeral tastes in perspective immediately, and the source of their uncertainty became obvious: Everyone was talking, seemingly not paying attention. But after their finale, “Bye Bye Bye”, the crowds’ roaring delight assured Plants and Animals that they, in fact, were heard and well liked.

All this made Blitzen Trapper’s task, for me, nearly impossible. The scattered sextet simply could not match the drive and flowing harmonies of Plants and Animals. Despite having twice as many band members on stage, their sound seemed empty and flat, with singer Eric Earley dominating the workload. He even took over completely for a two-song solipsism, playing “his grandma’s favorite song,” “Cocaine Blues”. Cute. 

Furr’s best songs, “Black River Killer” and the title-track, were also the best received. But they were also played more or less verbatim on the album. The set was reserved and controlled in exactly the ways that Plants and Animals’ wasn’t. Instead of an exhilarating live experience, it was a reprise of their album. That album was pretty great, but when an Allman Brother’s-esque band comes up short live, it’s always a let down.

 

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