Off the Radar - The Top 30 DVDs of 2008

Oddly enough, while the major studios continue scratching their heads over how to sell yet another new format (Blu-ray) to disinterested consumers, several outside distributors made sure that this would be a digital year to remember.

Director: Simon Wincer Film: Dark Forces Subtitle: Harlequin Studio: Greater Union Organisation Cast: Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan, Broderick Crawford, Gus Mercurio MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1980 Distributor: Synapse Films Image:

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List number: 30

Dark Forces

Synapse Films

Originally released under the far more appropriate title Harlequin, this 1980 effort is one incredibly baroque film. It plays like the byproduct of some paranormal prank on the standard '70s political thriller while clearly tracing its roots back to one of the era's major supernatural statements: The Omen. In fact, one could argue that this movie twists the aforementioned movie's narrative to show a rather benevolent otherworldly being trying to change the course of a corrupt and quite evil governmental authority. It's the anti-Antichrist, so to speak. Staying reverent to the classic Commedia dell'arte character, even though many won't recognize it at first, director Simon Wincer creates an original, and sadly uncelebrated, gem. Bill Gibron

Dark Forces

Director: Sharp-Ford DVD: The Cinematic Titanic Collection Studio: Cinematic Titanic Cast: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, J. Elvis Weinstein Website: MPAA rating: N/A Distributor: Cinematic Titanic US Release Date: 2008-10-21 Image:

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List number: 29

The Cinematic Titanic Collection

Cinematic Titanic

Over the last few years, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have been holding down the MST3K fort by creating audio only commentaries for their Rifftrax project. Now, series originator Joe Hodgson has collected the rest of the cast (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein) to create a whole new in theater satire. Each of the five self-distributed "episodes" created in 2008 reminds you of why, some 20 years after these Midwestern comedians first decided to dump on bad movies, the formula is as funny as ever. There's nary a bad installment in the bunch. Bill Gibron

The Cinematic Titanic Collection

Director: Various DVD: The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 2, 3 & 4 (1937- 45) Studio: Columbia Pictures Cast: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard Website: MPAA rating: N/A Distributor: Sony Pictures US Release Date: 2008 Image:

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List number: 28

The Three Stooges Collection Vol. 2 - 4 (1937-45)

Sony/Columbia Pictures

Fulfilling the wishes of longtime fans, Columbia has finally wised up, dropped the three short per package DVD format, and delivered The Three Stooges in a logistically sound chronological breakdown. Covering 1937 to 1945, the multitude mini-masterworks presented all contain the classic line-up that most devotees prefer: mean leader Moe, absent-minded minion Larry, and unbelievably brilliant bundle of butter, Curly. There is no Shemp, no Joe Besser, and definitely no Curly Joe DeRita to muck things up. While there is nothing wrong with any of these later stage substitutes, nothing beats the magic of the original Stooges. Looking over the titles offered, there is not a bad apple in the bunch. Bill Gibron

The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 2, 3 & 4 (1937- 45)

Display Artist: Milčo Mančevski Director: Mil Director: #269;o Man Director: #269;evski Film: Before the Rain Cast: Grégoire Colin, Phyllida Law, Peter Needham, Rade Serbedzija, Joe Gould MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1994 Distributor: Criterion Collection US Release Date: 1995-02-24 Image:

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List number: 27

Before the Rain: Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

Before the Criterion release of this, I never had a chance to see this criminally underappreciated 1994 Milcho Manchevski achievement. This was the first film to ever be made in the recently independent Republic of Macedonia, and it’s a hell of a start. Although the bonus features are admirable, the widespread availability of this film is of utmost importance -- exposing a world of Balkan conflict and the struggle to love and fight within it. Applying greatly to today’s struggles across the sea, this a film that should be watched by anyone that thinks every soul lost in wartime is just another number. John Bohannon

Before the Rain

Director: Trey Parker DVD: South Park: Imaginationland Director website: Studio: Comedy Central Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone Website: MPAA rating: N/A Distributor: Paramount Home Video US Release Date: 2008-03-11 Image:

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South Park: The Imaginationland Trilogy

Comedy Central/Paramount

For anyone who wonders why, after 12 seasons, South Park remains the best animated show on television, something like Imaginationland is all the proof any defender requires. Drop dead brilliant from beginning to end, and successfully applying the patented production approach of meshing the retarded with the regal, this hour long expanded episode stands as a shining moment for all involved. Parker and Stone have been flawless before, bringing their strangled, surreal sensibility to their big screen First Amendment romp Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. But nothing can prepare you for the epic scope and sense of fun found here. Digging through a list of fictional characters that everyone recognizes (Raggedy Ann, Mickey Mouse) is one thing. To include religious icons and social symbols pushes everything one step closer to a full fledged masterpiece. Bill Gibron

South Park: Imaginationland

Director: Wes Anderson Film: Bottle Rocket Studio: Criterion Cast: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave Amazon: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 1996 Length: 91 Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Image:

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Bottle Rocket: Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

With each successive film, Wes Anderson's characters and situations have become more and more insane. Bottle Rocket, the best of all his memorable filmography of quirk, balances the madness with down-to-earth indie sensibility and the result is a wholly original, very odd film that still feels like it could happen. In addition to being Anderson's much deserved coming out party, Bottle Rocket also introduced the world to the talent of the Wilson brothers, most notably Owen who nails Dignam. His is the trickiest role of grounding pure quirk, and is a microcosm for all of this classic film. Aaron Marsh

Bottle Rocket

Director: William Worthington Film: The Dragon Painter Studio: Haworth Pictues Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki MPAA rating: Unrated First date: 1919 Distributor: Milestone Image:

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The Dragon Painter

Milestone Films

Shot in the glory of a turn of the century Yosemite National Park and featuring a humanized, non-stereotypical portrayal of Asians, The Dragon Painter is a stunning visual and emotional achievement. A mere fragment of the justifiably legendary work done by Sessue Hayakawa during the early part of the past decade (he was one of the first Japanese performers to control his image and his output in Hollywood), this concise deconstruction of muse and the many ways it can be crushed/cured stands as something rare indeed. Beyond its humanistic approach and use of location, aside from the subtler acting and sporadic special effects, this is one of the most tender, telling depictions of affection ever captured onscreen. Bill Gibron

The Dragon Painter

Director: Joss Whedon DVD: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Director website: Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, Simon Helberg Website: MPAA rating: N/A Distributor: US Release Date: 2008-12-19 Image:

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List number: 23

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Due to Firefly's untimely, unfair cancellation, we've been deprived of Joss Whedon's genius for quite a while. Enter the perfect stopgap between the previously mentioned series and his new project Dollhouse: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Neil Patrick Harris is a singing, dancing supervillian who's in love, Nathan Fillion is the "hero" who's a total jerk. With charming performances all around (how could you go wrong with those two?), cutesy genre mash ups and music that is actually great, Dr. Horrible is the perfect small dose of Whedon wit to keep hope alive. Aaron Marsh

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Display Artist: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry Director: David Bruckner Director: Dan Bush Director: Jacob Gentry Film: The Signal Studio: Magnolia Pictures Cast: Justin Welborn, Anessa Ramsey, A.J. Bowen, Scott Poythress, Sahr Ngaujah Website: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 2007 Distributor: Magnolia US Release Date: 2008-02-22 (Limited release) Image:

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The Signal

Magnolia Films

Stephen King got a lot of best seller mileage out of the idea. M. Night Shyamalan crapped all over the concept with his horrendous Happening. But one of the best looks at society gone psychotic and then deadly was this delightful independent fright flick from filmmakers David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry. Each director took a particular segment of the storyline (an unknown epidemic causes people to become senseless killers) and turned it into their own unique vision of man's inhumanity to man. The results argue for an intriguing narrative design taken to epic proportions by people who genuinely understand the genre. Bill Gibron

The Signal

Director: Nicholas Stoller Film: Forgetting Sarah Marshall Subtitle: Three-Disc Unrated Collector's Edition Studio: Universal Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Paul Rudd Amazon: MPAA rating: Unrated First date: 2008 Length: 118 Distributor: Universal US Release Date: 2008-04-18 (General release) Image:

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List number: 21

Forgetting Sarah Marshall


Forgetting Sarah Marshall may not have been a box office blockbuster, but its DVD incarnation could help cement its status as the definitive "break-up from a guy's point of view comedy" that could still be cute and fluffy enough to qualify as a chick flick. Produced by Judd "Superbad" Apatow, it features the usual crass comedy with a touch of sweetness. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, writer/star Jason Segel portrays a television score composer whose career is in a tailspin. His personal life soon follows suit when his long-time girlfriend, television star Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell), dumps him for a sleazy, yet likeable British rock star (the hilarious Russell Brand). The three-disc collector's edition features the film's theatrical release as well as a longer, unrated version. Additionally, there are nearly two hours worth of bonus features, including cast commentary, a gag real, and a closer look at the film's show-stealing subplot, the vampire puppet rock opera, A Taste for Love. Lana Cooper

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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