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Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:12 (A review of Candy-O)

Candy-O is not as winning as The Cars debut album, but it’s a solid follow-up full of hit singles and great album cuts. While every song on the debut sounded radio ready, and most of them did, Candy-O sees them exploring arty territory. The title track hits as many dark and ominous nerves as “Warm Leatherette,” which the songs bares a slight resemblance to. It has always been my favorite cut from The Cars. “Let’s Go” was the big hit, and with good reason. It’s a solid track from top-to-bottom. The more alternative sound suites the band, and it would have been exciting to hear them explore the darker sounds and textures they try out on this album. Even if they don’t always work out (“Shoo Bee Doo” is a better concept than song). And any New Wave band worth their influence knows the power of a great album cover image. Candy-O has one of the best. DOWNLOAD: “Candy-O”

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The Brothers Bloom

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:12 (A review of The Brothers Bloom)

The Brother Bloom is one thing and one thing only: a very fun film. It’s not perfect, but you can tell from every performance in the film that they were having a good time. And it’s really the performances that make the film. Rachel Wiesz’s delivery of “I think you’re constipated in your fucking soul” is a classic piece of comedic timing. If you’re not laughing to the point of tears during that exchange then something is seriously wrong with you. I consider Mark Ruffalo is very solid character actor, always reliable in some indie film, but here he really ups his game and brings his best. How could he not when surrounded by four Academy Award nominees/winner? Adrien Brody stops the brooding young man long enough to crack wise and act elegantly tortured. And Rinko Kikuchi is quickly becoming an actress that I admire. Her performance in Babel was amazing, and her performance here (just as silent, not as serious) is hilarious. She has one line, and it’s one of the biggest laughs in the film. Look for it. Who knew a film about grifters could be so amusing, charming and fun?

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District 9

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:11 (A review of District 9)

Before it descends into a “shit goes boom real pretty!” action film, District 9 is a glorious return to brainy science-fiction. The continuing cutaways to talking heads and news footage only enhances the viewing experience. How? They ground the aliens in a real world setting, in a real world plot. Complete with allusions to the awkward and fear-based racial tensions that mark just about every nation. This is grand summer entertainment that doesn’t come around often enough.

The special effects and makeup are fantastic. Top notch really. More proof that huge budgets don’t always equal better production values. This film was made on the near cheap ($30 million isn’t much for a film of this scope) but it looks three times as expensive, if not more. The shot towards the end where Wikus looks up and half of his face is starting to turn is oddly beautiful. The seamless blend of alien and human in his face deserves the Oscar nomination, if not win, for visual effects. Or is that makeup?

Speaking of Wikus, the performance of Sharlto Copley is an extraordinary thing. At some point I just bought what he was selling. His performance was so immersed and lived-in that you can’t help but feel for him by the very end. He carries the film and helps you to overlook the flaws which creep up towards the end. As mentioned above, at the very end of the film does show one too many people exploding upon impact from alien technology, but this minute flaw can’t ruin the film. This is quite possibly the best summer film that I’ve seen in a very long time.

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Every Little Step

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:10 (A review of Every Little Step)

Dancing is both an art and a sport. Every Little Step is a documentary about two things: a look into the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line and a history of the show. Yes, it’s a bit of a snake that eats its own tail, but it’s fascinating to see how willing some people are to sacrifice and suffer for their art. The auditions are the best part. Some of these people are veterans – their bodies are in peak form, their abilities as well – but when the new comers perform, the veterans get nervous and start to steal from the new comers. Even in dancing there’s ageism! Yes, there’s even a bit of a point teetering on a real-life dancing Margot Channing-style meltdown. There’s a huge interest in dancing right now, but with the exception of So You Think You Can Dance? very little of it shows you the reality. Watch this and see the phrase “suffering for your art” played out before your eyes.

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The Best of Missing Persons

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:09 (A review of The Best of Missing Persons)

A greatest hits collection should always make your band appear better than they actually were, or showcase how great your band was to begin with. This collection of Missing Persons songs does the former. They were as plastic and relentlessly chirpy as anything else associated with the Hi-NRG/synth-pop New Wave scene.

Dale Bozzio barely had a voice – it was mostly nasal vocal ticks and hiccups – but she had an impressive group of musicians backing her up. From the early almost punk-dance hyperkinetic beginnings, like “Mental Hopscotch,” to the funkier sound they adopted, like “Color in Your Life,” Missing Persons was a group of talented musicians. The Los Angeles New Wavers could deliver on the singles front – “Words,” “Destination Unknown,” “Walking in L.A.,” “Give” – but the album cuts get a little iffy towards the end. They deserved a better vocalist, but there’s some charm in Bozzio. Her shockingly sky-high pink hair and brazen outfits spring to mind. She aimed to be like a more accessible, and artificial, version of Debbie Harry. But no one else could squeak out a semi-decent New Wave cover of The Doors like she could.

But the problem with anything related to Missing Persons is that they never really evolved as a band. They tried to be punk, they tried to be funkier, but they never adapted their plastic sound to a more mature beat. It was all manic energy all the time, and this collection does wear thin after a while. But no one can deny that when they put everything together and made it work they could create great alternative dance-rock singles. DOWNLOAD: “Walking in L.A.,” “Words,” “Mental Hopscotch”

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The Hits/The B-Sides

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 11 September 2009 09:21 (A review of The Hits/The B-Sides)

Prince’s three-disc collection, The Hits/The B-Sides, is definitely career-spanning and a great assortment of singles and rarities. However, if you’re looking to buy a cheaper single disc collection of all the biggest hits, this is not your collection. If you’re looking for a document of Prince at the height of his musical powers, this is what you should be looking for. The two greatest hits discs are wonderful, but I’d rather focus on the real reason to buy this compilation: the b-sides. I’ll review the two greatest hits collections on their individual pages.

The b-sides range in quality from the absolutely sublime (“Erotic City”) to dreadful (“La, La, La, He, He, He”). At times these songs are just as great as any of the album cuts on Dirty Mind, 1999 or Purple Rain. But “Another Lonely Christmas” is just a bad song, and a clumsy mixture of the sacred and profane which Prince does so brilliantly elsewhere. “God” is a great song showcasing that at his heart Prince is a very spiritual songwriter. And “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and “Irresistible Bitch” rank just as high as any of the greatest hits collections choices. Same goes for “She’s Always In My Hair.”

But the greatest b-side cut is also one of the absolutely filthiest. “Erotic City” is one of the best songs that Prince has ever done. That bump and grind beat is a classic. The mixture of male and female voices outranks “U Got the Look” and meets “1999.” “Erotic City” has lyrics which would make the titular “Darling Nikki” blush. That’s why it’s fantastic. Prince is always at his best either being absolutely filthy or laying bare his soul. Why this song was cut from Purple Rain completely baffles me. It would have made the record, which is already one of my favorites and I think one of the greatest things ever, even more stellar. DOWNLOAD: “Erotic City,” “Irresistible Bitch,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”

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The Genius of Ray Charles

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 11 September 2009 09:20 (A review of The Genius of Ray Charles)

The Genius of Ray Charles is just a sublime example of the early talents of Ray Charles. This is before the Modern Sounds experiments, but no less stellar. Truly, this is just a fantastic album.

The first half is all bouncy jazz-pop, and the second half is all ballads. Charles is fine voice throughout, but the last string of ballads reveal ever nuance, crack and feeling in his voice. To hear him sing “Am I Blue?” is too hear a master vocalist at work. More proof that vocal bombast, screeching and trying to do as many vocal runs as possible, mean nothing if you can’t deliver the story and emotion behind a song. Charles might not have had a voice full of octaves, but his was a rich and lived in voice, a voice that had life and character, a voice that could tell and sell a story better than anyone else.

But, arguably, the greatest moment on the record is “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” To put it simply: it’s a beautiful piece of music. Everything comes together – the strings, the soft piano, the vocals – and creates a perfect song. If you have not heard “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” well, shame on you. Other great moments abound on the album, but there is none greater. “Deed I Do,” the previously mentioned “Am I Blue?” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” also stick out as highlights. DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”

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The Notorious K.I.M.

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 2 September 2009 06:10 (A review of Notorious K.I.M.)

While too sample heavy and relying on too many guest stars, The Notorious K.I.M. is still a solid retro-hip-hop album. Lil’ Kim is just as nasty and bitchy as ever, but there’s a new somber and reflective attitude accompanying most of the songs. While “How Many Licks” is hilarious vulgar and disgusting, “I’m Human” tries to hit at a deeper and more revealing level. This contrasts with a majority of the album, even the album artwork, which is garish and gaudy. With the fake blonde hair, fake blue eyes and oversized breasts, Lil’ Kim is either parodying mainstream female sexuality or embracing it and willfully becoming a caricature. Either way, it’s best to just enjoy the ride. Any album that features a guest spot from Grace Jones can’t be all bad, right? DOWNLOAD: “How Many Licks,” “Right Now,” “No Matter What They Say”

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Essential Collection

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 2 September 2009 06:07 (A review of Essential Collection)

The Motels were the least plastic of the Los Angeles New Wave scene. While the Missing Persons sounded like a synthesizer run amok, and Oingo Boingo were too busy trying to fuse ska and New Wave into some kind of punk spiked hybrid, The Motels were bent on keeping as many real instruments on their records as possible. Martha Davis was a charismatic frontwoman – often sounding like a female vocalist from an older generation – who wrote consistently dark material. She followed in the tradition of The Doors and X and exposed the dark side of sunny southern California in three minute singles. “Only the Lonely” could be about the trappings of fame, could be about the death throws of a relationship, that ambiguity serves the song well. “Total Control” is an acidic ballad with a slightly cliché chorus (“I’d sell my soul for total control over you”), but Davis delivers it. “Kix” and “Mission of Mercy” find the band thrashing out punkier singles and leaving behind the stylized and brooding sonics they were known for. Often dark, troubling, melancholy and artsy, The Motels were a solid band that had an unfortunately short shelf-life. Don’t be afraid to add The Motels’ Essential Collection to your record collection. These fifteen singles are so L.A. in the best possible sense. DOWNLOAD: “Suddenly Last Summer,” “Mission of Mercy,” “Only the Lonely”

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Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 2 September 2009 06:06 (A review of Shine)

After nearly ten years in a self-imposed retirement, Joni Mitchell came roaring back with a vengeance on Shine. Yes, at times Mitchell sounds like she’s wagging her finger and saying that she’s knows better and is better than you, but when an artist sounds this reinvigorated and alive on record certain flaws can be ignored. This is the return of Joni Mitchell the singer/songwriter. The folk-meets-jazz arrangements are still there, just like her heydays with records like For the Roses and Court and Spark, and her voice sounds strangely beautiful in its new smoky contores. Years of smoking and aging will do that to your voice, along with whatever else caused some damage to her vocal chords. She no longer sounds like the folk-pop-jazz sprite of the 70s, but the regal Queen of them all filled with a life lived and experience. “Big Yellow Taxi” returns in a rearranged form, and its no longer a warning about ecological problems – it’s become a prophesy fulfilled. “Night of the Iguana” is a retelling of Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name, and is without a doubt an album highlight. But the title track is possibly the worst offender, not the only offender mind you. It’s filled with “I know better than you”-ism, and tells the sun to continue to shine down on all of us who sin against the planet…by using cell phones. Luckily for us, and for her, the music never sounds anything less than astounding. The newly discovered electro-folk on “Hana” points to a great new future, and it’s a wonderful character sketch. If Shine had more moments like that, it would have been a neo-classic. But, as is, it’s a most welcome return. DOWNLOAD: “Hana”

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