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The Incredibles

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 27 January 2010 09:27 (A review of The Incredibles)

The Incredibles looks like a Jack Kirby comic strip given three dimensional life and scope. It also comes equipped with a fantastic story, great characters and an emotional core with which we could respond and identify. The opening sequence, in which we see Mr. Incredible, Elasti-Girl and Frozone in their prime dashing about town and saving the denizens of whatever city it is that they live in, screams out its influence in 60s-era Marvel Comics, specifically Fantastic Four's goofy whimsy and action-packed familial ethos. And then it borrows a plot twist from Watchmen and creates something totally unique and original from it all. Pixar has, once more, gone beyond its influences to create something special.

Superheroes have been outlawed after Mr. Incredible stopped a man from committing suicide by jumping off of a building. He seeks damages and sues Mr. Incredible, which leads to a total governmental policy change: they’re outlawed and relocated. That’s the Watchmen influence. Now our superheroic family, Bob and Helen Parr plus their children, are living in the humdrum suburbs. It all looks a little bit like Burbank, but the suburbs look the same everywhere, no? And that focus on the family is what makes The Incredibles such a markedly different story from…say, Monster’s, Inc., this is Pixar at its most mature in tone. I know that kids loved it, but I know more adults that love this one the most. Halfway through seeing it in theaters I knew that this was going to be my favorite Pixar film, and so far it still is. (Although Monster’s, Inc. and the Toy Story trilogy are often close behind.)

Bob Parr, stuck at a job selling insurance in which he looks comically too large to be in that cubicle, welcomes a chance to be a superhero once again. In comes Mirage, a mysterious woman with a job proposition. And so begins the action/adventure portion of the story. But here’s the genius move by writer-director Brad Bird, he never drops the human element and the story always takes center stage over the visual pyrotechnics. I cared about Dash and Violet just as much as their parents. It’s also a genius move to give a depressed teenager the ability to disappear, something I bet we all wished for during those years, and the hyperactive, precocious little boy the ability to run really fast.

But let’s discuss those visual pyrotechnics. I described the film as being a moving Jack Kirby comic strip, and so it is, but there’s also the imprint of Fleischer’s Superman animated shorts on the film. Look at those Omnidroids and tell me you don’t see the resemblance to the Superman short “The Mechanical Monsters,” in which a mad man used his robotic workers to cause destruction and chaos.

And the sheer scope of the film is a thing of beauty. Not only do we see the suburbs and the city, but a tropical island fortress, take a journey under the sea, visit the ultra-modern mansion/studio of Edna Mode, to name but a few. The Bond franchise has nothing on this film.

Yet gorgeous animation is only half the battle in creating a believable character that we root for in a film like this. They need a voice to bring the personality and character to life, The Incredibles nails this aspect in every role, no matter how major or minor. Craig T. Nelson’s take on Mr. Incredible has the cocksure bravado necessary for the character at the beginning, then transitions into a more somber and wistful tone as he is forced into domesticity and giving up the heroics. Holly Hunter is all fire, sass, maternal love and warmth as Elasti-Girl. Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone alternates between suave superhero and fraught married man, not to mention that the animators have clearly taken numerous facial tics from Jackson and transposed them into his character. Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox complete the Incredibles as a family/superhero unit, portraying the chronically shy and self-conscious Violet and hyperkinetic and attention-seeking Dash. Elizabeth Peña’s sultry voice makes the character of Mirage, so mysterious and given too little development and screen time, a bigger bang. I walked away wanting to know more about Mirage thanks to Peña’s exactly vocal performance.

Yet it’s Brad Bird, the visionary behind the entire film, voicing Edna Mode, a scene-stealer character regardless, that walks away with the vast majority of memorable scenes and quotes. Bird gives her a cracked out energy, like Anna Wintour unleashing her megalomaniac id all over a Marvel Comics issue from the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby days. But don’t count out Jason Lee as the film’s villain Syndrome, a child who idolized Mr. Incredible but grew up jealous at the fact that he was merely adequate and normal instead of powered like his idol. His fantasy and plan to enact a new order in which he is the lone “incredible” by killing off various retired heroes and building a better killing machine that he controls feel straight from the mind of Alan Moore. And Lee’s twisted energy really sells the villain, creating a portrait of twisted ethics and the madness brought on by seeking to be something more than you are.

The Incredibles remains the greatest film version of the Fantastic Four in a roundabout way. And it's a towering achievement in Pixar’s catalog in terms of emotional and visual scope. If any film in their catalog seemed primed and open for a sequel, it would be this one. I still await it as Pixar churns out terrible cash-grabs (Cars 2), an emotionally devastating and resonant franchise closer (Toy Story 3) and a humorous but predictable prequel (Monster's University). Will we ever get Incredibles 2? At this point, it seems like it's best to just leave this one alone as a bright, shining, standard-bearer of the studio operating at its highest level.


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The Singles Collection

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 27 January 2010 09:25 (A review of The Singles Collection)

Absolutely essential listening if you want the entire Specials story in one package. Every delicious piece of punk-fueled reggae is here and accounted for. From their first single, (“Gangsters”) to their most well-known hits (“A Message to You Rudy,” “Ghost Town”), there’s even a few rarities (“Maggie’s Farm”), live takes (“Too Much Too Young”) and B-sides (“Friday Night, Saturday Morning”) thrown in for good measure.

To hear it told through their three original albums, and in this condensed singles collection, the Specials had as much political fury as the Clash. Well, it’s true, they did. “Ghost Town” and “Stereotype” remain angry, spiked comments on then-current England’s economic and social states. But, they also knew how to thrown a good time while delivering their messages. “Too Much Too Young” goes by at a breakneck speed in the live version included here. “Rude Boys Outta Jail” shows that they knew how to transfer that kinetic energy from their live shows into the studio and eventually onto vinyl. My only complaint, and it is very minor, is that I would have replaced one of the songs. I find “Nelson Mandela”’s hyperkinetic, frankly – annoying, pop to be the wrong note to end the set on. I would have chosen something like “Bright Lights” or “Girlfriend” to help close the album and move “Racist Friend” to the end. But “Nelson Mandela” is a better known single, so I understand why it was chosen. It is a minor quibble, really.

The Singles Collection does what any greatest hits should do: presents an access point for the curious, a chronological overview of their entire catalogue and gives the die-hard fans reasons to seek it out. Their debut album remains the essential document of the 2-Tone records explosion, but this is a close contender for that title. DOWNLOAD: “Gangsters,” “Ghost Town,” “Friday Night, Saturday Morning”


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Avatar

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 26 January 2010 02:19 (A review of Avatar)

I have seen Avatar numerous times, but it was not always named as such. It has been called Disney’s Pocahontas and Fern Gully, it has also gone by The Last Samurai, Dances With Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans. Avatar is the latest in a far too long line of “white guilt” movies which see our intrepid hero assimilate himself into a minority race, act as their savior, help defeat his old allies and join with them in the end. In this one, he can literally assimilate himself as a walking/talking faux-Native American…I mean Na’vi.

Wasn’t this supposed to revolutionize the way people thought of films? I guess coming up with a great storyline to go along with the visual was too much to ask for the same man who brought us some of the greatest science-fiction/action epics of recent years. Was asking for non-cringe inducing dialogue too much to ask? I would assume so given how badly scripted Titanic was. Long gone are the quotable in a good way days of Terminator and Aliens. James Cameron is the new George Lucas!

The day-glo fantasia of Pandora at night is intruiging at first but inappropriately hilarious after a while. Why trees light up where they step ala Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” music video is anyone’s guess. And the animals are phenomenal creations, even if evolutionarily speaking they get shaky. A lot of time and thought was put into the look of the film, if only more time was put into the script.

Our villains have no dimension, memorable character traits or anything distinctive from one another. They’re like Snidely Whiplash to Jake Sully’s Dudley Do-Right. If they had tied up Zoe Saldana’s character to the train tracks at some point and twirled their mustache I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. For that matter there’s nothing distinctive about Jake Sully besides being a parapallegic. Which is an interesting twist, but little is done with it since so much of the film is with the avatars. I probably shouldn’t have laughed so hard when Jake and Netriyi held each other at the end, but seeing a large blue creature loving caress the tiny human was too outrageous and positively ridiculous for words. Unintentional laughter is my favorite kind.

Avatar is also two-and-half hours long. It feels like its five. Far too many indulgent sequences that could have been cut slow down the pace. Cameron needed some outside eyes to go over the script and give him some suggestions for improvement. Or, possibly, to just rewrite the damn thing and challenge him on some of his stupid decisions, such as the choice of “shock and awe” and “fighting terror with terror” as ham-fisted, subtle-free allusions to the present time. Pity they don’t hold water.

I didn’t hate Avatar completely. Visually it was quite pretty, even if I did get the I’m-playing-a-video-game-without-the-control feeling often. And I adored Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore and Zoe Saldana. But if I could have watched the film on mute I might have taken a huge sip of the kool-aid.


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Nine

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 26 January 2010 02:17 (A review of Nine (2009))

I wanted to love Nine, I really did. I wanted to sing its praises and talk about how wonderful the cast was across the board, about how much fun I had during the entire film, about how great the big production numbers were…I can say none of these things. Nine is a miss-fire with few redeeming qualities.

The story, as this flimsy thing could be questionably called, contains a director who has reached a creative roadblock and cannot complete his ninth film. Strange that he has such a rich and vibrant imaginary life. Every trick you can think of is thrown in for good measure. Want some black and white? You got it. Want some T&A girlie show? You got it. Want sparkles, glitter, sequins, go-go dancing and the kitchen sink? You have got that, too.

I never thought that I’d say this, but I have seen a bad Daniel Day-Lewis performance. The actor that can stand above the rest, except for, maybe, Meryl Streep, is fantastic in brooding and complicated roles. Here, he is too dour for Guido. Javier Bardem, the original choice, would have been far better. There needs to be a breezy, slightly care-free artifice, a gigolo with mommy issues, and Day-Lewis is far too dark, sour and interior for that. He’s also not much of a song and dance man.

But this is, mostly, a spotlight for some great female actors that plays out like the cinematic equivalent to one of those VH1 Divas specials. Each get their big moment (only one gets two, Marion Cotillard) and there’s a big group number at the beginning and another at the very end.

Dame Judi Dench is perfectly fine. There’s nothing terribly special about her performance, but she’s far too good for such a thinly plotted role. Sophia Loren and Nicole Kidman are nothing but glorified cameos given far-too brief screen time as hallucinations before finally being trotted out towards the end for their songs. Nicole Kidman’s song has terrible staging, but the straight-acting portion of it is wonderful. The muse gets to tell her director that she wants to play something other than a fantasy creature in human form. Sophia Loren, however, is utterly wasted in a thankless role. But it’s wonderful and sublime to see on her the big screen again. Fergie is neither awful nor terrific in her cameo role. She looks good with the extra weight she’s put on, but her breasts are immobile to the point of distraction while dancing or frolicking on the beach. She’s also not much of a singer, but she can blow. Her “Be Italian” sequence is probably the best in the entire film. The one moment in which Nine remembers that it is a musical and rallies itself for a show-stopper.

But two women that stand out the most are Penelope Cruz as the needy, desperate mistress, and Marion Cotillard as the long-suffering wife. Cotillard can tell an entire emotional story with a bat of her eyelashes or a curve of her neck or a twitch in her mouth. “Take It All” is another contender for best sequence. And Cruz steams things up in the sexy “Call From the Vatican,” another best-in-show contender. She gets to stretch her comedic acting muscles and provides ample amount of sass and heartbreak.

If they are the best, then, without a doubt, the worst is Kate Hudson. Her character is useless, shoe-horned for no effect or impact upon the story-line and forces upon us the worst song-and-dance number in a long time. “Cinema Italiano” praises the Neo-Realist Italian filmmakers for their flashy style but says nothing of their substance. The awful black and white footage and bad choreography are only the tip of the iceberg. Hudson has obviously not inherited any of her mother’s natural charm, comedic talent or ability to sing and dance. “Cinema Italiano” kills a film and is aggressively awful while the rest of the movie is just mediocre. Nine never recovers.


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An Education

Posted : 8 years, 10 months ago on 26 January 2010 01:58 (A review of An Education (2009))

An Education tells the story of an innocent, slightly naïve sixteen-year-old, Jenny, who’s pretty and smart and desperately wants something that she is no way prepared to handle or deal with properly. But, truly, aren’t all teenagers like this? I know that I was.

Jenny meets David, the thirty-something who shall provide with the opportunities to see the things that she dreams of and experience her daydream fantasies, in a way that could be described as an almost-meet-cute. There’s something creepy about him from the onset, and it’s not just the age gap. There’s something in his eyes and behind the smile that seems too perfect to be true, too normal to really be sane, too well put together as sophisticated. The story tracks their relationship throughout its entire course, but he isn’t interested in just seducing Jenny, oh no, that would be too easy. He also goes about seducing the parents, who mean well but are, essential, wide-eyed country bumpkins to his smooth-talking cad.

Every performance in this film is a knockout. Carey Mulligan, who plays Jenny, needs to be put on the Oscar shortlist now. She does nothing showy or flashy, but creates a real-live person that you believe in. She feels like a real teenage girl from the moment she pops up on screen to the final few seconds, never once exhibiting an ounce of sweat or a break in character. But she wouldn’t have been able to play this so perfectly if Peter Sarsgaard’s David wasn’t played to perfection as well. He is. How Sarsgaard got lost in the awards shuffle this year is anyone’s guess, but he deserves to come in at the last second and steal a Best Actor slot from someone. Emma Thompson is wonderful as the quick-talking, acid-tongued headmistress of the school, and Olivia Williams de-glams to play a plain schoolmarm (she’s still rather fetching even with oily hair and huge glasses). But my favorite supporting performance would have to go to Rosamund Pike as the too-ditzy-for-words girlfriend of Dominic Cooper’s character. Normally cast as brainy-and-pretty roles, in which she seems right at home, she’s swimming upstream to play dumb and excels.

An Education reminds us that as teenager we may think we know what we want and how to obtain it, but once we’re handed it, it never works out the way we dreamed it would. Jenny gets to meet people who value art, but they value it as a status symbol and she loves it for aesthetic and personal reasons. She goes to France and has sex, but winds up wildly disappointed by something so brief. She falls for an older man, but quickly longs for the awkward and immature boys her own age. Gilded dreams abound.

To put it simply, An Education is extraordinary and positively delightful.


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Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 6 January 2010 12:10 (A review of Who Framed Roger Rabbit)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit should have a serious case of multiple personality disorder given the amount of ground it tries to cover: a zany madcap comedy, an animated film and a film noir with a broken man at its center. Somehow, through sheer movie magic I imagine, it all comes together and creates a great film. And it has aged surprisingly well.

Nowadays everything would be done with just computers, maybe a few sequences here and there would have been done in the hand-drawn mode, and the seams would have been incredibly obvious. Not all modern films suffer from this, but I’ve noticed a lot of them that mistake being able to program it as being able to make it look believable and complete the illusion. The talking dragon at the end of Enchanted screams to mind. Roger Rabbit painstakingly drew in the characters. And they have a real weight, dimension and scope to them. They interact and create action with real world objects. This, I believe, helps prove that while computers can help create great and wondrous things, they can’t replace the magic and realism that comes with the artistry of doing something the hard way. A real set, real animatronics, a real puppet will always be better than the plug-and-chug computer fantasia we’re immersed in right now. There are excepts, but, by and large, doing something the hard way pays off more.

And now for the plot, for the film isn’t simply a gorgeous exercise in visual treats, although it is very much that. Like film noir giant Chinatown, Roger Rabbit uses real Los Angeles history to tell its story. Yes, the red cars really were bought up and closed down, but this had more to do with automobiles being more attractive than public transportation. But there is such a thing as the Great American streetcar scandal, which is more than parallel to the events depicted in the film in numerous ways if not the exact shape and form. And, yes, the California freeway system wasn’t built until the 1950s, but the water and power issues in Chinatown were from different eras than the one presented in the film and no one complains about it harming the overall impact there.

Naturally, the fantasy takes off and creates an alternate world parallel to our own. But what is it really about? Like all great film noir a simple crime that spirals deeper into a city’s under-belly than anyone could imagine. Marvin Acme has been killed, his will is missing, and Roger Rabbit is the only suspect. Our grizzled, frequently drunk and nasty former P.I. must sidestep his ‘toon bigotry and prove that Roger is innocent. Oh, what laughs do we have along the way!

This movie came out when I was a one-year-old, and I feel like I have been watching it all of my life for numerous reasons. As a child I loved the animation. I loved to see the Disney and Warner Brothers characters interacting like some epic crossover that can only happen in the imaginations of young children. The older the got the more I loved it for its adult humor. And now I love it for its dark film noir aspects. Truly, this is great family entertainment. This is from back in the days when family entertainment offered something for everyone and didn’t rely on celebrity voices, ADHD pop culture references, bratty humor and recycled storylines. (I’m looking directly at you Dreamworks!) Who Framed Roger Rabbit is just a great movie.


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A Bug’s Life

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 6 January 2010 12:09 (A review of A Bug's Life)

Not the most essential of the Pixar films for me, but proof that Pixar has provided smart and funny films that someone will love. While I find A Bug’s Life to be good but not great, I know people who love this one the most. And that is what makes Pixar the towering giant for our current animated landscape.

The story is a play off of Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper, expanding times a hundred. Instead of a singular ant and grasshopper, we have an entire colonies of each. All of the ants look like each other, but slightly different enough to tell who is who. The same can be said of the grasshoppers. This is a testament to the love, time and care put into the project by the animators. But as I was originally saying, the story concerns the ants, led by a Queen (Phyllis Diller) and her two princesses (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Hayden Panettiere), who must prepare an offering to the grasshoppers, led by Hopper (Kevin Spacey). Of course there must be a hero, and our everyman-cum-hero is Flik (Dave Foley), the smartest ant in the colony. He’s more prone to inventing wildly imaginative gadgets than doing things proper. And in a grand tradition dating back towards Hercules, Flik must go out into the world and prove his worth by completing a task. This task is to find warriors to fight for the ant colony. And the “warriors” that he finds have always been my favorite thing about the film. the rag-tag group of circus performers are charming, hilarious and adorable. I never knew I could want to hug a caterpillar so much.

It ends exactly how you think it would end, but the animation, humor and characters bring more heart and originality to the story than the story beats. Nothing wrong with that. This is an archetypal storyline, and deviation from the formula would put you into a different movie entirely. There’s room for unique characters and humor in these stories though. That’s how you make them special.

And since this is a Pixar film I must talk more about the gloriously rendered images. The tree at the beginning of the film looks like a real tree! The rain drops that fall on the ant hill might as well have been a blitzkrieg. The circus routines are zany and appropriately kid-friendly. The City looks like Manhattan made out of old soup cans, pieces of trash and other odds-and-ends. Beautiful.

But emotionally this is, for me, not as gripping as the toys of Toy Story, the monsters of Monsters, Inc., the nuclear family of The Incredibles, or the Chaplain-esque robot love story of Wall-E. I found them funny and likable, I loved the animation, but I just didn’t connect with this as I did with the others.


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The Lion King

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 6 January 2010 12:07 (A review of The Lion King)

The Lion King was once the highest grossing animated film of all-time, and Disney considered it a B-team feature during production. Most of the A-level artists and budget went to Pocahontas, which turned out as one of the worst films the studio produced. Perhaps there’s some justice in The Lion King dominating that film, but I am not entirely sold on it being the greatest film of the Renaissance.

 

Oh, it is undoubtedly one of the best. Gloriously animated, the film is alive with bright and vivid colors, epic vistas of the African savannahs, a decrepit elephant graveyard, and an overgrown jungle paradise. The Lion King provides a visual feast, a series of locations as mythic and epic as the story it tells.

 

Essentially Hamlet in Africa, but told with talking animals, The Lion King is perhaps the most mythic and operatic modern Disney film. It borrows liberally from story-telling traditions of the land and monarchy tied together. If the kingdom is prosperous, abundant, and peaceful, then the monarch is beloved and bestowed with the divine. If the kingdom is barren and dying, then a usurper has taken power and corrupted the land with his questionable rule.

 

A sense of divinity runs throughout. The birth of Simba opens the film, and the entire kingdom comes out to bow before the newborn heir to the throne. A light shines from the heavens to bless the cub, bestowing upon him the right to rule. When he returns to the lands to face his past and claim his birthright, the restoration is immediate. Practically all of Disney’s films operate within fairy tale confines, but The Lion King flirts with the grandeur of Shakespeare and divine myths.

 

For all of the pathos and dramatics on display, The Lion King is not without its comedic relief. Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog, fill in the roles of traditional comedic sidekicks to the hero, playing like Rosencratz and Guildenstern to Simba’s Hamlet. They provide moments of fourth-wall breaking, and lighten the mood when needed. Timon and Pumbaa are part of a larger ensemble of strong, memorable characters.

 

The best of Disney’s films provide a villain who is pleasing evil and menacing, and Scar, an effete lion with haughty delusions and a jealous streak the size of the Sahara, is all of that. As voiced by Jeremy Irons, Scar is an intellectual who wants the power and the glory of title, but none of the politics and day-to-day tasks. His ego is impressive. But his song has always left me slightly uncomfortable. The vision of hyenas goose-stepping in a children’s film is a bit of cultural iconography appropriation that feels slightly ugly and tone deaf to me.   

 

This points to the major problem with The Lion King – the score is good, but the musical numbers are not. With only two being anything of worth, the rest are just kinda there taking up real estate. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is gooey and sappy, “The Circle of Life” is pretty visuals and a plain melody, and “Be Prepared” has another example of a Disney villain caked in green lights and puffs of smoke. Someone should write an essay about this reoccurring visual motif. The only musical numbers that linger in my mind are “Hakuna Matata” and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” “Hakuna Matata” is pure joy, and economically gets us from Simba’s childhood to adulthood through montage. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” looks like nothing else in the movie, and it’s all the better for it. The backgrounds turn into Mary Blair looking geometric patterns, and Disney once more borrows from the Busby Berkeley playbook to create large patterns moving in unison. (Most versions of the film now contain a segment called “The Morning Report.” Not a lot can be said about it, as I think it was rightly dropped the first time around and its inclusion is unnecessary.)

 

However, this never takes away heavily from the film. I find the maturity and mythic scope of the film more engrossing and enjoyable than anything else. It’s fun to spend time with these characters, equally moving and frightening, heartbreaking and uplifting. There’s a reason The Lion King is the highest grossing hand-drawn animated film. It’s a story well told, with a game voice cast, and great animation. Yeah, it’s a classic.



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Blonde and Beyond

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 5 January 2010 08:42 (A review of Blonde & Beyond)

Blonde and Beyond is not a greatest hits, a best of or an anthology of any kind. It’s a combination of rarities, live tracks, remixes and demos. If they had dropped the obvious filler of album-track favorites I would have loved it much more. Throw both early demos of “Heart of Glass” (“Once I Had a Love”), their earliest recordings (like “Platinum Blonde”), and a few other disco versions (“Rapture”) and live covers (“Seven Rooms of Gloom”), remove the album-only tracks, and this would have been a great collection. As it stands it offers some wonderful rare moments which have since been recycled for their album reissues and other compilations. All except for the carbon monoxide punk of “Underground Girl,” which proves that Blondie have always been and will always be a garage-rock art-pop band, and the foreign language versions of “Sunday Girl” and “Call Me.” The trashy too-punk-for-words cover of “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” shows that even the proto-punks had a love for a solid dance groove. “Once I Had a Love” grooves along not on the shimmering disco groove it would become, but on something approaching a rock steady/ska beat. And “Poets Problem,” a b-side from the Plastic Letters-era is a wonderful piece of their trashy-pop. Not essential for the non-obsessed, but worth a listen for the die-hards (like myself). DOWNLOAD: “Underground Girl,” “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” “Once I Had a Love”


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Is This It

Posted : 8 years, 12 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:24 (A review of Is This It)

The Strokes’ debut is all at once a combination of the Velvet Underground and Frankenstein-like assembly of the CBGB’s crowd, yet they always sound like themselves and never like they’re pretending. Is This It is a deliciously lo-fi neo-punk classic. Julian Casablancas’ vocals sound like they’ve been recorded in a subway payphone. They’re also shredded, tough and tender. “Last Nite” plays like a Ramones tribute, “Is This It” is slightly Television-esque, “Hard to Explain” bounces along on a nearly Blondie-esque bit of punk-pop. And the entire package is given a grimy sheen that’s reminiscent of White Light/White Heat. It’s no wonder that when they debuted in 2001 they became the indie pin-ups de jour. I remember rushing out to get this right after I heard “Last Nite” for the first time. I still love this record. DOWNLOAD: “Take It or Leave It”


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