Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall TV Preview - Tuesday

Tuesday Night Preview
Best Returning Bet: Uh… there’s… and also…
Can I pick none? Seriously – this night is a vast wasteland of crap upon crap. Gone are the days of Tuesday nights packed with quality programming like Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls. In their place we get what? Cavemen? The Biggest Loser? Boston Legal? Ugh. Pass. If I had to pick one… shit… Nip/Tuck (10:00 – FX; starting 10/30) I guess. Even that show sucked vacuum-cleaner style last year and with that waste of food Rosie O’Donnell returning yet again for multiple episodes, it’s probably still going to suck. At least it’s not House, though. That’s something.

Most Promising New Show: Cane – 10:00 CBS (Starting 9/25)
Having been described as both a Latino version of The Sopranos and as Dallas if you substituted sugar-cane and rum for oil (side note: Is this the first time that a series has been compared to both The Sopranos and Dallas? Discuss amongst yourselves), and boasting a cast that includes Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno, Nestor Carbonell, and Polly Walker, Cane certainly has the ingredients for success. Backstabbings, betrayals, sex, money, power, murder… it’s all here. Unfortunately for its long-term prospects, however, Cane most definitely does not adhere to the CBS cookie-cutter crime procedural mold that has inexplicably been so successful for the network. It also bears striking similarities to the doomed Ray Liotta vehicle from last fall, Smith, which floundered in this exact timeslot and was summarily yanked after only three airings. Early rumors had CBS scheduling Cane after its CSI juggernaut on Thursday nights, but that never came to pass which could be a telling sign. Maybe you should try to catch this one while it’s still around.

Tuesday Trivialities:
• This is the shittiest night of TV, bar none. At least Fridays have Friday Night Lights and Saturdays have college football. The only two shows worth mentioning on Tuesdays are new offerings which could be gone within a matter of weeks. Don’t believe me? Read on.
• Who greenlit Cavemen (8:00 – ABC; starting 10/2)? Someone tell me because they deserve a swift kick in the bathing suit area for foisting this rancid pile of dogshit upon us. I’m prone to exaggeration – it’s what I do – but this seriously might be the single worst idea in the history of television. Take a series of unfunny ads – fucking INSURANCE COMPANY ads, no less – and turn them into a series. Fucking brilliant. And to make matters worse, ABC has paired Cavemen with the almost as horrible Carpoolers (8:30 – ABC; starting 10/2) to form possibly the stupidest hour of TV imaginable (non-reality division). If you watch either of these shows, you’re dead to me. I mean it. Dead.
• One of the only other shows with potential on Tuesday nights is The CW’s Reaper (9:00 – CW; starting 9/25). The concept, a slacker has his soul sold to Satan and in exchange must track down escapees from Hell, was done on FOX’s Brimstone in the late ‘90’s but it’s being played for laughs this time around. The combo of sci-fi and comedy could prove to be appealing and besides, what else are you going to do on Tuesdays at 9? Watch House? I didn’t think so.
House (9:00 – FOX; starting 9/25). Goddamn you and your undeserved popularity. I’m begging you to be original for once in your miserable fucking run. Begging you.
Boston Legal (10:00 – ABC; starting 9/25). And goddamn you, too for your undeserved accolades. How this show managed to get nominated for an Emmy is one of those mysteries of life. Kinda like the pyramids and how Britney Spears fucked her career up this badly. Really makes you think.
• Lastly, FX’s Nip/Tuck (10:00 – FX; starting 10/30) was given a 22-episode order for its fifth season. This really is worth mentioning considering that most cable series only get 13 installments per season, so Julian McMahon will get to show his ass almost twice as much this year. This unorthodox move could come back to bite FX in their own posterior since the show has been uneven at best for the past few years. And if you don’t believe me, I remind you that The Carver storyline ended up with a male rapist who was born without a dick. Born. Without. A. Dick. I really don’t need to say any more, do I?

What We’re Watching/Recording On Tuesdays:
Nip/Tuck (mainly to see how much of a train-wreck it will be)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fall TV Preview - Monday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Fall is in the air, football season is here, and TV shows are returning from their summer hiatus. With so many new series and old favorites cluttering the networks, how will you know what to watch? Wonder no more as The Dirtywhirl has you covered with our Fall TV Preview. Over the next week, we’ll break it down night by night so you know exactly how you should spend your evenings. You're welcome.

Monday Night Preview
Best Returning Bet: Heroes – 9:00 NBC (Starting 9/24)
Without a doubt, THE watercooler show of last season was NBC’s freshman hit, Heroes. In case you’ve been living under a rock and avoiding all manners of media for the past year, Heroes is the sprawling tale of everyday people who come to realize that they have special “abilities” (flight, regeneration, mind-reading, telekinesis, etc.) and are ultimately tasked with nothing less than saving the world. Heroes rocked my ass the first time around, but to watch this show a second time on DVD is to realize the genius of its masterplan. There is no wasted motion as the producers obviously had their season’s endgame in sight as early as the first episode. It was also incredibly satisfying to see how the various pieces of the puzzle were meant to fit together by season’s end, as they were embodied by an incredibly talented ensemble (Adrian Pasdar, Masi Oka, and Jack Coleman were particular standouts) that gelled almost from the beginning of the series. And as if the cast wasn’t already strong enough, Kristen Bell of the late lamented (and genius) Veronica Mars will be joining the cast for at least half of the season. Heroes has been compared by many to Lost, a show that surely provided some inspiration to creator Tim Kring. There are definite similarities, but the major difference between the shows is that while Lost often falls into the trap of avoiding answering questions by raising more questions, Heroes, on the other hand, is much more satisfying because it answers the questions it asked, while raising new ones to keep viewers hooked. If you’ve avoided the show for any reason, now’s the time to jump in. A new story begins with new characters and new problems that, if they’re even half as thrilling as the first season, will prove to be some of the best (and most accessible) sci-fi on TV. One of the three best shows on network TV (along with Friday Night Lights and Supernatural).

Most Promising New Show: Chuck – 8:00 NBC (Starting 9/24)
Coming from Josh Schwartz, creator of The OC, Chuck is the unlikely tale of a lowly IT worker who ends up accidently downloading some of the CIA’s most classified information directly into his brain. OK – I realize how retarded that sounds but Chuck has been blessed with some of the best buzz of any new series not called Pushing Daisies or Bionic Woman, plus it comes from the mind of Schwartz, so you know that witty dialogue and snappy pop culture references are sure to follow. By all accounts, series star Zachary Levi has breakout star potential and the fish-out-of-water saga of a loser becoming one of the world’s most dangerous men will appeal to many. Chuck has the potential to become a modest hit for NBC as it will really only have the Dancing With The Stars juggernaut as serious competition in its timeslot and, serving as the lead-in for Heroes, could combine with that hit to prove to be a very appealing way to spend two hours on a Monday night.

Monday Musings:
Dancing With The Stars (8:00 – ABC; starting 9/24). Boasting such [cough] luminaries as Jane Seymour, Jennie Garth, and Wayne Newton, isn’t that title really a misnomer? Someone please explain to me how we’re defining the word “star.”
• So we’re at long last going to get to meet the titular mother on How I Met Your Mother (8:00 – CBS; starting 9/24) this season. Last year ended with Ted and Robin on the outs, making the timing perfect for Ted to finally (after two seasons) find the girl that he ultimately weds. For some reason, despite boasting one of TV’s funniest ensembles, no one’s watching this show as it just barely made it to a third year. HIMYM is in all actuality one of the best comedies currently on TV and is deserving of much more attention than it actually gets.
Prison Break (8:00 – FOX; started 9/17) gets back to its roots as Michael is forced to break out of a Panamanian prison that’s so unspeakable that it’s literally being run by the inmates. Prison Break is often one of the most ludicrous shows on TV as it requires a Herculean level of suspension of disbelief, but it’s often one of the most purely enjoyable as well. Still, we can’t shake the feeling that the show is limping along on its last legs at this point.
• The CW’s Aliens In America (8:30 – CW; starting 10/1) is getting some incredible press but it’s a comedy on The CW. A comedy. On The CW. How good could it possibly be?
• Based largely on his amazing work on The Shield, Anthony Anderson headlines K-Ville (9:00 – FOX; started 9/17), a cop series shot on location in post-Katrina New Orleans. Can this show use its intriguing concept to rise above cop show clichĂ©s? Or will its hook merely prove to be a shameless way to draw viewers to a mediocre series?
• Does anyone besides me notice the striking similarities between NBC’s new Journeyman (10:00– NBC; starting 9/24) and the venerable classic, Quantum Leap? Sorry, but if there’s no Al or cheesy opening piano theme, it’s dead to me.

What We’re Watching/Recording On Mondays:
How I Met Your Mother
Monday Night Football
Monday Night Football
Prison Break

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Looking At The Dirtywhirl's Pick For August's Best In Music

Starting with August's music preview, The Dirtywhirl decided to pick one album each month that had the potential to shine brighter than any other release in that 28 to 31-day period, dubbed "The Dirtywhirl's Pick For The Best Of [Fill In The Month]. Creative, yeah? So, did August's pick live up to our hype or did it fall flatter than Keira Knightley's chest? Let's find out:

Rilo Kiley/ Under The Blacklight
Fleetwood Mac is one of the best rock bands of the past fifty years. Sure, some may scoff and say that they’re too lightweight to be granted such lofty status, but it’s true. Point to a band whose track record measures up to Fleetwood Mac and you’ll realize what kind of company that they actually keep. It’s for that reason that Rilo Kiley could do much worse than to follow the Mac template as they embark on their major label debut, Under The Blacklight. The parallels are striking. Much like the romantic entanglements within Fleetwood Mac, singer Jenny Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennett are exes who often work out their issues through their music. Both bands’ supposed masterpieces were their second albums (Rumours and The Execution Of All Things, respectively). Their third albums were departures from their previous work (Tusk and More Adventurous) that lead to their charismatic female singers (Stevie Nicks and Lewis) releasing solo albums (Bella Donna and Rabbit Fur Coat) before regrouping. Basically, Rilo Kiley stands where Fleetwood Mac did in 1982, and they’ve for sure delivered a much stronger album than Mirage. Whereas Lindsay Buckingham and Nicks were looking forward to solo careers at the expense of a cohesive collective album, Lewis and Sennett have galvanized the band into a completely new direction that’s both exciting and impressive at the same time. Under The Blacklight finds Rilo Kiley making over their sound from their early alt-country leanings to a more polished indie pop sound – almost like an updated version of the 1970’s California pop sound for the year 2007. It’s obvious that Lewis has sex on the brain as many of the tracks favor a libidinous viewpoint unseen in Rilo Kiley’s previous work. On “Close Call,” a darker track with Cure-esque guitars, Lewis warns, “Funny thing about money for sex/ You might get rich but you’ll die by it,” the down and dirty “The Moneymaker” follows much of the same viewpoint, and “Smoke Detector” finds Lewis stating rather matter-of-factly, “I took a man back to my room/ I was smoking him in bed.” Beyond the sex, the band also experiments with disco for the first time with the four-on-the-floor “Breakin’ Up” that’s as catchy as the clap was back in Studio 54’s heyday as well as on the Caribbean-influenced “Dejalo.” Even “Dreamworld,” Sennett’s lone lead vocal track, is very atmospheric and reminiscent of early ‘80’s pop. Many longtime fans have had a mixed reaction to Under The Blacklight and the reason for this is simple – they’re fucking idiots. Under The Blacklight is one of the most enjoyable records of the year thus far and if Rilo Kiley wants to follow in the footsteps of Fleetwood Mac, well, shit… they could have done much, much worse.

Dirty Rating: 94/100

Rilo Kiley On MySpace Music
Rilo Kiley's Official Site

Thursday, September 13, 2007

September DVD Preview

Better late then never, yeah? Giddyup:

30 Rock: Season 1 – Tracy Morgan, you are a comedic genius. C’mon – I dare you to resist Morgan running down a highway in his underwear yelling, “I am a Jedi!” Alec Baldwin, douchebag that he is, is brilliant here as well. Actually, he’s even funnier on the show than in real life on that voicemail where he’s calling his kid a “rude little pig.” And THAT’S hard to top.

Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season – PMS Power!! Catch it. Or don’t. Probably don’t.

Georgia Rule – Lindsay Lohan. Felicity Huffman. Jane Fonda. All in the same film. If you have any desire whatsoever to see this, I invite you to go locate your testicles. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: Seasons 1&2 – Probably the meanest, most twisted show currently on television. And also one of my personal favorites. Imagine Seinfeld if every episode had the evil spirit of the poison envelopes story, multiplied by one thousand. That should just about do it.

The Office: Season Three – You say: “The third season was really uneven and wasn’t nearly as good as the second.” I say: “You’re probably right, but even so this is still one of the funniest shows on TV, so stop your whining you bitch.”

Prison Break: Season Two – If you can turn off your brain – I mean really, really turn off your brain – and enjoy some pure escapist entertainment, then Prison Break is where it’s at. Sure there are plot-holes the size of Cleveland, but when people are getting killed off left and right, you kinda don’t care.

Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Third Season – You know, even if you’re not a fan of the show, it would be interesting to skip halfway through the season to watch any scene between T.R. Knight and Isaiah Washington. I’m pretty sure that you can hear them each plotting ways to kill the other. Fun stuff.

Supernatural: The Complete Second Season – Since Smallville is a steaming pile of Super-shit, Supernatural is left to carry the flag for network TV sci-fi, and it does it so much better than you would think. The show was boosted in its sophomore season as its storytelling delved farther into its demon hunting mythology and as its production values left it feeling like a horror film each and every week. In all honesty, it’s shaping up to be a worthy heir to the Buffy/Angel throne. No higher praise has ever been spoken.

Two And A Half Men: The Complete First Season – What?! How did this get on here? Oh, yeah… padding the list. And also a chance to take a shot at the most sitcommy sitcom on TV. This is to entertainment what Michael Vick is to dogs. Woof.

Brothers And Sisters: The Complete First Season – Laugh all you want but by the end of its first season, Brothers & Sisters had become an eminently enjoyable soap that was boosted from the guilty pleasure category by its stellar cast. Hiring Greg Berlanti, the creative force behind the late, lamented Everwood, as showrunner and executive producer was a stroke of genius.

The Condemned – OK, so Vinnie Jones and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin are among a group of convicts dumped on an island as part of a reality show where the survivor (after presumably killing everyone else) gets a get out of jail free card? How did this movie not make $800 million dollars?

Grindhouse Presents: Death Proof – Extended And Unrated – Granted, it was the weaker of the two films in Grindhouse. It also feels like a bit of an ass-raping that the two films are being split into separate releases when you just know that there’s going to be some balls-out special edition that combines the two (as they were meant to be seen, damn it) in six months. That being said, it’s still a Tarantino film so add it to your Netflix list and save your money until the inevitable better edition drops.

Severance – Taking downsizing to the next level, Severance is literally cutthroat as it follows a group of office workers who embark on the corporate retreat from hell. Wanna kill your boss but can’t? Check this out instead.

Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season – Really, it’s mind-blowing how you can take a concept like the origin of Superman and fuck it up as badly as the producers of Smallville have. And then, to make it even worse, take into consideration that they’ve been fucking it up for going on SEVEN SEASONS now. This show is Kryptonite to good acting. And writing. And special effects. And brain cells.

We Are Marshall – Arriving on DVD just in time for the college football season, We Are Marshall looks at how a community rebounded from one of sports’ all-time greatest tragedies. Hopefully the subject matter was treated with the delicacy that it deserved but since it stars Matthew “I Like To Play Bongos Naked” McConaughey and was directed by the not-so-subtle McG, I’m guessing probably not.

The Bronx Is Burning – ESPN’s dramatic foray into the NYC Summer of ’77 that saw citizens terrorized by the Son Of Sam and enthralled by the Yankees’ chase for the pennant. Word was that this was a very strong miniseries that’s well worth checking out on DVD.

Bug – Director William Friedkin returns to horror in this harrowing (and gory) adaptation of an off-Broadway play.

Next – Exactly, Nicolas Cage. Exactly.

The TV Set – For a true TV nerd, The TV Set’s comedic examination of just how a show gets on the air amid network interference and idiotic “talent” is a more than appealing way to spend an hour and a half.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

September Music Preview

Fall is upon us, bringing with it a crazy busy month. Strap in and pay attention 'cause this is gonna be lengthy:


50 Cent/ Curtis – Yeah, you’re real hard. Performing on ABC’s opening night of college football with a washed-up Perry Ferrell and perpetual second banana Kelly Rowland. Shit, nothing says street cred like that combo. Everyone hope really hard that Kanye West outsells him the first week out so that 50 follows up on his threat to go away.

50 Cent On MySpace Music

Animal Collective/ Strawberry Jam – Freak-folk release number one for the month. Their last effort, Feels, was listenable for the most part but their previous outing, Sung Tongs, was unbearable. Hopefully for my ears’ sake this falls somewhere closer to Feels.

Animal Collective On MySpace Music

New Tracks:

Film School/ Hideout – Their self-titled record was one of the quiet gems of 2006. This one has a chance to be really, really good. Jump on the bandwagon now before it fills up.

Film School On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Two Kinds”
“Dear Me”
“Sick Hipster Nursed By Suicide Girl”

Black Francis/ Bluefinger – Early word on this one (interestingly credited to the “Black Francis” moniker instead of “Frank Black”) is that it’s his best work since the original death of the Pixies. God knows it couldn’t be worse than Honeycomb.

No MySpace Available

Hot Hot Heat/ Happiness Ltd. – 14:54… 14:55… 14:56…

Hot Hot Heat On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
Entire Album Streaming As Of This Writing

Pinback/ Autumn Of The Seraphs – Rob Crow’s a busy guy. After releasing a solo record earlier this year, he’s back now with Pinback’s latest. It’s going to be hard to top Summer In Abaddon and considering the spotty nature of the solo record, Living Well, those concerns are justified.

Pinback On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“From Nothing To Nowhere”

Johnathan Rice/ Futher North – Johnathan Rice’s debut showed some promise but he really should stop mimicking John Mayer and spend some time developing his own sound. He’s been working with Rilo Kiley, among other acts, so the potential is there, but it’s all about the execution.

Johnathan Rice On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“We’re All Stuck Out In The Desert”
“Further North”
“End Of The Affair”
“The Middle Of The Road”

Kanye West/ Graduation – Mr. West, as he’s now being billed (cough, pretension, cough) is back with a third record that supposedly takes hip-hop to a new level. That is, if you believe West’s bluster. Of course, he’ll also tell you that he invented the Internet and can walk on water, but you gotta love his confidence. Oh… and George Bush doesn’t care about this album, either.

Kanye West On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Good Life”
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”

James Blunt/ All The Lost Souls – If there’s another “You’re Beautiful” on this record I will hunt you down and beat the piss out of you, you British wanker.

James Blunt On MySpace Music

Kevin Drew/ Spirit If… - The de facto leader of Canadian indie collective Broken Social Scene goes out on his own for the first time with this solo record. There’s some great stuff coming out of Canada that’s been hitting the States for the past few years so hopes are high for this one.

Kevin Drew On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Backed Out On The…”

Eve/ Here I Am – Hey, Eve – know where I am? Not at the store buying your record. Pass.

Eve On MySpace Music

LCD Soundsystem/ A Bunch Of Stuff [EP] – Hey… at least LCD Soundsystem believes in truth in advertising with this odds n’ ends collection. That said, their scraps are likely better than 64% of other bands’ regular output.

LCD Soundsystem On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
None Available

New Found Glory/ From The Screen To Your Stereo Part 2 – Oh… the bullshit. There’s really a need for a “Part 2” to a New Found Glory album? Yeah, no. Their… uh…. discerning audience has likely moved onto My Chemical Romance at this point. There are no winners here.

New Found Glory On MySpace Music

Rogue Wave/ Asleep At Heaven’s Gate – Another band with a relatively low profile but one that’s definitely worth checking out, especially when considering the absolute crap that they’re surrounded by this week.

Rogue Wave On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
Entire Album Streaming As Of This Writing

KT Tunstall/ Drastic Fantastic – See James Blunt and replace “You’re Beautiful” with “Black Horse And Cherry Tree” and “British” with “Scottish.”

KT Tunstall On MySpace Music

Devendra Banhart/ Smokey Runs Down Thunder Canyon – Freak-folk release number two for the month. Banhart’s last record, Cripple Crow, was passable but its ambition far outpaced its execution. Will that happen here as well?

Devendra Banhart On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Bad Girl”

Foo Fighters/ Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace – After hearing lead single “The Pretender” and taking into consideration the lackluster In Your Honor, I’m afraid that Dave Grohl might be over.

Foo Fighters On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“The Pretender”

matt pond PA/ Last Light – Between EPs and proper releases, this is actually matt pond PA’s 347th release. Expect more of the same top-shelf chamber pop.

matt pond PA On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Last Light”

Joni Mitchell/ Shine – What?! Some record company still has Joni Mitchell releasing records? What? Were Country Joe And The Fish busy?

Joni Mitchell On MySpace Music

Jose Gonzalez/ In Our Nature – Jose Gonzalez should be big. Real big, if there were any justice. There isn’t, but this record should still be great as Gonzalez continues his penchant for interesting covers, following up takes on The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with his version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” This is not to be missed.

Jose Gonzalez On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Down The Line”
“Killing For Love”

Iron & Wine/ The Shepherd’s Dog – This is it. Of all of the many, many records coming out this month, this is the one that deserves your attention the most. Sam Beam (otherwise known as Iron & Wine) has improved in leaps and bounds from record to record, so to imagine an improvement over 2005’s phenomenal one-two punch of Woman King and In The Reins (the latter recorded with Calexico)… this should (and probably will) be mind-blowing. Mark your calendars now.

Iron & Wine On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Boy With A Coin”

Jill Scott/ The Real Thing – As one of the precious few R&B artists worth a damn (and as someone who has worked extensively with the world’s best hip-hop band, The Roots), Jill Scott deserves a mention for her new album.

Jill Scott On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Hate On Me”
“My Love”
“Crown Royal”
“Whenever You’re Around”

Stars/ In Our Bedroom After The War – More stellar indie rock from our neighbors to the north as a band with ties to Broken Social Scene, Stars, are back with their latest. This one got a digital release back in July but the physical version is in stores on 9/25. First single “The Night Starts Here” is one of the best tracks of the past few months so here’s hoping that the entire album is just as good.

Stars On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“The Night Starts Here”

Will.I.Am/ Songs About Girls – It’s bad enough that the Black Eyed Peas are popular. It’s even worse that Fergie has branched out to become a solo star. But… if I have to live in a world where more than one member of that fucking act (I refuse to call these fucktards a band) has a hit record on their own, I’m really gonna hurt someone. Badly.

Will.I.Am On MySpace Music

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews - Pop/Rock Edition

Maroon 5/ It Won’t Be Soon Before Long
You don’t ever really hear about a lot of unrefined pop. The types of music that are most likely to catch on with the general population are usually about as processed as Twinkies. Maroon 5’s latest, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, is no exception. This is an album that has been genetically engineered for pop superstardom. There are hooks to spare as every track on this record was bred to be a single. Gone is the almost organic sound of their debut, Songs About Jane, and in its place is a colder (yet funkier) feel that alternately is the best that the band has ever sounded and is one that wears its influences on its sleeve to an almost distracting level. A track like “Makes Me Wonder” combines a much tighter sound than their past work would suggest with singer Adam Levine’s biting kiss-off to an ex-lover, “And it really makes me wonder if I ever gave a fuck about you,” to become one of the year’s top singles, but it’s joined by a song in “Goodnight Goodnight” that’s a terrible combo of 3 Doors Down-level guitars and incredibly maudlin lyrics that must have been written using a Songwriting For Dummies instruction manual. The palpable influence of The Police is felt more than once, on both “Not Falling Apart” and “Won’t Go Home Without You.” The irresistible chorus of “Not Falling Apart” saves it from all-out larceny but the thievery of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is so blatant on “Won’t Go Home Without You” that it drags the entire track down with it. Despite these missteps, somewhere along the way the influences begin to gel as even though Maroon 5 “borrow” from OutKast on “Little Of Your Time,” recycle a hook from Kanye West on “Nothing Lasts Forever,” and fuse Prince and Michael Jackson on “Kiwi,” the songs begin to work, most especially “Kiwi.” With its dirty lyrics (“Sweet Kiwi/ Your juice is dripping down my chin”) and bonafide Jackson vocals that evolve into a Prince-esque guitar freak-out in its coda, “Kiwi”’ demonstrates the direction that Maroon 5 should follow as Levine is developing into a fairly talented pop vocalist who’s backed by a band that’s improving in its own right. Even though Songs About Jane became an “overnight success story” two years after its release, it took Maroon 5 almost five years to craft a follow up. Based on the flashes of talent on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, it would be a shame if it took another five years before hearing from Maroon 5 again.

Dirty Rating: 76/100

Maroon 5 On MySpace Music
Maroon 5's Official Site

Barenaked Ladies/ Barenaked Ladies Are Men
On the basis of the regrettable popularity of “One Week” back in 1998, Barenaked Ladies rose to pop/rock prominence in the US in support of that year’s album, Stunt. With the exception of the trite “One Week,” it was a fairly agreeable slice of ‘90’s pop and after banging around since early that decade and enjoying superstar success in their native Canada, BNL had finally broken the US. Unfortunately for them, “One Week” would serve as their supernova as their popularity has never shone as brightly since. After their moment in the sun ended, they began to settle into their new role as pop journeymen and their latest, Barenaked Ladies Are Men, is an embodiment of the exhaustion of the humor, wordplay, and fun of their earlier releases, and maybe even the exhaustion of the band itself. I really don’t even need to strain to write this review because BNL’s song titles do it for me. “Quality?” Uh… no. “Why Say Anything Nice?” Can’t, really. “Another Spin?” No thanks. “What A Letdown?” You said it. BNL started on this downward slope with 2003's Everything To Everyone, a record not without its moments but one whose moments were few and far between. That ratio is even greater on Barenaked Ladies Are Men. With the exception of “One And Only,” “Half A Heart,” and “Maybe Not” (the album’s one true hope for a hit single), all of which are sung by the band’s overlooked MVP, bassist/co-lead vocalist Ed Robertson, everything here is either tired and rehashed or just outright ill-advised. The band experiments with different sounds than in the past to little or no benefit. There’s the ironic (and not in a good way) anger of “Angry People,” in which co-lead vocalist Steven Page angrily rants about… uh... angry people; the vaudeville interlude of “Fun & Games” (side note – BNL should stick to their strengths and do songs about what they’d buy with one million dollars and avoid trying to tackle heavy stuff like the war in Iraq), and the new wavy “Down To Earth” that bounces along until its clunky chorus kicks in. Simply put, if Barenaked Ladies Are Men is the best that BNL has to offer at this stage of their career, perhaps it’s time to hang ‘em up and let Robertson get on with the solo career that he so richly deserves because at this point he’s the only member of the band with any spark left.

Dirty Rating: 44/100

Barenaked Ladies On MySpace Music
Barenaked Ladies' Official Site

Lifehouse/ Who We Are
OK – I admit it. I’m a closet Lifehouse fan. Feels good to get that off my chest. I’ll wait for a bit for you to stop laughing. Is it out of your system yet? Yes? Let’s move on, then. Lifehouse is one of those bands that puts out perfectly acceptable pop/rock records. Their fourth studio outing, Who We Are, is more of the same. What Who We Are is is the expected collection of mid-tempo ballads and rock songs that slowly build to loud choruses. No more, no less. If that’s not your bag, then move on. If it is, then you’ll probably dig tracks like “First Time,” which follows the template set forth in singles like “Hanging By A Moment” and “Spin” from their previous records. Sure, it’s familiar territory but damned if it isn’t catchy. For the ballad fans, “Broken's" sappy lyrics are much in the same vein as their monster hit from their last record, “You And Me,” but damn it… that song was huge so why not try it again? I admit it – it all comes down to personal preference here. If this were any other band I’d probably be tearing them a new asshole right now, but there’s something about this band that I like. I can’t quite put my finger on it and I really wish I didn’t like ‘em, but what are you going to do? They’ve been doing the same thing for four records now so you know not to expect any innovation, but if you’re listening to Lifehouse you’re not really looking for that in the first place. Sometimes it’s good to just turn your brain off and listen to some mindless music, so God bless Lifehouse for serving that purpose. Someone has to do it.

Dirty Rating: 70/100

Lifehouse On MySpace Music
Lifehouse's Official Site

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

The Rosebuds/ Night Of The Furies
On their latest release, Night Of The Furies, The Rosebuds want to party like it’s 1985. It’s synth hooks galore as this North Carolina two-piece turns in a more credible version of a Killers record, albeit a more uneven and bipolar one. The good songs are very, very good – “Cemetery Lawn” with its big and bombastic sound and out of this world synth hook would be a ginormous hit if only people had taste; the similarly massive “Get Up Get Out” and “Night Of The Furies”” also shine with their swagger and their killer harmonies; and moodier tracks like “Silence By The Lakeside” and “When The Lights Went Dim” add a brooding air to the proceedings. Regrettably, the not-so-good stuff stinks like tuna salad that’s been sitting out in the sun since the mid-eighties, as “I Better Run” is plagued by lazy vocals and banal lyrics like, “I think my grandma has a piece of land/ I’m supposed to take it when she’s dead,” and “Silja Line” suffers from a gratingly martial sound. At the very least, The Rosebuds have the good sense to sandwich the crap between the record’s standouts so instead of a giant part of the record being dragged down by inferior songs, they’re merely unwelcome blips on the radar. If you’re looking for a lyrically deep record, Night Of The Furies is not it, but that’s OK. The Rosebuds just want to rock the Me Decade and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Dirty Rating: 78/100

The Rosebuds On MySpace Music
The Rosebuds' Official Site

Peter Bjorn And John/ Writer’s Block
Inconsistent albums can be maddening. A band does everything they can to empty themselves onto a record yet are unable to sustain top quality for the entire course of their album. Hearing extraordinary tracks alternating with ones that just flop… it’s frustrating for a listener. Peter Bjorn And John’s latest, Writer’s Block, illustrates this to a “T.” There are moments that just blow your mind and others that make you wonder what the hell they were thinking. When it’s at the top of its game, Writer’s Block is some top-shelf indie pop featuring languid vocals that are strongly backed by some unbelievably lush instrumentation. Lead single “Young Folks” is simply one of the best tracks of the year. It’s almost without peer – it’s THAT good. Propelled by an almost hip-hop drum beat and an ear-grabbing whistle hook (which, interestingly enough, was used simply to placemark the spot on the track to add new instrumentation until the band realized just how well the whistle itself worked), “Young Folks” features Victoria Bergsman of The Concretes and is striking for how its breathy vocals run in contrast with the rich instrumentation provided by the band. It’s as close to perfection as a band can get. Nothing else quite measures up, although the alternately skittering and dream-poppy seven-minute “Up Against The Wall,” the surf-inflected “Let’s Call It Off,” and the Nordic Beck leanings of “Amsterdam” come closest. Unfortunately, the latter half of the record is where Peter Bjorn And John lose a great deal of steam as Writer’s Block begins to sputter to a coughing conclusion. “Paris 2004” is marred by a cheesy Casio keyboard intro and overly earnest lyrics, the drum n’ bass sounds of “The Chills” don’t fit with the ‘60’s pop vibe of the record, and “Roll The Credits” is starkly minimalist compared to the rest of the album while dragging on way too long. If Writer’s Block had been an EP comprised of the first half of the record, we’d be looking at one of 2007’s top releases. As it is, it stands somewhere in the middle of the pack with the promise that if Peter Bjorn And John can tighten up their work, they’ll likely ascend to the heights of indie pop royalty.

Dirty Rating: 75/100

Peter Bjorn And John On MySpace Music

!!!/ Myth Takes
One of the more exciting trends in indie rock lately is the promising fusion of dance and rock music, often tagged with the disco-punk label. Bands like The Faint, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, and even Modest Mouse have (to varying degrees of success) combined these to contrasting genres into a new one that more often than not allows the best parts of each to brightly shine through. !!! (pronounced “Chik Chik Chik) belongs in the discussion of bands that are attempting to throw their hat into the disco-punk ring. Although their latest release, Myth Takes, shows some signs of being a contender, in the end it’s more of a disappointment than anything else. Myth Takes plays like some obvious version of Spot The Influences, ranging from U2 (“A New Name”), Gang Of Four and Girls Against Boys (“All My Heroes Are Weirdos”), The Clash (“Must Be The Moon”), and LCD Soundsystem (“Heart Of Hearts”) that !!! employs throughout the majority of the record, leading to an overly familiar “already heard it” effect. They do have moments that demonstrate the faith that critics place in them such as the title track, which is very subdued but chugs along like a locomotive, and the album’s centerpiece, “Bend Over Beethoven.” Save for its title, its slow build to a charging chorus should serve as the blueprint for the direction that the band should follow on future outings. !!! definitely has personality… but sadly for them right now that personality is often boring and rehashed. If !!! is able to focus and put out more original work like “Bend Over Beethoven” and ignore the impulse to copy their record collection every step of the way, they may yet live up to their sizable acclaim. Until then? You really shouldn’t waste your time.

Dirty Rating: 57/100

!!! On MySpace Music
!!!'s Official Site

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Movies You Could Netflix

Hot Fuzz
You don’t usually see parodies that are as loving and reverential to their source material as Shaun Of The Dead was. These movies frequently fall into the Scary Movie-type bastardization that is not only disrespectful to its inspiration, but is also painfully unfunny as a bonus. A spoof on zombie movies that was released in 2004, Shaun Of The Dead was the rare film that was not only a hilarious comedy but was also a worthy entry into the genre that it was skewering. The creative forces behind that film, star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, have attempted to take their successful formula and translate it from zombie movies to action films with their latest, Hot Fuzz. Unlike the unquestioned success of Shaun Of The Dead, results are decidedly mixed this time around. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a London police officer who’s so efficiently successful that he makes the rest of the force look bad. As a result, the London brass transfers him to the sleepy village of Sandford where the biggest criminal problems are living statues and missing swans. Angel is treated like a celebrity by the Sandford citizens, even more so after apprehending underage drinkers on the night before his first official day with the Sandford force. In struggling to acclimate himself to unfamiliar (and quiet) surroundings that include a pacified chief of police, completely inept detectives, and a total fuck-up of a partner (Nick Frost, Shaun Of The Dead) who worships action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II (and who happens to be the son of the chief), Angel becomes a broken man. A broken man, that is, until a series of puzzling murders begins to plague the calm little village. This gives Angel a heretofore missing purpose as the Sandford force is loathe to chalk the spree up to anything more than a series of unbelievable accidents. To say any more would be to spoil the rest of the plot, but the surprising gore of the gruesome murders kick-starts the action and leads to a balls out over-the-top action movie finale that saves the film at the very last moment. Pegg and Wright are much more deliberate in setting up Hot Fuzz’s action than they were in Shaun Of The Dead, leading to a sluggishness and a sense that the movie is dragging on a bit too long. It holds fast to many notorious action movie conventions to good effect as there are referential nods to various films (like the aforementioned Point Break and Bad Boys II), but where Pegg and Wright have miscalculated their ability to translate Shaun Of The Dead’s success is in their desire to craft too much of an action film while forgetting to balance with it the comedy aspect that made their previous film so unique. The ratio of laughs to testosterone-driven action lags well behind what was seen in Shaun Of The Dead, and even the humor that they do include is not nearly as clever as it wants to be. Still, its crazy finale saves Hot Fuzz from disappointment, but you’re still left wondering how the brilliance of Shaun Of The Dead wasn’t able to carry over this time. Was it lightning in a bottle? Or is Hot Fuzz just a sophomore slump? Only time will tell which category Hot Fuzz falls into but for now, call it fairly entertaining but not quite as good as it should have been.

Dirty Rating: 76/100

Hot Fuzz On Metacritic
Hot Fuzz On Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kristen Bell + Heroes = Pure Awesomeness

Thank you Jeebus for this wonderful news.

God Bless TV

FX continues its quest to brand itself as the basic-cable HBO with its latest exceptional offering, Damages. After Glenn Close’s stint as a ball-busting police captain on the fourth season of The Shield met with both critical and viewer praise, the execs at FX concluded to design a starring vehicle tailored to Close’s strengths. Damages is the result of this decision and it delivers exponentially on its initial promise. Close (Fatal Attraction) stars as Patty Hewes, a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who has taken on a class action lawsuit filed by the employees of billionaire businessman Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, Cheers), a man who has been accused of bilking those employees’ pension funds of millions upon millions of dollars. Now, lest you think that this is some boring procedural about dull, white-collar crime, know that the series opens with a battered and bloody woman named Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later) fleeing her apartment building before being picked up by police on the suspicion of murdering her fiancĂ©. Through the use of flashbacks that take us back to six months prior to the open of the series, we learn that Ellen is a recent law school graduate who has landed a prime position at Hewes’s firm despite warnings that working for Hewes can be dangerous to one’s health. The curiosity of these warnings and how Ellen ended up as a potential murderer serve as the series’ hook. Did Frobisher get to her or were the warnings about Hewes true? One of the most effective aspects of Damages is that it blurs the line between the standard good guy/bad guy convention. A typical series would set Hewes up as the white-hatted hero coming to save the day for the disenfranchised employees that were seemingly cheated by Frobisher, who himself would have been portrayed as a greedy, uncaring menace. Damages doesn’t do that. Instead, by the end of the pilot Hewes has proven her mettle as a Machiavellian genius by committing an unspeakable act that one usually doesn’t see out of a typical protagonist. As Frobisher, Danson (who after toiling for years in sitcom hell is a revelation here) shows surprising depth of character in portraying the various layers of a man torn between business and family. Another effective tool at Damages’ disposal is its use of flashbacks throughout each episode. The audience is provided bits and pieces of an account that will ultimately tell the story of how Ellen ended up as she did. Characters that seem insignificant on first glance can carry much more importance as we learn how all of the pieces fit together. Essentially, Damages is a giant puzzle that is constantly shifting in unexpected directions and, after the failures of Dirt and The Riches, is a show that continues FX on its path as the destination for HBO-lite programming.

Dirty Rating: 86/100

Burn Notice
Take a CIA agent, essentially steal his life from him by eliminating any evidence that he ever existed, and watch him scramble to figure out who screwed him over. Should be a no-brainer success, right? Ah… not so much. Burn Notice takes this promising idea and whips it into a light and insubstantial televised version of a beach read. Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, Crossing Jordan) is the wronged agent who’s given a “burn notice” – the government has blacklisted him, frozen all of his accounts and assets, and forbidden anyone from his professional life to have any contact with him. Eventually ending up in his hometown of Miami, Westen enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend (and former IRA agent) Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, The Tudors) and fellow disgraced agent Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) to help him track down who’s behind his burn notice. Since he has no money, Westen is forced to take on menial PI jobs to make ends meet. Whereas this could have been a dark and brooding affair, creator Matt Nix plays the series for laughs. It’s treated much too lightly and I suppose for some, this is good enough. Yeah… not for me, though. I don’t want to see a trained killer gallivanting around with his ex trying to figure out how some little old lady was taken by con artists. Fuck that. I want governmental conspiracies and double-crosses and backstabbings and all of that shit. Unfortunately, since Burn Notice is on the USA Network, it has to fit the network aesthetic, meaning that it’s genetically bred to be televised junk food (see also: Monk, Psych, and basically every other original series on the friggin’ network). Ironically, one of the last times that USA ventured away from its safe formula was with the bleak Touching Evil, which starred… Jeffrey Donovan as well. No one (except for me, I think) actually watched it. For some reason, unlike Touching Evil, Burn Notice has done extremely well in the ratings as people are eating this crap up. For me, I’m gonna need something a little more significant to sink my teeth into and Burn Notice ain’t it.

Dirty Rating: 48/100

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Dirtywhirl Shells Out For Movie Tickets

The Simpsons Movie
Translating a television show into a cinematic experience will result in failure more often than not. Be it critical, financial, or even both, failure is basically inevitable. The film landscape is littered with ideas that were better left on the small screen. Bewitched, The Dukes Of Hazzard, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Flintsones, Rocky & Bullwinkle… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s because of this less than stellar track record that it would be only natural to approach The Simpsons Movie with a decent amount of apprehension. Who would want to see the legacy of one of television’s smartest and most innovative comedies tarnished by an ill-advised trip to the multiplex? Talk about real pain. Add to that the reality that the series has been spotty at best over the past few years and that the movie itself has been some sixteen years in the making and you have all of the ingredients for a disaster. It’s a relief, then, that Matt Groening and crew have managed to buck the odds and deliver what amounts to a giant “thank you” to their fanbase. Using our decaying environment as their topical hook, Groening and his writing staff have fashioned a more than worthy foray onto the big screen as the film finds the town of Springfield in dire environmental straits. After Lake Springfield swallows Green Day in the middle of a performance (a very satisfying visual, by the way), the town’s citizens, spurred on by much prodding by resident rabble-rouser Lisa, adopt measures to clean up their polluting ways, one of which is the elimination of dumping waste (nuclear and Krusty Burger included) into the lake. Of course, this being The Simpsons, Homer ignores all warnings, setting off a chain reaction of events that leads to the federal government’s decision to encase the entire town in a giant glass bubble that prevents any Springfieldian from escaping and spreading their damaging habits across the country at large. This forces the Simpsons family on a journey of self-discovery for each member, which proves to be one of the strengths of the film. Whereas the series has gotten formulaic almost to a fault – the first five minutes will be a total non-sequitur, leading into the overriding plot of the episode until a crazy finale – the film’s lengthier running time allows for the ability to give every member of the family a purpose: Marge’s dilemma of conscience; Lisa’s predictable martyrdom; Bart’s sad realization that Ned Flanders represents a stronger father figure than Homer; Homer being… well… Homer; and even Maggie’s surprising discovery that shifts the plot in new directions. The writing is top notch as well. Gags that make the series what it is are employed throughout the movie, namely good natured pokes at the audience and at the series’ corporate master, the FOX network. Naturally, this being a film, the pacing is a little different and the animation has been punched up to fit its more grandiose settings, but the movie succeeds in feeling like a logical extension of the series. For something that was anticipated for as long and as strongly as The Simpsons Movie was, that’s really more than anyone could ask for. Groening and company also wisely avoid the temptation to pack the larger landscape with celebrity cameos, deciding instead to pepper a few here and there to exceptional result. The experience of seeing the town of Springfield and all of its denizens on the silver screen is striking, and while it’s not entirely perfect (there are so many beloved ancillary characters that including them all would have been impossible, and the film honestly does lag at spots) The Simpsons Movie is the funniest and smartest work that this crew has put out in years. It’s beyond inspiring to see that in the Family Guy/South Park age, The Simpsons is still as relevant and as irreverent as ever.

Dirty Rating: 84/100

Reviews Of The Simpsons Movie On Metacritic
Reviews Of The Simpsons Movie On Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, August 13, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

Spoon/ Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Britt Daniel is a talented guy. When he’s not killing time producing records for well-regarded bands like I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness or scoring films like Stranger Than Fiction, Daniel is the leader of one of the most overlooked bands in rock, Spoon. It would be difficult to find another act whose track record is as consistently solid as Spoon’s, particularly when talking about their past two records. We can now officially include their latest, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, on that list of successes as well. While the entire record may not take your breath away, there isn’t a weak link to be found either. Sticking with the classic rock-ish vibe of their previous album, Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga finds Spoon alternating between comfortably worn-in rockers like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Finer Feelings,” and “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” and funkier numbers, including a sly cover of The Natural History’s “Don’t You Evah,” “RHTHM & Soul” (which borrows the bass line from Elastica’s “Connection”), and the dub-influenced “Eddie’s Ragga.” As good as all of those tracks are (and make no mistake – they’re damn good) they’re topped by Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s two centerpieces, “The Ghost Of You Lingers” and lead single “The Underdog.” “The Ghost Of You Lingers” is a perfectly titled sonic experimentation that sees a combination of dissonant piano and ethereal vocals evoke the titular ghost, which appears in the form of an EVP-like effect towards the end of the track. Very trippy and very impressive. As upbeat as “The Ghost Of You Lingers” is atmospheric, “The Underdog” is Spoon at its best. Hot producer Jon Brion’s fingerprints are smeared all over “The Underdog” as handclaps, horns, bells, whistles… shit, everything you can think of back Daniel as he warns, “You have no fear of the underdog/ That’s why you will not survive.” It’s fitting as, in so many ways, Spoon is one of the biggest underdogs in the music industry today. Despite heaps of critical acclaim, they’re never really mentioned in conversation as one of the decade’s best bands event though they have the credentials to back such a claim. That may change as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a fun, incredibly well-crafted record that should go a long way towards raising Spoon’s profile to the lofty heights that it deserves.

Dirty Rating: 93/100

Spoon On MySpace Music
Spoon's Official Site

Ryan Adams/ Easy Tiger
Ryan Adams is so prolific that he records albums almost as regularly as most people take a dump. Well, as regularly as guys do, anyway… not girls. We like to pretend that they don’t do that. Wow – I’ve gotten horribly off track. Where was I? Oh, yeah… Ryan Adams. His ninth official full-length, Easy Tiger, is his first in almost 18 months, which is an eternity in Ryan Adams time. This is after al a guy who released three original albums in 2005 alone for Christ’s sake – and one of those was a double album. As someone who’s released a ton – and we mean a TON – of stuff in his career, it’s naturally hard for Adams to break new ground because, even as a fairly eclectic artist, he’s covered a lot of sounds already. He has managed to straddle the line between country and rock so often in his career that you could almost place his albums on a sliding scale with 2005’s Jacksonville City Nights representing the most country portion and 2003’s Rock N’ Roll representing the rock end. Easy Tiger falls somewhere in the middle of this scale and, if this record was recorded by anyone else, you’d be impressed by its scope but for Adams it plays as almost a collection of songs you feel like you’ve heard before. Every track could have fit seamlessly into his earlier work save for the brevity and straightforwardness, which is a bit of a change. The album’s best songs, “Two,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Rip Off,” unsurprisingly sound like the ‘70’s California pop of his masterpiece, Gold, while the heaviest rocker on the record, “Halloweenhead,” obviously could have fit into the Rock N’ Roll collection. Fortunately for fans of the melancholy Love Is Hell, Adams includes the plaintive and introspective “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.,” but unfortunately for those who find straight-up country a bit too much to swallow, “Tears Of Gold,” “Pearls On A String,” and “These Girls” are exactly what you heard (and probably dismissed) on Jacksonville City Nights. The album’s one true moment of inventiveness is almost enough to allow you to look past the familiarity of everything else. “The Sun Also Sets” is perhaps the first fusion of glam and country, but as odd as that pairing sounds it comes off extremely well. Although most of Easy Tiger treads on already worn ground, the well is not entirely bone dry. It works as a great introduction for those unfamiliar with Adams’s past work but for longtime fans, Easy Tiger leaves you wishing that it was a little bit fresher.

Dirty Rating: 74/100

Ryan Adams On MySpace Music
Ryan Adams's Official Site

Maria Taylor/ Lynn Teeter Flower
When you think of Saddle Creek Records, one act usually comes to mind – Bright Eyes AKA Conor Oberst. Really, that’s sad because there are so many noteworthy acts on the label that you begin to wonder how Oberst can surround himself with such talented artists and still have his work come out smelling like donkey balls. But I digress… one of these unheralded Saddle Creek standouts is Maria Taylor. After initially gaining recognition as one-half of the now-defunct Azure Ray, Taylor has released back-to-back records that demonstrated her potential as a solo artist. Lynn Teeter Flower, her second outing, serves as a furthering of Taylor’s pleasantly smoky late night sound. Taken as a singer/songwriter album, it’s laden with more hooks than one usually sees on the average offering from that genre. Although its quality does fall off noticeably during the second half of the record, opener “A Good Start” proves to be prophetic as it kicks the album off with an almost hip-hop drum beat and a healthy dose of synthesizers, leading into the beautiful and starkly country tinged “Clean Getaway.” Lyrically, Taylor is average at best but her voice melds perfectly with her instrumentation, due in large part to the production decision to record Taylor’s vocals in a distant, atmospheric manner. “No Stars” (also aided by its stunningly lilting guitar) and “Lost Time” benefit greatly from this choice, while “Small Part Of Me” sounds so much like former labelmate Jenny Lewis that it would have been right at home on Lewis’s 2006 outing Rabbit Fur Coat. On the downside, Taylor also experiments with beat-oriented hip-hop on “Irish Goodbye” to mixed results, and there are a handful of forgettable tracks but there’s definitely enough here to warrant a recommendation. As a more talented alternative to the Brandi Carliles and KT Tunstalls of the world, Maria Taylor bears watching.

Dirty Rating: 76/100

Maria Taylor On MySpace Music
Maria Taylor's Official Site

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

August DVD Preview

Here now, The Dirtywhirl copies its own idea and previews the latest movies and television series arriving in August on DVD. By the end of the preview, there will be a price that you must pay for our trouble, but we know that you can handle it. Probably. Giddyup:

Disturbia – Steven Spielberg’s newest project, Shia LeBeuof (Transformers), makes like a prepubescent Jimmy Stewart as he thinks he witnesses an unspeakable act committed by a neighbor in an update of Rear Window aimed at the tween audience.

I Think I Love My Wife – Chris Rock (The Longest Yard) tries yet again to be as funny in film as he is as a standup comedian. Eighteenth time’s the charm, right?

Rome: The Complete Second Season – The second and final season of HBO and the BBC’s joint production arrives. This was once believed to be HBO’s next prestige project but turned out to be a very expensive soap opera, albeit a frequently entertaining one.

The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season – Timed to nicely coincide with the release of The Simpsons Movie in theaters, the tenth season of one of America’s comedy institutions includes such classic episodes as “The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace,” “When You Dish Upon A Star,” and “Homer To The Max” and as an added bonus contains the following immortal lyrics: “Max Power, he's the man who's name you'd love to touch! But you mustn't touch! His name sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you mustn't fear! 'Cause his name can be said by anyone!”

Full House: The Complete Seventh Season – Otherwise known as the worst sitcom of all time.

Home Improvement: The Complete Seventh Season - I stand corrected.

TMNT [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles] – If this means that a My Little Pony movie isn’t far behind, I quit.

Fracture – Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) goes one-on-one with Anthony Hopkins (All The King’s Men). The movie could be shit and I’d still watch just to see that face-off.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie – Future cult classic alert. If you’re not amused by a talking milkshake, look elsewhere this month.

Inland Empire – David Lynch’s (Mulholland Drive) latest kinda fell under the radar during its theatrical release but the guy’s a master. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t check this out.

Wild Hogs – Fuck you, America for letting this film gross close to $200 million theatrically. Fuck you so hard.

The Ex – Full disclosure: I’m a Zach Braff whore. That being said, Braff (Scrubs) co-stars with Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Paul Rudd (Knocked Up), and Amy Poehler (SNL) as a man who starts a feud with a guy in a wheelchair– how can that not be friggin’ hilarious?

House: Season Three – If you have the first season (or the second season), then you essentially have season three as well. Don’t bother.

Dexter: The First Season – Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) stars as a forensic specialist who moonlights as a serial killer in the first season of Showtime’s dark and well-received original series. For those who are too cheap to pony up for Showtime (myself included) here’s a chance to see what you’re missing.

Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season – If you avoid this chance to catch up on the first season of Ugly Betty, then… well… good for you.

Perfect Stranger – Bruce Willis (Hudson Hawk) and Halle Berry (Catwoman) square off to see whose cinematic turd pile was stinkier.

Blades Of Glory – Will Ferrell (Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) play a pair of disgraced, rival figure skaters. Bonus for casting the genius Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and the aforementioned Amy Poehler as their ultimate competition. One of the only films this year whose box office gross was probably deserved.

Year Of The Dog – Molly Shannon (SNL) stars in writer Mike White’s (The School Of Rock) directorial debut as a woman who was very had a very close relationship with her recently deceased pooch. Ugh… not in that way you fucking freak.

Heroes: Season One – I, for one, cannot wait to see how this series plays on DVD. The ability to pick up on the labyrinthine (and brilliant) plot in larger chunks is incredibly appealing. The closest thing you’ll ever find to a filmed comic book, this would have been the top new series of the 2006 TV season if not for…

Friday Night Lights: The Complete First Season
– Best new series of 2006 by far. Boasting some of the best writing and acting of any current television series, Friday Night Lights has been criminally overlooked by far too many viewers. Do me a personal favor and watch this. I hesitate to go the guilt trip route, but I provide you all with entertainment guidance on a regular basis and have never asked for anything in return until now. This show is THAT good. Buy or Netflix this. That’s an order.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Movies That Are... Just Movies

Black Snake Moan
Black Snake Moan could have been so good. Could have been soooo good. Portrayed in its trailers and posters as pulpy insanity about an African-American man who chains a nymphomaniacal white woman to his radiator, this could have been a balls-out masterpiece had director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) chosen to go that direction. We’re talking full-on cult classic that harkens back to the to the 1970’s glory days of exploitation films. Shit, Quentin Tarantino would have been lined up and ready to beat the drum loudly for this movie if he’d done that. Even if Brewer hadn’t gone that route, he could have chosen to examine the racial powderkeg that still exists in the South in the early 2000’s. Anything – anything – would have been a better road than the one that he leads the audience down. The film starts off promisingly enough as The Black Keys’ grimy “When The Lights Go Out” frames the open as we’re introduced to Rae (Christina Ricci, Monster), a sex freak cursed with a “sickness” that makes her get all slutty any time her man, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, Alpha Dog) isn’t around (and believe me, I use the term “man” loosely since he’s being played by Timberlake). After getting royally trashed at a party after her manboy ships off with the military, Rae is brutally assaulted and is left for dead on the side of the road, where she’s found by Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes On A Plane). A bluesman having recently endured his wife cheating on him with his own brother, Lazarus is broken down and latches onto Rae by initially nursing her back to health, only to later decide to help to cure her of her “sickness” by any means necessary after she tries to get on his cock. This is where Brewer’s car blows an axle, as it were. Up until this point, just about everything has worked. We see where the movie’s heading and it looks like a place where everyone can have some crazy fun. Instead, Brewer swerves the ride into Lifetime movie-of-the-week territory as Lazarus begins to see Rae as the daughter he never had and Rae starts to view Lazarus as the father figure she desperately needs. My question is this: How do you fuck this up so badly, Craig Brewer?! You’ve got Sam Jackson playing a weathered bluesman, showing some surprisingly competent musical chops. The guy’s good in almost everything that he’s in (well, with the exception of The Man – what the fuck was he thinking on that one) and you proceed to reduce him to a pile of sentimental jelly. You have a half-naked (and frequently topless) Christina Ricci as a nympho…

Sorry… my mind was elsewhere. Where was I? … Oh yeah, Christina Ricci as a nympho who somehow sees Justin Fucking Timberlake as her rock and as the pillar of manhood. You also try to frame Timberlake as a tough guy once he sees how Rae has been spreading it around, even though the incredibly petite Ricci is more physically imposing than JT. And I could go on and on and on, but I don’t think I really need to at this point. After showing some promise with the entertaining (if a little uneven) Hustle & Flow, it’s obvious that Brewer has slipped more than a little bit with this sentimental nonsense. As an aside, strangely enough the film begins to get bad just as Ricci puts more clothes on. I’m just saying. Anyway, call Black Snake Moan half of a good movie whose final 45 minutes are best left forgotten.

Dirty Rating: 52/100

Black Snake Moan On Metacritic
Black Snake Moan On Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

Interpol/ Our Love To Admire
Bold statement time – Interpol’s debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, is one of the best records of all time. It’s certainly one of the two or three best albums of the decade and measures up fairly against any of the classics. It’s just THAT good. Unfortunately, this kind of success can ultimately end up serving as a double-edged sword because it’s all but impossible for a band to release a follow-up to a debut of that quality and not have it come across as a little disappointing. 2004’s Antics, while a reasonably solid second record, just didn’t come anywhere close to the brilliance of their debut and left many (including myself) wondering if Interpol was going to go down in history as a one-album wonder, destined to suffer at the hands of their initial genius. After hearing their latest, Our Love To Admire (their first album on Capitol Records after leaving Matador) they’ve shown that they just might have a little of the old magic left. Our Love To Admire is a return to the darker landscapes of their debut that still incorporates some of the more (relatively speaking) upbeat aspects of Antics, but to a much more successful result. In fact, this record sounds almost like what their sophomore outing should have been. The record is book-ended in darkness as “Pioneer To The Falls” serves as a foreboding opener that sets the tone for the rest of the album, while “The Lighthouse” is a darker than midnight closer that’s a total chiller. In between, highlights are plentiful and include first single “The Heinrich Maneuver,” a track that is even better within the context of the album than it is as a stand-alone single while incorporating surf-style guitars in its chorus for the first time on an Interpol record; the impressively layered and spectacularly titled “No I In Threesome;” the gloomy and captivating “Pace Is The Trick;” and perhaps the album’s standout, “Rest My Chemistry,” which is charming and bleak at the same time as singer Paul Banks confesses, “I haven’t slept in three days/ I’ve bathed in nothing but sweat” while aided by some phenomenal guitarwork. There is a downside among all of the hope that’s present on the record, however. It is a little troubling that Interpol does not seem to be exhibiting as much growth as one would like to see from a band on their third record, but much like Vince Vaughn perfecting one character in his films, Interpol has perfected this dark sound like no other band today so a lack of growth isn’t the worst thing in the world – for now. As expectations for Our Love To Admire were considerably lower following Antics, it would have been even more satisfying had the record been as utterly exceptional as their debut but in the end, it’s a more than fitting addition to Interpol’s growing legacy.

Dirty Rating: 91/100

Interpol On MySpace Music
Interpol's Official Site

The Smashing Pumpkins/ Zeitgeist
This may have been one of the most ill-advised albums of recent memory. Billy Corgan – still a gaping asshole, by the way – feeling less and less relevant as the days pass by, decides that he “wants (his) band back.” And how does he decide to announce that he wants his band back? Not by picking up the phone and calling his former bandmates, mind you, but by taking out full page fucking ads in two Chicago newspapers. And he apparently doesn’t really want “his band” back since founding members James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzky weren’t invited, but more accurately he wants the Smashing Pumpkins name back for marketing purposes since both his post-Pumpkins band Zwan and his own solo project totally stiffed both critically and in the marketplace. By resurrecting a bastardized version of the Pumpkins he’d basically be pissing on the memory of one of the seminal rock bands of our time. Disaster, right? Surprisingly… not as much as you’d think. Zeitgeist, their sixth proper studio album, isn’t quite the soulless pile of garbage that one would expect. Now, close to half of the record is bad – there’s no getting around that. “Bring The Light” sounds like something that wasn’t even good enough to make the Zwan album, “Starz” is laughable both for its content as well as the spelling of its title and is a personification of Corgan at his worst, and “For God And Country” and “Pomp And Circumstance” close Zeitgeist with a pathetic whimper. That being said, there’s some shockingly good work amongst the rancid crap. “That’s The Way (My Love Is)” is probably the best hope for a radio hit here as it recalls some of the few highlights of MACHINA/the machines of god; first single “Tarantula” (save for the hair metal-ish guitar riffs towards the end of the track) works better as part of the whole than it does on its own as a single, and “7 Shades Of Black” and “(Come On) Let’s Go!” stand out in their own ways. The one track that provides the most hope, however, is the nine-minute “United States.” Although it is self-indulgent at times, it’s still the strongest track that Zeitgeist has to offer and is better than any of its similarly pretentious predecessors on previous records (namely “For Martha” on Adore and “Glass And The Ghost Children” on MACHINA/the machines of god). Summoning Black Sabbath at points, “United States” is a palatable appetizer of the capability of The Smashing Pumpkins, version 2.0. It feels in many ways like a turning of the corner, helping Zeitgeist feel like less of a cash-in on past glory, along with providing the slightest bit of promise for any future Pumpkins recordings.

Dirty Rating: 59/100

The Smashing Pumpkins On MySpace Music
The Smashing Pumpkins' Official Site

The Good, The Bad, & The Queen/ The Good, The Bad, & The Queen
Take the singer from Blur, the guitarist from The Verve, the bass player from The Clash, and a legendary Afrobeat drummer and what do you get? A music fan’s cream dream, right? Uh, no – one of 2007’s biggest disappointments, actually. While The Good, The Bad, & The Queen possesses all of the elements for rousing success, it proves to be much less than the sum of its parts. With a star-studded lineup like this, one could argue that the project was set up for failure from the beginning due to massive expectations that come from its members’ pedigrees and its own comparisons to Blur’s legendary Parklife. While “Herculean” is no doubt a strong lead single with its drum-n-bass-y backbeat and “Whale Song” sounds like a tasty leftover from Gorillaz’s Demon Days sessions, the rest of the album falls disappointingly flat. Pity, because this really should have been a contenduh.

Dirty Rating: 63/100

The Good, The Bad, & The Queen On MySpace Music
The Good, The Bad, & The Queen's Official Site

Blonde Redhead/ 23
According to some, 23 is a departure for Blonde Redhead from the New York art rock sound of previous releases to a more atmospheric, dream pop approach crossed with light electronica. Some have decried this left turn but since this record serves as my introduction to the band, I can’t speak to the validity of that opinion but I know what I like, and I like this. Alternating between sounding like The Sundays and Frou Frou, Blonde Redhead packs 23 with breathy, trippy vocals that make you feel like you’re spinning in a haze (“23”), floating on a cloud (“Dr. Strangeluv”), or being washed in chugging, Cure-like guitar lines and moderate electronic beats (“Silently”). While they do have a tendency to get too bland (“Publisher”) or too cutesy (“Heroine”), 23 is an enchanting record that breathes new life into the dream pop genre – one that has laid dormant for far too long. If this is what departure sounds like, I say screw the old sound.

Dirty Rating: 79/100

Blonde Redhead On MySpace Music
Blonde Redhead's Official Site