Sunday, July 29, 2007

August Music Preview

August is certainly shaping up to be fairly quiet, quality-wise. Maybe a few diamonds will pop up but we're more than likely looking at a cubic zirconium month. Check it:

Architecture In Helsinki/ Places Like This – Based on their first two releases, if you’re a fan of twee indie pop look no further. Architecture In Helsinki (great band name, yeah?) is putting out an album just for you. For the rest of us… it might be good. Maybe.

Architecture In Helsinki On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
Entire Record Streaming As Of This Writing

Okkervil River/ The Stage Names – Okkervil River’s last release, Black Sheep Boy, was a critical darling (read: overhyped to a large degree) in 2005. Will their latest be just as fawned over or will it face an inevitable backlash? Does anyone really care?

Okkervil River On MySpace Music

New Tracks:

Eisley/ Combinations – Texas’s Eisley (formerly named Moss Eisley before fears that soulless hack George Lucas would step in and put the legal kibosh on it) are back with their sophomore release and are probably the closest current representation of the unfairly forgotten early ‘90’s dream pop genre. Their debut, Room Noises, had more than a few shining moments so it should be interesting to see if they’ve been able to expand upon that promise.

Eisley On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Many Funerals” (Partial Track)
“A Sight To Behold” (Partial Track)

Earlimart/ Mentor Tormentor – Are you a fan of Elliott Smith but are bummed out about the fact that he’s, you know, dead? Check out Earlimart who have the ghostly vocals of Smith down pat but balance it out with more of a produced indie electronic sound. They got a little airplay back in 2003 on the basis of their single “We Drink On The Job” and haven’t received much since, but are worth at least a listen or two.

Earlimart On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Answers And Questions”
“Nevermind The Phonecalls”
“Don’t Think About Me”

M.I.A./ Kala – While definitely not for everyone, M.I.A.’s debut, Arular, was a genre mash-up that combined electronica, rap, dancehall, and a host of other elements into an entirely unique musical experience. Recommended as a late summertime experience for adventurous listeners.

M.I.A. On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Bird Flu”

Minus The Bear/ Planet Of Ice – If only this band would get a new singer… they’d be phenomenal. As tight musically as you’ll find, Minus The Bear is nonetheless saddled with perhaps the most ordinary vocalist in indie rock. Maybe they were smart and turned down singer Jake Snider’s mic during recording. We'll see.

Minus The Bear On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Throwin’ Shapes”
“Dr. L’Ling”

The New Pornographers/ Challengers – After releases by members Neko Case and Dan Bejar (under the both the Destroyer moniker and with new group Swan Lake) in 2006, they reunite like Voltron with the rest of their Canadian indie rock royalty for the fourth New Pornographers release. Expect to see this on almost every best of list at the end of the year even if it doesn’t exactly deserve it.

The New Pornographers On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“My Rights Versus Yours”

Rilo Kiley/ Under The Blacklight – After stepping out on her own with last year’s Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis is back with Rilo Kiley in what could be the album that breaks them into the mainstream. They’re definitely taking a poppier approach with lead single “The Moneymaker,” but the video does feature porn stars, so they’re not totally in the mainstream yet. And that’s the way we likes it.

Rilo Kiley On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“The Moneymaker”

Kanye West/ Graduation – Some reports say this album could get pushed to September but until we see conclusive evidence to that effect, we’re leaving it here. Apparently going for a futuristic approach by using more synths and setting the album in the year 2087, Kanye is proving even more ambitious than on his past records. And even more pretentious since he’s now billing himself in his videos as “Mr. West.” A more self-important Kanye West -- is that even possible?

Kanye West On MySpace Music

New Tracks:

Ben Harper/ Lifelines – Ben Harper took a sharp nosedive with his last release, Both Sides Of The Gun. This can’t possibly be worse, can it? Can it?!

Ben Harper On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“In The Colors”

Liars/ Liars – Liars alternate moments of pure genius (“Mr. You’re On Fire, Mr.; Loose Nuts On The Veladrome) with unlistenable wankery (almost everything else they’ve ever done). Maybe their latest, self-titled release will fall somewhere in the middle.

Liars On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
“Plaster Casts Of Everything”
“Freak Out”
“Sailing To Byzantium”

Nelly/ TBA – Doesn’t matter what you call the record, Nelly. It’s still gonna suck. Hard.

Nelly On MySpace Music

New Tracks:
You’re kidding, right?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Movies You Should Netflix

A serial killer movie where the killer is never caught is a tricky thing to pull off. Audiences usually demand closure and this closure often comes at the expense of the vision of the film’s director. Everything has to be tied into a nice little bow (or into a flimsily tacked-on ending to appease test audiences, as the case may be) for the vast majority of today’s moviegoers. To those of you who belong to this embarrassing group, director David Fincher (Fight Club) has just given you the finger – and I LOVE it. Spanning a near 25-year period, Fincher’s mesmerizing Zodiac is a more than worthy addition to an already phenomenal portfolio (Seven, The Game, Fight Club) as it takes an unconventional approach to the serial killer genre. The film is a harrowing examination not only of the infamous (and never caught) Zodiac killer, but also of the men who are charged with capturing him. While most movies of this ilk focus mainly on the gore of the killings and on the motivations of the killer, Fincher more or less avoids this temptation after the first hour. Instead – and this is a genius move – he shows how the hunt for the Zodiac consumes and eventually ruins the lives of nearly everyone who gets deeply involved in the case. For Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jarhead), a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle with an affinity for solving puzzles, it becomes an obsession that ultimately costs him his family. For crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr., A Scanner Darkly), it becomes a crusade in vanity that ends in an overindulgence of booze and drugs. For Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, Collateral), his tenacity eventually comes at the price of his position as a homicide detective and even briefly shines the light of Zodiac suspicion on Toschi himself. Hunting the Zodiac becomes a kind of drug to those involved. They exhibit a desperation to be the ones to crack the case and when the Zodiac disappears for years at a time, they seem to despair in his absence. Each one is Captain Ahab hunting their very own Moby Dick. The primary investigators become so single-minded in their approaches that they scramble to fit the evidence to their theories instead of taking the opposite (and more effective) tact. Technically speaking, Fincher is at the top of his game here. Right from the opening vintage Paramount Studios title card, you know that Fincher is going to do his damndest to capture the feel of the late ‘60’s – early ’70’s time period where the majority of the story takes place. He shoots the film (the first feature to be shot entirely digitally and without film or videotape) to look exactly like the products of that era and, were it not for a recognizable and incredibly well cast group of current actors, you’d swear you were watching something straight out of 1974. The pacing and the music lend themselves so perfectly to that era as Fincher eschews the temptation to pepper the soundtrack with recognizable hits, as a lesser director may have. As for the visual effects that we’ve come to expect in a David Fincher film, they’re in shorter supply but are used effectively to show the incredible passage of time in the Zodiac case, most notably the sped-up construction of a skyscraper. This serves to demonstrate just how unbelievably drawn-out the hunt for the Zodiac actually was. Where Fincher's Panic Room suffered from its straightforward approach, Zodiac shines because of it. Instead of veering off into melodramatic tangents, it’s presented almost as a documentary, a style which lends itself perfectly to the subject matter at hand. Calling Zodiac one of the (if not THE) best films of 2007 is almost damning it with faint praise when considering the general quality of films lately, but it is an exhilarating piece of filmmaking that is most certainly not to be missed.

Dirty Rating: 97/100

Zodiac On Metacritic
Zodiac On Rotten Tomatoes

Recommended Viewing:
Fight Club

Has any movie this year been better than Zodiac? Comment below.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

Arcade Fire/ Neon Bible
There’s no denying the fact that the last six and a half years have been a very contentious and polarizing time in both American politics and in the country in general. Both sides have incredibly strong opinions – some valid… and some very, very wrong. Music has long been used as an outlet for these feelings, often resulting in protest songs that rally the masses in a way that nothing else can. In this regard, it’s sad that for all of the venom that’s been directed at the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq over the past half-decade, the best music that people point to as being “scathing” indictments are Green Day’s American Idiot and essentially Bright Eyes’ entire catalog. That’s really the best there is?! Well… guess what, suckers? You’ve just been schooled by a bunch of Canadians. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire’s follow up to their critically acclaimed debut, Funeral, is by far the strongest and angriest condemnation of the right’s appropriation of religion to justify an increasingly unnecessary war. Boasting a bigger yet much darker sound than its predecessor, Neon Bible dispenses with the amateur, juvenile nonsense of American Idiot and “When The President Talks To God” for something much more grown up and, well, not brain-dead. Win Butler and crew have found the perfect lyrical and musical combination to vent their frustrations with a country that isn’t even theirs. There is so much well disguised and subtle vitriol on this record that it may take a few listens to pick up on it but when it hits… my God does it ever hit. Butler’s lyrics (“Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Show me where them bombs will fall…” on “Black Mirror;” “Working for the church while your family dies…/ Hear the soldier groan, ‘We’re going it alone.” on “Intervention;” “I don’t wanna live in America no more,” on “Windowsill”) cut right to the bone and are backed by some incredibly lush orchestration. Arcade Fire employs church organs, backing choirs, rolling thunder drums… everything imaginable to convey their sense of disillusionment and frustration with the state of the country. Much of Neon Bible has a tent revival feel, almost like Arcade Fire is attempting to take back what has been perverted and bastardized to fit into a cause that increasingly few numbers support. Regardless of where you stand in our country’s great debate, it’s impossible to look at Neon Bible as anything less than a vital masterpiece of dissension and discussion… everything that the United States stands for. Too bad that it took our neighbors to the north to point it out to us.

Dirty Rating: 95/100

Arcade Fire On MySpace Music
Arcade Fire's Official Site

Velvet Revolver/ Libertad
Take one part Stone Temple Pilots, add three parts Guns N’ Roses, and top it all off with a dash of Wasted Youth. Recipe for rock superstardom, correct? After Velvet Revolver’s debut, Contraband, fell flat upon its release in 2004 you would have thought the answer to that question would have been an unqualified “no.” Sure, “Slither” and particularly “Fall To Pieces” were modest hits but they didn’t do much to allay fears that Velvet Revolver was an idea whose intentions didn’t quite meet its actual execution. It’s more than a little surprising then that their sophomore effort, Libertad, comes off as well as it does. It still isn’t an accurate representation of these guys’ true potential, but it’s at least a step in the right direction this time around. Let’s face it – Velvet Revolver is good at one thing and that one thing is full on, unadulterated cock rock. You know what you’re getting yourself into and Libertad does that one thing very well, at least before tailing off slightly in its second half. A purportedly clean Scott Weiland means richer and fuller sounding vocals than we’ve gotten from him in years. He’s not quite back to the level of STP’s Core or Purple, but it’s doubtful that we’ll ever hear anything like that out of him again so this is the next best thing. For much of the first half of the record, Velvet Revolver succeeds in stacking hooky track after hooky track as “She Mine,” “Get Out The Door,” and “The Last Fight” all sandwich the album’s best track (and first single) “She Builds Quick Machines,” which sounds like the perfect marriage of STP and GNR that everyone envisioned when Velvet Revolver was formed. Boasting an incredibly catchy hook in its chorus, “She Builds Quick Machines” proves not only that Slash can still play the shit out of a guitar but also that these guys still know how to write a fucking rock song. Album closer “Gravedancer” also stands out for coming closest to the balladry of “Fall To Pieces” while also combining elements of STP’s sublime “Sour Girl.” True, there are missteps here – the Pearl Jam rip-off “American Man,” “For A Brother,” and the horrid “Spay” come to mind – but it never sounds like the band is having anything less than fun with this record. Simply put, Libertad is the sound of Velvet Revolver gelling as a band and – although it’s far from perfect – it does much more to spike interest than Contraband ever did.

Dirty Rating: 74/100

Velvet Revolver On MySpace Music
Velvet Revolver's Official Site

Heard either of these albums? Comment below.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Emmy Travesties... Er... Nominations Announced

The Emmys
Award shows suck. They just do – there’s no getting around it. Whoever it is that is entrusted with the responsibility of rounding up and recognizing the best in an industry, be it movies, music, or television is guaranteed – GUARANTEED – to fuck it up. The 2007 Emmy nominations, announced on Thursday, are proof positive of this. In a season where American Idol and Dancing With The Stars held down six of the top ten slots in the season’s ratings, I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised, but let’s break this travesty down anyway by looking at the major categories:

Outstanding Drama Series:
Boston Legal
Grey’s Anatomy
The Sopranos

Yeah… so only one of those shows really deserves to be there. Guess which one? Not Boston Legal. Isn’t that actually a cartoon? What’s it doing in the Best Drama Category? House is the same goddamn show every fucking week and would be the biggest mistake in this category if it weren’t for the inexplicable inclusion of the aforementioned Boston Legal. Grey’s Anatomy is a decent guilty pleasure, but anyone who thinks it’s any more than that is kidding themselves. And The Sopranos… here’s where I have a huge problem with these self-congratulatory spectacles. Everyone – and I mean everyone – recognized that this final season of the beloved Sopranos was uneven. But, since this is the last time that the industry can jerk itself off for upping the quality of the medium with a show like this, The Sopranos gets 15 nominations. Last I checked, this was an award for 2006-2007… not for lifetime achievement. Where’s The Wire, widely hailed as the best show on all of television? Where’s Friday Night Lights, currently the best (albeit little-watched) show on network television? Taking a backseat to fucking horseshit like Boston Legal and House, I suppose. Fuck this so hard. Heroes… it’s all up to you to use your collective superpowers to stand up for quality. Don’t let us down.

Should Win: Heroes
Will Win: The Sopranos

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Office
30 Rock
Two And A Half Men
Ugly Betty

While not as egregious as the Best Drama category, there are still some posers in the Best Comedy race, namely Two And A Half Men and Ugly Betty. Two And A Half Men is one of the most formulaic and generic sitcoms on television and as such shouldn’t be credited as one of the best. In order to be one of the best you should really be advancing the genre and/or doing something different, which this show is genetically incapable of. And Ugly Betty… this is one of those bastardized comedy/dramas that is hard to fit into one category or another, but Hollywood loves it for being so progressive that it’s consistently slobbered upon by critics and industry figures alike. Entourage is wildly uneven these days and even the usually brilliant The Office had its ups and downs this year. This leaves 30 Rock which, by the middle of the season found its voice and was consistently absurdly hilarious and will hopefully get the boost in profile that The Office received from its Best Comedy victory last year. Room probably should have been made for How I Met Your Mother and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in this category, but the former has too low of a profile and the latter is probably too mean-spirited for the voting panel. Pussies.

Should Win: 30 Rock
Will Win: Ugly Betty

Lead Actor In A Drama Series
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Hugh Laurie, House
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
James Spader, Boston Legal
Kiefer Sutherland, 24

Yeah… none of these guys really deserve to win. James Gandolfini probably will just because of the earlier lifetime achievement bullshit that The Sopranos will be feted with. Hugh Laurie is the only really interesting thing about House, but his show is a one-trick pony and the whole asshole act gets tired after a while. Denis Leary does great work on Rescue Me, but his tendency as co-creator and co-writer of having his character nail hot chick after hot chick while looking like a gargoyle is mildly annoying. James Spader sucks and is only in here because I think that the Emmy voters just recycle the same ballad year after year. I think that’s called inertia if I’m not mistaken. And Kiefer Sutherland… love ya buddy but this season of 24 sucked so hard that it left teeth marks so therefore you’re guilty by association. It’s an outright travesty that Kyle Chandler, doing some of the most subtly realistic work on TV on Friday Night Lights (not to mention the best work of his career), wasn’t nominated. God forbid the Emmys recognize and reward outstanding work. That’s just crazy talk.

Should Win: Kyle Chandler. Oh, yeah… he wasn’t nominated. Um… well… Denis Leary, then. I guess.
Will Win: James Gandolfini

Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers And Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

1…2…3…4…5...6. Yup… I counted right. There are actually six nominees in this category, none of which should really be here. Let me get this straight – the Emmy panel can nominate six fairly mediocre actresses (none of which is the dazzling Connie Britton from Friday Night Lights – sensing a theme here?) but can’t fit an extra series or two in the Best Drama or Best Comedy race? This is why I hate award shows. Patricia Arquette is nominated for a show that 99.9% of the country doesn’t realize is actually still on; Minnie Driver was actually OK on The Riches, but OK don’t win Emmys; Edie Falco is on The Sopranos – see James Gandolfini; Brothers And Sisters was fairly well received but Sally Field isn’t the first actress that comes to mind on that show; Mariska Hargitay is part of the Law & Order franchise where acting really need not apply; and Kyra Sedgwick is vastly overrated in her role on The Closer. Your guess is as good as mine here.

Should Win: No one, but since someone has to, Minnie Driver by default
Will Win: Kyra Sedgwick

Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carrell, The Office
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two And A Half Men

What a concept – a category where more than one nominee actually rates a win. Alec Baldwin is spot-on hilarious in his role as a blowhard network executive on 30 Rock. He’s actually even funnier than he was on that voicemail to his 11-year-old daughter where he called her a “rude little pig,” and to be funnier than that is saying something. Steve Carrell is brilliant as usual on The Office, playing Michael Scott as a pathetic loser who just wants to be loved by everyone. Ricky Gervais was more hit-or-miss on Extras than he was on the original version of The Office, Tony Shalhoub is the James Spader of the comedy category, and Charlie Sheen… wait, Charlie Sheen? Oh, I get it… the Emmy panel must have gotten bribed with some of Sheen’s stash to come up with his nomination. Either Carrell or Baldwin could conceivably squeeze this one out, but give it to Baldwin since this season of The Office was a bit uneven and Baldwin was nothing less than a comedy revelation on 30 Rock.

Should Win: Alec Baldwin
Will Win: Alec Baldwin

Lead Actress In A Drama Series
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, The New Adventures Of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Wow… another category where there are actually two legit contenders. That must be some kind of record. Let’s eliminate Felicity Huffman right away because Desperate Housewives’ day in the sun has thankfully come and gone. Cross off Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as well because her show isn’t actually, you know, good. That leaves Tina Fey, a dual threat as the creator and star of the year’s best new comedy, 30 Rock and Mary-Louise Parker for her role as a MILF drug dealer on Weeds. Either of these two ladies could win and it would be well deserved. Too bad America Ferrera is going to take it for her role as a “realistic” woman in the 2007 workplace. You know what this means, right? Ugly Betty probably won’t be as ugly this year. TV Rule #143 – Actresses on successful TV series invariably get more glamorous as years go on and they get more money. Doesn’t that really defeat the purpose of Ugly Betty? Hypocrites.

Should Win: Mary-Louise Parker in a toss up.
Will Win: America Ferrera

The Emmy Awards will be presented on FOX on September 16 but after looking at these nominees I think I speak for everyone when I say that no one fucking cares. Wake me when it’s over.

Who's with me? Comment below.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Movies That Stink Like Feet

There’s so much that’s wrong with Shooter that it’s hard to know where to even begin. Do you start with the abysmal acting? The cliches and conventions that the amateurish script latches onto with a death grip? The dialogue that is laugh-out-loud horrendous? So many flaws… so little time to eviscerate its putrid carcass. The plot of this movie is so negligible that it’s hardly worth even summing up, but here goes: Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg, The Departed) is a Marine-trained sniper who retreats into seclusion following a botched mission in which his partner/spotter is brutally gunned down and Swagger himself is left for dead. Living alone with his dog in the Wyoming woods (where Wahlberg’s long hair and pathetic excuse for a beard leave him looking like one of the GEICO cavemen), Swagger is approached by a government operative (Danny Glover, Dreamgirls) who informs him that the US is in need of the knowledge of a top sniper to help diffuse a potential assassination attempt against the president. To the surprise of exactly no one (with the exception of Swagger), it’s a setup and Swagger is framed and forced to go in the run in Hollywood’s 58,784th variation on The Fugitive. What Shooter basically amounts to is Tom Clancy for retards as there’s no investment in the dull and tedious story that drags on for an unbearable two hours, or in a script that shows no signs of doing anything but setting up stock characters that the audience couldn’t possibly care less about. Wrongly accused fugitive (Wahlberg)? Check. Shady government dude (Glover)? Check. Rookie FBI agent (Michael Pena, World Trade Center) who thinks that something just isn’t right and is inclined to believe the fugitive? Check. Fiancee of dead partner (Kate Mara, We Are Marshall) who’s the only person that the fugitive can trust? Check. The plot would actually be entirely predictable if it weren’t so unnecessarily jumbled. It jumps all over the place without any rhyme or reason (or cohesion, for that matter). Even the action sequences, which are obviously not set up at all by the script, are incredibly lame. Wahlberg, who’s been effective in films like The Departed and Boogie Nights when he isn’t forced to carry the story all by himself, is so bad in Shooter that he seems to be playing Dirk Diggler playing Brock Landers in the porno movie within the movie in Boogie Nights. And we all know how bad porn actors are. Well, not me… I don’t know… I mean, I’ve heard anyway… from friends. Where was I? Ah, yes… the “acting.” Besides Wahlberg’s ineptitude, Glover should really get to a doctor to have the slurred speech that he exhibited throughout the entire film checked out. He was either hitting the Jesus juice really hard (which would be understandable, given the fact that his agent gave him this script and told him it was a worthwhile job) or was suffering from some kind of stroke, but good God, man – have that looked at! And the dialogue… oh, Lord, the dialogue. Soooo bad. So very, very bad. The point in the script where the devious (sorry – stifling a laugh right now... and failing) operatives are trying to track down Swagger through his credit card usage, actually includes the line, “I managed to crack the FTD database!” Big shot government tecchie is creaming his shorts about cracking a fucking FLOWER SHOP’S database. Let that sink in for a minute. I nominate that one for Worst Line Of Dialogue Of 2007. Anyone second that? Antoine Fuqua, after showing competence as director of Training Day and Tears Of The Sun, falls off sharply with Shooter. His political statements are about as subtle as a jackhammer and he sets up one of the final scenes (Wahlberg’s hearing in front of the Attorney General) to disturbingly resemble the end of an episode of Scooby Doo. All of the principal characters are there and you half expect Glover to exclaim, “And I would have gotten away with this government conspiracy if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.” Look – if you enjoy being served a pile of cinematic shit then by all means add Shooter to your Netflix queue. Otherwise, you’d do best to avoid this garbage like the fucking plague.

Dirty Rating: 36/100

Other Opinions:
Shooter On Metacritic
Shooter On Rotten Tomatoes

Everyone's got opinions, so post yours below if you're so inclined.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Dirtywhirl Signs A Deal With The Devil

Yup -- we did it. We're now on MySpace. Please don't judge us. We have our reasons.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

The White Stripes/ Icky Thump
Expectations are a bitch. They can make a mediocre album seem like more when it clears a lower bar and they can make a good album sound weaker if it doesn’t meet a predetermined higher opinion. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook) for The White Stripes, their standard has been set impossibly high and their sixth studio release, Icky Thump, doesn’t quite measure up. Now, understand this – a mediocre White Stripes album is still better than 95% of what the music industry is coughing up these days. It’s just that The White Stripes’ past work has been so mind-blowing and transcendent that anything less carries the slightest whiff of failure, which is what Icky Thump smacks up against. The originality and inventiveness of previous triumphs like Elephant, De Stijl, and even the unjustly maligned Get Behind Me Satan are missing for the most part. Almost everything on Icky Thump evokes someone else: Black Sabbath; The Who; Led Zeppelin; Van Halen; Beck; shit, even The White Stripes’ own previous work. “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” and “I’m Slowly Turning Into You are pure Jack White-filtered Led Zeppelin, right down to White aping Robert Plant’s vocal style, while “Rag And Bone” suggests Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” if Eddie and the boys were turned on by dumpster diving instead of nubile educators. This isn’t to say that this batch of songs isn’t strong – quite the contrary. It’s just that it’s all been done before and to better result. It’s a given at this point that White is one of the greatest guitar players around but the ingenuity that he’s shown on past recordings is missing for the most part. The little imagination that White does muster up is marred by perhaps Icky Thump’s greatest weakness – its production. Ostensibly going for a rawer sound than in the past, White allows his guitars and fake sister/real ex-wife Meg White’s drums to bleed together in the recording, creating static that draws attention away from more than a few stellar songs and does its best to try to kill the album. Look – I’m all for sounding raw. Hell, that’s what The White Stripes are predicated on and it’s worked in the past, but there’s a definite difference between raw and sloppy, and Icky Thump dangerously skirts that line. No track illustrates this more than “Little Cream Soda.” It’s driven by an absolutely killer guitar riff, is one of the few wholly original tracks on the record, and has the potential to be one of the band’s greatest songs. Alas, the static that greets the opening and lasts throughout the entire track detracts from everything that’s good about it. “Icky Thump” and “Catch Hell Blues” are otherwise great songs that suffer from this poor production as well. I really don’t want to sound entirely down on the album. There’s definitely a lot here that’s worth hearing – besides what’s already been mentioned, “300 M.P.H. Outpour Blues” is pure Delta blues charged with a jarring screeching guitar effect that’s similar to Get Behind Me Satan’s “The Nurse,” and “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” includes bagpipes on a White Stripes record for the first time and could be a distant cousin of Zep’s “The Battle Of Evermore” – but in the end, the entirety doesn’t quite equal what Jack and Meg are capable of, making Icky Thump all the more vexing. It’s still better than most of what’s been released in 2007 but it could have been (and should have been) so much more.

Dirty Rating: 86/100

The White Stripes On MySpace Music
The White Stripes' Official Site

Tori Amos/ American Doll Posse
Tori Amos is a weird chick. Anyone who’s willing to be photographed with a piglet sucking on one of her boobies for an album cover definitely qualifies as odd. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that Amos decided that her latest release, American Doll Posse, should be sung in the guise of five different characters with each one representing “a different aspect of her personality.” Uh… yeah. Brilliant. Read more about this lunacy here. Amos’s psyche has long been fodder for her art and it would appear that she’s gone completely off the deep end this time as each “character” has been given its own separate name and backstory. The record itself is broken up into fifths that are sung by each character, yet as insane as this idea clearly is, it may have had the slightest chance of working had Amos arranged the album so that each character flowed consecutively into the next. For example, if all of “Isabel’s” tracks had run through completely and then lead into all of “Clyde’s” songs the album wouldn’t be as incoherent as it appears. Instead, Amos scatters the order throughout, creating a disjointed mess that’s incredibly hard for the listener to follow. It also suffers (like many Amos releases) from lasting about a half hour too long. At 23 tracks and close to 80 minutes, she would do well to hire a producer who believes in brevity the next time around. Because of its extreme length, the good tracks are surrounded by interchangeable filler that only serves to dull their impact. For every “Bouncing Off Clouds” (American Doll Posse’s best track that has an energy that’s lacking throughout the rest of the record) or “Secret Spell” (with its decent hook that recalls old-school Amos), there are countless versions of the same song (“Mr. Bad Man,” “Smokey Joe,” or “Dragon”), tracks that are bogged down by annoying choruses and/or insipid lyrics (“Body And Soul” and “Posse Bonus”), or titles that preclude them from being taken seriously (“Digital Ghost” and “Programmable Soda” – that’s right… “Programmable Soda”). It’s almost tragic because Amos is doing some interesting work by incorporating more guitar than she has in the past, leading to some of the most remarkable songs on the record, but they’re unable to stand out amongst the bland junk that’s present on most of American Doll Posse. Maybe if we ask really nicely one of Tori’s five personalities will be able to man up and tell her that less is often more.

Dirty Rating: 50/100

Tori Amos On MySpace Music
Tori Amos's Official Site

Monday, July 9, 2007

Movies That Stink Like Feet

Ahh… Hollywood. You’re so reliable. You can always be counted on to belittle and ridicule those who find comfort in religion and attempt to live their life on a principle. Good for you! That’s something to be proud of as you sip your chai lattes, read your daily Variety, and laugh at that prick Bill Maher. Your latest salvo, Breach, on the surface pretends to be an examination of the worst betrayal in the history of US intelligence, but it ultimately turns into an unfair indictment of religion and the roles that it plays in people’s lives. Ryan Phillippe (Crash) stars as Eric O’Neill, a young CIA operative-in-training who is given an assignment to essentially spy on another legendary senior agent, Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper, Adaptation). Let’s stop right there and examine why my last sentence demonstrates a fatal flaw with the film. You see the part where I wrote, “Ryan Phillippe stars…”? That’s right – vacuous Ryan Phillippe is being asked to carry a movie. Mistake number one right there, Hollywood. Moving on… O’Neill is given a job as a clerk for Hanssen, who the agency has chosen to keep closer tabs on by moving him from his post as a counterintelligence agent in Russia to a nothing job as the head of Information Assurance back in the States. Eventually, O’Neill is informed of Hanssen’s duplicity, which is when the film rapidly begins to spiral downhill. Once Hanssen’s villainy is exposed, any semblance of layering that was evident in Cooper’s portrayal goes right out the window. This lack of character development is unfortunately evident throughout the entire film as there are no real character arcs, which any half-decent writer includes on instinct in his screenplay. For example, we see O’Neill’s wife for one scene early on in the film as she encourages him to follow his dream of becoming a full-fledged agent yet - without any warning at all - two scenes later she’s screaming at him about how his job is destroying their marriage. This ineptitude should not come as a complete shock as writer/director Billy Ray is responsible for the following cinematic, ahem, achievements: Flightplan; Color Of Night; Volcano; Hart’s War. A veritable AFI classics list, that. Ray puts both O’Neill and Hanssen into untenable situations that call for nuance and subtlety, neither of which Phillippe or Cooper seem capable or willing to play. I’d expect this much from Phillippe – he’s as never shown anything even remotely resembling range and he’s at times accurately portrayed in Breach as a fuckup, but Cooper should know better. Maybe it’s a case of a guy who’s better served as a character actor staying within his niche, but Cooper is exposed as an embarrassment as he portrays Hanssen as uber-religious, meaning that he must of course (by good old Hollywood standards) be portrayed as a sexist bigot, spouting Bible verses at the drop of a hat while at the same time using sex tapes of himself and his wife as collateral for his traitorous dealings. Ray also uses numerous scenes where Hanssen and his wife not-so-subtly bully O’Neill and his wife with their beliefs. Yeah, that happens all… the… time. Let’s paint all Christians with the same broad brush. Genius. That’s an accurate portrayal of reality. Look, I was unfortunately unable to turn off my brain while watching this movie. Maybe if I had been, I wouldn’t have been as patently offended as I was but since that was the case… actually, scratch that. Even if I hadn’t been offended, this movie still would have been laughable due to its ridiculous screenplay and abysmal acting. Being offended by it is just rancid icing on the stale, moldy cake that is Breach.

Dirty Rating: 45/100

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Quick N' Dirty Reviews

Queens Of The Stone Age/ Era Vulgaris
Judging by Queens Of The Stone Age’s fifth studio album, Era Vulgaris, rock is back – back in a gigantic grab you by the throat and whip you around like a fucking rag doll way. Like their last release, Lullabies To Paralyze, Era Vulgaris is very dark but yet somehow feels different at the same time. Whereas most of the tracks on Lullabies To Paralyze were similar to a fault, Era Vulgaris has a distinguishable personality that resonates throughout its entire run. As mentioned, this album reinstates rock to our lexicon, so for anyone thinking that Nickelback and Daughtry were the best the genre had to offer in 2007… please go locate your testicles. Era Vulgaris is extremely riff heavy – in fact, this record includes some of the best guitarwork in the band's ten year history. Look no further than "3’s & 7’s” which, with its carefree, Skynyrd-recalling riff serves as a perfect microcosm of where the band stands in 2007. As a side note, the Queens released it as the first single in the UK, but opted to give “Sick, Sick, Sick” the nod as the US’s first single. While “Sick, Sick, Sick” is a great, heavy song that includes the seeming incongruity of The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas on backing vocals, “3’s & 7’s” would have been a much stronger choice but that’s a small dispute when considering the entirety of the record. Head Queen Josh Homme has perfectly nailed former member/mentor Mark Lanegan’s vocal style on three tracks which are unsurprisingly some of the best on the album. On the very loose and bluesy “Make It Wit Chu,” the mid-tempo “Into The Hollow,” and the subdued “Suture Up Your Future” Homme evokes a much more relaxed Lanegan, one whose voice hasn’t been wrecked by years of smack use. The actual Mark Lanegan does return, however, on “River In The Road,” a much darker and disorienting (in a good way) track than the other three. Change in voice seems to be a theme on Era Vulgaris as even when Homme isn’t embodying Lanegan, his vocals sound different than on past records. “Turnin’ On The Screw” and “I’m Designer” sound like another person entirely, but Homme’s guitar is the one constant. Shredding through all of the aforementioned tracks, no song on this album demonstrates the power of this band more than “Misfit Love.” A lonely drum intro leads into a rhythm guitar that sounds like a chainsaw, joined by a fluttering guitar effect that morphs into another heavy Queens riff – this is the type of track that you introduce uninitiated friends to the band with. Standing behind only Songs For The Deaf in the Queens’ catalog, Era Vulgaris is some of the heaviest, dirtiest rock to be released this year – not that we’d want it any other way.

Dirty Rating: 88/100

Queens Of The Stone Age On MySpace Music
Queens Of The Stone Age's Official Site

Air/ Pocket Symphony
As you sit and listen to a record, you don’t often contemplate a band’s name but if you think about it, their moniker really does speak to their sound and influences your impressions of their work. Some bands' names fit perfectly with their aesthetic – Led Zeppelin; The Clash; Alice In Chains; Screaming Trees; The Smashing Pumpkins. Those names alone are an indication of what’s about to burst forth from your speakers or through your headphones. Unfortunately for Air, they stay a bit too true to their name with their fifth release, Pocket Symphony. Continuing their maddening trend of alternating stellar records with entirely forgettable ones, Pocket Symphony is the very bland sound of Air phoning it in. One could argue that they’re going for a minimalist sound but, to their detriment, it comes off more as lazy than anything else and Air is far too talented a band to rest on their laurels like this. On their past albums, even their mellower tracks had a personality that is sorely lacking here. There really is nothing happening on this record – everything fades into the ether, never to be heard from again. “Space Maker,” “Left Bank,” and “Once Upon A Time” (a puzzling choice for a first single) are all so minimal that it’s impossible to give any kind of accurate description about them. “Napalm Love” and “Mer Du Japon” venture closest to Air’s past triumphs but they would both be dismissed as lesser tracks on their previous albums. Herein lies the problem. As the strongest tracks on Pocket Symphony, they’re just not powerful enough to support the inferior ones that surround them. Perhaps no track literally sums up Pocket Symphony better than “Lost Message” – somehow in the three years since Talkie Walkie, Air has lost its way, devolving from an inventively sublime electronic act to one who now sounds best suited to scoring local updates on The Weather Channel.

Dirty Rating: 41/100

Air On MySpace Music
Air's Official Site

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Movies That Stink Like Feet

Ghost Rider
Every now and then there’s a movie that looks so bad that you know that it’s gotta be terrible, yet you’re compelled to check it out to see just how atrocious it can possibly be. Well, there are movies like that and then there are ones that are worse – like Ghost Rider. Apparently not content with simply trying to outdo The Punisher for the honor of “Worst Comic Adaptation Ever,” it also feels the need to vie for “Worst Movie Ever” status as well. I have a degree in journalism and even that didn't prepare me to write anything that will accurately give you a feeling for just how horrendous this movie really is. I like to think that I’ll suffer for my art but, even so, I could only take 45 minutes of this garbage before I had to call it quits. I truly could not say one positive thing about this abomination of a film if I tried. Uh… there’s… no, wait, there’s also… and the part where… nope, sorry – not a one. Nicolas Cage (World Trade Center) stars as Johnny Blaze and is unfortunately at his hammy, phone-it-in worst, which is the Cage that we’ve sadly come to expect in the past half decade or so. I’m not even going to bore you with a plot synopsis. Suffice it to say that Blaze strikes a deal with Satan to save his father’s life (which ends up backfiring – shocker!), indebting his soul to Beelzebub for all eternity. There’s also some other nonsense about someone played by Wes Bentley (American Beauty) escaping from Hell, but do you really care at this point? You shouldn’t. Peter Fonda (Ulee's Gold) was a curious choice as Satan to say the least (his sister must have been unavailable), and it becomes painfully obvious that the guy should have been arrested and charged with scenery chewing of the first degree. Look closely – on the Blu Ray version of the DVD you can actually see Fonda’s denture marks on the side of each shot that he’s in. I had to try my hardest to resist laughing uncontrollably as Satan made an entrance that caused all of the lights in the scene to explode, prompting Fonda to remark, “Far out,” in an obvious nod to his (now tarnished) role in 1969’s Easy Rider. Needless to say, I failed miserably in said attempt. The opening (way too long) flashback to the origin of the Ghost Rider character is another one of the 458,279 things that are wrong with this monstrosity of a movie. Director/screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson saddles the sequence with all of the cliched devices of a bargain-basement introduction, from the troubled kid who just wants to break out, to the father who has his own plans for his son. In it, we see Cage and Eva Mendes’s (Hitch) characters portrayed as childhood sweethearts who are separated by circumstance, only to be reunited years later when Mendes, as a television reporter, is tasked with interviewing the reclusive Blaze. See… the problem with this is that in the flashback they’re the same age yet in the present day, Cage looks like her dad. Continuity, guys – is it too much to ask of a movie with a $110 million budget? Seeing as Johnson specializes in either Z-list comic adaptations (Daredevil, Elektra) or sappy bullshit (Simon Birch, Jack Frost) I’m gonna answer an unqualified “yes” to that question. When it comes down to it, Ghost Rider simply represents everything that is wrong with the movie industry today. It’s insulting to the audience’s intelligence, yet it somehow makes $115 million at the box office while a challenging and unconventional masterpiece like Grindhouse struggles to scrape two nickels together. It’s the state of the business and – I hate to say it – but if this is the road that film is going to continue to travel down… you’re just gonna have to get by with music and television opinion on The Dirtywhirl because a man can only subject himself to a finite amount of this horseshit.

Dirty Rating: 10/100