Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dirty Review: UFC 118 | Edgar vs. Penn 2

Admittedly, review of a mixed martial arts event like UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn 2 is outside the wheelhouse of what usually gets covered on The Dirtywhirl but here’s the deal… we like MMA and we write about what we like, thus we’re writing about a UFC event. Indulge us, if you will. Onto the review.

Unfortunately, the UFC’s streak of hot events ended with a thud with last night’s debut Boston show, UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn 2. While there were entertaining moments (boxing loudmouths being put in their place by Captain America AKA Randy Couture, Joe Lauzon’s destruction of douchebag Gabe Reudiger) too many contests went to the judges’ scorecards and the styles of some of the fighters were, to be kind, less than entertaining with no fight (other than the prelim battle between Lauzon and Reudiger) garnering more than a three and a half out of five rating. Let’s go match by match with the main card:

MAIN EVENT: LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: Frankie Edgar (12-1; #1 Lightweight) (Champion) vs. BJ Penn (15-6-1, #2 Lightweight)
Our Prefight Pick: Penn
Result: Edgar | Unanimous Decision, Round 5
In a five round title fight, champion Frankie Edgar dominated BJ Penn like no one has dominated Penn in his MMA career by winning all five rounds en route to defending his title for the first time. Edgar seemed on a mission to prove that his victory over Penn at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi back in April was no fluke. It started out as a chess match (much like their first fight) before Edgar just completely took over, taking Penn down more than anyone else ever has in his career and seemingly doing it at will. The frustration was all over Penn’s face throughout the fight as this seemed to be the type of matchup that signified one fighter just completely having the other’s number. It wasn’t pretty but it was impressive and, after taking back-to-back fights against Penn (maybe the best lightweight ever to compete in the Octagon), Edgar solidified his standing as the best 155-pounder in the world and set up a match with another UFC 118 winner, Gray Maynard, who just so happens to be the man responsible for Edgar’s lone loss. Color us intrigued, albeit slightly.
Our Match Rating: 3.5/5

HEAVYWEIGHT: Randy Couture (18-10) vs. James Toney (0-0)
Our Prefight Pick: Couture
Result: Couture | Submission, Round 1
This was the sideshow portion of the event as years of hearing boxers claim that they could take MMA fighters out with one punch if they were so inclined went by the wayside as UFC Hall Of Famer Randy Couture (47 year old Randy Couture, that is) took out five-time boxing champ James Toney without hardly breaking a sweat. Toney didn’t even have a chance to throw hands as Couture took him down with ease early in the opening round, pounded him on the ground for a  bit before sinking in an arm-triangle choke and putting Toney to sleep. There was a loud “UFC” chant from the Boston crowd during the fight and Couture was gracious (as always) in putting the boxing vs. MMA war to bed in his post-fight interview. Also, according to UFC president Dana White, Toney is done in the UFC following this performance. Fun for what it was, but not anywhere near Couture’s top matches.
Our Match Rating: 3/5

LIGHTWEIGHT: Kenny Florian (13-4, #5 Lightweight) vs. Gray Maynard (9-0, #8 Lightweight)
Our Prefight Pick: Florian
Result: Maynard | Unanimous Decision, Round 3
Gray Maynard lived up to his moniker of “The Bully” as he bullied Kenny Florian around (in Florian’s own hometown, no less) for three rounds, in the process earning himself a shot at Frankie Edgar’s lightweight title. After a long feeling-out process to start the fight, Maynard began to take over due to his superior wrestling ability and Florian’s seeming lack of urgency. Florian has long been a top contender in the 155 weight class but has a history of choking when there’s a lot riding on a fight (see his title fights against Penn and Sean Sherk) and with a lightweight title shot on the line in this one, his gag reflex once again became apparent. Maynard has a victory over Edgar in his career but neither fighter’s style is that dynamic so that title fight has the potential to be a snoozer.
Our Match Rating: 3/5

WELTERWEIGHT: Nate Diaz (12-5) vs. Marcus Davis (17-6)
Our Prefight Pick: Diaz
Result: Diaz | Submission, Round 3
Nate Diaz came out and played his familiar role as villain against Marcus Davis (another New England native fighting on the card) and Diaz’s usual taunting and Davis’s hometown boy standing lead to a rather loud “Diaz sucks” chant early on but those chants quickly turned to cheers as both men seemed more than willing to swing away in what was largely a standup war. Diaz eventually began picking Davis apart with strikes, opening up a NASTY cut on Davis’s right eye that required medical attention throughout the fight. Diaz got a takedown late in the final round, took Davis’s back, and sunk in a guillotine choke to take the victory.
Our Match Rating: 3.5/5

MIDDLEWEIGHT: Damian Maia (12-2, #5 Middleweight) vs. Mario Miranda (10-1)
Our Prefight Pick: Maia
Result: Maia | Unanimous Decision, Round 3
Coming off an incredibly lackluster showing against middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 112 that tarnished the standing of both men, Damian Maia seemingly had a lot to prove against Mario Miranda but the fight was the equivalent of watching paint dry as neither man seemed to want to do much. Maia eventually did just enough to secure the judges’ decision but it’s possible that after the Silva debacle and now this, his days of fighting on the main card may be coming to an end.
Our Match Rating: 2/5

Other than the prelim fight where Lauzon absolutely destroyed Reudiger (which was admittedly more entertaining for longtime Ultimate Fighter viewers to see a dickhole like Reudiger get put in his place more than anything else) there were no signature fights that stood out on the card. Sure, Edgar solidified his stature in the lightweight division but the fight wasn’t really what you’d call entertaining and yes, Couture’s victory over Toney will garner some mainstream press but it wasn’t really anything more than a curiosity. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by Silva/Sonnen, Leben/Akiyama, and Lesnar/Carwin over the last few events but UFC 118 really was a disappointment.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Quick 'N Dirty Review: The Hold Steady | Heaven Is Whenever

Before we start, here's a quick look at the rating system that we use here at The Dirtywhirl:

100 - Classic Album; One Of The Best Of All Time
99-90 - Exceptional Work; Rush Out And Get This
89-80 - Very, Very Good; You Should Still Go Out And Get This
79-70 - Not Bad At All; Might Actually Be Worth Your Time
69-60 - Has Its Moments But On The Whole... Meh
59-50 - Won't Make Your Ears Bleed; Won't Make You Dance, Either
49-0 - Don't Waste Your Time; You're Smarter Than This (Probably)

Now... onto the review:

The Hold Steady | Heaven Is Whenever

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. The Hold Steady are a grossly overhyped band. Their entire catalog has been decent but nowhere near deserving of the love it’s gotten from critics and fans. Craig Finn’s half speak/half sing vocal affectation is really annoying. They’re not a very deep band. They’re too fixated on Springsteen. Ultimately, they’re the indie rock equivalent of Hootie And The Blowfish (and I say that as an unabashed Hootie fan). They’re a bar band (albeit a hyper-literate one) who hit a nerve and probably grew a larger profile than their talents warranted. With all of that said, you’d think that their latest effort, Heaven is Whenever, wouldn’t be worth the time that it would take to listen to it but surprisingly it’s their best album to date and, more than that, it’s a very enjoyable listen. It’s somewhat ironic that this is the first Hold Steady release to receive lukewarm critical response yet to my ears it’s their most accessible and listenable album yet. It opens with the country-tinged slide guitar of “The Sweet Part Of The City,” where Finn actually SINGS (as he does on a majority of the record – I know, right?) and eventually leads into “The Weekenders,” their best song to date and their most likely shot at a crossover. It’s a very strong track with an incredibly catchy hook as Finn sings, “So if it has to be a secret/ Then I guess that I can deal with it/ You and I both know it’s a negative thing/ In the end, only girls know the whole truth.” Did they write the track hoping for mainstream success? Maybe, but if they did the calculation doesn’t matter because it’s a great track that starts on a mellow and subdued note before building to a cathartic release. Another standout, the catchy and anthemic “Hurricane J,” possesses a hook that’s very similar to “The Weekenders,” which is probably why it's as good as it is. To boil it down to its simplest terms, many of Heaven Is Whenever’s tracks are a variation on the same theme – an examination of problems with girls or with life backed by some very solid guitars. In fact, much of the guitar work on this record is stronger than I remember them displaying on past albums. For example, “Soft In The Center” finds the fortune cookie sentiment of “You won’t get every girl/ You’ll love the ones you get the best” supported by an almost Slash-esque guitar flourish. On a similar note, even the goopy emotions of “We Can Get Together” (“Heaven is whenever/ We can get together”) make the track work in spite of its earnestness. It also shouldn’t go unnoted that their Springsteen fixation is as present as ever but that they’ve integrated it into their own sound to much better effect than on past records and they use it to craft a strong autumnal atmosphere. It’s not without its mistakes (it is a Hold Steady album, after all) but if I’m ever going to feel the urge to listen to a Hold Steady album (rare as that urge may be) Heaven Is Whenever is the record that’s going to be playing on my iPod. This is not an album that I went in expecting or even wanting to like. Damned if I don’t though.

Standout Tracks: “The Weekenders;” “Hurricane J;” “The Sweet Part Of The City”

Dirty Rating: 78/100

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quick 'N Dirty Review: Lightspeed Champion | Life Is Sweet... Nice To Meet You

Before we start, here's a quick look at the rating system that we use here at The Dirtywhirl:

100 - Classic Album; One Of The Best Of All Time
99-90 - Exceptional Work; Rush Out And Get This
89-80 - Very, Very Good; You Should Still Go Out And Get This
79-70 - Not Bad At All; Might Actually Be Worth Your Time
69-60 - Has Its Moments But On The Whole... Meh
59-50 - Won't Make Your Ears Bleed; Won't Make You Dance, Either
49-0 - Don't Waste Your Time; You're Smarter Than This (Probably)

Now... onto the review:

Lightspeed Champion | Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You

Lightspeed Champion’s second record, Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You, comes as a pleasant surprise because there was absolutely nothing in singer/guitarist/do-everything member Devonte Hynes’s past work that suggested he had any idea what he was doing. His post-punk revival band, Test Icicles (yes, Test Icicles… really) was as awful as that ridiculous name suggests and his first album under the Lightspeed Champion moniker was so forgettable that I can’t even remember what it was called. Something Lavender Bridge Something, I think. With Life Is Sweet…. however, Hynes has reinvented himself as something of a curator of British sounds spanning the past thirty years. You like Queen? Try “The Big Guns Of Highsmith.” Fan of glam? Listen to “Faculty Of Fears.” Blur-influenced Britpop? That would be “Middle Of The Dark.” While the record does feel lengthy at 15 tracks, lead single “Marlene” erases many concerns and ends up almost carrying the record by itself. With its infectious chorus and winding guitar line, “Marlene” is one of the year’s best tracks and is the type of song that can inflate the opinion of an entire record on its own as it stands far and away above anything else on Life Is Sweet… This isn’t to say that the entire rest of the album pales in comparison. The beautiful, strings-supported “I Don’t Want To Wake Up Alone” and the hooky “Madame Van Damme” also deserve mention and add to the feeling that Life Is Sweet… is a record that slowly reveals itself upon multiple listens. It’s also the sound of Hynes finding his voice and becoming someone to keep an eye on.

Standout Tracks: “Marlene;” “Madame Van Damme;” “I Don’t Want To Wake Up Alone”

Dirty Rating: 69/100

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yeasayer + Kristen Bell = We Like

As if we didn't already like Yeasayer's latest, Odd Blood, enough already (really... see here and here for proof) they went ahead and cast Kristen Bell (our not so super secret future celebrity wife) in the video for the third single off of the record, "Madder Red." Watch below:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quick 'N Dirty Review: Quick Hitters

Taking a brief look at some recent releases that weren’t really deserving of a full review. Rating scale is as usual.

Sleigh Bells | Treats
Not without its charm at points but, not to sound like a septuagenarian, but it actually hurts to listen to at times due to the ear-piercing nature of the production on some tracks (seriously – they put the “noise” in noise pop). That said, “Tell ‘Em” really is as good as everyone says it is and “Rill Rill” is insanely catchy as well. I really expected to like this one more than I did but such is life.
Dirty Rating: 75/100

Jack Johnson | To The Sea
If you’ve ever heard a Jack Johnson record before, you’ve heard To The Sea. It’s all nice and inoffensive and has songs about the beach and recycling and everything but Jesus, Jack… would it kill you to stretch a little bit? For once?
Dirty Rating: 51/100

New Young Pony Club | The Optimist
Gone is much of the fun of their debut, Fantastic Playroom, in favor of a darker edged sound. Normally this would be a welcome switch but here it just falls… flat. First single "Chaos" is pretty decent but there's not much beyond that.
Dirty Rating: 71/100

Nada Surf | If I Had A Hi-Fi
A surprisingly limp covers album from one of the best indie pop acts in the genre, If I Had A Hi-Fi finds Nada Surf struggling on a set of covers ranging from well-known bands like Depeche Mode to more obscure ones like The Silly Pillows. “Electrocution,” as its title would suggest, crackles and their cover of Spoon’s “The Agony Of Lafitte” also stands out but too much is forgettable and of a throwaway nature. This one had potential but can’t deliver.
Dirty Rating: 57/100

Tom Petty | Mojo
On “Into The Great Wide Open” Tom Petty sang, “The A&R man said ‘I don’t hear a single.’” Tom, buddy, I don’t hear a single on Mojo and while that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, when the rest of the record is boring and lifeless so maybe a single or two would have been a good idea. If we're being honest, Petty hasn’t really released a good record since Echo in 1998. His output in the years since have been mediocre at best (Highway Companion) and downright bad at worst (The Last DJ). Mojo probably falls somewhere in between but I’m afraid that Petty’s career might rapidly be approaching its expiration date – that is, if it hasn’t already reached it.
Dirty Rating: 51/100

Monday, August 9, 2010

Quick 'N Dirty Review: True Blood

Before we start, here's a quick look at the rating system that we use here at The Dirtywhirl:

100-95 - Classic Show; (In best Bill O'Reilly voice) "WE'LL DO IT LIVE!!"
94-85 - Upper Echelon Show; You Should DVR This And Watch It The Same Night
84-75 - Very, Very Good; You Should Make An Effort To Watch This Within A Few Days Of Airing
74-65 - Not Bad At All; Let These Shows Pile Up On Your DVR But Watch 'Em Eventually
64-55 - Fold The Laundry While You Watch These
54-0 - Don't Waste Your Time; You're Smarter Than This (Probably) 

Now... onto the review:

True Blood | Season 3

 “Conscience off. Dick on.” Andy Bellefleur to Jason Stackhouse

Oh, True Blood, you almost had me at Nazi werewolves. Actually, no, not really. HBO’s breakout hit vampire drama, True Blood, has returned for its third season and after the first half of its 2010 run of episodes I’m left wondering why I’m still bothering to watch it. Following last season’s incredibly weak season-long arc about Maryann Forrester (Michelle Forbes), the Maenad (explanation here) that took over and possessed the town by forcing them into orgies by shaking her body or some such shit, I’d hoped that the series would return to something more closely resembling the somewhat tight plotting of season one’s whodunit serial killer angle but those hopes have been dashed in very short order, while greatly exposing some of the major flaws that have existed since the show’s debut season.

More than anything else, it’s becoming clear that series creator Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) doesn’t care much for character development. There’s literally no investment in any of the characters’ well-being which makes it impossible to care about anything that’s happening on screen. Do I care that central couple Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) have been separated, pawns in a power grab by newcomer Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare, Milk), the Vampire King of Mississippi? Nope. Am I interested by heartthrob Eric Northman’s (Alexander Skarsgard) mysterious quest for revenge that leads him to play both sides of the struggle between Edgington and Evan Rachel Wood’s Sophie-Anne Leclerq? Not particularly. How about Tara Thornton’s (Rutina Wesley) decent into a disturbing relationship with creepy vampire Franklin Mott (James Frain, The Tudors)? Nuh-uh. All of this is because, frankly, we haven’t been given any reason to care about these characters in the slightest. All of the storylines ring incredibly hollow. Even new characters like werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello, How I Met Your Mother) and mysterious Crystal Norris (Lindsay Pulsipher, The Beast) were introduced in intriguing fashion only to fall flat in subsequent appearances. And I haven’t even mentioned what could realistically be described as the series’ nadir, bar owner Sam Merlotte’s (Sam Trammell) discovery of his shape-shifting, white trash birth family who use their shifting abilities to compete on the dogfighting circuit. You can’t make this shit up. Really, I wish I had made it up. It would make it easier to swallow.

It’s also frustrating that the series has largely abandoned the intriguing allegorical look at vampires as a stand-in for gay culture in mainstream America that initially gave the series more than a little promise. Unfortunately, that promise went unrealized as True Blood has morphed (much like its resident shapeshifters and werewolves) into a complete trash series that piles on its most prurient elements of blood and sex to exponentially high levels. Now, before I’m labeled a prude, understand that I don’t have any problems with the boobs and blood approach per se. Boobies make almost everything better. It’s only when that’s all the depth that there seems to be on True Blood (after seeming to set the bar higher) that I have to take a step back and wonder whether this is a show that’s still worth my time. There’s a place for trash TV but when a series like True Blood bows with as much potential as it showed in its first year and then largely abandons that approach for a lowest common denominator appeal, you have to wonder whether with all of the choices available to viewers these days if it’s still worthwhile viewing.

True Blood can’t even get out of its own way when it comes to the things that it does right. In one of the more promising storylines, town idiot Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwantan), after shooting someone in the head (somewhat in self defense) has had a revelatory moment and has decided to become a lawman. Really. It’s just as dumb as it sounds, but it’s played for laughs and is at least somewhat successful in that regard as the dumb cop/dumber cop pairing of Jason and Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) does have potential even as it’s entirely unbelievable. The series also grossly underutilizes two of its best talents, Debra Ann Woll as Jessica Hambly, a newbie vampire struggling to deal with her new lifestyle, and Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette Reynolds, the flamboyant drug dealer who in many ways is the series’ conscience. Funny that the writing staff has abandoned the previously mentioned allegory yet gives Ellis such strong material to play as an actual gay character. Ellis completely nails what he’s given, even if both he (and Woll, for that matter) are not given nearly enough to do.

Frankly, the fact that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (the Emmys nominating body) has deemed True Blood as one of the five best dramas on television (over much more deserving shows like Friday Night Lights, Justified, Sons Of Anarchy, and Treme, just to name a few) by giving it a Best Drama nod this year would be infuriating if the Emmys themselves weren’t already a joke. Lack of character development and pandering to the basest of instincts does not a Best Drama make. I suppose if True Blood draws eyeballs to HBO and thereby introduces audiences to better fare like Treme, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Ricky Gervais Show, Boardwalk Empire, or Luck then I guess it’s served its purpose but really, there isn’t any more redeeming value in the show than that anymore. And that’s a shame because it coulda been a contenda. So, I’m pretty sure I’m out. Yeah… I think I’m out.

Dirty Rating: 48/100

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What We've Been Listening To

Not that anyone asked, but here's a playlist of what we've been listening to lately at The Dirtywhirl's home offices:

The Roots, "Right On", How I Got Over
Suckers, "Before Your Birthday Ends", Wild Smile
Paramore, "When It Rains", Riot
Active Child, "I'm In Your Church At Night", Curtis Lane (EP)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, "Hot Body Rub", Before Today
Def Leppard, "Hysteria", Hysteria (*)
Def Leppard, "Love Bites", Hysteria (*)
Skid Row, "I Remember You", Skid Row (*)
Pierce The Veil, "Bulletproof Love", Selfish Machines
The Bird And The Bee, "She's Gone", Interpreting The Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates
Pierce The Veil, "Caraphernelia", Selfish Machines
We Have Band, "Divisive", WHB
Active Child, "When Your Love Is Safe", Curtis Lane (EP)
Pierce The Veil, "Stay Away From My Friends", Selfish Machines
Pierce The Veil, "The Boy Who Could Fly", Selfish Machines

*What? We were in an 80s pop metal mood. It happens.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Quick 'N Dirty Review: The National | High Violet

Before we start, here's a quick look at the rating system that we use here at The Dirtywhirl:

100 - Classic Album; One Of The Best Of All Time
99-90 - Exceptional Work; Rush Out And Get This
89-80 - Very, Very Good; You Should Still Go Out And Get This
79-70 - Not Bad At All; Might Actually Be Worth Your Time
69-60 - Has Its Moments But On The Whole... Meh
59-50 - Won't Make Your Ears Bleed; Won't Make You Dance, Either
49-0 - Don't Waste Your Time; You're Smarter Than This (Probably) 

Now... onto the review:

The National | High Violet

Crafting one of the best albums of the past twenty years is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the feeling of creating an indelible work of art that will stand as a musical high water mark must be indescribable. The National did that with their 2007 breakthrough record, Boxer. The other side of that sword, though, is that you’re going to create impossibly high expectations for a follow up which is unfortunately the case with the band's latest, High Violet. From any other act an album like this would be revelatory. The problem is that The National have proven that they’re capable of better. Sonically, the Dessner brothers have created a similar aural texture as heard on past records so where does the fault lie, then? Why does High Violet fall slightly short of the band's potential? Sadly, it’s with singer Matt Berninger’s lyrics. Berninger has never been the most straightforward lyricist in music but he’s even more obtuse than usual on more than a few of High Violet’s tracks and frankly, that’s to their detriment. I’m not one to need to have things spelled out lyrically but when the imagery that’s presented is extremely abstract at best and silly at worst, it takes power away from the music. “We’ll play nuns versus priests until somebody wins,” (“A Little Faith); “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees/ I never married, but Ohio don’t remember me,” (“Bloodbuzz, Ohio”); and perhaps the worst offense, “Vanderlyle crybaby cry/ Man, it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimmin’/ I’ll explain everything to the geeks;” (“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks) are just a few of the inscrutable sobriquets tossed by Berninger on the record. Many times, as on “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” (not only the record’s worst track but one of their worst overall – it's just ridiculous on so many levels), “Sorrow,” and “Lemon World,” the lyrics just kill dead any chance that the tracks would have had. Others, including “Conversation 16” (with its great textural instrumentation), “Runaway” (a track that feels tossed off but not necessarily in a bad way), and even the aforementioned “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” are able to overcome their clunky lyrics to affect something approaching respectability, while the opening “Terrible Love,” “Anyone’s Ghost,” and “Afraid Of Everyone” (the album’s best track that features Sufjan Stevens making a guest appearance for the second consecutive record and sees Berninger wailing “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out” and “In a way she’s swallowing my soul, soul, soul, soul”) are just straight triumphs. The album does close rather weakly and this could be a contributing factor in how it plays overall, but all of this is more than a little nitpicky because High Violet really is better than almost 80% of what’s been released so far this year. It’s the fucking National, fer chrissakes. It’s dark... it’s brooding... it’s what we want out of the band. While its faults are magnified due to the fact that this is a record by one of rock’s best bands, High Violet is still a very, very strong album and that speaks to the talent of The National in that they can overcome the obstacles presented in particular by the record’s lyrics to deliver such a solid (yet not spectacular) effort.

Standout Tracks: “Afraid Of Everyone;” “Terrible Love;” “Anyone’s Ghost;” “Bloodbuzz, Ohio;” “Conversation 16”

Dirty Rating: 84/100