Sunday, April 8, 2007

It's Blood. Son Of A Bitch.

Directed By: Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino (featuring Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, & Edgar Wright)
Dimension Films, 2007

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have become, as of late, every male film geek's wet dreamweavers. Rodriguez' Sin City set a new bar for every comic book film to follow, and Tarantino has been making films for film majors since 1992's Reservoir Dogs. Needless to say, Grindhouse is the team-up that every nerd that works at Blockbuster has been waiting for, and the film delivers on everything that gets their Back to the Future panties wet. Grindhouse is 3 hours and 15 minutes of blood, gore, laughs, gore, curse words, pop culture references, B-movie shout-outs, and more gore. But most of all, Grindhouse is just fucking fun.

The film begins with a trailer for a Rodriguez film starring Danny Trejo (Desperado, Con Air) as a Federale hired by the FBI to do a hatchet job in the U.S. called Machete. As the only trailer for a real film in the movie (it's going straight to DVD, look out for it), it's not worth a whole lot of mention here, but it looks awesome, so there you go.

After a credits sequence borrowed from Tarantino's previous two films, the Kill Bill series, Rodriguez' "zombie" flick, Planet Terror begins. Planet Terror stars Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer sans leg in a west Texas town who must escape the outbreak of a deadly virus that is turning people into zombies. Josh Brolin knocks his role out of the park as a doctor trying to get to the bottom of the outbreak, and Marley Shelton's role as his vindictive and mysterious wife is also spectacular, especially the scene where she's attempting to get her anesthetically impaired hands to open her car door. The best things about B horror films that you love laughing about are here: the unnecessarily convoluted plot, the gratuitous blood and gore, the sexy femme fatale. The plot twist where you learn that Bruce Willis' character, Muldoon, killed Osama Bin Laden, who unleashed a biological attack on his men, is absolutely hysterical. Like all the best cheap zombie directors, Rodriguez is able to convince you that he's completely serious.

The best gag, however, is the "Missing Reel" plot device. One moment, Freddy Rodriguez and Rose McGowan (complete with wooden peg leg) are about to get their fuck on, the next, the rib place they're hiding out in is on fire and surrounded by zombies. The characters make references to things that happened that we've missed, but in such veiled terms that it makes it that much more amusing. Quentin Tarantino makes a brief appearance as a creepy military officer that attempts to rape Marley Shelton and Rose McGowan. The unfortunate part of this (or maybe the fortunate part) is that you can tell Tarantino wanted to be menacing, but just came across as creepy. And not creepy in a genuine sense, but creepy in the sense that it's Quentin Tarantino trying to rape Marley Shelton and Rose McGowan.

Rodriguez' half of this double feature embodies everything that Grindhouse should be. He plays up all of the cliches of the B movie business, and somehow manages to do it with a straight face. There's not a whole lot of substance here, and it's honestly more of a comedy than a serious horror film, but it works. Like I said, it delivers exactly what it promises.

Between the two features, there is an especially lovely treat in the form of three fake movie trailers by some of today's leading horror directors. Rob Zombie (a personal favorite) leads the pack with Werewolf Women of the S.S., an hysterical send-up of Nazi horror films like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.. Revered German actor, Udo Kier makes an appearance in the trailer, as does Nicolas Cage in a great turn as Dr. Fu Manchu, the head of the werewolf operation. Following Werewolf Women, we get Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) offering, Don't, which features a spectacular voiceover from Arrested Development's Will Arnett. Eli Roth's slasher film, Thanksgiving brings up the rear, and is actually better than any two minutes from the entirety of Roth's previous work.

After the trailers, we segue into Tarantino's film, Death Proof. From the get-go, the film is very Tarantino. The problem overall with Death Proof, is that it's way too Tarantino. The dialogue is witty and quick, but there's too much of it that doesn't go anywhere. In the film, Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a retired stuntman that delights in murdering sexy girls with his car. After a long and drawn-out segment at a bar, Stuntman Mike kills some girls he meets at a bar. This segment is unbelieveably weighed down by Tarantino's dialogue, bloating what should only be a 10-15 minute segment into nearly 45 minutes. The film recovers somewhat in the second half, with a bitchin' chase scene, and some great stuntwork by the lovely Zoe Bell. Again, the "Missing Reel" gag comes into play, but it's completely unnecessary and Tarantino doesn't play on it at all. It's hard not to feel like Tarantino dropped the ball on his half of this film. Too much dialogue, too much homage, and not enough substance. Russell's character seems to do a 180, going from a calculating badass, into a scared little girl. The main problem with Death Proof is really that it's just way too Tarantino. It seems as though he becomes way too emotionally invested in what he produces to know what to cut from his films. The second half of Death Proof feels more like the sequel to the first half, instead of feeling like the same movie. The only thing they share is the principal character of Stuntman Mike. Bitching aside, Death Proof delivers some solid performances from Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, and Kurt Russell. And when it's not being too full of itself, it manages to eke out some great lines and a killer fucking car chase.

Overall, Rodriguez' Planet Terror trumps Death Proof on every front, but the real stars of the show are the auxillary players that bring the fake trailers. Wright, Zombie, and Roth all slay their parts, and prove that brevity is, in fact, the soul of wit. That's not to discount either Rodriguez or Tarantino (well, maybe a little bit), but it's proving the point that it's the little things about Grindhouse that make it so enticing. The little details like the ads and the trailers and the pre-credits credits and the worn look of the film and the cigarette burns. The beauty of this film is in the details, but when it comes down to it, it still leaves a little bit to be desired. (3.4/5 Stars)
More Along These Lines: Steven Speilberg's Duel, George A. Romero's Living Dead series, Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses & The Devil's Rejects

I Never Met A Traitor I Didn't Like

Hot Cross - Risk Revival
Equal Vision Records, 2007

There are few releases slated for 2007 that came as hotly anticipated as Hot Cross' Equal Vision debut, Risk Revival. After the "screamo" supergroup (comprised of former members of Saetia, Joshua Fit For Battle, Off Minor, and even the founding drummer of Matador darlings, Interpol) jumped ship from Virginia's highly regarded Level Plane Records for greener pastures in the recently floundering Equal Vision, there was a lot of speculation as to how Risk Revival was going to turn out. Especially after its release date of August 2006 got pushed back six months after the band was unimpressed with Mike Hill's production.

Suffice to say that there was no sense in worrying. Unless, of course, you're the kind of person that is a bigger fan of times when Hot Cross was just Saetia Jr. instead of loving them for becoming their own band on 2003's Cryonics. If you're looking for the old-school Hot Cross, it's not to be found here. This album is decidedly more rock n' roll than any of their previous material, and former band member, Josh Jakubowski came through in the clutch after the firing of producer Mike Hill. Dual guitar parts from Casey Boland and Matt Smith (also the bassist) fill every void of silence in the album, making Risk Revival like a perpetual motion machine. It's very clear that the band has been listening to a lot of Drive Like Jehu, and the proverbial wall of sound that the instruments create is direct evidence of that.

When listening to some songs, you feel like the sound never stops. The band goes on and on without resting, and when you think a riff is over, it just picks up and starts again. All the hallmarks of Hot Cross' post-A New Set of Lungs material are there; complex and intricate guitar parts, frenetic drumming, and shrill vocals. However, what sets Risk Revival apart from other albums by the band is the expansion into new territory. Lead singer Billy Werner, known for his spitting/screaming work in Saetia, makes a lot of attempts to actually sing on the record, and believe it or not, a lot of it turns out to be pretty good. While some of the lighter fare falls flat in light of scorchers like "Kill the Name", "Turncoat Revolution", and "Fire the Foundations", some of the attempts at changing up their style prove to be successful. "Cardiac Silence" sounds like a garage rock reinterpretation of Pg. 99's glory days, and the doom-inspired "Silence is Failure" drudges through at a key point in the album, not to mention the barnburner of a closing track, "Scrape Wisdom".

Hot Cross are incredible musicians, and unlike a lot of bands in the same genre, they want you to know that. Unlike friends in bands like Lickgoldensky, Welcome to the Plague Year, and Combatwoundedveteran; Hot Cross doesn't want to focus on chaos. From the first moment, it's easy to recognize how structured each track is, and how well composed everything is. Like Don Caballero meets Rites of Spring. In the end, though, Risk Revival comes across like a Fun House era Stooges that's been practicing all day, every day in a meth lab that's actually just a small closet. And that sound is what makes it the best aggressive album so far this year. (4.3/5 Stars)
Key Tracks: "Turncoat Revolution", "Fire the Foundations", "Cardiac Silence", "Scrape Wisdom"
More Along These Lines: Saetia - A Retrospective, Yaphet Kotto - We Bury Our Dead Alive, These Arms Are Snakes - Easter
Download The Album In This Free Link I've Provided For Your Broke Ass: Hot Cross - Risk Revival

Yo, yo, yo! I'm back, reporting from the Empire State (where Ghostface retired Ma$e). I seriously can't get enough of that damn Hot Cross album, awesome cover art, and great driving music, especially if you're driving through New Jersey. And it's surprising because I was kind of bored by it on the first couple of spins. I'm glad I waited this long before writing a proper review. However, I've been listening to quite the diverse playlist lately. Since my spring break, it's been pretty much all Megadeth, Girl Talk, and Hot Snakes. Seriously, I've been rocking Girl Talk's Night Ripper like three times a day for the last week. Imagine being able to hear every song on the radio at any given moment at the same time. That's what listening to Girl Talk is like; mash-ups to tha x-treeeeeeeeem! Speaking of To Tha X-Treme, the new Devin Tha Dude record is solid, I'll have a review for it sometime in the near future.

I'm switching over to MediaFire for my file-hosting needs at the behest of my boy Harrison, also, because apparently the links never die and it uploads faster and all that jazz. Honestly, I like it a lot better, it's solid. MegaUpload can puff a dick. Anyhow, there's another Flavor of Love marathon on (Season Two this time!) today, and I'm going to continue watching it, and maybe make myself a ham sandwich on white bread, and maybe download some porn. I saw Grind House the other day, and so I might also go ahead and review that along with Children of Men. But for now, I'm a watch Flava Flav get him some action on a boat. Later skaters!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Flavor Of Love Is Still On

I suppose technically now, it's the reunion episode, but it's all Flav. This is just a quick little update to let y'all know that along with my reviews, I'll be posting links to download the album. I thought this would be a nice little addition here, so if one of these reviews entices you enough (or if you's just broke), you can check it out, free of charge. Just a little gift from me to you. Just check out the link at the end of each review (album reviews only, i can't give live sets from the shows I go to, mostly because I don't have them to share).

Also, a shameless plug for my boy, Professor Nazty Fresh over at Better Than Butt Sex. The fool does almost the same thing that I do, except more hip-hop oriented, and much more funny. Peep the Professor and his proverbial posse of proteges at this link:

They use words like "illustrious", which is a word I learned in the fourth grade when I wrote an alliterative report about Illinois.


There's A Flavor Of Love Marathon On, So I'm Paying Attention To You

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
Definitive Jux, 2007

El-Producto (born Jamie Meline) is, without a doubt, one of the most important figures in modern backpacker hip-hop. So important, in fact, that it's damn near impossible to address anything he does without mentioning his groundbreaking work in Company Flow or his highly successful label, Def Jux.

Consider them mentioned.

It's hard to believe that it's been five full years since El-P dropped Fantastic Damage, his first full-length. Any reviewer would like to say that in that time, his style has changed, or that he's relaxed a little after turning thirty, like a lot of rappers disillusioned by the game do, but the fact of the matter is that he hasn't. He's the same dude he's always been, and if anything, he's more paranoid, more frantic, and more dense than ever, and it all shows on I'll Sleep When You're Dead.

Another thing that shows is the kind of company El-P keeps. The album features guest spot from your fallbacks on the Def Jux roster. You got Aes Rock throwing down a verse on "Run the Numbers", which is probably the hottest track on the album. On the flipside of that, the untalented and overhyped Cage (formerly of the Smut Peddlers) helping out on "Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)", which is probably the weakest point on the album. Slug and Murs provide backup on "The League of Extraordinary Nobodies" and Lif shows up for backups on "Up All Night". That's not the interesting part though. All over the album, there's live bass contributed by Yo La Tengo bassist, James McNew (who apparently shares an apartment building with El-P). Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala show up to add guitar work and vocals to the opener, "Tasmanian Pain Coaster", Glassjaw/Head Automatica frontman, Daryl Palumbo adds vocals and keys to "The Overly Dramatic Truth", Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sings the hook on the lead single, "Flyentology", and indie-rock sweetheart, Chan Marshall (Cat Power) duets with El-P on the closer, "Poisenville Kids No Wins".

When El-P set out to make this record, he wanted to create a "psychedelic Boogie Down Productions record," and it's safe to say that he's accomplished it. The album is thick with heavy beats, and there's hardly any space to breathe in it. Admittedly, El-P's strength isn't as a rapper, but he makes up for it with his immaculate and diverse production work. His strength is in the way he is able to match his almost awkward vocal style to his beats. The denser his rhymes get, the denser his beats get, and the more he lets loose, the more frantic the beat becomes. For the most part, the album consists of the traditional Def Jux sound; tracks like "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" and "Drive" wouldn't sound out of place on damn near any Def Jux release. At the same time, El-P is traversing a lot of styles here. "The Overly Dramatic Truth" is almost like a ballad, and probably the closest El-P's going to come to a love song. This track is where a lot of the live instrumentation becomes apparent, and it works well with his style.

"Flyentology" sounds like El-P's remix of a Nine Inch Nails song he made up in his head. In fact, a lot of this album reminds me of a time when Trent Reznor was more beat-oriented (I call that time 1999). The at once grimey and lush production is reminiscent of NIN's double-album The Fragile, and it holds up without being too overbearing.

Unlike with some of his recent work (High Water, I'm looking at you), Lazerface rarely missteps on this album. It's everything he's good at; diverse instrumentation, claustrophobic vocal delivery, experimental soundscapes. If El-P can drop a solo album like I'll Sleep When You're Dead every five years, he's going to continue giving backpackers all over the country something to strive towards. (4/5 Stars)
Key Tracks: "Run the Numbers", "Flyentology", "Drive", "Tasmanian Pain Coaster"
More Along These Lines: Aesop Rock - Bazooka Tooth, Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus, Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile
Download The Album In This Free Link I've Provided For Your Broke Ass:
El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead

So I've been slacking a lot lately here. It's been, what, a month, since I last posted. Today we got a nice fancy review of El-Producto's new album, and as an added bonus, i'm adding a review of the El-P show I caught at the Bowery a couple of weeks ago. In addition, since I'm on spring break (woo) these days, I'm going to try to update everyday for the next week or so, depending on how many papers I feel like not writing. In the coming week(s), look for reviews of:
Hot Cross - Risk Revival (Equal Vision Records)
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Epic Records)
The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Matador Records)
Citizen Fish/Leftover Crack - Deadline Split LP (Fat Wreck Chords)
Air - Pocket Symphony (Virgin/Astralwerks Records)
Nine Inch nails - Year Zero (Nothing Records)
Along with whatever albums I've been listening to lately, plus whatever movies I feel like talking about, so that should be fun.

But sincerely, kids, it's been a rough couple of weeks out here on the island. I'm trying to keep up, but it ain't easy to run a blog that nobody reads. I'm currently stuck at work with nothing on television but a Flavor of Love (Season One) marathon, so I felt like I'd give you fuckers something to read. Before I start this review of the El-P show, I'd like to state that it's not going to be quite as professional as other reviews I write, seeing as how when I showed up, I had missed the opening acts and was fairly whiskey drunk. Anyhow, here it is, it should explain everything. Later, skaters!

El-P/Aesop Rock/The Weathermen/Def Jux Allstars
Bowery Ballroom, NYC, 3/22/07

On the average Thursday night, I'm drunkenly attempting to get a bunch of unruly college kids to focus on creating a humor magazine so that we can finish our meetings and go get drunk(er) somewhere. It's a rare event that will cause me to give this up. El-P and Aesop Rock at the Bowery Ballroom is that kind of an event. Being that I had been loving El-P's new record and that Aesop Rock is kind of like Jesus to me, I couldn't resist.

That evening, I set out for Queens to meet up with a friend and get my whiskey on in his apartment. After a run-in with another friend of ours, I departed, drunk, on the F line downtown, and when I finally arrived, I saw (literally) the last 20 seconds of The Weathermen's set. A little disheartened, I was still psyched about Aesop Rock being on next.


Now, let me explain that this is my second time "seeing" Aes, and the first time, he split a set with RJD2 and did 2 songs altogether ("Coma" and "Fast Cars"). After waiting, El-P takes the stage. I'm confused, wondering if maybe I had caught the end of Aesop's set, and if I had, why had Aesop gained so much weight.? Either way, I embraced the fact that I'd never see Aesop live and moved on to be psyched about El-P. El-P's set was absolutely solid. He played damn near every song off I'll Sleep When You're Dead (and goddamn near in order). The transition of the songs from the studio to a live setting with live bass and drums and keys was pristine. Everything sounded great, Camu Tao was hyping the crowd the whole time, and El-P had mad energy.

About halfway through the set, El-P brought out Aesop, and they did "Run the Numbers", and then as a bonus treat, Aesop stuck around to perform "None Shall Pass" the title track from his upcoming full-length. I've been having trouble getting over what a great song "None Shall Pass" is, and it's nice to see Blockhead back on the beats for Aesop. After that, Aes left the stage, never to be seen again, and El-P finished out the set on his own. Introducing "The Overly Dramatic Truth", El-P introduced his backing band as R.O.D. (or Room of Dudes, if you will), and declared that they were working on an album, which could prove to be an exciting take on rock music. Or a complete disaster, I'm not quite positive yet.

The set finished out with "Poisenville Kids", and an encore comprised of songs from Fantastic Damage, which featured "Deep Space 9mm", "Accidents Don't Happen" (bringing Cage out for the second time in the evening), and "Constellation Funk". After the show, I picked up a sick Def Jux t-shirt, which someone has pointed out to me, may have been designed for a woman. I refuse to believe it, personally. Also, I was able to snag ISWYD on vinyl for ten bucks, which was mad sweet. I finished out the night by driving home and drinking wine from a box while my friend Chandy got naked. All in all, though, a good experience. (3.5/5 Stars)