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Monday, May 19, 2014

Some thoughts on Godzilla 2014

I'm going to preface this by saying there's bound to be spoilers ahead. If that thought bothers you, avert your eyes.

That said, this isn't going to be a review or a recap. Just a few thoughts I took away from my screening of the new Godzilla film. I'll start out by saying that overall I enjoyed the film. It's not a Toho Godzilla film, but it's not the Tri-Star Godzilla either. This Godzilla is kind of it's own monster (ha!) and if you go in with that in mind, and you're a fan of kaiju, you're bound to find something you'll like.

The monsters look great...when you can see them. I'm not 100% in love with the design of Godzilla, but it is growing on me. At the very least, it's clearly in the tradition and completely recognizable as a Godzilla. The movement is great and I especially liked how expressive the face and tail were. I really loved when he had to stop and catch his breath while fighting off the MUTOs. It gave the character a bit of vulnerability that I think worked well. The MUTOs were pretty cool, but I couldn't help be reminded of the Heisei Gamera era Gyaos especially when looking at the male MUTO.

The battles were fun to watch. Loved Godzilla's atomic breath. Loved seeing Honolulu, Las Vegas and San Francisco get destroyed. What I didn't like was the way Gareth Edwards filmed some of the battles. For example, you'd see a big, juicy chunk of action, but it's just reflected in a bus window. Or there's the peep booth window effect where just when things are getting good, a door literally closes and the action fades to black. I'm all for teasing it to add tension, but too often I felt let down that Edwards chose a more artsy shot over directly looking at what's going on.

The human element is kind of a problem as well. For me, the best, most fleshed out character was Joe Brody (played by Bryan Cranson) and he got killed off early in the film. His son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is pretty mechanical and barely shows much emotion. The token scientist, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe,) plays to stereotype, looking shellshocked throughout and warning against using nuclear weapons on the creatures. The military folks are the stereotypical two-dimensional types we see in every kaiju film. Considering the movie focuses so much on the people rather than the monsters, it's surprisingly hard to get very involved in any of their stories. The film touched a bit on the actual human cost of a giant monster battle, which I liked, but, the Heisei Gamera films did it better.

The only other thing I can really think to add at the moment is that this is a pretty dark and serious movie. While Godzilla plays the hero, the mood and tone harkens back to the original Godzilla. It's got a pretty heavy vibe for a film that is based on a pretty silly premise. I think it works, though the sequel ready ending left me a little cold. It'll be interesting to see where Legendary Pictures takes things in that already announced sequel.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Record StoreDay 2014 Wrap-up Part 2

Part one is done, so here's part two. Again sorry for the crap pictures. 

I'd initially passed LCD Soundsystem's The Long Goodbye over thinking I'd get the much cheaper Blu-Ray instead. Then I remembered how concert films usually bore me and decided to pick this up anyway. It's expensive and pressed in a manner that is DJ friendly but a little weird for those of us rocking a solo turntable (odd sides appear on one record, evens in another, so you have to keep changing records.) Still, the performance is pretty epic and if you're a fan, you're going to want this one. 

I have a subscription to Light In The Attic, so I got both their RSD releases as part of that. Sorry to say, as I love this label a lot, I think they kind of dropped the ball this year. Pictured above is Playing Guitar The Easy Way by Michael Chapman. I don't know the back story, so I'mjust going to tell you what I hear. Each track starts out with a couple of scales, then he launches into a kind of typical late 70's folky instrumental thing. Really does nothing much for me, though the package with a big booklet is nice. 

A World of Peace Must Come is a vinyl reissue of LITA's 2008 release by Stephen John Kalinich. Long story short, this was recorded in Brian Wilson's living room and sounds every bit of it. It's half almost madrigal and half hippy dippy spoken word. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I listened to this, but it just was a little too pot and patchouli for my tastes. 

Another label I love did deliver this year. Death Waltz delivered a quartet of their usual cult movie soundtrack goodness, three of which shared the above sleeve. The fourth was In The Wall and looked like this:

Not sure why they did it that way, but there it is. Death Waltz is a label that just gets it. All this year's releases came on cool multi-colored vinyl, had a big poster and 12"x12" slick. They all were pretty good with the 1990: Bronx Warriors soundtrack standing out for me. Good work and well worth the investment. 

Speaking of soundtracks, here's One Way Static's picture disc release of The Last House On The Left. This is an interesting soundtrack, dated to be sure, but if you're into that early 70's vibe, you'll dig it. There's some groovy tunes, some Moog noodling, some hoedown stuff, etc. Noisy, like most picture discs are, but the source material is kind of lo-fi anyway. 

Finally, here's the annual "what was I thinking" pick up. Now, I love Spacemen 3, especially the early stuff. The problem being, the entire contents of this set is readily available on an inexpensive CD, also titled Translucent Flashbacks, where as this three 12" single set ran $80. Ouch. But it did come with a download card, for untagged 128kbp mp3s. In 2014, that's just unacceptable. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Record Store Day 2014 Wrap-up Part 1

I'm Rob G. And I'm back from the dead...

Has it really been three years??? Well, whadda know? Anyway. Another Record Store Day has come and gone and rather than rehash all the old sentiments I blogged about ages ago, I figured I'd just do a brief run down of my haul. Once again, I spent more than I'd planned, even though the list this year really left me underwhelmed. Go figure. (Sorry for the crap pictures. I'm doing this from my iPad.)

Leading off is Nothing New by Gil Scott-Heron, one of the few releases I was really looking forward to. Long story short, this is stuff GSH originally recorded for XL Records but was passed over in favor of what became I'm New Here/We're New Here. Stark recordings of just Gil and his piano, revisiting deep cuts from his catalog and a little chatting in between tracks. Needless to say, this is an essential pick-up for fans of GSH. Very deep stuff, goosebump territory here.

Tame Impala dropped Live Versions this year and I may be a little biased about this release as it happens to be from a Chicago show I attended. The band stretches out a bit in concert, so this isn't just a same old stuff with crowd noises type of affair. My only beef is that they trimmed down the set list to fit it on one record. I'd have gladly ponied up for a second disc to have the whole show. Nice emerald green vinyl too.

From 1968, we have Sun Ra's Outer Spaceways Incorporated, a nice slab of prime, live Arkestra. For an artist as prolific as Sun Ra, it can be a real crap shoot as to what you're getting, but this album delivers. Not a particularly rare recording, but nice to have it on lavender colored vinyl with snappy new artwork. Shame ORG Music didn't bother with a personnel listing though. 

Get On Down has become one of my favorite reissue labels, but this year their RSD pickins were kind of slim. Food For Thought by The J.B.s is uneven as most James Brown related LPs are, but there are some stone cold classics contained within. I'm sure I have all these tracks on various compilations, but it's still a good spin. The purple vinyl single of The Grunt is a nice touch, though the poster of the album cover I could give or take. 

And my second pull from Get On Down is my token overpriced 7" for this year ($12! Damn!) The Coldcut remix of Paid In Full is a classic moment in hip-hop and this is a nice reproduction of the British version of what may be Eric B. & Rakim's finest moment. The flip side ("Eric B. Is on the Cut") still sounds like filler and I'd have preferred the 12" of this with the full seven minute remix, so I guess I'm kind if split on this one. 

My blind buy for this year was Jazzman's Jef Gilson et Malagasy five LP/one 7" set. I'm still digesting this one, as it's all new to me, but I'm liking what I hear so far. Spiritual jazz with a bit of a foreign twinge. What's not to like, other than the packaging, which left me a bit underwhelmed. 

Another RSD repeat performer is The Black Angels who came out with another 10" this year called Clear Lake Forest. I'm not really sure what to say about is one other than if you don't like the Angels brand of Texas psychedelia, this isn't going to win you over. Clear vinyl, mp3 card. You know the drill. 

I think I'm going to stop for tonight as I'm running out of things to say. Keep an eye open for part two, before RSD '15, I hope. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Quick Blurb About the Vinyl Lovers Label

Even though they've been putting stuff out since 2008, I just discovered this Russian reissue label called Vinyl Lovers. Apparently it's a subsidary label of Lilith Records and somehow related to 4 Men With Beards. They have some sort of contract with Universal and have a pretty impressive catalog. And that's about all I know about that.

I picked up a couple of Os Mutantes albums and a purple vinyl pressing of the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" at Half Price Books, who seem to have gotten a bunch of these titles in new. I'll start with the positive and tell you that these are quality pressings. Nice vinyl, flat records, very quiet.

The problem is in the mastering. These all have some harsh upper mids. The Mutantes records just sound kind of thin overall. The VU isn't too bad, but it still gets a little trebley at times. I'd also lay money down that these are from digital masters, if you care about such things.

Would I recommend this label? Probably not, especially at the $30 a pop most places seem to be charging for their stuff. I paid $10 a pop, and that's about what a Scorpio/ reissue would cost and quality wise, I'd say sound quality these are similar, though the pressing is definetly nicer.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Record Store Day Thoughts

Record Store Day is a bit of a scam. There. I said it.

At the same time, there I was, lined up before opening with all the other hipsters and record collector scum, waiting to spend, spend, spend!


Well, I had a ton of in-store credit burning a hole in my pocket. And, at the same time, I'm enough of a sucker that there was some stuff I actually wanted to buy this year. Sigh. Hook, line and sinker.

But first, let me reel off a quote from the excellent Numero Group which kind of sums up a lot of how I feel about this retail holiday:

For openers, most Record Store Day records are trashy cash-ins. Bogus 7″ repros, expensive and needless live LPs, and perhaps the worst culprit of all, records that aren’t actually limited but are marketed as such (We’re looking at you Flaming Lips Dark Side Of the Moon)

Of course, they then go on to pimp their own Record Store Day special, available in the oh-so-trendy and completely worthless cassette format. Waddayagonnado?

Speaking of worthless, how about that Beach Boys double 78rpm set? How many of those do you think will ever get played? How many people even have something to play 78s? I don't and yet, here I sit looking at #3794 of however many thousands they cranked out, unwrapped and on my table.

The one item I was actually out for, the Big Star Third "test pressing" set, is pretty cool, even the cynic in me must say. But, it's still a fetish item. I had the music already. There's nothing new there. But I still had to have it, for some reason.

Ditto a few "bogus 7" repros", though I stayed away from the live stuff. And I did actually get around to buying some Black Angels stuff I didn't have. So there was that.

But really, at the end of the day, it's all kind of silly. The false scarcity and silly collector's editions and whatnot are, in my not so humble opinion, some of the worst aspects of the music biz. They do nothing other than trivialize the music, which is what it is supposed to be about, I think.

Let me tell you though what I do like about Record Store Day: seeing the stores packed. Sure, it's a herd of folks grabbing at those exclusives, but ultimately, they are putting money in the cash drawers at some of the few record stores we have left. Who knows? Maybe this one day could mean the difference between paying bills and getting evicted for a store?

But it also kind of gives me pause. If they have to go to all this hype and gimmick to get people in, are record stores still relevant in today's world? I know I've moved a lot of my purchasing to on-line and digital sources for reasons of both price and convenience. Yet I still find myself at the record store, every now and again. I don't think I could imagine life without them completely.

And apparently a lot of other people feel the same way. Both of the stores I went to were packed, and I can't believe they were all eBay scalpers. People weren't just buying the exclusives. There must be something to it that people would stand in the kind of lines I stood in for pieces of plastic with music on them.

So I still think Record Store Day is a bit of a scam, as I do any retail holiday, but at the same time, it does make me appreciate living in a town that can support three independent record stores. Though I don't frequent them as much as I used to, I'm glad they're still around. And, even though it's kind of ridiculous, I'm glad to have this Big Star set sitting in front of me.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Secret Stash of Fake(?) Funk

Recently, I've picked up some releases on a label called Secret Stash. The albums seemed right up my alley, claiming to be lost porn and blaxploitation soundtracks, funk from Russia and a reggae version of Kind of Blue. However, something about these albums just didn't seem quite right.

Each one of these records is kind of mysterious, which already set alarms off with me. Absolute minimal credits and a suspiciously perfect backstory accompany each record. Me being me, I wanted more info about what I was listening to. If the recordings were really as obscure as they claimed, not knowing the musicians who played wasn't out of the question. But, I figured there should be some reference somewhere to some of the movies the tracks from Porno Grooves are from. Or surely someone is looking for that lost blaxploitation film Mad Dog's Hustle.

Suspiciously, all the information I found about the Porn Groove and Mad Dog's Hustle albums either linked back to those albums or a source which took Secret Stash's promo material verbatim. In other words, outside the scope of these albums, these movies don't seem to exist.

Regarding the Soviet Funk albums, they sure smell fishy, if they aren't out right fakes. This blog post, was one of the first I found and it led me to this message board thread. Pretty damning stuff.

Now I'm not going to say that these releases are fake just because there's no information about the movies or any of the people connected to them out there. And just because there are some wonky Russian titles doesn't necessarly mean it's a fake either. But the evidence sure casts a heap of doubt on the authenticity of these records.

But does it matter? If the music is good, does it really matter where it came from? Well, I kind of think in this case it does. If you're selling something as vintage Russian funk, it's kind of shady to have some guys from the local throw it together for you. I took an interest in these records because of what I thought they were and yeah, I feel a little ripped off that they appear to be fakes.

So how is the music anyway? Well, the one record I haven't mentioned, the Reggae Interpertation of Kind of Blue is very good, though the dub versions on the B side are lacking. The Porno Groove and Mad Dog's Hustle albums are pretty much standard library sounding tracks. Mad Dog leans a little heavier in a blaxplotation groove. Not too bad, but neither is essential.

However, when it comes to the Soviet Funk albums, the origin and back story on the records isn't the only bit of questionable labeling. To be generous, one could call these Jazz-Funk records, but really they are more in an early 70s fusion bag than anything like funk. Aside from not being what I expected, there really wasn't anything that grabbed me on the records. That could be because I was expecting Meters and James Brown and got Return to Forever and Weather Report.

If I'm wrong about these releases being fake, I'd be the first to admit it. I'd also be very suprized. It seems to me like Secret Stash has wrapped some pretty average music in an interesting, but phony, back story and put it out there. Oh well, at least the colored vinyl is nice.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Weird Al Show

In 1997, Weird Al Yankovic hosted a Saturday morning show on CBS called, appropriately enough, The Weird Al Show. The show ran 13 episodes before being canceled. A typical episode unspooled like this: an educational objective is displayed on a parchment and literally yelled at the viewer. Al, playing a jerky man-child, behaves in a manner contrary to the educational objective and his friends awkwardly reiterate the message to him. A Fatman cartoon is played, TV is watched, a tween friendly band plays. Finally, Al learns his lesson. Roll credits.

Sound kind of dull? Well, sad to say, it is. But, I think it's safe to say it's not the creative team's fault. It seems they envisioned something more along the lines of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, aimed at a middle school audience. CBS had other things in mind.

Since the network had been stung by past controversial kidvid, like Pee-Wee and the New Adventures of Mighty Mouse, they were looking to play safe with future Saturday morning fare. Additionally, new government mandates required three hours of educational television in the Saturday morning slot. How CBS was pitched The Weird Al Show and decided it would be safe and educational is beyond me.

What appeared on the screen was the product of back and forth between the show's creators and CBS, who insisted on things such as the educational objective and more or less dumbing down the show to reach a Barney aged crowd. Aided by an ever changing time slot, the result was the show never found an audience and was off the air a year after it started.

It is exactly this behind the scenes wrangling that may have ruined the show, but makes this DVD set worth watching. Not because the show itself has improved with age. It hasn't. But because it allowed Al, director Peyton Reed and producer Thomas F. Frank the opportunity to create one of the most blunt and fascinating commentary tracks of all time.

If you are expecting a laugh a minute track like say the one from This Is Spinal Tap, you will be disappointed. However, if you enjoy knowing how the sausage is made, or not as the case is here, it doesn't get much better than this. I'm not talking technical details of how they made shots and things of that nature. Sure, that's there too, but I'm talking pretty blunt airings of the many ways CBS mucked up the show.

The three commentators turn their bitterness and disappointment into a fascinating look at how major networks really view their audience and how removed they really are from the creative process. It's also interesting to get takes on what was removed vs. what was allowed. For instance,Al proudly proclaims the show had the fist television puppet vomit and then marvels that this was allowed while other, much more innocent things, were axed.

The tone of the commentary isn't all bile. They seem very self-aware and willing to poke fun at their own shortcomings as well as dish earned blame to the network. For example, Al notes if they had wanted to avoid comparison to Pee-Wee's show, they probably shouldn't have used the same set designer. There's also some fun trivia, such as they were originally offered the Family Guy characters for the show and Randy "Macho Man" Savage only agreed to a skit where he is pinned by Al's hamster sidekick after he was assured Harvey the Wonder Hamster wasn't a girl. It's also amusing to hear how Al lined up guests by accosting them on the Tonight Show set (which was down the hall) and they aren't afraid to poke fun at some of those same guests. ("John Tesh? There's one for our target demographic. Kids love John Tesh.")

To be fair, the show, as crippled as it is, has it's moments. On the rare occasion Al is allowed to be Al, it works well. The channel surfing bits, especially the Mr. Rogers parody Fred Huggins, are quite funny. And Emo Philips, who makes a guest appearance (much to the networks chagrin, it seems,) is great. But, it's hard to see The Weird Al Show as anything other than a giant missed opportunity, just like it's creators do. It's hard to deny these DVDs are much better with the commentary track on, and I'd highly recommend anyone interested in how messed up network television really is have a listen.

Random thought about Blade Runner

I know it's popular opinion to hate on the voice over version of Blade Runner originally released, but I don't. Maybe the fact that I saw the original version first helps. (It seems to me a lot of the people really against the voice over version, saw it after the "Director's Cut".) Yes, Harrison Ford phones it in, but that only adds to the noir feel of the film. (Really, it pretty much gives the movie a film noir feeling all by itself.) It also helps me accept the movie as a separate entity from the book. Watching the "Director's Cut," I tend to get mad about all the stuff they cut from the book.

I would stop the projector five minutes before the end though. The ending they tacked on is disgusting anyway you look at it.