Thursday, April 30, 2009

Music Notes: Free Dinosaur Jr track

- M.I.A. has made TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People List! Check out her write-up (by Spike Jonze) here. John Legend and A.R. Rahman are also among the musicians who made the list. [TIME]

- Interested in hearing new stuff from Dinosaur Jr? Then visit their website, where you can download "I Want You To Know," a track from the band's June 23 album Farm. The download is free. [NME]

- Get your US tour dates for Stellastarr* here. The band will be releasing their first album in four years this summer. [NME]

- Punk label Fat Wreck just released the latest NOFX album for less than $10. According to a statement on its website, the label fully intends to sell all its other albums for prices under $10, and most will be priced under $8. [Prefix Mag]

- Neutral Milk Hotel would like you to save the Paragon Carousel, which happens to be a Massachusetts landmark. [Paste Magazine]

- The "swine flu" has caused tons of concert cancellations in Mexico. But so far, the Jonas Brothers and Metallica still have concerts scheduled for the coming weeks. [Billboard]
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Music Notes: Rock the Bells additions, free Tori download

- More artists have been added to the 2009 Rock the Bells line-up: Busta Rhymes, The GZA, and The Knux. The general ticket sale begins this Saturday, May 2. [Rock the Bells]

- Bjork's Voltaic box set has a release date of June 23. There are five different types of box sets available for fans who have different "needs." [Pitchfork]

- And it's an early Happy Mother's Day from Tori Amos! If you visit, you can download a free track ("Maybe California") from her upcoming album Abnormally Attracted to Sin You do need to fill out a form with some information before receiving the track, but you also get a music video and ringtone along with it. []

- A three-CD Britpop compilation (The Britpop Story) will be released in June. While the compilation will feature some of the bigger bands of that era like Pulp, Elastica and Supergrass, it won't feature Oasis or Blur. While I'm pretty obsessed with Britpop, I'm not so sure what to make of the compilation (and as a commenter on the NME website pointed out, do we really need compilations like this anymore in an iTunes age?) I'll leave that up to you guys to decide. [NME]

- Remember Ashanti? The singer will be making her stage debut as Dorothy in a New York City production of The Wiz. The musical will run from June 12 to July 5. [Billboard]
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Music Notes: Austin City Limits line-up, welcome back Lilith

- The Austin City Limits Music Festival will be held October 2 - 4 this year. And a full line-up has finally been announced. Some of the acts performing include: Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Beastie Boys, John Legend, Kings of Leon, Lily Allen, The Decemberists, The B-52s, Arctic Monkeys, The Walkmen, and more. For a full list, go here. [Austin City Limits site]

- Sonic Youth have announced a U.S. summer tour to go along with the June 9 release of their album The Eternal. [Prefix Mag]

- The New York Dolls have also announced U.S. tour, which will kick off on May 20 and come to an end on June 13. [Prefix Mag]

- This bit of news has been floating around for a few days, and was just recently confirmed to Lilith Fair is coming back! The female-centric music festival is set to make its return in 2010. [Billboard]

- Wilco's upcoming seventh album will have a simple name: Wilco (The Album). The album is expected to drop in late June. [Rolling Stone]
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Can Heroes truly redeem itself?

Warning: This post will eventually contain major spoilers for last night's Heroes season finale, "An Invisible Thread."

Three years ago, a new TV show about "ordinary people" with superhero powers made its debut. The show, simply titled Heroes, was an instant hit. You couldn't go anywhere without seeing the cast members on magazine covers or talk shows. Internet forums would be packed with excited posters moments after an episode aired. Geeks and non-geeks alike were in love with the show — and for good reason. It was fun, and while it was also action-packed for the most part, it had carefully built-up storylines that had audiences wanting more.

I was in love with Heroes during that first season. It was appointment TV for me, and I even made a point to rewatch episodes online with commentary once they were done airing. But then season 2, also known as the show's second volume, happened. Episodes either dragged or had too much happening in them at once. The introduction of new characters did not go as smoothly as one would have hoped, despite the fact that well-liked actors like David Anders and Kristen Bell had joined the team. And then the writer's strike occurred, giving the showrunners very few opportunities to fix their mistakes. Creator Tim Kring actually issued a public apology via Entertainment Weekly, stating that the show would be better during its third season.

Well, last night that third season came to an end, and I'm sad to say — it's really hard to figure out whether or not the show has any hope for going back to its glory days.[bxA]

Last night's season finale served as the conclusion for the show's fourth volume, "Fugitives." The volume, which was meant to reset Heroes, had its high points, but still remained a bit of a mess. The season finale was no different.

The episode, "An Invisible Thread," focused on characters' attempts to fix a problem started by Nathan Petrelli — a US senator with an ability to fly. Despite being "one of them," Nathan started the volume by telling the President about people with powers, resulting in a government-backed effort to round up these "heroes" for the sake of public safety. Even though Nathan seemed to realize the stupidity of his actions by last night's episode, his motivations still seemed murky to me especially since he was pretty open to the idea of everyone on the planet possessing powers (during Volume 3). Though Nathan was always one of the more interesting characters on the show, his character was poorly written this season, making it very difficult for me to enjoy the finale.

I'm just going to fast forward a bit to the end of the episode, which was really the only part where things actually happened. Nathan is finally killed by Sylar, who now possesses the ability to shapeshift. Nathan's brother Peter, who was in the room with the two of them at one point during a confrontation, has picked up this ability to shapeshift through Sylar. After shapeshifting to look like the President (one of the cooler moments on the show, I'll admit), Peter drugs Sylar. And then in one of the weirdest moments ever on the show, Nathan and Peter's mother Angela teams up with Noah (aka HRG) to get psychic Matt Parkman to turn Sylar into Nathan. Sort of.

Basically, Parkman convinces Sylar that he is Nathan. Sylar therefore shapeshifts to assume Nathan's form, along with his memories. He truly believes that Angela and Peter are his mother and brother, and he is now ready to tell the President to end his manhunt. This is the "brilliant" solution Angela and Noah come up with to end the madness.

On one hand, this means we get less Sylar from now on. I've been waiting for the character to get written off the show (which he should have been at the end of the first season). Even though Zachary Quinto played the part very well, the character — who made things so interesting during Season 1 — had become boring. Making an all-powerful, probably-immortal character stay on a show for so long can really suck the life out of it.

That being said, I fear that this isn't the end of Sylar, as the show indicated during its final moments. The episode (like the show's other finales) ended with a sneak preview of Volume 5, which is supposed to be titled "Redemption." In it, a distracted "Nathan" begins to show bits and pieces of Sylar's personality, which really gives me the sense that we're never going to be rid of this character. And if that's the case, things do not bode well for Heroes.

Heroes was never a perfect show — even in its heyday, it was obvious that the show borrowed heavily from other source material. But the writers used to do a wonderful job of repackaging familiar themes and making Heroes a compelling show. That spark seems to be gone now, even with the bizarre ending at the end of yesterday's episode. Maybe it would have felt more shocking or interesting a couple of seasons ago, or if the writing leading up to the episode had been a lot tighter. Sadly, at the end of the day, it was a lackluster finale.

I'll give Heroes one last try next season to see if the show really does return to form, as its creators have been promising for so long. But if it doesn't, I might just end up giving it up and rewatching the Season 1 DVDs from to time, to remember it more fondly.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

Music News: Yeah Yeah Yeahs announce US Tour Dates

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have finally announced a series of US tour dates. While some of the tickets (for festival appearances) are already on sale, the rest go on sale this Friday, May 1.

Here's a comprehensive list of newly and previously announced Yeah Yeah Yeahs US tour dates:

May 23: Quincy, WA - Sasquatch Festival
May 26: Chicago, IL - Riviera Theatre
May 27: Detroit, MI - Clutch Cargos
May 28: Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall
May 30: Minneapolis, MN - First Ave
May 31: Milwaukee, WI - Eagles Club
June 2: St. Louis, MO - The Pageant
June 3: Kansas City, MO - The Beaumont
June 6: Mountain View, CA - Live 105
June 12: Manchester, TN - Bonnaroo
July 31: Jersey City, NJ - All Points West

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Music Notes: Graham Coxon wants to play it all, Creed are back?

- Blur guitarist Graham Coxon has recently been quoted as saying that he'd like the band to play songs from the 2003 album Think Tank during their upcoming UK gigs. Coxon, who left the band while they were recording the album, only played on one Think Tank track ("Battery In Your Leg"). [NME]

- In the meantime, tickets for additional Blur summer dates went on sale last week. Keep your fingers crossed for a US tour! [Q]

- And apparently, Creed have decided to reunite. [PrefixMag]

- A new Depeche Mode documentary, The Dark Progression, will be released on June 16. [Pitchfork]

- The Killers are planning to release a live DVD. There's even a chance of a covers' album coming out as well. [Billboard]

- Vampire Weekend are currently in the process of working on a follow-up to their 2008 debut album. Frontman Ezra Koenig told Entertainment Weekly that, "It's definitely going to be a recognizably Vampire Weekend sound, but there are going to be new sounds. We're trying to challenge ourselves not to use the same bag of tricks that we used on the first album -- different instruments, stuff like that." [Entertainment Weekly]

- And last but not least, it looks like a live Nirvana DVD will be heading our way in November. The DVD titled Live at Reading will feature the band's 1992 set at the UK's Reading Festival. [SPIN]
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This Week's Music (April 28, 2009)

Welcome back to the weekly new music roundup, where I will try highlighting some of tomorrow's interesting/major music releases.

This week sees the return of Bob Dylan, with Together Through Life. Numerous deluxe editions are available in addition to the main album itself.

In the meantime, Ben Folds will be presenting an album featuring a cappella interpretations of his music. As per Folds' website, "Amazed to discover the large amount of colleges that have very active a cappella groups on campus across the country (1,200 in the US alone), and, on top of this, how many of them love to cover his songs, Folds decided to A&R and produce a record gathering the best of these performances." [] While the album will not feature this excellent rendition of Folds' cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit," it definitely has potential to be interesting!

This week will also mark the return of A Camp with their second album Colonia. The band, active since around 2001, is the solo/side project of Nina Persson (previously of The Cardigans). You can watch a video for the album's first single, "Stronger Than Jesus," below. As always, a list of other music releases follows.

Albums, Singles, EPs:
A Camp - Colonia
The Black Crowes - Warpaint (Live)
Ciara - Love Sex Magic (Single)
Samantha Crain - Songs in the Night
Bob Dylan - Together Through Life; Deluxe Edition; Vinyl LP with CD
Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella
Immaculate Machine - High on Jackson Hill
Mike Jones - The Voice
Ben Lee - The Rebirth of Venus
New Ruins - We Make Our Own Bad Luck
NOFX - Coaster
Pet Shop Boys - Love, Etc. (Import Single)
Pilot Speed - Wooden Bones
Robots in Disguise - Disguises
Rye Rye - Bang (Single; featuring M.I.A.)
Tosca - No Hassle; Amazon US Exclusive with bonus DVD; Vinyl

Box Sets, Reissues:
Joan Baez - Gone From Danger (2CD)
Joan Baez - Ring Them Bells (2 CD; live)
Thomas Dolby - The Singular Thomas Dolby + DVD (Import)
My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything (Limited Edition Vinyl Import)
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (Limited Edition Vinyl Import)
Pulp - This is Hardcore (Vinyl)

Barbra Streissand - The Concerts
Wilco - Ashes of American Flags
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

RIP Bea Arthur

Former Golden Girls and Maude star Bea Arthur died Saturday at the age of 86. According to her her family spokesman Dan Watt, Arthur died peacefully in her Los Angeles home after battling cancer. Her family was by her side.

Arthur had a long stage career before taking on her starring roles on television. In 2008, she was inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame.

According to the Associated Press, no funeral services are planned at this time.
[Associated Press via Yahoo! News]
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Retrovideo Friday: "Believe in me, as I believe in you..."

Brace yourselves! We're about to take a trip back in time to... 1996, though this video may make it feel like something else.

This Week's Pick: "Tonight, Tonight" by The Smashing Pumpkins (Year: 1996)

1996 was the year of The Smashing Pumpkins' double-disc album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a concept album of sorts that wound up featuring a number of notable Pumpkins' singles. "Tonight, Tonight" was actually the fourth single from the album — and arguably, one of the band's biggest singles to date.

The song's video, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, was inspired by Georges Méliès' 1902 silent film A Trip to the Moon. The resulting imagery — with Billy Corgan and his bandmates performing high up in the clouds, juxtaposed against the otherworldly wacky adventures of a couple in old-timey outfits — was a perfect match for the song's sweeping strings and grandiose nature.

Despite its own retro inspirations, the video has a beautiful timeless quality, and was recognized as an instant classic from the moment it debuted. It went on to win six MTV Video Music Awards including "Best Video" and "Breakthrough Video." And I have a feeling that it could have even won such awards if it had been released today.

I can't embed this one, but without further ado, you can watch the video for "Tonight, Tonight" here. Meanwhile, I'm going to go and dust off my copy of Mellon Collie...
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TV News: Almodóvar Takes Women to the "Verge" Again

Oscar-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and Fox TV Studios are adapting an English-language, hour-long television series from the auteur's Oscar-nominated 1988 film Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). Mimi Schmir (Grey's Anatomy, Shark) will pen the pilot script and exec produce the series alongside Almodóvar.

Schmir describes the television series as "a suburban drama about a group of women who have known each other for a long time . . . who are in the middle of their lives and looking at the second half of their lives."

Keeping true to an important element of the movie, the series will include a good amount of humor and Schmir plans to include certain comedic elements as a nod to the film.  Almodóvar, whose latest movie premieres at Cannes in May, is said to be very involved with the development of Women.  [Reuters via Yahoo! News]
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Movie Review: State of Play

Does the new Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck movie State of Play have all the components to make for a top-notch political thriller? Allow me to take an inventory. Mystery? Check. Built in suspense? Check. Sex scandal? Check. A-list actors portraying characters hell-bent on finding the truth and intertwined in all the above mentioned mystery and suspense? Check and check. And in the end you do have a movie that serves up a good plot dish, even if one feels that there's that one missing ingredient that could have made it great. State of Play is director Kevin Macdonald's (Last King Of Scotland) Americanized movie version of the 2003 six hour BBC TV miniseries that features a veteran Washington D.C. newspaper journalist Cal McAffery (Crowe) trying to solve the mysterious death of a young political aid who was working with U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) to uncover the possible corruption of a defense contractor named PointCorp.
As it is, McAffrey and Collins have a history of not only being old college roommates but McAffery having had a past affair with his good buddy's wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn). To
further complicate matters, McAffrey is pressured by his no-nonsense editor (Helen Mirren) to get the next big story on the front page ASAP and as such is paired up with a fresh-off-the-blogging-press journalist Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to help him achieve this deadline. While in pursuit of their big story, McAffrey and Frye discover people and situations that seemingly don't have a link to one another at first but when carefully examined begin to shine a light on one sinister dealing after another that are all in connection to the bigger picture.

Admittedly, State of Play is a very good movie but never truly achieves the edge-of-your-seat suspense one is hoping to get. While a certain level of suspension of disbelief must be given when movie viewing, it seems one has to grant slightly more than the usual amount when watching State of Play. Starting from Crowe and Affleck having ever been college roommates to believing a seasoned reporter and his ingénue secretly videotaping their interrogation of a sleazy publicist. But the amazing cast of this film gives such strong performances, it is very easy to buy into far-fetched plot mixtures. Coincidentally, I have to acknowledge the excellent scene stealing turn of the smarmy PR played brilliantly by Jason Bateman. He, along with Jeff Daniels in his role as a God-fearing yet corrupt legislator, holds his own in this group of power playing actors. And together they all provide enough intrigue for a somewhat surprise ending to a film that could otherwise have fallen flat on its cinematic face.

Overall, State of Play may not deliver the one-two punch it should, but it definitely holds a strong place in the ethos of Hollywood political thrillers.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sci-Fi Crossover Alert (sort of): Scully meets the Doctor

Numerous British tabloids have recently reported that former The X-Files star Gillian Anderson could appear on the next season of Doctor Who.

If this works out, Anderson would be playing The Rani, a Time Lady and evil/amoral scientist originally portrayed by Kate O'Mara in the 1980s. She will be appearing opposite Matt Smith, the actor playing the Eleventh Doctor, in what seems to be a one-off episode.

Anderson, who has been based out of London since The X-Files came to an end, is also going to be starring in a London production of A Doll's House opposite Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston this summer. [Daily Express]
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Music News: Rob Thomas, "Her Diamonds"

Rob Thomas has debuted the first single, "Her Diamonds," from his upcoming solo album on Thomas' sophomore solo effort, titled Cradlesong, will be released on June 30 and supported by a North American fall tour (dates and cities to be announced this summer).

Another track from Cradlesong, "Give Me the Meltdown," can be heard as the music bed in certain NBA 2009 playoff promos currently running on ABC and ESPN.

Thomas' first solo album, 2005's . . . Something to Be, debuted at the top of The Billboard 200 chart and is certified platinum.

Click here to visit and hear the single "Her Diamonds."
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Movie News Tidbits

- David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) has signed on to direct The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third film in the blockbuster franchise. Eclipse is slated for a June 30, 2010 release date. [Variety]

- Vanessa Hudgens will star in Beastly, one of the first projects from CBS Films. The flick is an updated Beauty and the Beast story set in Manhattan and shooting is expected to begin in summer 2009. British actor-model Alex Pettyfer is rumored to be under consideration for the role of Hudgens' beastly costar. [ET Online]

- James Marsden will topline a reimagined version of the thriller Straw Dogs. Marsden will play screenwriter David Sumner, a role played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1971 original. Both Staw Dogs films are based on the book The Siege at Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams. [Hollywood Reporter]

- The winning city for the X-Men Origins: Wolverine premiere contest is Tempe, Arizona. On April 27th, Hugh Jackman and various "friends and enemies" from the highly anticipated movie will arrive in Tempe for the world premiere. []
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Music News: Green Day Announce Tour Dates

Green Day will support their upcoming album, 21st Century Breakdown, with a newly announced tour through the US and Canada. The tour will kick off in Seattle on July 3 and, according to Green Day's website, will "finish up with two shows in Los Angeles on August 26th."

August 26th is not currently included in the posted list of concert dates, but two performances on that date would make it a 40-concert tour. Current dates and cities are as follows:

  • July 3rd - Seattle, WA
  • July 4th - Vancouver, BC
  • July 6th - Edmonton, AB
  • July 7th - Saskatoon, SAS
  • July 9th - Winnipeg, MAN
  • July 10th - Fargo, ND
  • July 11th - Minneapolis, MN
  • July 13th - Chicago, IL
  • July 14th - Detroit, MI
  • July 16th - Hamilton, ONT
  • July 17th - Ottawa, ONT
  • July 18th - Montreal, QUE
  • July 20th - Boston, MA
  • July 21st - Philadelphia, PA
  • July 22nd - Pittsburgh, PA
  • July 24th - Hartford, CT
  • July 25th - Albany, NY
  • July 27th - New York, NY
  • July 29th - Washington, DC
  • July 31st - Nashville, TN
  • August 1st - Atlanta, GA
  • August 3rd - Tampa, FL
  • August 4th - Miami, FL
  • August 5th - Orlando, FL
  • August 7th - New Orleans, LA
  • August 8th - Houston, TX
  • August 9th - San Antonio, TX
  • August 11th - St. Louis, MO
  • August 12th - Kansas City, MO
  • August 13th - Omaha, NE
  • August 15th - Denver, CO
  • August 16th - Salt Lake City, UT
  • August 18th - San Jose, CA
  • August 20th - San Diego, CA
  • August 21st - Las Vegas, NV
  • August 22nd - Phoenix, AZ
  • August 24th - Sacramento, CA
  • August 25th - Los Angeles, CA
World tour dates are to be announced. 21st Century Breakdown will be released on May 15; complete lyrics for all 18 tracks have been posted on Green Day's official website. []
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TV & Movie Tidbits: Christian Bale is a 'Fighter,' Debra Messing returns

- Christian Bale has signed on to star in The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg. The film focuses on the story of Boston fighter "Irish" Mickey Ward and his half-brother Dicky Eklund. The two stars will be working with director David O. Russell. While deals are still under negotiation, it seems the film is set to begin production in July. [Variety]

- Debra Messing is about to return to NBC. It looks like the network is on the verge of picking up an untitled sitcom starring the former Will & Grace star as "a laid-off CEO who is as ill-prepared to be a full-time wife and mother as her husband is to provide for the family." [The Hollywood Reporter]

- has a couple of promotional pictures for The Time Traveler's Wife, the movie adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 debut novel. The movie, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, was originally set for release last June. It now looks like it will finally come out this August. [Warner Bros. via io9; Slashfilm]

- Ugly Betty is set to come back to ABC a week sooner than originally planned on April 30. This will mark the show's return to its 8 p.m. Thursday night slot. [Entertainment Weekly]
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Monday, April 20, 2009

This Week's Music (April 21, 2009)

This week brings us a variety of new music releases yet again — perhaps the most notable release of all is Depeche Mode's latest effort, Sounds of the Universe, which features the sinisterly catchy "Wrong." There are also apparently numerous vinyl rereleases of Radiohead EPs and singles such as "My Iron Lung" and "2 + 2 = 5". I haven't listed these in this week's list of new releases, but it's pretty simple to find them via Amazon.

We can also expect to see the latest Camera Obscura album come out this week. The video for the album's first single, "French Navy" can be viewed below. You can also view a list highlighting numerous new music releases for the week.

Albums, Singles, EPs:
Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - How Big Can You Get?: The Music of Cab Calloway
Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe; CD/DVD deluxe edition
King Khan - What Is?!
Lacuna Coil - Shallow Life
The Milk and Honey Band - Dog Eared Moonlight
Okkervil River - Pop Lie (single)
Pet Shop Boys - Yes; 2-disc limited edition
Rick Ross - Deeper Than Rap; CD/DVD deluxe edition
The Turtles - Save the Turtles: The Turtles Greatest Hits

Box Sets, Reissues:
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe
Hall and Oates - Livetime
Jane's Addiction - Cabinet of Curiosities (3 CDs, 1 DVD)
Oasis - Familiar To Millions (live)
Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (2 disc special edition)

Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin - Heroes
Dario Marianelli - The Soloist
Various Artists - 17 Again

Roxy Music - The High Road
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Movie Review: Sunshine Cleaning

One may not be able to resist thinking that a movie with such a perky title, starring two female leads like Amy Adams (Enchanted) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) would be anything more than a "chick flick"? Sunshine Cleaning definitely proves to be so much more than it's "outward" appearance. This dramedy film starts with Rose (Adams), a single mom from Albuquerque, and her struggle to support her 7 year old son Oscar (Jason Spevack), all while trying to keep tabs on her slacker sister Norah (Blunt) who still lives with their aging yet witty father (Alan Arkin).

When Rose sees she needs to place Oscar in a more progressive school, she realizes her job as house cleaner is just not going to make that happen.
On the advice of her married, cop boyfriend Mac (Steve Zahn), Rose decides to embark on the lucrative, yet somewhat gruesome, career of cleaning up crime scenes with her sister. Both women struggle slightly and fumble (literally, at times) to find their rhythm in the new life's journey at first. One can't help notice that their work endeavors seems to mirror their need to move past previous setbacks and a family tragedy that happened to them as children but still affects them as adults.

It must be said that this movie stands strong due largely in part to Adams and Blunt. Though different not only in appearance but in acting styles, these actresses have such an amazing chemistry on screen that it's safe to say both own this film. Each plays her character with such depth and conviction, whether it's with the subtlest of expressions and eye contacts or in verbal fights stemmed in frustration and aggravation over their less than perfect lives. They make what would've been a lesser film into one that a viewer can not only connect with but embrace.

Sunshine Cleaning is put forth by the same producers that gave the world the indy favorite Little Miss Sunshine. Even with the obvious parallels, from the southwest setting to Arkin as the loving grandfather to a precocious child, Sunshine Cleaning stands separately from it's predecessor. It may have the obvious plot set ups and does leave a handful of unanswered questions in the end, but one will not walk away with a feeling of disappointment or movie deja vu. Sunshine Cleaning will deliver laughs, invoke sympathy and may even remind a movie-goer that things are still best earned and not expected even if it does involve a bit of gross and gore. And in this recent day and age, it's a message we can all benefit in remembering.
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RIP JG Ballard

Author JG Ballard, 78, died after battling ill health for several years. The announcement was made this morning by his agent Margaret Hanbury. Ballard was famous for novels such as Empire of the Sun and Crash, both of which were made into films. [Guardian]
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Coachella Impressions 6

The Killers are opening with "Human" and the crowd has gone wild.
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Coachella Impressions 5

M.I.A. onstage for what I think is her first performance since giving birth. She looks and sounds great. Lots of day glo!
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Coachella Impressions 4

Thievery Corporation is on the main stage and crooner James Morrison is on another one of the side stages. Both sound great!
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Coachella Impressions 3

The tent can't contain the crowd for Travis Barker and DJ AM. They're in the midst of an incredible set of rap and rock.
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Coachella Impressions 2

Just found out that Glasvegas had to cancel because their lead singer is sick. Am disappointed but am also surrounded by incredible music.
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Coachella Impressions 1

When you've hiked through mud, dust and nearly 100 degree heat from the parking lot to the polo field venue, you must be at Coachella. As always, traffic direction and congestion though the town of Indio was atrocious which led to me missing Joss Stone on the main stage. Paolo Nutini is on the main stage about to wrap up his set, which sounded much stronger than his last album would have suggested.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Rascal Flatts - Unstoppable

So let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat -- many country music purists and critics don't like the country/pop sensibilities of Rascal Flatts. Those folks won't find much to like on the band's sixth studio album, but they're in the minority and have been for a decade.

Rascal Flatts know what works for them musically and stick with that on their newest offering, Unstoppable. The sound is unmistakably country, but it never gets overly twangy and listeners can relate to the lyrics about love, loss and family even if they grew up in an urban or suburban area.

The album starts strong with "Love Who You Love," whose non-gender-specific message has been celebrated by members of the LGBT community. Even more surprising -- in a good way, since much of the country music community tends to favor more conservative values -- all three Rascal Flatts members have stated that they have no problem with the song being interpreted as a message of acceptance for the gay community.

"Here Comes Goodbye," the album's second track and first radio single, showcases the range of (oh-so-aptly-named) lead singer Gary LeVox's voice and the emotion he can bring to a song. The single -- which shares a theme of the unexpected loss of a loved one with a previous Rascal Flatts' smash hit, "What Hurts The Most" (2006) -- peaked at #11 on The Billboard Hot 100 and is currently #33 after seven weeks on the chart. This week, "Here Comes Goodbye" is also #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

"Close" and "Holdin' On," the third and third-from-last tracks respectively, feel like musical mirrors of each other, perhaps designed to show that the male and female experience isn't as different as we think. "Close," which was co-written by Flatts' bassist Jay DeMarcus, is the story of a woman holding on to mementos from her last relationship ("it's just a worn out Notre-Dame t-shirt/she's gotten mad and tried/to throw that thing away/at least a hundred times/but she's got it on tonight"). "Holdin' On" is the same broken-heart-not-ready-to-move-on story, but this time it's the man who's "holdin' on to the wheel/on to the way she made him feel/on to the shifter, on to the pictures/every precious moment with her."

The title track, an ode to the power of love, shows the band at its best. The guitar-driven, triumphant ballad showcases both LeVox's earnest voice and the trio's beautiful vocal harmonies. "Unstoppable" is the kind of track that turns people who aren't country music fans into Rascal Flatts' fans.

For pure fun, the best track is "Summer Nights," co-written by LeVox. The playful tempo and lyrics capture the feel of a late-night bonfire party on the beach, a perfect feel for a springtime album.

While I don't invest in many country music albums, Unstoppable is yet another Rascal Flatts' album that's worth owning in full. The band doesn't reinvent themselves or their country/pop sound on the disc, but sometimes there's no need to mess with a good thing.

Watch the music video for "Here Comes Goodbye":

Listen to audio clips from all 11 tracks from Rascal Flatts' Unstoppable here.
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Retrovideo Friday: Coachella Edition, Moz Style

It's Coachella weekend in California, and Callie will be updating us with plenty of coverage over the next few days. So in honor of the festival, this week's Retrovideo Friday is all about Morrissey, who is slated to perform tonight on the Coachella Stage.

This Week's Pick: "Suedehead" by Morrissey (Year: 1988; Video from: Later with Jools Holland, 1992)

Viva Morrissey. The man has had a long career — he got started as lead singer for The Smiths back in the early 1980s, and is still going strong while releasing albums as a solo artist. In fact, he's been solo longer than he was The Smiths' frontman, and it all began with the 1988 album Viva Hate. While going solo doesn't always work so well for people associated with well-loved acts, Viva Hate got a strong critical reaction upon its release and also produced a number of commercial hits.

One of these is "Suedehead," a song now considered a classic in the Moz catalog. Despite the absence of former bandmate and guitarist Johnny Marr, the song features a memorable guitar riff with Morrissey's trademark, cheerfully-mournful vocals. It's no wonder people gravitated to the song the way they did.

You can watch a performance of the song (below) from a 1992 taping of the BBC program Later With Jools Holland. It's a pretty solid version — the guitars are a little crunchier sounding at first (at least when compared to the record), and you get to witness a young Morrissey in all his shiny-shirted, well-coifed glory. Who knows? Maybe he'll perform it tonight.

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Movie News: Casting News for Nanny McPhee Sequel

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans and Asa Butterfield have joined the cast of Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, the sequel to 2005's Nanny McPhee, which starred Emma Thompson and Colin Firth.  Thompson is exec producing the flick in addition to once again writing the screenplay and portraying the title character.

Ralph Fiennes is rumored to be in dicussions for an uncredited cameo in the film. [Variety]
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movie News: Full-Length Films to Stream on YouTube

YouTube has just announced a deal with studios including Sony and Lionsgate, that will result in full-length, ad-supported library films and TV showed being streamed on the popular video-sharing website, says The Hollywood Reporter. The names of the other studios involved in the deal had not yet been released as of this posting, but is said that "YouTube users who click on a film will be redirected to sites controlled by the studios, which will be able to serve their ads to, and collect traffic from, their own video player." Not surprisingly, the online film offerings are not expected to include new releases. [The Hollywood Reporter]
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TV News: Law & Order: SVU

NBC and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit executive producer Dick Wolf have announced that the show will be returning in the fall, even though discussions with both of the show leads are ongoing. Current contracts for Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay (who has been hospitalized several times for a collapsed lung and related health issues since December) expire at the end of this season and both are said to be negotiating for pay raises. [Variety]
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Movie News: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter fans who have been eagerly anticipating the summer release of the franchise's sixth movie received a little bit of good news today: their wait has been shortened by two days.

Reputable Potter fansite The Leaky Cauldron reports that WB confirmed to them that the release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been pushed up to Wednesday, July 15, 2009. As of this posting, the official Warner Bros' site for the Harry Potter films still shows the unchanged "in theaters July 17" language, and there is no word on whether any international release dates will also change. [The Leaky Cauldron]
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Prince - Lotusflow3r

With an $11.98 price tag, Prince's Target-exclusive, three-disc set is a steal. I must admit, as someone who had only listened to and purchased singles by Prince and never an entire album, I was curious to see if the experience would live up to the hype. He has, afterall, long been hailed by many fans and critics as a "musical genius."
The first in the trio of discs is the 10-track debut album by Prince's newest protégé, Bria Valente. As the album artwork shows, Valente certainly has the looks one would expect in a Prince protégé, but she seems destined to fade back into obscurity as quickly as most of those women have in the past. Valente has a pleasant singing voice, but Elix3r's smooth, bland R&B tracks slide one into the next without ever catching your attention. The music isn't offensive to the ears, but it's also completely forgettable, unlike the next disc in the set.

Prince's Lotus Flow3r is definitely the strongest album of the three. The guitar-heavy tracks cover a range of styles and subject matter and have kept my interest all the way through the album every time I listen to it. From the deliciously funky grooves of "Boom" and "Dreamer" to the retro flashback of "Crimson and Clover" (spiced up with a touch of "Wild Thing") and the smooth, sweet ballad titled "4Ever," Prince gives us quality track after quality track on this album. My personal favorite, along with "Crimson and Clover," is "Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful." This jam is so unmistakably James Brown-inspired that you can see the late Brown dancing across the stage in your mind throughout the whole track, but Prince is the artist getting the cape thrown across his shoulders when the song ends.

MPLSoUND, the last disc in the set, opens strong with "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me," which has that familiar, confident, sexy Prince swagger, even as the singer's born-again roots show when he tells us he "can't stand nobody cursing at me/when I'm clean."
Prince can't stop being Prince though -- his sexy lyrical come-ons start in Lotus Flow3r, but really kick into gear in MPLSoUND, which has a much more of retro, classic Prince sound and attitude. "Chocolate Box" and "Dance 4 Me" are perfect examples of this, along with "Valentina," the artist's enticing ode/invitation to actress (and mother of a baby girl named Valentina) Salma Hayek. What keeps MPLSoUND from being the strongest album of the three are the ballads, which bring the mood of the album to a grinding halt and very quickly make you want to skip to the next track.

Overall, the three-disc set is definitely worth $11.98 and a trip to Target. Prince fans seem to agree-- Lotus Flow3r/MPLSoUND/Elix3r debuted at #2 on The Billboard 200, and at #1 on both the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Independent Albums charts.
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Record Store Day - April 18

Saturday, April 18th will mark the second annual Record Store Day, which is described as "the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music." A huge number of exclusives, including many vinyl releases, from artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Slayer to Brandi Carlile will be offered on the 18th.

According to the Record Store Day website and an April 1 news entry on the Coachella music festival site, exclusive releases will include:

  • Wilco's new DVD (indie stores and band website)
  • a 7" from The Decemberists
  • vinyl releases from Radiohead
  • a CD and a limited-run double 10" vinyl live recording from My Morning Jacket
  • a double 7" of live tracks from Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams
  • split singles from Sonic Youth with Beck and Jay Reatard
  • Jesus Lizard's specially packaged set of nine 7" singles
  • Guided By Voices' re-release of their Hold on Hope LP, including three bonus tracks
  • exclusive 7" singles from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen
  • Def Jam's 4 LP gatefold of their music label history
  • additional items from artists including the Black Kids, Brandi Carlile, Jane's Addiction, MC5, Metric, Modest Mouse, Rivers Cuomo, Slipknot, The Smiths, The Stooges and Taking Back Sunday.
For a list of participating record stores in your state (or country, for those outside of the US), visit the Record Store Day site.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Keep Dollhouse out of the attic

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for the latest Dollhouse episode, "A Spy in the House of Love."

As previously reported, the future of Joss Whedon's latest FOX project, Dollhouse, is a little uncertain at the moment. In fact, many are saying the show is as good as gone. It's unfortunate that such news and rumors have started circulating this week of all weeks, as Friday night's show was one of the best episodes to date. Dollhouse began picking up rapidly with its sixth episode (which Whedon himself said would serve as a turning point), and this week's episode had a compelling mixture of action, betrayal and incredible reveals.
Here's what we witnessed this week:

1. Mellie/November reveals that she's a doll to Agent Ballard. While we already knew this, the moment itself was pretty shocking (and heartbreaking for Ballard who will have to keep pretending that nothing has changed).
2. Adelle is not above using a doll (Victor) to fulfill her own needs, even though she's not likely to do it again.
3. Echo is somewhat aware of her doll status — she actually asks Topher to make her "different" to help the Dollhouse catch a spy in their midst.
4. Security Chief Laurence Dominic is the aforementioned spy, an NSA agent keeping tabs on the Dollhouse. By the episode's end, he's sent to the "attic," which basically means he's had the mindwipe to end all mindwipes.

It was a whole lot of stuff to take in, but the pacing was solid and suspenseful — a sign that the show really has hit its stride. I didn't expect to see a lot of these revelations so early in the show's run, but I'm glad to see that Whedon was willing to put them in. The sense of mystery still remains, but those of us watching have also been rewarded for sticking with the show so far.

As I've previously stated, the first few episodes of Dollhouse did not make the show an easy one to fall in love with. The Dollhouse universe is very different from Whedon's other creations. Thanks to the majority of the characters' mind-wiped or evil tendencies, viewers do not get to watch instantly-lovable characters like the protagonists (and even some villains) in Buffy, Angel, or the preemptively-canceled Firefly.

But the latest episodes, this one included, have finally started to show that these characters do have more layers to them than we initially realized. Even mind-wiped characters like Victor and Sierra are increasingly compelling, and while I admit that the show's star — Eliza Dushku — does appear to be the cast's weakest link for the most part, she was great in last night's episode.

It's hard to say who should really be blamed for Dollhouse's messy start. One could blame the executives, or Whedon for not doing a better job of following up on his vision. However, it's still too early to decide whether or not the show will ultimately be a success. FOX should take note of the fan forums and sites that have been buzzing since Friday night, and give the show a little more time to prove itself. If given a chance, it seems that Dollhouse has the potential to develop into a brilliant sci-fi series.
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Friday, April 10, 2009

Music News: Aerosmith/ZZ Top Tour

Aerosmith and ZZ Top will be hitting this road for a US summer tour and have announced three dates on their website so far:

  • Sunday, August 23 - Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Irvine
  • Tuesday, September 1 - Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
  • Tuesday, September 8 - St. Paul, MN @ XCel Energy Center

Ticketmaster does not currently list the Irvine concert, but does list a Thursday, September 10 Aerosmith performance in Cuyahoga Falls, OH at Blossom Music Center. [NME, Ticketmaster]

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Retrovideo Friday: "Popscene, all right..."

Welcome to the first installment of Retrovideo Friday. This is a new feature where I plan on posting a music video from "back in the day," along with a little history lesson behind what you're watching. Each post will vary from time to time, either featuring an actual music video or a live performance of a song that strikes my fancy. The songs featured may seem like completely obvious choices, or they might be a little obscure... either way, sit back and relax because it's time for a little flashback.

This Week's Pick: "Popscene" by Blur (Year: 1992)

This is an early track by recently-reunited Blur, famous for their role in the Britpop era and that "Woohoo song" (Song 2). Though "Popscene" is a fan favorite, it wasn't all that successful at first, charting in the 30s on the UK Singles Chart back in 1992. The song can be found on US pressings and Japanese reissues of the band's second album Modern Life is Rubbish, but it has never appeared on a UK Blur LP.

Despite the track's slightly sad past, it's one of my favorite earlier Blur tunes thanks to its frenetic pace and insanely infectious horns. There's still something incredibly fresh about it, which makes me wonder why it was such a flop when it was first released as a single. Anyway, Blur have had the last laugh considering their success and the song's immense popularity with fans, so it looks like everything balanced out at the end.

Watch "Popscene" below. Word of warning: while the song itself still sounds great, the video is definitely very dated and almost dizzying to watch. But ultimately, it's probably all part of its charm!

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rumor Mill: Dollhouse canceled?

It all started with actress Felicia Day's Twitter account. io9 reports that the actress said the season finale — which she happens to be in — will not be airing. Fans were anticipating the finale, which supposedly features Alan Tudyk (formerly of Firefly) in an important role.

Since then, the rumors have been circulating — has FOX canceled Dollhouse? The show has already seen plenty of turmoil. It's been said that network executives kept stepping in when the show was in development, causing creator Joss Whedon to change the pilot and a few other details before he could really begin exploring his vision. And it's bad enough that the show airs on Friday nights at 9 o'clock. It seems that FOX does plan on airing "Omega," Whedon's original ending for the season. But it also sounds like an episode with a lot of potential to cement a fanbase is being kept off the air.

Dollhouse isn't the easiest show to get into, but recent weeks have shown a massive improvement (something that has happened with many of Whedon's other shows, including the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel). The plot has thickened, and I've observed an increasing number of viewers admitting that they're eager to see what happens next. Though many are unsurprised by this latest development, let's hope FOX gives the show a better chance than it already has.

[Photo: FOX]
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Doves - Kingdom of Rust

Four years since their last release (Some Cities) the UK's Doves are back with Kingdom of Rust. Way back in January, guitarist Jez Williams told the NME that the songs recorded for the record were "so schizophrenic, but... also strangely cohesive." Truer words have never been spoken.
The first three tracks alone are a perfect illustration of Williams' statement. The album starts out with "Jetstream," which begins harmlessly enough before gaining a disconnected, tense quality thanks to its methodically-layered synths and percussion. This somehow manages to flow perfectly into the album's title track, which blends elements of country and orchestral music, while still managing to sound like classic Doves thanks to its cheerfully melancholy vibe. When the song is over, the listener is instantly transported into what feels like a chase scene in a science fiction movie during the first few seconds of "The Outsiders."

It looks like the Doves have gained back a bit of the edge they seemed to have lost back when Some Cities came out, and the end result is a delightful, genuinely interesting mix of sounds. This is also the album where Doves' past as dance act Sub Sub becomes obvious — this may be part of the reason why the album has such a triumphant sound.

The only place where the dance influence becomes a bit of a problem is during "Compulsion," which is a little too reminiscent of Blondie. While I'm not the first person to make this comparison, I would like to note that I'd actually avoided reading and listening to much about/of the album. But I actually found myself humming the melody from "Rapture," when I first heard the opening beats of "Compulsion," which indicates a slight lack of innovation in the latter.

Nonetheless, it can safely be said that this is one of the strongest albums to emerge so far in 2009, and it marks a positive return for the Doves. Long absence or not, they're still a band worthy of the attention they receive. It will be interesting to see what they'll do next.

Stream Kingdom of Rust below:

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Travis at Zellerbach Hall, CA: 4/7/09

I liked the band Travis before I actually knew who they were. At Coachella in 2007, the friends I was with insisted that we arrive in time to see Travis' set. I had no idea who the band was or what songs they were known for, so I spent most of the set exclaiming, "I didn't know Travis sang that! I love that song!" It was a treat to finally get to see a full concert of their music on Tuesday night.

A live performance with a few unforeseen problems and technical glitches tends to be a good litmus test of how talented a band really is. According to lead singer Fran Healy, the monitor had been giving their sound engineer problems all day, so the band regularly had to look offstage to ask him to adjust the mix. There was a loud blast of feedback in the middle of "Driftwood." Healy had to stop and restart "Something Anything" because the technical problems threw him off a bit and he forgot the opening lyrics. After heading into the audience and climbing up onto a chair, he slipped and for a moment fell onto an audience member while -- ironically -- performing "Falling Down" (both fan and singer were fine).
Healy and his fellow musicians handled the problems with grace and a charming sense of humor, explaining what had happened to their audience and turning the glitches into a chance to further connect with their fans.

Even with the occassional mishaps, the quality of Travis' music and performance is all that the audience is going to remember. The band isn't flashy, but the strength of their songwriting, musicianship and vocals stand on their own and you can clearly hear how Travis became the predecessor to bands like Coldplay. The audience was with them from the first song to the last, with people on their feet for the whole show even though it was a completely seated venue.

Watch a clip of Travis' performance of their hit "Sing":

I hadn't yet listened to Travis' newest album, Ode to J.Smith, but that didn't make the concert any less enjoyable. Actually, I was thrilled that the new songs show they've moved back toward an edgier rock sound that's closer to their first albums. Their encore also included a hilarious cover of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl." Fran and Andy had so much fun playing up the humor in that performance and kept all the original lyrics.

The evening's opening act was The Republic Tigers, a young Kansas City band. I don't usually make a point of seeing opening acts, but since Radhika recommended them, I did this time -- and I was glad I did! The Republic Tigers played an impressive set of indie/folk-rock. While listening to them, I caught myself thinking of The Killers, but with a harder edge. Their original songs made you want to hear more, but their one cover song was a standout. The Tigers took on Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and I will never know how the lead singer (who had a deep, rich speaking voice) tackled a song with that high a pitch and made it sound good.

Setlist: "Chinese Blues," "J. Smith," "Selfish Jean," "Writing to Reach You," "Re-Offender," "Something Anything," "Long Way Down," "Love Will Come Through," "Closer," "Driftwood," "Side," "Falling Down," "Sing," "The Humpty Dumpty Love Song," "Song To Self," "Sarah," "Turn"

Encore: "I Kissed A Girl," "Good Feeling," "My Eyes," "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?"
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Music Notes: Rock the Bells, No Doubt 'deliver' Adam and the Ants cover

- The initial line-up for this year's Rock the Bells, the annual international hip hop festival, is set. Acts will include Nas & Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, The Roots, Common, Big Boi (of Outkast fame), KRS-One, House of Pain featuring La Coka Nostra, Reflection Eternal, Tech N9ne, and more. Dates haven't been announced yet, but the festival will be held in the following cities: Chicago, Toronto, Washington DC, Boston, New York, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Vancouver. [Rock the Bells]

- No Doubt will be appearing on the Gossip Girl season finale in May, covering Adam and the Ants' "Stand and Deliver." Personally, I think they did a far better job tackling Talk Talk's "It's My Life." But you can judge for yourself by listening to the player below: [imeem via SPIN]

Stand And Deliver - No Doubt

- The Yeah Yeah Yeahs will appear as musical guests on this week's Saturday Night Live, hosted by heartthrob Zac Efron. []

- Patrick Wolf is set to debut new songs during a May 6 New York show at Le Poisson Rouge. Wolf will be performing acoustic renditions of songs that will be on his upcoming album, due for release sometime in June. [NME]

- Sigur Rós frontman Jón Þór Birgisson, aka Jónsi, is releasing an album with Alex Somers this July. The album will be released under the name Riceboy Sleeps, and will feature nine songs recorded in Iceland. [NME]
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Movie News: Iron Man 2

Filming on Iron Man 2, the sequel to last year's first blockbuster summer action flick, began Wednesday in Los Angeles. Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow are reprising their respective roles as billionaire Tony Stark/Iron Man and Pepper Potts. As was announced last October, Don Cheadle is replacing Terrence Howard as Col. James Rhodes. Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson are also part of the sequel's cast, with Mickey Rourke slated to play a villian.

The first Iron Man movie grossed more than $582 million dollars worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Iron Man 2 is scheduled for a May 7, 2010 release in the US. [Associated Press via Yahoo! News]
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hannah Montana: The Movie Soundtrack

It's a given that the legions of tween girls who have been devoted Hannah Montana fans for the past several years are going to love the soundtrack to the upcoming movie. Luckily, it's also an album that most parents can listen to with their tweens without cringing, and there are quite a few tracks that are more sophisticated than your standard kid-friendly fare.

The seven songs credited to Hannah Montana are high-energy tween pop tracks in the same vein as the two multi-platinum Hannah Montana TV soundtracks. The songs credited to Miley Cyrus are generally slower tempo songs with a slightly more mature sound. "Hoedown Throwdown" is one of the exceptions to this rule of thumb. Oddly enough, the song mixes bubblegum pop, country and a touch of hip hop, which should be a train wreck waiting to happen, but instead the result is cute, catchy and playful.

"The Climb" is part of the more mature, less tween-pop middle of the album that reflects the characters' return to Tennessee in the movie. It's Miley's strongest performance on the soundtrack by far. "The Climb" is also her most mainstream, radio-friendly single yet and further shows what the 16-year-old can do as a singer without the Hannah Montana persona. Sure enough, the track entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #6 (her highest-charting single to date) and is holding at #8 after 4 weeks on the chart.

Watch the music video for "The Climb":

"Butterfly Fly Away" is a lullaby duet between Miley and her real-life and onscreen dad, Billy Ray Cyrus. This well-known connection gives the track a wistful sweetness, even though the lyrics are specific to their characters' backstories. Billy Ray Cyrus also contributes the title track of his new country album (which was released today) to the movie soundtrack. Unfortunately, "Back to Tennessee" isn't a very strong or memorable song. It lacks the fun of his most famous single or the emotional resonance of "I Learned From You," his last duet with Miley. The "I"s at the end of many of the lines sound more like the growls of a papa bear than the end of a musical lyric.

Country music superstars Rascal Flatts recorded new, acoustic versions of a couple of their hits for the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack. "Backwards" was originally released on their Me and My Gang (2006) album and is a hilarious novelty song that plays off of the old joke question, "what happens when you play a country song backwards?" The soundtrack version has been rewritten to eliminate less "kid-friendly" references to bars and beer, and a friend named Jack has been renamed Jackson, Hannah Montana's older brother in the show and movie. References to heart attacks were also changed (with a wink and a nudge) to "achy breaky hearts."

"Bless the Broken Road," the second re-recorded Rascal Flatts' hit on the soundtrack, was originally included on their Feels Like Today (2004) album. The acoustic version of this gentle ballad soars with a simple guitar accompaniment to the harmonies for which Rascal Flatts is known.

The album also includes two tracks from Steve Rushton -- an artist from the UK who recently signed with another Disney music label, Hollywood Records -- but no family-oriented album about a girl returning to her Tennessee roots would be complete without an original song from country music ingénue Taylor Swift. While not a standout track, "Crazier" is appealing to both tween girls and their parents and is a solid addition to an album whose country/pop mix will likely introduce a whole new audience to the current generation of country music.

Walt Disney Records usually releases a two-disc special edition set for high-profile soundtracks such as this, so fans who want possible bonus materials like additional or alternate version tracks, music videos and/or behind-the-scenes video features may want to hold out until around the time of the Hannah Montana: The Movie DVD release . . . although it's doubtful that many tween fans would be able to wait that long.

Hannah Montana: The Movie opens this Friday, April 10; soundtrack is available now.

Listen to audio clips from all 18 Hannah Montana: The Movie tracks and watch the "Hoedown Throwdown" music video here.
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Music News: iTunes Prices Change

Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store has rolled out its new pricing structure, which allows record companies to decide whether their artists' songs should be sold for either 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 each. In return for the three-tiered pricing option, music labels have agreed that songs sold on iTunes are now DRM (digital rights management)-free, which will allow users to copy the tracks and play them on multiple computers and iPods/digital music players. [Associated Press via Yahoo! News]
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Out of the House: Kal Penn

Warning: This post contains a major spoiler for last night's episode of House. Scroll away if you want to avoid it!

Last night's episode of House M.D. featured the "departure" of Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn), a character who had been on the show since late 2007. Penn was one of three actors (including Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson) who joined the cast to play members of Dr. House's new diagnostic team.

But last night, Kutner was written off the show in a rather shocking manner. And Kal Penn has given his explanation for leaving in this interview with Entertainment Weekly.[bxA]

I have to admit that Penn's reasons for leaving are definitely interesting and worth mentioning. After getting involved with the Obama campaign last year, Penn will actually be going to work in the White House as the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. While he isn't exactly quitting acting, he's definitely taking a break from it to focus on this new position. This isn't the first time Penn has worked outside show business. Early last year, he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught a course on "Images of Asian Americans in the Media." So you have to give the guy props for his willingness to take a pay cut and try working in other areas that mean something to him.

But that brings us to the issue of last night's House, which I — like many viewers — have extremely mixed feelings about. Penn's Kutner was an extremely likable character, quite possibly the most positive character on the show. And he was probably my favorite person on House's new team. But early in the episode, his character was written off when he is discovered in his apartment after an apparent suicide.

Suicide is no laughing matter, and in that sense, the show dealt with it well. The characters, much like the viewers, expressed their shock and disbelief as they tried to figure out why Kutner would take his own life. A heavy sense of grief pervaded the episode, and we got the sense that Kutner's suicide will have some repercussions on the rest of the season.

But something about the suicide felt a bit off. And maybe we're supposed to feel that way — after all, showrunner David Shore told Entertainment Weekly that he didn't really want anyone to see it coming (which is sadly often the case with real-life suicides).

Since this is fiction, and a TV show where a well thought-out arc can always be appreciated, I guess the thing that troubles me the most is the fact that Kutner was ultimately a tragically underused character. We did get various glimpses of his personality and background at times — as Wilde's character pointed out last night, he was an eternal "man child," with a fondness for Harry Potter books. In recent episodes, we saw he had an amusing superstitious streak. And he was also the most House-like character, clever with wild ideas, but minus the curmudgeonly demeanor. While he did have a darker side due to a tragic childhood where he witnessed his parents' violent deaths, he was also optimistic. As he once said, a person in his situation had nowhere to go but up.

This is ultimately all we really knew about Kutner while he was on the show. He never had any major story arcs like Wilde's "Thirteen" or Jacobson's Taub, and aside from his family background, we didn't know much about his personal life. Case in point, Kutner's character supposedly had a girlfriend (Nicole Brewster), who was really only mentioned in FOX's online memorial for Kutner.

Even though Penn did not receive word about his new White House position until early this year, it seems he gave the writers a fair warning that he was seriously considering a switch to politics. And if the writers knew about this for a while, they really could have spent more time giving the character more extensive story arcs. They didn't necessarily have to write anything hinting at Kutner's suicidal nature, but it's a sad state of affairs when a character that has been around for nearly two years only makes a significant impact on a show once he's been killed off.
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