cheaptricksgtpeppersRecorded with an array of guest musicians, singers (including Ian Ball and Joan Osborne) and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Sgt. Pepper Live is Cheap Trick’s rendition of the classic Beatles album from 1967, done in its entirety from first song to last. Though it’s very true to its source, the band having recruited Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick to oversee the proceedings, Cheap Trick (Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, and Bun E. Carlos) is too accomplished a band not to put their own stamp on the music, however modest and tasteful. Zander’s vocals are often astonishing in their range, and the rest of the band are in top form, with Nielsen’s supercharged guitar enhancing a number of the songs, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what a great rhythm section Petersson and Carlos make. Beatles and Cheap Trick fans alike will be delighted at the result, and as a bonus, they add the medley from Abbey Road, which concludes the proceedings on a high note. Standout cuts: “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “A Day In The Life” and “Medley Song.”

(All artist proceeds from sales of the album and DVD go towards prostate cancer research.)

thefinaldestinationThe Final Destination (The Final Destination? The Final Destination?), reportedly the last entry in the nearly decade old horror franchise, is easily the least of the series and a pretty poor wrap up, if it is indeed the final film. The plot is the same as the other three films: The main character saves his friends and others via a premonition of impending disaster (this time at a car race), which they are able to avoid, but then he finds everyone is dying, anyway, in the order they should have died in the first place. If there’s anything vaguely original about this film, it’s that the filmmakers have taken what might be seen as a bold approach: They’ve made a direct to video style movie, which they’ve chosen to shoot in theatrical 3D. This insures that the only worthwhile aspect of the movie is the 3D, and that’s really barely enough to justify a matinee ticket. Yes, there are lots of people dying increasingly outlandish deaths, and there’s a lot of computer generated gore thrown about, but after a hospital scene in the final stretch of the movie, The Final Destination crosses the line from total absurdity to complete tedium. It’s a shame because the movie’s opening sequence is promising enough, but it’s downhill from there, way downhill.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Mew – No More Stories…

August 27, 2009

mewAdequately describing the music on Danish band Mew’s new album, No More Stories…, would seem to bear out the oft repeated quote that goes, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” (Elvis Costello went on to add that it was “a really stupid thing to want to do.”) That said, my impression of the general sound of the album is what music made by Sigur Ros, Animal Collective and Brian Wilson might sound like. It’s a beautifully made record, sometimes densely layered, other times not, imbued with a sense of wonder and a melancholia that often co-exist side by side inside a song. Though No More Stories… aims to push some boundaries, it’s also very accessible and highly listenable, reaching a sort of high point in the second half of the record with three tracks that constitutes a section unto themselves, “Hawaii,” “Vaccine” and “Tricks Of The Trade.” The songs are emblematic of the rest of the record in that they seamlessly blend pop with elements of folk, electronica, world music and rock into a soaring, heady, gorgeous mix. Fans of experimental and indie pop should definitely not miss this record, which is certainly one of the best releases of the summer. Standout cuts: “Beach,” “Silas The Magic Car,” “Cartoons And Macramé Wounds” and “Tricks Of The Trade.”

everythinggoeswrongFor the first couple of tracks of Everything Goes Wrong, their second album, it seems like Brooklyn based trio Vivian Girls will be serving up more of the same fast paced 60’s pop and surf rock flavored punk found on their 2008 debut, which would in no way would have been a bad thing, of course. That doesn’t really turn out to be the case, however, as the middle of the album contains harder edged tracks like “Tension,” “Survival” and “Out For The Sun,” the latter of which contains stellar punk guitar work that recalls another NYC band, Sonic Youth. They even add a little rockabilly to the mix with “Double Vision.” The album ends as it begins, with two more punk pop tunes, but by then, Vivian Girls have made the case that they are more than a one trick pony kind of a band, and moreover, may even have the chops to someday fill the great void left in the punk scene by Sleater-Kinney when they called it quits, and that’s high praise indeed. Standout cuts: “Can’t Get Over You,” “Tension,” “Survival” and “Out Of The Sun.”

Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

August 26, 2009

arcticmonkeyshumbugPast fans of UK based band Arctic Monkeys may be somewhat disconcerted and may even be disappointed by full on rock numbers being largely displaced by slow burning numbers on their third album, but if the songs on Humbug lack some of the front loaded force of previous releases, they more than make up for it with their moody, often very heavy arrangements and generally rich atmosphere. This is not to say that the album is entirely bereft of rockers, as it kicks off with two good ones, “My Propeller” and the first single, “Crying Lightning,” while others work themselves into rock crescendos, like “Fire And The Thud” (which features Alison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather) and “Dance Little Liar.” And while their musical approach has been altered, their lyrics remain as witty and sardonic as ever. I imagine Humbug will divide fans, but all in all, this is a solid record for them, and worth checking out. Standout cuts: “My Propeller,” “Crying Lightning,” “Dangerous Animals” and “Pretty Visitors.”

postmarksmemoirsMiami based band the Postmarks follow through on the promise of their debut record, and then some, with their excellent sophomore release, Memoirs At The End Of The World. Like on the first album, the Postmarks (Tim Yehezkely, Christopher Moll and Jonathan Wilkins) find inspiration in 60’s pop by way of Burt Bacharach and the like, but expand their range of influences on this record to 60’s movie composers, most notably John Barry and his work for the James Bond films, but also composers along the lines of Michel Legrand and Francis Lai, among others. The music is by and large lush and romantic sounding, but with undercurrents of mystery, intrigue and even a bit of menace. It’s great stuff, an inspired mix of retro influences, Yehezkely’s savvy, seductive vocals and a very modern indie pop sensibility. The release of Memoirs At The End Of The World is an indie pop event of the first order, and as such, it’s highly recommended. Standout cuts: “No One Said This Would Be Easy,” “Thorn In Your Side,” “I’m In Deep” and “Go Jetsetter.”

choirThis Is For The White In Your Eyes, the new album from Denmark based band Choir Of Young Believers, is one of those ambitious, grandly scaled albums of indie pop that might’ve ended up silly and overwrought in lesser hands, but instead turned out to be a moody, serious minded, sometimes even sublime collection of music The band has earned some Radiohead comparisons, though I imagine mostly for the lead vocals, which do recall Thom Yorke at times. Musically, however, they have more of a folk foundation, upon which they layer orchestral pop, soul and rock. Their musical influences certainly shine through, but it’s the execution of the music that’s the real draw here. It’s consistently, almost hypnotically good, with many of the tracks flowing into each other. Certainly recommended for indie pop fans, but for everyone, really. Standout cuts: “Hollow Tree,” “Next Summer,” “Action/Reaction” and “Claustrophobia.”

inglouriousbasterdsWriter/director Quentin Tarantino has been talking a long time about making his own World War II opus, well over a decade, amping up expectations among his fans, perhaps to the point where no movie he produced could have possibly met them. The audience I saw Inglourious Basterds was certainly receptive to it, if not overly enthusiastic about it, though it did earn some applause when the credits rolled. I asked a fellow moviegoer what she thought of it and she replied, “Well, it was Tarantinoesque.” At first, I thought this was a strange thing to say, as all movies that Tarantino directs are going to be inevitably Tarantinoesque by virtue of the fact that he is directing them, but maybe that’s not exactly what she meant to say. It might have been that Inglourious Basterds is simply the kind of WWII movie you’d expect from him, with not a lot of surprises if you’re well acquainted with his body of work. It’s not really even a WWII movie so much as it is about movies about WWII, and on top of that, it intentionally evokes spaghetti westerns, from the opening frame and first note of music on. The story is a riff on both Enzo G. Castellari’s 1978 WWII movie Inglorious Bastards (itself a riff on The Dirty Dozen) and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, and opens with the movie’s best scene: A Nazi hunting down Jews in France, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), arrives at a French dairy farm to question the head of the household about a Jewish family that has been unaccounted for. Without giving away too much, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a member of the family Landa is looking for, comes away from the experience with a motive for revenge. As Waltz plays him, Landa is charming, polite and utterly evil, one of the most startling cinematic villains since, well, Henry Fonda as Frank in the aforementioned Leone movie. Whenever Landa is onscreen, the movie suddenly has the kind of gravity and tension it otherwise sorely lacks. The next section of the movie introduces the Basterds, a select group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) whose mission is very specific: “We’re gonna be doing one thing and one thing only – killing Nazis,” which they proceed to do in ways designed to terrify and intimidate Nazi soldiers. Eventually, these two story lines intersect at a movie premiere at which many members of the Nazi high command will be in attendance. I liked the movie and I was one of those applauding at the end, but it worked for me less as a whole, and more as a series of three quite excellent set pieces, the opening scene, a scene at a German basement bar, and the climactic scene. The rest of the movie isn’t quite filler, but neither is it on par with these scenes, so it’s definitely a movie with its peaks and valleys, though fortunately those valleys aren’t very deep. Inglourious Basterds is perhaps not the ultimate WWII movie Tarantino fans might have been expecting to see, nor is it anywhere close to being his masterpiece, but it does contain some unforgettable moments and it is mostly a lot of fun to watch. It will probably still be a lot of fun to watch again, too, which I will inevitably do.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

jayreatardWatch Me Fall, the new album from Memphis rocker Jay Reatard, skilfully genre hops between garage rock, punk and power pop with pretty irresistible results for fans of those genres, or just plain old good rock and roll. Reatard, whose vocals often recall Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, is equally adept with both hard driving punk numbers like the opener “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “Faking It” and acoustic guitar based power pop numbers like “I’m Watching You” and “Wounded.” Psychedelic garage rock tunes like “Before I Was Caught” and the terrific closer “There Is No Sun” also go a long ways in showing his versatility. Fans of Reatard’s past collection of singles will see both a continuity and a progression, the latter in particular because he’s simply becoming a better and better songwriter: He’s pretty much mastered all the genres contained on this record, and his lyrics are by turns feverish, paranoid, witty, angry and romantic. Watch Me Fall flies by in 32 minutes, but the songs will stick with you a lot longer than that. Standout cuts: “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” “I’m Watching You,” “Wounded” and “There Is No Sun.”

aperfectgetawayThe new movie from David Twohy, A Perfect Getaway, is a tidy little mystery that has a simple goal: To generate suspense and thrills and maybe even a couple of scares. The story focuses on a trio of couples (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez, and Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth), who are all making their way along a 11 mile trail to an isolated Hawaiian island beach when they get news that there is a pair of serial killers targeting couples. The movie isn’t exactly Hitchcock, but it will keep audiences on their toes, guessing and guessing again, all the way up to the reveal, which is then carefully accounted for in a sequence that perhaps goes on too long. The final sequence that follows is effectively staged, with at least one good scare. There’s a fair bit of violence, but then it’s a movie about killers, so you have to expect at least some killin’. However, the violence is hardly horror film level. What makes the movie really work, part from Twohy’s clever scripting, are the performances, which are top notch for the most part. Jovovich and Olyphant in particular are good, with Olyphant once again showing he’s one of the most watchable, entertaining actors currently on the rise. A Perfect Getaway may not be a great movie, but it’s great fun for the most part, and isn’t that what summer movies are all about?


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)