Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Special Edition: 2009 October Horror Movie Challenge

Tonight at midnight will mark the fifth straight year of me partaking in DVDTalk's October Horror Movie Challenge. It's a casual event, mostly for fun. Just tally up all the horror films you watch in October. I've never watched more than 39 before, but I really want to try and break my own personal record by at least a couple. Here's a recap of what I watched the last four years.

In 2005, I watched a measly 15 titles. Wimpy status.

1. House by the Cemetery
2. Dead Heat
3. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
4. Hell of the Living Dead
5. City of the Living Dead
6. Nightmare City
7. House
8. House II
9. Hellraiser
10. Suspiria: LE
11. Zombi 3
12. Zombie 4: After Death
13. Zombie 5: Killing Birds
14. Evil Dead
15. Evil Dead II
16. Dawn of the Dead (remake)
17. Night of the Living Dead
2006 saw me watching 25 titles, as my taste for horror had only grown from the previous year.

October 1st
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) 5:45 PM 10/10
2. The Evil Dead (1981) 9:45 PM 10/10
October 2nd
3. The Last House on the Left (1972) 12:15 AM 9/10
4. Horror Hotel (1960) 10:30 PM 8.5/10
October 4th
5. Night of the Living Dead (1968) 11:10 AM 10/10
6. Drive-In Massacre (1976) 1:10 PM 5/10
October 5th
7. Dawn of the Dead (1978 - U.S. Theatrical) 10:25 PM 10/10
October 6th
8. Day of the Dead (1985) 1:00 PM 9.5/10
October 7th
9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) 12:00 AM 8.5/10
October 8th
10. Night of the Demons (1988) 9:30 PM 7/10
October 9th
11. The Undead (1957) 7:30 PM 4/10
October 10th
12. Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) 8:00 PM 9/10
13. Texas Chain Saw Massacre Shocking Truth Documentary 11:45 PM 8.5/10
October 11th
14. Tenebrae (1982) 9:00 PM 10/10
October 13th
15. Neon Maniacs (1986) 8:00 PM 8.5/10
October 15th
16. Noche del terror ciego, La (1971) 7:30 PM 8.75/10
October 16th
17. Pet Sematary (1989) 7:15 PM 9/10
October 19th
18. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) 7:00 PM 9/10
October 22nd
19. Rabid (1977) 7:30 PM 9.5/10
October 23rd
20. Tremors (1990) 7:30 PM 9/10
October 24th
21. Feast (2005) 7:15 PM 8.5/10
October 25th
22. I Drink Your Blood (1970) 7:45 PM 7.5/10
October 26th
23. Slither (2006) 7:45 PM 9/10
October 31st
24. Rosemary's Baby
25. Dead Alive
In 2007 I raised the bar to 35. More than one a day, an admirable effort I must say.

1. Evil (Kako, To)
2. Hellraiser
3. Demons
4. Demons II
5. Equinox
6. Flesh Eater
7. Zombie Honeymoon
8. Peeping Tom
9. Bug
10. Les Diaboliques
11. Severance
12. 28 Weeks Later
13. Dagon
14. A Nightmare On Elm Street
15. Twilight Zone: The Movie
16. Deathdream
17. The Haunting
18. Planet Terror
19. Death Proof
20. Black Sabbath (The Three Faces of Terror )
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
22. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
23. Day of the Dead
24. Dracula (1931)
25. The Haunted Strangler
26. Zombie Holocaust
27. Club Dread
28. The Pit and The Pendulum
29. House
30. Hour of the Wolf
31. Frankenstein (Karloff)
32. The Toxic Avenger
33. Videodrome
34. Rabid
35. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
My best total yet came last year as I watched 39 films. For the first time I attempted the check off list. You can find both lists below.

October 1st
1. Suspiria (1977) -- 10/10
2. Cannibal Ferox (1981) -- 7.5/10*
3. The Howling (1981) -- 8/10*
October 2nd
4. 28 Days Later (2002) -- 9.5/10
5. MST3K: Boggy Creek II (1985) -- 9/10 -- 2/10*
October 3rd
6. 28 Weeks Later (2007) -- 8.5/10
7. Horror of Dracula (1958) -- 8/10 *
October 5th
8. Seven Blood Stained Orchids (1972) -- 8/10*
October 6th
9. Midnight Meat Train (2008) -- 8/10*
10. Black Sheep (2006) -- 9.5/10
11. Dead Silence (2007) -- 6.5/10*
October 7th
12. The Descent (2005) -- 9/10*
October 8th
13. Wolf Creek (2005) -- 8/10*
14. Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key (1972) -- 7.5/10*
October 9th
15. [REC] (2007) -- 9.5/10
October 10th
16. Quarantine (2008) -- 7/10*
17. Neon Maniacs (1986) -- 5.5/10
October 12th
18. The Cottage (2008) -- 7/10*
October 14th
19. Habitat (1997) -- 6.5/10*
20. Bride of Re-Animator (1990) -- 7.5/10*
October 17th
21. Halloween (1978) -- 9.5/10
22. Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005) -- 3/10
23. Halloween II (1981) -- 7.5/10*
October 18th
24. Ringu (1998) -- 9/10*
October 20th
25. Saw II (2005) -- 5.5/10*
26. Saw III (2006) -- 4.5/10*
27. Saw IV (2007) -- 3/10*
October 21st
28. Bay of Blood (1971) -- 10/10
29. 5 Dolls For An August Moon (1970) -- 8/10*
October 22nd
30. Baron Blood (1972) -- 8/10*
October 23rd
31. The Last Broadcast (1998) -- 7.5/10*
32. To Let (2006) -- 9/10*
October 24th
33. Saw V (2008) -- 2/10*
October 27th
34. Sleepaway Camp (1983) -- 8/10*
October 29th
35. Opera (1987) -- 9/10*
October 30th
36. Night of the Living Dead (1968) -- 10/10
October 31st
37. Dawn of the Dead (1978) -- 10/10
38. Poultry in Motion: Truth Is Stranger Than Chicken (2008) -- 9.5/10*
39. The Shining (1980) -- 10/10

* = First Time Viewing

Watch one film from every decade of film history.
--- 1890 -
--- 1900 -
--- 1910 -
--- 1920 -
--- 1930 -
--- 1940 -
-X- 1950 - Horror of Dracula
-X- 1960 - Night of the Living Dead
-X- 1970 - Suspiria
-X- 1980 - Cannibal Ferox
-X- 1990 - Bride of Re-Animator
-X- 2000 - 28 Days Later

Watch a film for each rating:
-X- Unrated (pre-MPAA) - Horror of Dracula
--- G -
-X- PG - Boggy Creek II
--- PG-13 -
-X- R - The Howling
--- NC-17 -
--- X -
-X- Unrated (post-MPAA) - Cannibal Ferox

Watch a film starring:
--- Bela Lugosi -
--- Lon Chaney Sr. -
--- Boris Karloff -
--- Lon Chaney Jr. -
--- Vincent Price -
-X- Peter Cushing - Horror of Dracula
-X- Christopher Lee - Horror of Dracula
--- Robert Englund -
--- Bruce Campbell -
--- Jamie Lee Curtis -

Watch films in at least two languages other than English.
-X- First language, (Italian), (Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key).
-X- Second language, (Spanish), ([REC]).

Watch a film in each of the following subgenres/types:
-X- Vampire -Horror of Dracula
--- Frankenstein -
-X- Werewolf - The Howling
--- Mummy -
--- Invisible Man -
--- Ghost/haunting -
-X- Witchcraft/satanic/religious - Suspiria
-X- Zombie - Bride of Re-Animator
-X- Slasher/psycho/homicidal maniac - Wolf Creek
-X- Monster/creature feature/Godzilla - The Descent
-X- Documentary - Poultry in Motion: Truth Is Stranger Than Chicken
--- Musical -
-X- Spoof/comedy - Black Sheep
-X- Revenge - Dead Silence
-X- Killer/evil doll - Dead Silence
-X- Killer/evil animal - Black Sheep
--- Killer/evil child -
-X- Giallo - Seven Blood Stained Orchids
-X- J horror - Ringu
-X- MST3K/rifftrax/CT - Boggy Creek II
-X- film and its remake - [REC], Quarantine
--- based on a video game -
-X- based on a novel - Horror of Dracula
--- directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis or Uwe Boll or Ulli Lommel -
--- won an Academy Award -- any category -
--- silent film -
--- Criterion version film -
--- with commentary -
--- film and at least two of its sequels -
--- anthology film -
--- takes place on a holiday -
--- takes place in space -
--- takes place on or under the sea -
--- animated film -
-X- called "Night of the ..." - Night of the Living Dead (1968)
-X- called "Return of the ..." - Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis
--- called "Revenge of the ..." -
--- called "Attack of the ..." -
-X- with the words "Living Dead" in the title -Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis

So what will this October bring? I'm not really sure. I do know a few things that will get in the way though. One, a hopefully lengthy Yankee playoff run. Two, the Hartford Wolf Pack and New York Rangers. And three, a trip to Austin, Texas for a journalism conference at the end of the month. Hopefully the theaters there are playing some horror films to help fill in the holes. Until then, I'll happily grind through multiple horror films. Oh and in case you were wondering, I dedicate my eyes to all horror all the time in October. That means Ingmar Bergman and company will just have to wait a month. Check back to the blog for updates, recaps and reviews on what I've been watching and what I thought of. And if you have any horror films I should check out, please send the titles this way, I love new things.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Album review: Alice in Chains - "Black Gives Way to Blue"

After the death of iconic singer Layne Staley, it seemed that the identity of Alice in Chains had been lost forever. Staley’s rough, recognizable voice and dark, meaningful lyrics were two of the centerpieces of the band.

But the return of Alice in Chains sounds a lot like what made them famous with Staley. And why shouldn’t it? The driving musical force behind the band remains, with Jerry Cantrell still on guitar and providing vocals, Mike Inez still on bass and Sean Kinney still sitting at the drums. It’s not hard to sound like you do, even with the loss of an influencing and lead band member.

Cantrell and company added singer and guitarist William DuVall to the mix, whose voice automatically clicked with the band’s heavy metal tendencies and dark lyrical content.

Fans were reserved their right to be skeptical of the band’s return to the studio, but they might as well throw those reservations away, because Black Gives Way to Blue is an absolute time machine, transporting listeners back to the heyday of Alice in Chains. All that’s missing is everyone’s favorite lead singer.

And as far as the new goes, DuVall fits in perfectly. “Last of My Kind” works as one of the heaviest songs on the album and proves to be DuVall’s initiation to the band. The song is both lyrically and vocally impressive, as DuVall finds what will be the song that will make even the sternest Alice fan accept him.

It’s safe to say that Cantrell is the leader of the band. Much like on the band’s first three albums and numerous other recordings, Cantrell appears as both the main vocalist and as a dual vocalist to accompany DuVall. What was one of the most significant and recognizable components of the Alice in Chains style were the unique vocal harmonies between Cantrell and Staley of sometimes overlapping content. All of that is reborn with DuVall at Cantrell’s direction.

Cantrell’s guitar playing is up to par as well. The Wah-wah effect and absolutely heavy metal playing complete with soaring solos is noticeable just about everywhere on the album. Cantrell’s riffs have always pummeled at the ears of its listeners, and is does so here too, just give “A Looking in View” a listen. Melody wise, no one really constructs a song like Cantrell does, and this dark, brooding style is one of the best parts of Alice in Chains.

Where you won’t hear those particular Cantrell solos and riffs are on the bands slowed down acoustic tracks. Either I’m crazy or “Your Decision” sounds just like “Nutshell” or another classic Alice in Chains acoustic work. “Black Gives Way to Blue” features the unlikely teaming with Elton John on piano, but it really works, and proves to be a beautiful exit for what is a thunderous album.

My winner on the album is “Private Hell”, a morose ballad that might be the most similar to old track on the album. The “Ahhhhhhhhh’s” belted out by Cantrell and Duvall doesn’t do anything but make me imagine Staley singing a track as great as this one.

As far as content goes, it’s all here. The lyrics are mostly dark, totally relatable and memorable, and the music gives you a taste of the past. The album is the way heavy and hard rock should be done, and I’m glad one of the greatest bands to play the genre of rock has returned to show the rest how it’s done.

Black Gives Way to Blue is a tremendous ode to lost singer Staley and good music and general. The debate about whether or not the guys should have changed the name of the band might linger, but I don’t care, if you can point me in the direction of a better return to brilliance than this, I’d love to hear it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: September 22nd, 2009

Perhaps last week's untimeliness wasn't a rare lapse, for it happened again this week! Sorry folks. But you know me, I won't let a week slip by. I've been doing this since March and can't recall a week missed. On to the goods.

Observe and Report [DVD][Blu-ray]

Easily one of my favorite comedies of 2009, Observe and Report is what Taxi Driver would have been if it centered around a bipolar mall cop. The film is a dark journey through a delusional mind, but still remains very funny. Director Jody Hill reached high acclaim with his work on Eastbound and Down and this film only continues that same style of humor. You must check this title out, but don't expect anything Judd Apatow just because Seth Rogen is the film's star.

Shaun of the Dead [Blu-ray]
Hot Fuzz [Blu-ray]

Here we are, a double dose of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright on Blu-ray. These are two of the more spectacular films of their kinds ever made, not only of the last few years. Shaun of the Dead is of course a tribute to the zombie films made famous by filmmakers such as George A. Romero, while Hot Fuzz takes a look at crime, paying tribute to action and cop buddy films. If you haven't seen either of these, I don't know what you're waiting for. I mean really.

Gojira [Blu-ray]

Because you need the original old school black and white Godzilla on Blu-ray.

You know what? This might not have been a bad week to be slow on. Nothing else gives me the urge to write. There are some Criterions, but they're just reissues on Blu-ray.

What else comes out this week: Star Trek The Original Series: Season Two [Blu-ray], Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection [Blu-ray], 30 Rock - Season Three, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Complete Second Season, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, Friday the 13th: The Series - The Final Season, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival- Criterion Collection [Blu-ray], Pierrot Le Fou- Criterion Collection [Blu-ray], Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection, Clive Barker's Book of Blood, Lymelife, Rage, O'Horten, Zombies of the Stratosphere, Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis At Monterey- Criterion Collection [Blu-ray].

What to stay away from: Carnival of Souls - IN COLOR! Not because this is a bad film. In fact, Carnival of Souls is one of the best black and white horror films ever made. Key word being black and white. This being put into color, just like Night of the Living Dead and The Last Man on Earth, along with countless other classics, is just an atrocity. These films were made for black and white and were so haunting because of the way they used the black and white. Go grab the Criterion Collection version of Carnival of Souls if you want the definitive release. Otherwise, you can find the film just about anywhere, even for free, as it is a public domain film now.

See ya.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

All Deviants Line Up Immediately

Brian Trenchard-Smith was a staple filmmaker of the aggressive and violent Ozploitation movement in Australia during the early 1970s and late 1980s. Dead End Drive-In trapped a young couple inside a dystopic era drive-in theater with no way out. Turkey Shoot collected an assortment of supposed rule benders in need of behavior modifications and reeducation in one of many labor camps during a totalitarian future trying to clean the land of social deviants.

Both films present outlandish characters and situations, and play somewhat like Troma films, but on steroids. Dead End Drive-In had a mixed assortment of strange people similar to the gang of cretins in Lloyd Kaufman's classic Class of Nuke 'Em High. And with what seem to be slightly bigger budgets, the Aussie exploitation films are able to grab a few names, like Olivia Hussey for Turkey Shoot.

Turkey Shoot surely reigns as the more infamous title of the two Trenchard-Smith films. The film is a twisted version of The Most Dangerous game, with five prisoners being selected to be part of a special hunt. What keeps this version of the classic story from being another formulaic reproduction is the whole manner of the hunt, and the weapons that go along with it. And you can't forget the brutality.

A slimy redhead gets himself hunted by a suave hunter driving some kind of bulldozer accompanied by a cannibalistic sideshow freak he managed to pick up on the way there. A blond bombshell is being tracked down by a horse-riding woman complete with bow and a few various types of arrows. I think you get the idea.

Blood and guts abound, Turkey Shoot really doesn't stop short of providing memorable kills. The film also does serve as a genuine reminder of prison abuse and punishment, with some sadistic and disturbing prison sequences. Turkey Shoot isn't all serious, but Dead End Drive-In certainly provides more schlocky humor than the sadistic hunting film does.

Now, these are the only two Trenchard-Smith films I've seen, but all first reaction leads me to wanting more and more. Who knows what other films by one of the better Ozploitation filmmakers have to offer, but I know I want to take a look.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Album review: Porcupine Tree - The Incident

Consider the fact that progressive rock band Porcupine Tree has found itself testing the waters of almost every related genre. From their early pulsing trance induced tracks to spacey Pink Floyd-like psychedelic rock to their later heavy metal influenced work, the band has woven itself a collective work as vast as one could imagine.

And then listen to The Incident. In what can only be described as a great culmination of their works, the band’s latest album, which works as a 55-minute song cycle, draws from a bit of everything the band has been known for.

The album does replicate the feel of the band’s last few albums more than anything else, and there’s certainly nothing as strange as what’s found on the first cassette founder and front man Steven Wilson ever released, Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm, but the legacy and groundwork of this band can be found in some way or another all across this ambitious and surreal concept album.

Wilson found the concept for the album after realizing how detaching the commonly used word “incident” was for situations that were really so destructive and traumatic for the ones involved. The strong theme carries straight through all 14 parts of The Incident as each song, although very different, has apart of another inside it as the entire 55-minute experience seamlessly flows by.

The album certainly has its inspirations, perhaps most prevalent on the album’s longest track, “Time Flies”, which feels a lot like Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” right from the start. Of course, the two songs are very different, as each are made up of a different kind of musicianship. Meanwhile, instrumental “Circle of Manias” is about as heavy as the album gets, and perhaps draws from experimental progressive rock artists like Meshuggah. And rightly enough this track goes right into the deliriously beautiful “I Drive the Hearse”, a contender for best somber Porcupine Tree song. Self titled track “The Incident” might very well be the most impressive track on the album while the preceding track “Drawing the Line” hits hard with a powerful refrain from Wilson.

Playing as tight-knit as they ever have, the musicianship of Porcupine Tree continues to be one of their most impressive aspects. Drummer Gavin Harrison continues to prove why he deserves to be considered one of the best and most influential drummers alive and Colin Edwin’s bass and Richard Barbieri’s keyboards and synth fill up the atmosphere. And it can almost go unsaid, but Steven Wilson is still himself with guitar in hand, his spacey but heavy riffs give the band a true identity.

Dare I say that The Incident is Porcupine Tree’s undisputed masterpiece? It just might be. While I’ll forever always love the band’s early and mind intruding work such as The Sky Moves Sideways as much as anything else the band puts out, The Incident could be looked at as being their defining work and perhaps as the greatest example of their brilliant musicianship when all is laid to rest.

Finely Tuned 'NHL 10' Deserves To Hoist Cup

One look at NHL 10 and you might easily mistake it for NHL 09. Play through one game of NHL 10 and you’ll begin to realize that this is no clone.

The latest hockey offering from EA Sports looks just about the same as last year’s edition, but the inside workings of this beast are completely fine tuned and reworked. The team at EA Canada could have easily spent their time tweaking the presentation or changing a few items in the cosmetic area of the game, but they instead stayed dedicated to what the fans wanted, a tuned tweaking to what has become known as one of the most pure sports experiences in all of video games.

The authentic gameplay of NHL 09 has become even more similar to a real life NHL game in NHL 10. Developers claimed during production that over 200 gameplay changes were made over the course of development. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, for the core gameplay of NHL 10 feels completely more true to the sport of hockey and is nearly an impeccable product.

Because of the preciseness of the actual sport, the NHL video games, for the time being, will probably never be able to get it 100% right. You’re still going to find the occasional hiccup in gameplay, the rare but still beyond stupid lapse by the goalie, and a few very strange bounces of the puck. What’s most important is that when EA said they would fix the glitch goals cheesers abused online, they did. They followed up on important promises like the reduction of cheap goals and many others fallacies in last year’s game that all add to the raising of the level of gameplay to be as close to the real thing as possible.

And while true hockey fans and purists will find NHL 10 to be an addictive simulation of the sport they love, casual fans might struggle to learn the ropes. The game involves strategy like no other sports game has before, and the control scheme might be one of the trickiest we’ve seen yet. Passing takes the right touch from the trigger finger and shooting requires spot-on aim. If you don’t know hockey, you might find yourself a bit out of the water. The learning curve is large, one a veteran might have to relearn for the new year, but can be at least partially mastered by anyone who concentrates and puts their mind to it.

And with that comes the reward. NHL 10 is the most realistic sports video game I’ve ever played, a title previously held by last years game. The new title only ups the ante, with more realistic player animations, including goalies that make miraculous saves not seen in video games before, and a new board play feature, that while sometimes feels almost random at outcome, is a beautiful implemented feature for hardcore hockey fans to really allow them to achieve a supreme forecheck on their opponent.

The additions didn’t only come on the ice, as EA reworked and added new features off the ice too. Be a GM mode improves on what was previously known as the franchise mode. More control is given to the player as the general manager of the team, and there’s more to control. Computer AI has been upped significantly in the trade department. No longer will struggling teams trade away young talent for an aging veteran simply because their ratings are similar. Make an offer like that in NHL 10 and you’ll find that your GM will begin to lose respect amongst his colleagues.

Returning for another year is the EA Sports Hockey League, a creation that forever changed sports gaming when it was introduced last year. The EASHL allows you to create a player, be it yourself or a fictional character, and start a club of your own or join one that has already been created. As you control just your single character, the EASHL allows for up to six players to be active in one game on each team, making for deep and absolutely rewarding gameplay. It appears EA has taken care of all of last years glitch goals, which means no more passes that goes through two defensemen, right past the goalie who stands motionless in his crease, and to the opponent’s teammate who’s waiting on the other side for an easy tap in.

Whether you have NHL 09 or not isn’t the main question to ask yourself when considering NHL 10. What really needs to be asked is whether or not you played that game at an unstopping pace. If you did, NHL 10 is a most worthy investment for the updated authentic gameplay on its own, forget about the bevy of game modes that will leave you wondering which to play first. Those unfamiliar with the NHL series shouldn’t be turned away at the high level of learning or competitive nature this game brings, for the lower difficulty levels and great tutorials make great help in understanding the nature of the game.

The developers behind NHL 10 continue to disprove the age old belief that sports games are simply recycled and slightly tweaked versions every year. This game is not simply a roster update with a cosmetic buffer and a few new game modes, it’s a finely tuned piece of dedicated work, and the greatest sports game of all time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Another Undeserved Shunning

I know I've made my point of great, low-budget horror (or other similar genre) films getting shunned out of becoming big releases. It's a shame how often it happens. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane still is yet to be found in region one and Trick-R-Treat, which I've heard is supposed to be one of the next great things in horror, has no chance of becoming one of those great franchise titles we love when it comes to DVD on October 6th and doesn't go into theaters around Halloween. Of course, Saw VI will be in theaters around Halloween, you can bet your lucky stars on that. Just don't get me started on the shunning of [REC] and it's upcoming sequel in America.

It's just a shame that the film I want to talk about today won't be in theaters across the country anytime soon. Opening this Friday in a limited setting is Paranormal Activity, a new low-budget horror film that's been getting absolutely rave reviews. Check out the trailer below, it appears to be an exhilarating experience. Also, at the end of the trailer you'll notice a short list of the first cities this film will play in. You can then log on to the film's Eventful page and "demand" your city to be included. Los Angeles has about 2,500 demands while our Hartford metro area has only 300. But what can you do, Hollywood is a corporation where as an independent filmmaker you either have your foot in someone's door or you get very lucky. Check out the trailer below to make up your mind as to whether Paranormal Activity deserves better treatment.

Don't Ask Muse to Mime

British rockers Muse are a favorite band of mine, but for more than just their sound. As their popularity has grown across the world over the years, Muse has appeared on many television shows throughout Europe. A lot of the time they've been asked to mimic and lip-sync their way through their performances. Bad idea, crazy random European talk show hosts. Muse, led by Matthew Bellamy, strike back when this happens. In the most amusing fashion, the guys of Muse make extreme light of the situation, and perform in absolute joke fashion, not caring what they appear like. So to show my extreme appreciation for this honest attitude from the band, I decided to collect a few of the better Muse miming moments on Youtube for your enjoyment, starting with the most recent incident.

Here first we have "The Muse" as the idiotic host refers to them "performing" Uprising off their latest album The Resistance. Here lead singer and guitarist Matthew Bellamy went to sit on the drums, wildly and randomly smacking the set in a pattern I'm sure he couldn't even follow. All the while Bellamy makes some of the most amusing faces, misses drum rolls and even carelessly loses a drum stick or two. At one point in the video he does quite the maneuver, putting his left hand behind his head before pointing at the camera. Moving up front is Dominic Howard to take over Bellamy's vocal duties and Chris Wolstenholme's bass. Wolstenholme grabs Bellamy's guitar and keyboard, and the two new front-men don darkened shades as their mimic away at their new instruments.


Next up is the one that made me notice all this. Playing "New Born" here, Bellamy keeps his usual duties of vocals/guitar/keys but lets it all go loose. In the piano intro for the song he absolute jokes around with some of the most freeform piano playing skills in the universe, as he eventually transcends into just waving his arms up and down in a strange fashion. Be sure to notice Bellamy's over exaggerated guitar playing that turns into not even playing at all.


Here for "Muscle Museum" the band puts tights on their heads and appear to play the song as three bank robbers. If this doesn't throw an organizer or promoter off I don't know what will. I also believe Bellamy flips the camera off for a good amount of time while pretending to sing.


Next we have the band playing "New Born" again, but a bit different here. The focus this time should be on Bellamy's completely off the mark vocals in the intro. Hilariously not singing what is being played through the speakers. And you've gotta love Bellamy's fall on his back and shred the fuck out of that heavy part right after the low key intro. Things get absurdly funny here.


Not much to say here. Bellamy is just the ultimate showman when it comes to this stuff. He can easily transform himself into that larger than life superstar whenever he wants to.


This one here is just an audio clip, for no good video can be found. It's a miming performance with live vocals. "Hey you crazy kids!" Bellamy shouts at the beginning of what turns out to be a most interesting singing performance. Just wait until 1:24 and 2:24 and everything in between. Read Bellamy's take on the performance here.


Anyways, this is just one big lesson in not asking Muse to mime. Ever. If you do, you should expect a farce, because it might be what they give you. But really, why ask one of the most exhilarating live acts to pretend to play?

And just to not forget about the rest of music history, this isn't the first time this has been done by a band. Iron Maiden made a joke out of a performance years back. Nirvana even had a more extreme pretending where Kurt Cobain just waves at the guitar during "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Check those videos out below.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: September 15th, 2009

You'll have to forgive me for this rare lapse, for the release of NHL 10 (which you can read my review of in a couple of days) took up all my attention ever since its release on Tuesday. But don't be worried, because DVDs will always have a huge place in my heart, no matter how good NHL 10 might be (and it's VERY good).

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 4 [DVD]

The newest season of Always Sunny started up this past Thursday and to coincide with that came the release of season four on DVD. The fourth season might not always hold up to the rest of the show, but it still has a few gems, including most notably the production of Nightman Cometh, which has since been turned into a live show featuring the cast. The highlight of the special features is a 50 minute broadcast of the live show, a must see for fans. If you haven't seen this show, start from the beginning, you'll find yourself hooked if you have any sense of humor inside you.

Army of Darkness: Screwhead Edition [Blu-ray][DVD]

Yeah, another release for Army of Darkness. It seems like once a year one of the films out of the famed Evil Dead series gets a reissue. The big deal here is the debut of Army of Darkness on Blu-ray. Reviews say the video and audio vary from mediocre to good, and that some of the lapses in quality are almost unavoidable. So, Sam Raimi fans, this might be the best you're going to do right now in terms of picture quality. A true collector will probably buy this along with the countless other iterations of the film anyways.

Phantasm II [DVD]

The reissue and release pattern for the Phantasm series was a strange one. What probably was the result of strange rights issues, the second Phantasm film ended up being the last of the four to get released by Anchor Bay. I actually already own the third film, but just haven't watched it because a doable copy of the second one has yet to become available. In time for October, it seems it's about time to pick up both the second and fourth film to complete the Phantasm series. The first film is absolute classic of the genre, by the way, so see that if you haven't.

Misery [Blu-ray]

Yeah, The Shining is awesome, but Misery has got to be one of the best Stephen King adaptations. Kathy Bates is absolutely terrific and demonic as the obsessive fan of a famous writer here. She finds him struggling to live after he survives an accident. What begins as being a nice person turns to being a loony. If you haven't seen this one, it's another must see title, especially on Blu-ray, just in time for October. It's got a perfect tense feel to it, and some terrific acting to go along with it.

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood [DVD]
Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Way back on June 16th, I wrote about the five Friday the 13th titles that had been reissued in new "deluxe" editions to coincide with the release of the Friday the 13th remake. At that time I hoped that eventually a box set would be released, and that I might wait for that. Little did I know that I would find the first three films in the series, in deluxe reissued format, for as cheap as $2.50 each used online. Now combine the fact that I bought those and the fact that I am a series completest, and you'll realize that I must complete the series at some point. So I was happy to see that two more titles have been reissued. Released this week are "The New Blood" and "Jason Takes Manhattan", two later titles in the series. Just a heads up for all those slasher fans out there.

John Carpenter: Master of Fear Collection [DVD]
Wes Craven Collection [DVD]

Not that these two fantastic filmmakers are very similar, but I felt like including these two collections together for a few reasons. One, they come out on the same day. Two, they cost the same. And three, they're the same concept. Repackage a bunch of titles and sell them cheap. For those that don't own these films, you can't do much better at getting them this cheap. For starters, the Carpenter collection includes The Thing, arguably his greatest achievement, and one of the genre's masterpieces. Additionally, They Live is one of the more fun films the director has ever made. Craven's triple-headed collection includes The Serpent and the Rainbow, an old school take on the zombie genre, and one of the most underlooked of its kind. Also, The People Under the Stairs, is a sight to behold. Just trust me on that one. Anyways, these are two good places to start to get more involved with these two talented filmmakers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Damon Leads Strong in Soderbergh’s Quirky Tattle-tale

Steven Soderbergh rides along on a wavelength that is all to himself. It’s impossible to directly liken him to another name in cinema. In fact, the one constant that runs along all the films in his filmography is that outside of the Ocean’s series, no one film is truly like another.

And Soderbergh’s quietly funny satire The Informant! is only an extension of the variance his films have contained ever since he broke into the business with his industry changing film Sex, Lies and Videotape.

Based on a true “tattle-tale”, The Informant! is the story of a lysine price-fixing conspiracy centered on the company ADM. High-ranking Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) plays whistleblower on the whole situation, but things just don’t work out the way the bipolar executive envisions them to.

Certainly nothing about a man’s turmoil in life due to a bipolar disorder is funny, but this film, which happens to focus on such a thing, certainly is. Damon’s performance as antihero Mark Whitacre is a charismatic and indulging turn, and probably one of the actor’s best ever. And this perfect portrayal of a delusional, reckless-with-words man that Damon had to gain 20 to 30 pounds for is one of the reasons the film has such a high level of satirical, ironic and subtle sense of humor. Most of the funny business here flies low under the radar and the facade of the whole thing.

While I remain true to my no two Soderbergh films are the same mantra, those that have seen Soderbergh’s earlier comedy about office plight, Schizopolis, will know better than anyone else what to expect with this film. While not as strange as the experimental Schizopolis, the film is certainly not straight on its rocker, much like the main character. This goes for the film’s pacing and interludes of Whitacre’s random bipolar induced thoughts, which makes for some of the funniest dialogue in the film. “How do polar bears know their noses are black?” Whitacre wonders mid conversation.

And what cultural subtext message about big business sent by Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who adapted the story to screen from the book The Informant, by Kurt Eichenwald. Here we have this mentally perturbed man, who if not for criminal involvement of his own, would be seen as a national hero for his exposure of his own corrupt corporation. And this “everyman” who absolutely earns his title of antihero, is one of the most likeable characters in the film and a man who appears to be one of the good guys, but in the end still comes out as corrupt.

It is true that people who aren’t in the same strange stratosphere as Soderbergh might not understand what there’s to take out of this film. But without Soderbergh’s consistently ironic tone or Damon’s outrageous performance that builds and builds and pulls the audience back into the story with each additional lie, what’s left is a rather average business web of intrigue story. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few people feel left out. The Informant! could end up being comedy’s best kept secret.

The Informant! isn’t going to be remembered as a masterpiece mostly because it won’t appeal to everyone, and that’s fine, but for Soderbergh-ites like me, it truly is what’s expected and wanted when he attacks humor. If this film doesn’t successfully sneak up on everyone else by surprise, The Informant! is likely destined for cult status, much like most of Soderbergh’s past catalog has already been resigned to.

Album review: Muse - The Resistance

You might listen to Muse’s latest album The Resistance and ask yourself, “Where did all the guitar riffs go?” Well, they’re still around, there’s just not as many and they come in different forms.

This the fifth studio album from Muse, a band who’s more popular in the United Kingdom than you could ever imagine, brings the best of the old and a few shining spots of great new to create a new organic listening experience for the band’s diehard fans.

Both rhythmically rocking and symphonically constructed, The Resistance is a turn in a different direction and a change of intent for the trio of unique musicians that make up Muse. At the same time, the album is both strikingly different but all so ever familiar sounding.

The Resistance sheds influences of classical composures with the ending of “United States of Eurasia” being an arrangement of a Frédéric Chopin piece, subtitled “Collateral Damage”, a track that begins more similar to Queen than anything else. It’s this variety that in the grand scheme of things makes for this absolutely swooping collection of songs, hitting all spots of genuinely heart pounding musicianship.

A track like “Unnatural Selection”, “Resistance” or “MK Ultra” might ring more true to the origins of Muse with catchy choruses and heavy electronic based guitar riffs, but this all eventually turns into the albums closure, the three part “Exogenesis”, a true Muse symphony. The dynamics of adding an orchestral touch to the end of this booming album is a beautiful touch.

The album isn’t all perfect. The lyrical portion of Muse has never been something I’ve been blown away by, but with the way lead singer Matthew Bellamy presents what he’s saying, he could be singing about whatever he wants to and I’ll still fall under the spell of his up and down falsetto style.

A few tracks hit low marks, such as the R&B inspired “Undisclosed Desires”, a track that is too far from what makes Muse great to really hold in high regard. And the worst song on the album is “Guiding Light”, a strange, far too synthy and almost 1980’s ballad piece complete with a soaring but for some reason cheesy solo.

But those are a few negatives I’m willing to put aside for a great chance. I’m not sure I’ll ever love this version of Muse as much as I love the Absolution-era band, but this certainly is a beautiful and captivating album, and one brilliant modern orchestral composition.

Friday, September 11, 2009

'Sorority Row' Rides the Highs of the Lows

A hooded killer dressed all in black, mean college-aged girls and bloody results. Nothing about Sorority Row is particularly original, but then again it is a slasher film, one of the most copied, repeated and cashed in on genres in the last 30 years.

We wouldn’t be watching slasher films for this long if what we wanted was true originality. Sure, it’s nice, but you aren’t going to get it every time, so in some situations it’s passable. But here’s the kicker – Sorority Row is a remake of Mark Rosman’s 1983 slasher The House on Sorority Row, a film that hovers between good and classic in the overall realm of the genre.

Stewart Hendler’s updated version of Rosman’s original places a group of sorority sisters in harms way of a serial killer haunting them with the tragedy of the accidental death of their house-sister that they were all responsible for, a memory they’re trying to forget.

Nothing about Sorority Row should really make for a good film. Alright, nothing other than the fact that a bunch of dumb college girls and their frat boy toys, all wearing next to nothing at one time or another, are getting plucked off one by one by a vicious serial killer in some of the most amusing ways.

But still, this typical slasher film somehow manages to leave mediocre status and enter a level of enjoyment it probably doesn’t belong in. All that even with unsurprisingly stereotypical characters and a plot that meanders into near stupid by the time the big reveal comes around.

Where Sorority Row really succeeds is with its ability to not take itself too seriously. With a semblance of an identity problem, writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger let the film range comfortably between being a seriously moody horror film and a blood-spurting and genuinely campy film. Hit-or-miss one-liners, especially those out of the mouth of queen bitch Jessica (Leah Pipes), indulge the audience in a bit of comedy amid death. “Oh, she looks terrible!” says Jessica, in regards to the rotted body of one of her dead sisters while panic surrounds the rest.

There really isn’t anything scary, shocking or surprising about Sorority Row and outside of a few of the deaths, nothing overly impressive in the blood, guts and gore department. You see better and more creative work at lower budgeted levels. And yet, something felt absolutely right about watching a group of morally haunted sorority sisters stupidly sneak around their sorority house, hoping they aren’t next on the list of whoever that serial killer might be. Ultimately there’s enough here for the average fan of slice-n-dice slasher films to enjoy, and even a few paid tributes to Rosman’s original film.

If for nothing else, we can at least rejoice that the film is rated R. Summit Entertainment didn’t succumb to the recent pattern of horror films that go for a lower PG-13 rating, exchanging brutality for money. I’m not sure if Hendler really explored the R rating to its full capacity, but it’s certainly more than what you’d bargain for.

The absurdly entertaining Sorority Row truly marks the arrival of another one of those rare but existent mainstream slasher films that truly is a good bad movie. For once we have characters that are able to remark at their own stupidity, some of which are self-conscious of their terrible decisions and shortcomings. When you find out the motive for all these murders, well let me just say it’ll leave you laughing, but in a good way.

And really, this self-aware and intentional nature is the only thing that lets Sorority Row not make you want to close your eyes and cover your ears as you try and hide from the latest stink of mainstream horror.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Replanning of Plan 9

People find it easy to say that Edward D. Wood is the worst director of all time. While this is completely wrong, it's easy to see why such an assumption can and has been made time and time again.

Amusingly detailed in what I find to be Tim Burton's best film, Ed Wood, and in Wood's actual films, are the absurdities and absolutely painful choices made by Wood. Constantly strapped by a lack of funds or threatened by the scowl of a producer, Wood resorted to cheap tricks and went on with his business quickly. Spacecrafts held by obvious string and cardboard tombstones were just a few of the ways Wood went about with his craft. Continuity was not his friend.

But what Wood lacked in apparent talent and skill, he made up for in spirit. It was clear that Wood loved what he did, albeit in a somewhat delusional way. Failure after failure hardly dampened his spirits for attempting to make his horror or science fiction masterpiece again and again. It is for this, his guerrilla warfare and anything goes attitude that allows me to give Wood the absolute respect as a person as he deserves.

Every time I see the words "worst film ever" attached to Plan 9 From Outer Space, I cringe. Have the people spewing this claim seen any of the countless horror films from our generations, or the spoof comedies those two dolts have been passing off as comedy? I know some of them have, because those films make too much money for their own good.

Wood's creative Plan 9 falls short of being a good film, but to this day retains an admirable feeling that gives it the cult status that will only continue to grow as new generations discover Wood's material. Still, Wood's most popular film is a lovable and enjoyable film. Wood wasn't brilliant, but he had some ideas inside that head of his that can't be ignored. These films were his brain-children. Terribly disfigured, malformed and awkward children, but his nonetheless. No, Wood wouldn't go on to be the next Orson Welles, acting, writing and directing his own films, but he is still far from the worst to ever sit behind a camera.

Now what's the reaction when a remake (or reimagining) of Plan 9 is announced? Both sides have legitimate points. Those supporting the remake might make it aware that if someone can get Wood's story into the right hands, it might make for a great and campy b-movie. Those against the remaking of a film heralded as the worst film ever by people such as author Michael Medved might say the unique charm of Wood's original might be tarnished or skewed by an updated version being released to the masses.

Whatever your view is, it'll have to wait, because the remake has been gone ahead with, and the first trailer for the film has been released. View the trailer here, and join me right after with my thoughts.

Immediate reaction? This could be good. The film seems to retain that high level of camp but still might be able to combine a level of sped up terror, a sort of touch of our generation's style of horror filmmaking. From the looks of this debut trailer, the film also might have a nice apocalyptic feel, lending to the film an unnerving touch.

What remains to be seen is which direction the filmmakers actually decided to go. In the campy vein of Slither or more serious like 28 Days Later? As hard as it may be, I would hope for a combination of the two. That could be a serious match made in heaven if pulled off right. But with the chances that the acting will bite the big one, the film will most likely lean camp.

A lot is up in the air here though. Director John Johnson has never made anything worth mentioning, but in a weird way that might make him the perfect candidate to remake an Ed Wood film. Still, with a first trailer as intriguing as this one, I'll give Johnson a chance.

We normally see remakes of great films; classics that touched the hearts and minds of most of its viewers or cult classics that are held in a special place by its dedicated fans. This time its a bit different and to me, mostly welcome. I still cringe when I hear about a new remake, but I think it's about time to try and welcome them any way I can by giving them a chance for whatever reason possible.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: September 8th, 2009

Lots of great material to look out for this week in the form of brand new films, older titles debuting on Blu-ray and a few treats from the Criterion Collection.

Crank 2: High Voltage

The second installment of the high-adrenaline and energetic Crank series is easily one of the highlights for this week. The film was some of the most fun I've had in theaters this year. It goes one step further than the first film does, and with great results. Jason Statham may be type-casted to hell and back, but he does it well. Directors Neveldine/Taylor didn't strike box office gold with Gamer, but this release should reward them financially.

Creepshow [Blu-ray]

I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I wasn't aware that this macabre classic was being released on Blu-ray. Creepshow was a teaming of two of the greatest talents in the horror genre in the 1970s/1980s, director George A. Romero and writer (and actor here) Stephen King. Creepshow plays on the old E.C. comics of the 1950s and tells five tales of supreme macabre terror to life. All five are a good time, with actors like Ed Harris, Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen making appearances. Creepshow truly is horror fan heaven with its ghoulish tales and results as one of the most creative genre titles of the 1980s. And for those that are still with DVD, they reissued the title in a keepcase! The film was previously only available in one of those ugly looking snap cases. Good news for OCD people all across America!

Parks & Recreation [Season One]
The Office [Season Five]

I'm grouping these two together, not because they are on the same level, but because they are quite similar. Parks & Recreation is a sort of spin-off of The Office, lending itself to the same mockumentary style. Parks survived its first season, and with great success. Aziz Ansari made himself into a dependable character on the show, and one of the main reasons to watch. Now, I may be biased, as I work for my town's parks and rec office during the summers -- and I have done so for the last five summers -- but this perfectly captures some of the foolhardy and large than life beliefs some of the higher level employees actually have. On to The Office, one of the more popular shows on television. I enjoyed the latest season enough to recommend it. Not the greatest, but it sure had its moments. Some great writing going on with that show.

Homicide [Criterion Collection DVD]

It seems almost ritualistic that every time a Criterion release drops I have to talk about it. If only you would just watch a few of these great films and you'd understand why I get so giddy at seeing what they have in store on these special Tuesdays. One of this week's most interesting releases from Criterion is David Mamet's Homicide. Briefly, the film details a Jewish homicide detective who investigates a seemingly minor murder and falls in with a Zionist group as a result. The film stars most notably William H. Macy. Mamet already is on the Criterion Collection's roster with House of Games, and Homicide looks just as appetizing. Check out the short trailer below.

That Hamilton Woman [Criterion Collection DVD]

I don't know much of anything about where this film came from, what it's about or why you should see it. I don't know who Alexander Korda is and why I should watch one of his films either. But I'm sure ready to find out why. I know Laurence Olivier makes for good cinema, so that's a start. Beautiful UK cinema in the 1940s was really overlooked, we Americans were busy with our brooding and ambiguous antiheroes of the noir genre. Anyways, Criterion describes this films plot to be the following: "Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars of the late eighteenth century, That Hamilton Woman is a gripping account of the scandalous adulterous affair between the British Royal Navy officer Lord Horatio Nelson and the renowned beauty Emma, Lady Hamilton, the wife of a British ambassador." I'm sold.

The Human Condition [Criterion Collection DVD]

Here's Criterion's big release of the week. It's a 4-disc set of Masaki Kobayashi's three part, nine-and-a-half-hour epic titled The Human Condition, what Criterion calls one of the most staggering achievements in Japanese cinema. What a bold statement, with such greats like Akira Kurosawa roaming the countryside. The epic film tells of the journey of the well-intentioned yet naive Kaji from labor camp supervisor to Imperial Army soldier to Soviet POW. Sounds as riveting as they say it is. Only trouble here might be finding time to dedicate to such a lengthy adventure. Sure seems like it'd be worth it.

Requiem for a Dream [Blu-ray]

I figured I owed it to everyone with a Blu-ray player to at least make mention of this release. Requiem for a Dream is the film that made director Darren Aronofsky important. Sure, Pi was great, but this one his name around like nothing else good. It's a startling film for all first time users, a deeply disheartening story lies at the root of it. And this is indeed the unrated version of the film, giving you more than you've ever asked for.

What else comes out this week: Criminal Minds: The Complete Fourth Season, Fringe: The Complete First Season, Freddy vs. Jason [Blu-ray], The New World (The Extended Cut) [Blu-ray], Harper's Island: The DVD Edition, The Postman [Blu-ray], Silverado [Blu-ray], Sphere [Blu-ray], Dead Calm [Blu-ray], The Quick and the Dead [Blu-ray], Friday [Blu-ray], Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive, Over the Top [Blu-ray], Menace II Society [Blu-ray], Halloween Triple Pack, From Dusk Till Dawn Triple Pack, Scream Triple Pack.

What to stay away from: This abscess of a film: Dance Flick. I must have seen the trailer for that film a half a dozen times before good films in the theater before it came out. Way too many times to see a promotion for something like that.

As you can tell, this was a really deep week, full of quality. This is one of the few times where there literally is something for everyone to get at. I probably even left a few quality items out, so be sure to look extra hard. See you all next week!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Album review: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey - One Day in Brooklyn

This new getup seems to be working like a charm. Ever since Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey made the lineup change gathering the likes of Chris Combs, Matt Hayes and Josh Raymer, the odyssey has been flying at new heights. Original founding member Brian Haas called it gradual, but the new sound is anything but that.

One Day in Brooklyn is another output of the group’s recent machine-like push through 2009. They already released one album for free and have been touring nonstop like madmen. They’ve even got a few gigs opening up for Mike Gordon of Phish.

This latest EP is both a debut of two new original compositions and another ode to their hometown inspirations. The twangy Tulsa, Oklahoma sound of Chris Combs’ lap steel makes for an eerie and recognizable addition to the methodical and energetic piano playing of veteran Haas.

The group’s six track offering pays tribute with unique renditions of The Beatles’ “Julia”, Thelonious Monk’s “Four In One” and Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Imam”. Haas also constructed a medley of two Rahsaan Roland Kirk compositions “A Laugh For Rory” and “Black & Crazy Blues”, which was dedicated to legendary jazz producer Joel Dorn. JFJO breathes a new kind of soulful energy to each rendition and in a way only they can, puts their own touch on the classic tracks that nearly make it their own.

But perhaps the most exciting items on the track are the two impressive original recordings. “Drethoven”, which Haas describes as a combination of their two favorite composers, Dr. Dre and Beethoven, is an absolutely killer sounding feast that completely hooks onto your ears and steals you for all seven minutes.

The evolving Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey seems to be heading off to regions unknown with their fused blending of conventional jazz and avant-garde style. See this band live just once, and you’ll realize their limitless potential for exploring your mind.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Album review: Phish - Joy

Not that they aren’t important, but Phish’s fourteen studio albums aren’t what fans love most about the band. The typical Phish “phan” (including myself) will let you know that to get the best impression of the legendary jam band from Vermont you must listen to one of their many live shows.

This doesn’t render any of their albums irrelevant, but they certainly aren’t what made this band what they are today. I don’t even find myself going back to their studio recordings, instead it’s straight onto a live show for me.

The release of the band’s latest offering, Joy, has almost been done in a backwards fashion. Where artists typically tour following a release of an album, Phish has chosen differently. The sounds of Joy have already been heard throughout venues across the country, starting back in March in the first of the band’s many shows this their third installment.

In typical Phish fashion, they turned 6 minute tracks from the latest record into fifteen minute jammed out and blistering musical odysseys all summer long. And that, to me, is what the Phish studio albums are all about. The studio recordings set in stone what the band is able to build upon for its spectacular live shows.

Their first album in five years, Joy is a definite change of pace that has seemed to be welcomed by different parts of the fan base. The album has to do with a few subjects, including lead guitarist and singer Trey Anastasio and his own battles with drugs and the death of his sister, Kristy Manning, to breast cancer. No, Joy isn’t part of the beloved Gamehendge universe Anastasio created in which Colonel Forbin enters the land to get the Helping Friendly Book back from the evil dictator Wilson, but so what, it’s still quality stuff.

“We want you to be happy, don’t live inside the gloom,” sings Anastasio on the track “Joy”, dedicated to his sister. And really, that is the one resonating theme of the entire album. It makes you happy. The sounds of this album straight groove, from “Sugar Shack”, where bassist Mike Gordon gets the vocal duties and turns in a downright funky turn with his bass, to the upbeat “Backwards Down the Number Line” where Anastasio sings joyfully “Happy happy oh my friend, blow out candles once again, leave the presents all inside”. Anastasio clearly poured a lot of his own emotion into this recording and it shows.

What Joy does prove is that Phish still has a lot left to offer its diehard fans. All four members still have it and Anastasio can still pick those tricky solos live. The creativity and excitement has returned and they’ve got the energy to record together. This hopefully means they have the energy to stay together for a long time.