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Music and Culture (sort of...)
Sam's Sonic Freakout

by Sam "Culture Dog" Hatch


Atlas Dei - Robert Rich and Daniel Colvin (Region O NTSC DVD, 93 mins)
  Atlas Dei is a feature length marriage of Daniel Colvin's widescreen computer imagery and both old and new music from ambient musician Robert Rich. Rich had used the film as a backdrop for his recent concert tours, and has created some new pieces especially for the finished product. All of the Rich songs in the film have been remastered in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The accompanying visuals are active segments of digital art that come in several movements. What's interesting is the aggressively wide panoramic aspect ratio used (quoted as Cinerama 3:1, though many folks dispute that Cinerama ever employed that ratio), and it apes the three projector Cinerama format by occasionally breaking the image into three separate segments. Atlas Dei begins with a detailed and very colorful fractal display (which looks similar to some of the work in The Animatrix), before the image shatters, revealing a tunnel of light underneath - or the God behind the artifice, if you will. Much of the work is a combination of earthly landscape photography juxtaposed with a handful of 3-D shapes and ancient statues. These usually gradually arrive into the frame, as one early barren landscape slowly becomes peppered with pyramids and the sphinx. Also present are a series of what could be lens flares, planets, moons or even spirit orbs. Another interesting evolution is a gigantic tree (the tree of life?) which subtly announces its presence through its shadow before it actually appears on the horizon. Overall, it's an evolution of traditional 'techno/ambient' video, which has been saddled for far too long with the kind of stuff you get for free with your computer's Windows Media Player. Though there is still room to grow - some of the recurring motifs grow tiresome over an hour and a half, and sometimes the most interesting material morphs into something else too quickly. Some of the digital filter techniques will also be less thrilling to those who have dabbled in programs such as Photoshop or AfterEffects. Though for these folks there is the opportunity for a 'name that filter' drinking game. "Lens Flare!" Take a shot. "Liquify!" Take a shot, "Bas Relief!" Take a swig. During one scene with a small tornado worming its way across the screen, I was suddenly struck by the memory of the CGI artists behind the Hollywood film Twister, and how they were plagued by the fact that computerized tornadoes never looked as weird and unearthly as the real thing. And having seen Ron Fricke's 70mm film poem Baraka more than ten times, I was reminded that nothing in Atlas Dei is quite as mind blowing as just about any of the real world footage in that film. Soundwise, Rich's tracks are all done justice, although I would have wished for a DTS track to be included as well. The surround mixes are still relatively front-heavy, with the largely flute-oriented melodies sitting at the front of the stage, accented by a handful of drippy sounding effects hovering behind the listener. Though it may go against the designed premise of the DVD, one may find themselves closing their eyes and focusing on the surround sound music. And nothing against Daniel Colvin's work, but you never know if the listener might be able to conjure up their own fascinating imagery within their minds. And even if you wind up napping out after a while, then consider the project as an extension of Rich's classic 'Sleep Concert' experiments. It will definitely serve as a great demo disc to wow your friends with - just don't expect them all to want to sit through the entire shebang. On average, the bitrate was ranging around 6 to 7 megabits per second, which is pretty decent considering that most of the image frame is composed of black bars. Thankfully, it is anamorphically enhanced for those who have widescreen TVs, making the most of the hi-resolution digital art.

Gojira - The Link Alive (Listenable 2007, Region 0 NTSC, 75 Minutes)
  I reviewed this band (often labeled 'the French Mastodon') and their most recent release 'From Mars to Sirius' a few program guides ago, and have been patiently awaiting this DVD release ever since. It's a live performance from 2003 shot in Bordeaux, France in support of the previous album 'The Link'. It's taken quite some time to make its way stateside, but now that it's finally here I'm one happy camper. First, let's clear the air of all negativity and bemoan the fact that while it was shot in a widescreen aspect ratio, the disc is not enhanced for widescreen TVs. This results in a waste of resolution, and I was forced to zoom in on the picture to fill my screen. Shame, shame on you, video demons! Unfortunately, this practice is not an exception, but the norm - so I can't say I was exactly surprised by this shoddy move. Onto the positive vibes - the music itself is presented in uncompressed CD-quality PCM sound. This is also handy for those not lucky enough to snag the officially released CD counterpart (limited to 500!), since you can burn your own audio discs from the digital output from the DVD player if you are so inclined. Overall, this is a classy package for one of the world's greatest 'heavy' acts. The show has a limited lighting scheme, and during most songs the band is either bathed entirely in blue or red. Still, the feel of the gig is brought across rather well, and I can't think of that many other 'club show' DVDs that really make you feel like you're there in the pit. Plenty of angsty French kids hop on stage as well during the performance, so you can live vicariously through their stage diving. Gojira is an amazingly talented band, and break free from traditional death metal genre restrictions. Guitarist and vocalist Joe Duplantier can scream like the best of them, but his voice also harbors an inherent musicality that can express melody even while shredding vocal cords. (On a side note, as a dumb American I find it funny to hear someone say 'Merci Beaucoup' between songs in a death metal grunt.) The rest of band are tight, and perform the numerous complex time changes and bizarre chord phrasings with effortless accuracy. Bass player Jean-Michel Labadie does most of the onstage 'spazzing out', but during some of the simpler mosh riffs the rest of the lads indulge in a bit of stage-stomping as well. There's also a brief drum solo from Mario Duplantier, whose oddly-tuned tribal sounding drums definitely add another dimension to the group's dynamic. The multi-camera set up captures most of the action rather well, and gives a feel for the size of the venue. Drum freaks will delight to the inclusion of numerous 'foot cam' shots as Mario pummels the double bass drums. One visual gimmick that should have come off cheesier than it does is the random 'shakicam' effect that makes it appear as if the riffs are so damned heavy they're shaking the building. It sounds stupid, but it really works! All of this is topped off with a generous helping of extra material, from behind the scenes stuff to live footage from the band's origins back in 1996. This is a great disc that was well worth the wait. The only thing that could make it perfect would be the inclusion of an anamorphically enhanced picture, but don't let that stop you from picking this up if you're into Gojira. Eagles of Death Metal - DVD By Sexy (……………………………..) Axl Rose may call them the 'Pigeons of S**T Metal', but that just goes to show how uncool and out of touch his botox-bloated self is nowadays. Mustachioed sex-minister Jesse "the Devil" Hughes and his famous chum Baby Duck aka Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, etc.) have delivered this deliriously comedic look into, in front of and behind the making of their second full-length CD "Death By Sexy". Tenacious D videographer Liam Lynch (co-creator of the Sifl and Oli Show) adds to the madness by dropping CG creatures such as a lame, money-sucking banana and a neurotic rabbit named Warren into the mix post-production. Homme is especially adept at mingling with the nonexistent entities, and does a great job of kicking the stuffing out of the oversized, walking banana in a hallway encounter. The rest of the time he and Jesse (also known as "Boots Electric") are jamming out with friends (including many from the QOTSA circle) and just shooting the breeze and waxing comedic in the mixing room. Homme's not the only one talented at deadpan humor, as there's a great scene in which Eagles' touring drummer Samantha Maloney stops by for an audition, only to get 'pissed off' when she realizes it's for Homme's 'crappy side band' and not the big one that makes lots of money. It's basically just letting you in on one gigantic 'in joke', but it's a particularly enjoyable one at that. There's also plenty of great music from the Eagles themselves, rife with their patented 70s slacker-retro groove. There are also some cool extras, including a rehearsal tape with Homme on drums (he doesn't always make it out for the live gigs). Soundwise, it's a mixed bag, as the rehearsal footage has a 'bootleg video' quality to it. The bulk of the main feature sounds decent enough, but you'll probably be getting this for the cool factor and not for exquisite sound mixing. And if you hear any weird squelching or distortion, it's probably just Warren the Rabbit chewing on your audio cables. Technical gobbledygook - all DVDs reviewed on a 5.1 surround system made up of Rotel, SVS and old-school Advent equipment. Video sourced from a JVC progressive-scan DVD player and viewed on a 100-inch widescreen viewing area generated by a Sony 3LCD HD projector.


Killing Joke - Bootleg Vinyl Archive Vols. 1 & 2 (Candlelight USA)
  Killing Joke have been one of my favorite bands for the past twenty years or so, and have managed to remain a vital entity through many different band incarnations and sonic experiments. Their most recent release 'Hosannas From the Basements of Hell' is a blisteringly abrasive chunk of vitriol that's every bit as essential as their eponymous debut. And speaking of the olden days, Candlelight Records has issued one of the coolest sets I've seen in a while, a six disc collection of vintage Killing Joke vinyl bootlegs transferred to CD. I'd love to know how the concept came to fruition, and if they directly recorded the actual vinyl or contacted the original bootleggers for source tapes. Either way, it's cool to have this stuff without having to pay an arm and a leg, and at least in the United States most of this material was pretty hard to come by even in the heyday of vinyl bootlegging in the 70s and 80s. The sound quality varies considerably, and some of the shows can come off a bit harsh and may make you wonder if your speakers are being shredded as you listen. That said, it's cool that they let the stuff play as it was, instead of trying to tweak everything in ProTools and marring the overall concept. And as rough as the high end can get, there's still usually a pounding subcurrent (courtesy of drummer Paul Ferguson and bassists Youth and Raven) to keep your toes tapping and neck snapping. The first set consists of three previously released boots from London and Italy, as well as a heretofore unreleased fan club show from 1988. The first show from London's Lyceum was in support of their second LP "What's This For?", and is a generally strong soundboard recording. The second set is an early 1980 promo show that unveils never released songs Malicious Boogie, Nuclear Boy and What's the Matter?. The third set is from the Italian Bologna Odeon 2000 in 1981, and includes many of the same songs from the first disc. The last disc is notable for its early inclusion of numerous tracks from the 'Extremities…' album which wasn't to come for many years following. The second set begins with a great collection of demos (originally titled 'The Bums Rush') and is a fantastic sounding companion piece to their first couple of albums. The next two boots are both 'Night Time' era recordings (1985, one from Germany and one from France) with almost identical tracklistings. The final easter egg is a pre-'Pandemonium' gig from 1994 at London's Astoria, dropping early hints at the tracks Millennium, Whiteout, Labyrinth and Mathematics of Chaos. Overall, it's a 'fans only' proposition, and since it's comprised of material largely gathered during the band's early years and its 'Night Time' tour, you have to be a fan of that stuff to make it through the multiple renditions of The Wait, Follow The Leaders, Love Like Blood etc. Luckily, I'm a huge fan of all that stuff, and literally had this 6-CD set playing in my car for almost two weeks straight. If the sound quality isn't always up to snuff, there's still a primal aggression found on tracks such as Tension that cuts through the muddled audio and kicks you in the gut. Long live the Joke!

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Tomahawk - Anonymous (Ipecac)
  Faith No More/Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton has returned for the third time with one of his many side projects, the rock band Tomahawk. This is their first album sans bass player Kevin Rutmanis (whose driving thunder was an obvious draw to their first two releases), and 'Anonymous' is guitarist Duane Denison's baby, drawn from years of research into uncredited musical work of Native Americans. Patton's flexible vocalizations are a perfect match for the material, since he's already delved into various languages and Sufi monkey chants in previous bands. Thankfully, he approaches the vocals without a kitsch mindset and treats them respectfully - his performance on Mescal Rite 1 should have you convinced that the concept can work. He also gets to dabble in some of his more typical meanderings, such as the repeated mantra of "skinwalker, skinwalker, you are" during the track Red Fox. Not that the project rests on Patton's shoulders alone - there's some great guitar playing from Denison on tracks like Antelope Ceremony, and Ghost Dance features an amazing percussive onslaught in its latter section. Some may grouse about the fact that tonally the album fits in less with the catalog of Tomahawk and more with Patton's chaotic supergroup Fantomas. Until now, Tomahawk was an evolution of the material presented in Faith No More's final release 'Album of the Year'. Regardless of what band name belongs at the top of the cover, it's a great disc that makes one wonder why most discs inspired by Native American music (Dead Can Dance, Little Wolf Band) are relatively ambient in nature. Now that a rock band has done it, how about a death metal band completely devoted to Native American history in the way South Carolina's Nile have focused their output entirely upon Egyptian mythology. Typical of Tomahawk and Patton's own label Ipecac, the packaging is an elegant browned digipak with numerous raised and glossy elements adding to the artwork of ancient mesas and scores of crows. This one's good for fans of Patton and for those looking to try something different on for size.

Clutch - From Beale Street To Oblivion (DRT Entertainment)
  Clutch have long been underground favorites for enthusiasts of seventies rock and fascinating lyrical journeys. Amazingly, the band has retained its original lineup since its early inception as a hardcore/metal band in the early nineties. As they continue mining their blues-based influences, they've even tacked on a new member in recent years - keyboard/organist Mick Schauer. 'From Beale Street To Oblivion' (which immediately makes me think of Jeff Buckley's demise, but that's another story) is another prime slab of awesome Clutch, from the riotous opener You Can't Stop Progress through to the final track Mr. Shiny Cadillackness. Neil Fallon is again at the top of his game, penning the most interesting lyrics to accompany heavy/hard rock music. Not to mention some of the coolest song titles, such as When Vegans Attack, The Rapture of Riddley Walker and Opossum Minister. The rest of the band aren't slouches either, for guitarist Tim Sult throws down plenty of Orange-amped classic crunch that would take three other guitarists to reproduce. Jean Paul-Gaster continues to inspire awe from behind the drum kit, and thankfully gets to spread his wings for a jam or two on songs like Electric Worry. Dan Maines supplies the beefy backbone via his bass guitar, and once it's all mixed together you have one of the most criminally under-worshipped bands on the planet. It's amazing the amount of material they can summon out of thin air, and there's only one song on this release that fans may already have a copy of (One Eye Dollar, which was part of the release 'Jam Room' from quite a few years back.) Purists may still want them to revert to their harder-edged first album, but nobody else would be there to fill the void if they did. I'll settle for eighty more albums of the grooviest, coolest blues-retro-rock Maryland's finest can conjure. Hop over to meTunes and check out Electric Worry if you doubt the rock!

Rush - Snakes & Arrows (Atlantic)
  Some think that Rush died sometime in the mid-seventies, when they abandoned the anthemic epic fantasy-prog of earlier releases such as 'Fly By Night' and '2112' in favor of the shorter, radio friendly ditties found on 'Permanent Waves' and 'Moving Pictures'. Others opine that they've never officially 'jumped the shark', and have been releasing essential albums for over thirty years now. Count me as part of the latter group. 'Snakes & Arrows' may initially strike one as a carryover from the dense sound honed on their previous release 'Vapor Trails', but there are subtle differences revealed upon further listening. For one, underrated guitarist Alex Lifeson is much keener on acoustic guitar than usual, and even on the heavier songs you can find an acoustic track buried in one of the many layers. Geddy Lee continues polishing his singing voice, and is able to hit melodic falsetto notes without the trademark shrieking that turned off plenty of chicks in the seventies. They're also working with Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz (aka Boujze) for the first time, and his admitted fandom of classic Rush material has obviously had some impact on the album. For one, there are certain chords and progressions present that the group has been leery of since the days of 'Hemispheres'. There are also an odd number of instrumentals (figuratively and literally, for there are three) ranging from the mellow Hope to the more rambunctious The Main Monkey Business and Malignant Narcissism (which earns bonus points for being a Team America: World Police reference). Neil Peart worshippers will have plenty of great skin-pounding to analyze, and darned if that punk doesn't make it all sound so easy. There are some great tracks here, from the opening Far Cry to Spindrift to the heretical Faithless. Judging by the album's impressive sales figures (even more impressive in light of today's 'download crazy' world), there are plenty of other likeminded Rush-fanatics who are more than happy to hear their new material. And rightly so, because it's damned good! Rock on, Dirk, Lerxst and Pratt! Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris Josh Homme's post-Kyuss stoner rock band has seen its fair share of controversy following the ousting of bassist/vocalist Nick Oliveri. But now with two albums' worth of material under his belt without the benefit of that unpredictable bassplayer, it should be apparent that Homme can carry Queens just fine without him. In fact, many fans don't realize that Nick wasn't even on their first eponymous release. He was included on the photo that graced the back cover, but Homme played all of the bass on that album himself, including the track Mexicola which contains one of the trademark QOTSA bass licks. Whereas their last album 'Lullabies to Paralyze' was a dark, menacing hoot, 'Era Vulgaris' is a sexier, janglier slab of rock. The cracked cartoon lightbulbs gracing its cover represent the notion of broken ideas, and while the lyrical concepts found within aren't exactly broken, they can be twisted at times. Trent Reznor and regular QOTSA buddy Mark Lanegan make appearances, but Homme handles most of the vocal work himself this time out. His high register and silky falsetto has always been a ballsy counterpoint to the 'tough guy' rock at hand. The album begins with the loose Turnin' On The Screw before melding into the hyper staccato fury of Sick, Sick, Sick. Into the Hollow has an amazing, smoky vibe that would fit in perfectly with a late night drive through the dark countryside. Other loungeworthy numbers include Suture Up Your Future and Make It Wit Chu, the latter of which will by now be familiar to fans through its inclusion in both the last 'Desert Sessions' release and the live album 'Over the Years and Through the Woods'. There's also plenty of hot, headcrackin' riffage, such as the guitar in Battery Acid, the classic rock angle of 3's and 7's, and the spastic moodiness of River in the Road. Fans will also want to do some digging for the numerous bonus tracks and b-sides out there, for there are covers of Tom Waits' Goin' Out West and Billy Idol's White Wedding lurking beside unreleased studio originals such as the title track Era Vulgaris and the 'lost' track from 'Lullabies….', The Fun Machine Took A S**t and Died. I say this album is essential. But I'm a biased superfan, so check it out for yourself.

The Chemical Brothers - We Are The Night (Astralwerks)
  The Chems' have become a reliable staple in the techno music field, right down to their trippy logo that has appeared on every release since the classic 'Exit… Planet Dust' back in 1995. Some have been less than thrilled with some of their subsequent catalog, but I thought their 2004 release 'Push The Button' was the best thing they had done in aeons. Apparently, so did a bunch of rich white guys in suits, since their track Galvanize quickly became a TV commercial staple. 'We Are The Night' is a different release from the last one, right down to the fascinating cover art, depicting two hands with eyes in their palms hovering above a snowy Rorschach test-esque mountainscape and overlaid with a stellar map. It's the kind of art that immediately merged with the title and made some sort of inherent yet unreasonable sense to me. What else would the night be but a pair of seeing hands haunting a mountain range? If it's a bit of a throwback to their earlier material in the sense that they gleefully sample from themselves, they don't however repeat themselves when it comes to guest appearances. Frequent Chems collaborator Beth Orton is nowhere to be found on this release. Instead it features efforts from Klaxons, Ali Love, Fatlip, Willy Mason and Midlake. The title track is the first full-length song, and is a cool, minty floor-mover adorned with a loopy video-game sounding drone. All Rights Reversed is a pounding, upbeat number that would be a good candidate for the next telly advert. There's also trancier material present, such as the addictive groove of Saturate. Do It Again is one of those jams that will be hard to evict from your cerebellum, from the steady head-nodding beat to the cheesy vocal loop of "Oh my God, what have I done? All I wanted was a little fun! Got a brain like bubble gum. Blowin' up my cranium." And that's just the tip of the Matterhorn. The rest of the album is peppered with similar catchy ditties and even a bit of rap (Fatlip's inspired hip-hop dance fantasy The Salmon Dance, starring Sammy the Salmon). If you love 'Exit…Planet Dust', pick it up. If you love 'Push The Button', pick it up. It you love John Davidson, pick it up. I'll be handing out pacifiers and glow sticks at the door.


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