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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Me And You And Everyone We Know(2005)

Other than horror films, my favorites are those quiet indie films, that are more character studies than anything else. Films where you have to read people's faces to see how they are feeling, and the nuances between people are more important than what is actually said. Me And You And Everyone We Know, is such a film. I have been in love with this film since I first laid eyes on it. It's definitely a "love it or hate it" film, there is no middle ground. If you like risky, emotional, and daring filmaking, check out this tour de force.

This film stars and was directed by Miss Miranda July, who is also a musician, performance artist, and artist. She touches on many taboos, but never goes for the gross out. High caliber acting performances also elevate this above the rest. Miranda stars as Christine, an artist, who also drives "elder cab", a service to shuttle around senior citizens. She falls in love with Richard, played by John Hawkes, who works in a shoe store, and is going through a divorce. He has two young sons, Peter and Robby, who spend their idle time in adult chat rooms, discussing the virtues of "pooping back and forth. This is not a film that can be easily described, and doesn't have a linear plot that I can just explain to you. It involves how each of the characters are trying to deal with a life that has been handed to them, that they might not exactly enjoy being placed into. There are several shocking scenes involved sexual matter and the children and teen characters, but they never come off as exploitative or pedophillic. Sometimes looking at this film, is like looking at a piece of abstract art, that you have to pontificate before making judgement.

If you like artistic films like Love Liza, All The Real Girls, or any of Gus Van Sant's "silent trilogy", you will definitely enjoy this film. Sometimes we need to see something that pushes the envelope in cinema, just to remind us that everything that comes out of Hollywood isn't pap. Do yourself a favor and spend an evening trying to get in the head of Miss July, you won't be sorry.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kiss: Sonic Boom Review

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there isn't time I can remember that I wasn't a Kiss fan. I got my first record by them at the age of 2, having older brothers into rock/metal certainly had it's benefits. Gene and Paul do not always make it easy to be Kiss fans, they have made many wrong turns, and don't always use the best judgements. But the tried and true members of the Kiss Army always stick with them through thick and thin.

Sonic Boom, which officially comes out on October 6th, is their first album since 1998's Psycho Circus. That album was a monstrous letdown, and left many fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. Kiss more than make up for any bad albums, and the 11 year absence with Sonic Boom. This is first record with Tommy Thayer on guitar, even though he has been in the band at least 7 years. In my opinion, he is the shining star of this record, despite naysayers giving him a bad rap for not being Ace Frehley. His playing is very similar to Ace's, although a bit more adventurous and "in the pocket". Eric Singer, who returns on drums, has always been a better drummer than Peter Criss, and he proves this time and time again, in the live arena, and on this record. Paul and Gene offer their best performances in many years, and amaze me in that they still have amazing vocals, despite being almost 60 years in age.

To my trained Kiss ear, this record has the best elements of many past records. It has the production and guitar crunch of Rock N Roll Over, the choruses have the melodic ism and catchiness of the Dynasty/Unmasked era. There are even hints in some tracks, mainly in guitar tone, of the Animalize era, so in reality, there is something here for all fans. I have found after each listen, I want to immediately start the CD again, that is something I haven't felt about a Kiss record in a long time. I don't know exactly the reason they sound so reinvigorated on this record, but I am so thankful as a fan.

I am gonna list the songs separately and review them one by one, just so I can describe the differences nuances and details that us Kiss freaks love to obsess on:

"Modern Day Delilah" This is the first single off of the record, and is a Paul Stanley track. This is one of the heaviest songs on the record, it has almost a "Carnival Of Souls" vibe to it. This guitar sound is not typical of the record. Gene joins in on vocals with Paul and gives it a old-school feel vibe, along with the new guitar sound. I really think this song would do well on Modern-Rock radio, sadly if even released on radio, it will be relegated to the oldies stations. 4/5

"Russian Roulette" A classic Gene song! It is an anthem song, and one of Gene's best vocal performances in the entire catalog. His bass is very audible, and for once he plays his own bass lines, and shines like the old days. He is a remarkable bassist, and needs to remember that the bass lines on classics like Dressed To Kill, are what made them classics. Another song that sounds made to be blared from every radio in the country! 5/5

"Never Enough" This is my least favorite song on the record, but it's far from horrible. A Paul song in the vein of "Mr. Speed", it's very and anthemic and catchy. The problem lies in the chorus. Paul's phrasing and the repetedness of the title phrase kind of irritate me. But hell, to some people it could be brilliant. Aside from that minor complaint, it really is a decent song. 3/5

"Yes I Know(Nobody's Perfect)"- Wow, I don't think that a Gene song has ever been my favorite off of their records, but this one damned sure is! This is a driving song, and by that I mean 90 miles an hour, driving down the interstate, driving music. It has a very Stonesy swagger to it, and that is a side of the band that I love, and don't think that they have explored enough. The lyrics are typical Gene, sexual innuendos galore, but I still find them hilarious to this day. I want to just put this song on repeat for about 4 hours. 5/5

"Stand" This record just offers anthem after anthem, and I feel like I am 17 again. This is a Paul and Gene duet, and offers the usual "stand up and take pride in yourself" Kiss Army lyrics. This one could be a hit single as well, and I could picture it as a show closer, if they ever decide to retire "Rock And Roll All Night". The closing portion of the song is very similar to "God Gave Rock And Roll To You II" 4/5

"Hot & Cold" Another Gene barn burner with the innuendo lyrics. For some reason, it reminds me of "Christine Sixteen", minus the pianos. I have the same problem with song as I had with Never Enough......the chorus. It's not bad, it just sounds a bit sing-songy for my taste, but I can be a nit-picky bastard. I can picture the Gene Legions worshipping the hell out this song. There are some cool acoustic guitar bits in the breakdown, like they used to do. 3/5

"All For The Glory" This is Eric Singer's vocal debut on a Kiss record. It's a very heavy song, with blazing guitar riffs and solo from Tommy. The first thing that fans will notice, is how much he sounds like Peter. Very similar, but not as raspy, and definitely not a "copycat"(tisk-tisk). I hope they play this on tour, so Eric gets his time to shine. 4/5

"Danger Us" Clever lyrical pun aside, this is one of the best Paul Stanley songs in a long time. That is one mean feat in itself, considering how good Paul's solo album "Live To Win" was a few years back. This song has a different guitar sound as well, I like how they changed them up, and didn't stick with one sound for the whole record. It has a very bluesy sound that is atypical for Kiss. 4/5

"I'm An Animal" Damn, this is a "God Of Thunder" styled Gene song. This is Kiss' metal sound, much like "Creatures Of The Night", and wish Gene would have made a record like this instead of that "A$$hole" abomination, years back! Fists in the air, heads banging, it's fucking nice to have you back boys! 5/5

"When Lightning Strikes" In true sense of democracy, all the members got to sing a a song on Sonic Boom. This one is the first time Tommy Thayer has sang with Kiss. I am totally shocked at how amazing this song is. He sings like Ace, if Ace could actually carry a tune, with a twinge of Gene's aggressiveness. This is definitely a contender for my favorite song on the disc! The guitar solo that he provides is awesome, I wish people would judge him on how well he plays, and not what make-up he is wearing. 5/5

"Say Yeah" Paul closes the record out with a balls out rocker. It sounds pretty modern for Kiss, and wouldn't have seemed out of place on Asylum. It has a "big" chorus, with multi-tracked vocals, that give it an 80's feel. This is the most "commercial" sounding song on the record. 3/5

I really could go on and on for hours with details and observations about this record. I won't do that, I will say that I love it, and I am really happy about the results. Paul and Gene always hype up their new records as the "best record since Destroyer", in this case they weren't far off the mark. It is a very good time to be a Kiss fan. The record will be in Wal-Mart(GAG!!) exclusively on Oct. 6th in a 3-disc format for $12.99. That store will also have a "Kiss Korner" set up soon with all sorts of merchandise. They are out on tour right now, and will be playing here in Florida(Pensacola, see ya there), on Oct 19th. They sound rejuvenated and have a new lease on life, theatrics aside, they are a damned good rock n roll band. You should always remember, it's never too late to join the Army!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hard Rock Zombies(1985)

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is so bad, that you have to share it with your friends. Very similar in manner to when you taste or smell something awful, and then try to persuade your friend to do the same. I had seen the cover of Hard Rock Zombies many, many times on trips to the video store. I still can't recall what kept me from ever renting this horrid little treasure, I was a metal head, so it seems that this would call out to me, like the other films in the "metal horror" genre. Well, I never saw it until last night, and now I want to give myself 24 years worth of ass whipping for not witnessing this sooner.

This movie is so bad, I am almost at a loss for words to describe it. It's about an 80's hair-metal band called Holy Moses. They feel they are on the cusp of big things, so decide to hold a concert in the small town of Grand Guignol(tisk tisk), to impress a big record producer. Jesse, the bass player/vocalist has the most wickedest mullet ever captured on celluloid. He writes a song based on an "ancient ceremony" that has the power to revive the dead. There is nothing cohesive about this movie at all, and you get the feeling that the director was just trying to throw anything shocking in the film. We have a grandfather who is actually Adolf Hitler, grandma who is a werewolf, nazi midgets, and another midget that looks like a Ghoulie. There are synchronized 80's dance movies, bad lip-syncing, geriatric sex scenes, but it is the most fun that you could have in hour and half, and I can't wait to see it again.

After the band is murdered by the nazi family, Jesse's 13-year old girlfriend Cassie(she also has a song named after her in the film), plays Jesse's song, and the band are brought back from the dead!! There isn't a funnier sight than these goofballs shambling around like rejects from the Thriller video. If you are a connoisseur of bad cinema, I can't encourage you enough to see this(it's available through Netflix), and keep an eye out for the blond girl who dances through the entire movie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Interview With Ray Raposa Of Castanets

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am madly in love with the music of Castanets. There is something about the music of Ray Raposa that speaks to me, and is a constant companion in my journey of life. I was shocked when I asked Ray to do the first interview for Vitamin Burger, and he accepted. He is a very smart guy, and very gracious to his fans, here's what he had to say to me(in his own words).......

VB: First off Ray, let me say congratulations on your new record, Texas Rose, The Thaw, & The Beasts. I know that it's not officially out till the end of the month, but I have had the pleasure of hearing it many times, and I consider it to be your masterpiece. What is the significance/and or the meaning of the title??

RR: Well, long story, but the thaw comes after the freeze, and the beasts come out when it's warm. and cold. They're always there I guess. Forget it. The roses(and "Roses") in Texas break hard hearts.

VB: To me, some of the elements in the new record, have a more Rock & Roll style. For example, the backing vocals in "Rose", remind me a lot of Queen, and the guitar solo and it's aftermath in "Down The Line, Love", remind me of Pink Floyd. Was this a conscious decision, or just the result of playing so many shows?

RR: A bit of both maybe. The shows always have an element of that so I suppose it's a good thing that half and the recording half are resembling each other more often. I mean, we burn through a lot of FM radio classics on the tours and I love a good guitar solo. Couple things like the Rose vocals are total studio surprises though. Don't see em' coming til we figure they're the right thing to do and then they're done. I do hate Pink Floyd, but I realize that I am in the wrong to do so.

VB: As a fan, I have noticed that Castanets songs fall into two distinct camps. First, you have the more straightforward "pretty" songs like: This Is The Early Game, We Are The Wreckage, As You Do, & Down The Line, Love. The you have the more abrasive songs with the "electro-freakouts", as I like to call them, like: Rain Will Come, You Are The Blood, & A Song Is Not The Song Of The World. Do you feel like the dichotomy in your songs is your niche, or do you see yourself in the future, settling into one style more than the other?

RR: Well, they're kinda the same thing to me, maybe? I never have to split em' up like that so I wouldn't be much good with eyes toward the future on that front. If a song needs some blur, or a disguise, or some dirt, it's gonna get it. Comes clean otherwise.

VB: Rafter(your producer), seems to be an invisible Castanets member, as he brings your sound to be fully realized. Do you see yourself continuing to work with him, or would you like to try another producer?

RR: He's a total magic machine. I'm lucky to know the guy and to work with him. The two of us have played/tracked enough together in the past to be able to get through a lot of non-verbal collaborative work. Two years from now I'll probably be able to point to like, a street sign up a little hill a ways, and he'll know just what I think that sign oughta sound like. Which speaks as much to his sensitivity, ability, and patience, as it does to my poor communication skills. We've recorded a couple of things since these sessions, and if those are anything to go by, it looks to only get better.

VB: I've noticed that lately you are doing a lot of shows in the Portland area, is that your home-base now?

RR: Yeah, I have been there for a bit. Backyard, housemates, bed, the works. It's my third go at living there and it seems to be sticking this time. Still gone for most of the year, but I am not paying Brooklyn rent for time away anymore. We're kinda on the far edge of town, so I can bike southeast for two miles or so and hit farms, or north a few minutes and hit strip clubs. Kinda ideal.

VB: Unfortunately, I didn't get to see you on this tour, as you didn't come to my area. But from the reviews that I have read online(namely, Austin), some of the reviewers, while admitting how mesmerizing your set was, complained about the length of it. Was there a reason an artist like yourself, with such an extensive back catalog, kept the sets so short?

RR: Well, that night was a four band bill, and we were up at 1 am so.........short was the way to play, but even besides that I usually feel that brevity is best. I almost never see a band that holds my attention for an hour(Ghost most recently was the closest), and that weighs pretty heavy on my idea of a good set length. Also, I've got a pretty bad sense of time and with us not using set lists, I think we can sometimes feel like we have been playing longer than we have. General rule is: not under thirty, never over 55, I guess. It's usually about what feels appropriate for the venue/bill/crowd. Can't be right by everyone.

VB: You have been doing this as long, or a lot longer than some of the big success stories of your genre(Iron & Wine, Bon Iver), does it ever bother you, that your level of success isn't greater?

RR: Heck yeah it does! What are you gonna do though, you know? I stop just short of picketing when Bon Iver comes through town. Also, I am well on record as hoping I have far less to do with that scene than most folks would have me to. Willful ignorance maybe?

VB: I have read in the past that you have a great appreciation for Black Metal(as I also do). You are also known for achieving some gnarly-assed tones on your guitar, have you ever considered doing a BM project?

RR: I can, and I might. Nobody is gonna know under all of that paint, and I won't be telling. It's not gonna happen if the riffs aren't all the way there though. We'll see.

VB: Ok, if Matthew Houck is our generations Willie Nelson, and you the Hank Williams, who does that make John from Deer Tick?

RR: Ha, The Tick. Man.....Buddy Holly?? I don't know. Kid rips maybe too hard for that. He's got like Springsteen's showmanship, Randy Newman's wit. Tough Call. Ladies love him.......Elvis?? So good that guy.......

VB: I know that you are about to head to Europe on tour, but what's next for Castanets?

RR: About half of the new record is written. Gonna record that when the time comes. Some soundtrack stuff is happening next year, excited about that! Tour, Tour, Tour. Sin, Sin, Sin. Bright lights, dark rooms, secret triumphs.

VB: Well, since Vitamin Burger is also a film blog, can you tell us your 3 favorite films of all time, before you leave?

RR: How about the 2000's?? And a scatterbrained/forgetful Top 12?

Starts with number one, no order after that:

Dogtown and Z-Boys

Let The Right One In

Mr. Lonely

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford


I'm Not There

Funny People

Eastern Promises

Unknown Passage:The Dead Moon Story

The Proposition

One of the Bourne Movies and/or XXX


I want to thank Ray so much for taking time to talk to me, and answer my questions. If you guys haven't heard Castanets yet, please do yourself a favor, and change that right NOW!!!