Culture, Headlines

Bill Cosby is Far From Finished

It’s hard to imagine a comedic world without Bill Cosby. For the longest time it seems that Cosby has been part of the comedic fabric of our existence. Decades and decades of material and generations upon generations, Cosby has been a constant. Comedy of course, has been changing and evolving, and the slate of current contemporary comedians are mostly cut from a different mould than the one Cosby was cut from. He’s been at for 50 years, and yet while his humour is somewhat outmoded to what we get from successful stand up of today- Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Carr, Russell Peters et al.- there’s just something about Cosby that still resonates in the digital age.

Far From Finished is a brand new stand-up special Cosby filmed for Comedy Central; a left field home for someone whose humour is acquainted more with the PG crowd than the crass, overly sexualised brand of current humour. It’s evident from the beginning too, where Cosby, who spends much of the special sitting down rather than standing, opens the show with a disclaimer about doing a special for Comedy Central. Yet as the routine unfolds, you forget the need to hear humour that is more akin to some of the aforementioned comedians. In fact, it’s refreshing. Cosby spends much of the routine talking about the ins and outs of marriage, the fraternal bond between friends, and the hilarious differences between the two. One bit that stands in particular being his routing about forgetting his home security code and dealing with the consequences of a fed up wife and an equally fed up security operator.

There are of course, the hallmark qualities of a good Cosby show; his blips and bloops, his Cosby facial mannerisms and his deft timing. Through it all however, you do immediately get the sense of his longevity and his age; much of his physical comedy is left to his face and hands. Yet while he’s discernibly older and a little slower, there is still a vibrancy to him.

The DVD version of this special is much longer than the version that aired on Comedy Central this past week. Both versions are recommended for those who enjoy Cosby humour, but the DVD edition is broken down into parts so that the viewer can ease from and back into the routine. His legacy is more telling than a singular special, but this one is more about adding to one. It may not be as memorable as his 1983 masterpiece Himself (how could it be?), it is a simple reminder than Cosby is indeed, far from finished.

 

Bill Cosby: Far From Finished is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray and as a digital download. You can check out some clips and highlights here.

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Culture, Headlines, Music

One for Massachusetts

It’s been more than ten years since I’ve been to Philadelphia, a decade removed from its heritage and first hand lessons in American history. Equally historical were the venues scattered on South Street and Arch Street where many of my earliest punk rock memories were formed. In the Theatre of Living Arts and the Trocadero, nights of sweat, blood and bruises became as much a part of my Philadelphia story as the times I spent learning about the Liberty Bell. These moments defined the city and all these years pass and I still breathe the packed monoxide air of those age-old venue floors. It’s been even longer since I went to Boston. So much so that I only vaguely remember the wood-clad structure of my hotel, who for architectural reasons beyond me, built their vast spaces horizontally instead of vertically. But I do remember the No-Name Restaurant, not it’s food or it’s locale, but the name, a tick for clever marketing and little else.

Boston has seen plenty since: thousands of bands have come and gone, the Boston Red Sox won three World Series, the Patriots three Super Bowls, and the Celtics hung up another championship banner. They’ve suffered immeasurable tragedy with the Boston Marathon attacks, and have banded together as a city and a region to lift each others’ spirits in the time after. All these events along with what I can assume are countless smaller, more localized strings of positivism would lead one to believe that the air of sadness and toil that appeared to envelope the city for so long has been lifted. It is not to say Boston is a sad town, in fact, I don’t remember it being so, but as a tourist and an outsider, the many elements that we encounter as being from Boston or part of it, left a melancholia that came with what were inept sports teams, terrible weather, and a gloomy disposition left in the shadow of taller, more famous cities. Boston hardcore, noted for their contribution through SS Decontrol, Gang Green, DYS and Jerry’s Kids, wasn’t exactly the plum of sunshine you’d need to get over lagging blues.

So what is my Boston? My Boston, the one I briefly knew, fueled by the angry and disenfranchised, came to fruition in a band that lasted one album, 12 songs, and a quiet influence that resonated long after their demise. The Hurt Process by Boxer, this is my Boston.

Part post-hardcore, part mid-nineties emo, Boxer still encompasses all that is the city; gritty, desolate, pained- jarring for the senses but cathartic in its connection. This is what Boston was like to someone who had never lived in Boston. Perhaps if you disagree, then it is something you need to take up with your local tourist board.

Boxer was Vagrant Records’ initial signing, the calling card for a label whose stock rose because their bands wore their hearts on their sleeves better than anyone else. We talk a lot about The Get Up Kids with Something to Write Home About and Saves the Day with Stay What You Are. These two are often considered the staple releases of the early Vagrant catalogue, but we fail to see that the very first band they ever signed, released an album just as poignant as the two, if only, not as polished.

It’s the opening line of “Blame It On The Weather” that feels perfectly Boston. It’s the stringy guitars and the pulsing bass line that accompanies it. It’s the percussions that kick in at just the right time, and it’s the voice that sounds like it has smoked a thousand cigarettes that chime in;

Sitting in my ditch of self-loathing and of course my mind is roaming / thinking things are worse than they appear to be

Listen: “Blame it On the Weather”
Boxer – Blame It On the Weather

And then there were the girls, or one in particular whose name may or may not have been Georgia. Her hair smelled like a season and she sounds like a girl who liked music you’d only play on a record player. She probably liked the Velvet Underground on Sunday afternoons but wore combat boots and spiked her hair on a Friday night. She’s someone you’d fall in love with from the deepest of your soul only to break your heart. This is the little Georgia girl Boxer sings about, with a sense of sadness and anger wrapped in crunchy mid-tempo riffs and couplets of disappointment. She’s the one that kept you up at night, 2:18am. She’s the one that you’ll forget someday, just not today, the one you’re waiting for, when the sun finally comes, it’ll be when you’ll stop missing her.

Listen: “Georgia”
Boxer – Georgia

It’s the romanticism of a troubled city that drives people to write great songs about it. It is the way the rain falls on a lonely streetlight that inspires, and I think Boston has more than one lonely streetlight. I think if I get to drive through Boston some time soon, my mind would automatically play these 12 songs in order. Appropriately perhaps, the album’s title understood the city’s plight on both a personal and cultural stake and its significance on a national and global scale. This was a hurting town, whether you were a fan of sporting teams, music scenes or girls named after southern states. Yet on some level, they knew that this sadness would only last for so long. That someday you could finally leave it all behind.

We wait until the sun goes down in Boston, the stars are out / We’ll have our way; our time will shine like the twinkle that’s in your eye

Listen: “One for Milwaukee”
Boxer – One For Milwaukee

There is something to be said about not overstaying your welcome. Boxer knew 12 songs were enough. It was for that moment, the perfect capsule of the streets and places no one but themselves knew and understood. I can’t for one imagine any more songs written or recorded by them. It would be strange and out of place, almost like happiness and sunshine down on Harvard Avenue. I would never claim to be from Boston, and I can’t tell you what it’s like now. I can only imagine at least, with all the things that has happened to the city over the past decade, that there has to have been an uplift of some kind. In fact, I’m sure it’s a terribly nice place to visit. But for an outsider like me, until I get to venture down a sun-soaked path leading to the friendliest bar in town, Boston will always be The Hurt Process, where it rains or snows every night.

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Boxer formed in 1995 and disbanded in 1999. Vagrant Records released their one album, The Hurt Process, in 1998. Drummer Chris Pennie recently drummed for Coheed & Cambria and the Dillinger Escape Plan. 

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Headlines, Music

Bob Dylan, let’s never do interactive again

Is Bob Dylan dead? He’s not right? I’m pretty sure the most famous marbled-voice folk troubadour is still alive and relatively well. I know he’s a little aged now, and sometimes, when he speaks, we have no idea what he’s saying- snapping out of it only during his most sanguine times- with his guitar. But really, there’s got to be a reason for this right?

An explanation is needed for this, his much talked about and heavily shared ‘interactive’ video for “Like A Rolling Stone”. The concept for this new media venture is you, the user, being given the opportunity to “make” a new video for one of Dylan’s most celebrated tracks. Now “make” is generously used here, and before you get your Michel Gondry/Spike Jonze video dreams up, let’s just say that the interactivity featured here is about as interactive as Night Trap the game was back in 1992. Which to say, wasn’t very interactive at all.

For sexed up males in 1992, Night Trap was a schlocky, and quite terrible, “sexy” video game made up of footage that was meant to be interactive. But unlike the games of today, all you could do with actual video footage was switch between scenes, hoping to catch up a glimpse of a half naked coed as she was stalked in her house.

This new interactive video gives you about as much control as Night Trap– except the “clever” part is that the video they use (synced footage from made up TV shows, movies, news broadcast) is singing along to “Like A Rolling Stone”.

I fumbled about, slightly confused as the video rolled footage from a reality show called “Bachelor’s Roses” (yes, that nice lady pictured above is singing a Dylan song). It left me wondering who these people were and thought maybe it was just an ad playing before the footage. Turns out, this WAS the footage I got to be ‘interactive’ with. I managed to get a few minutes into the video before I realized I couldn’t do anything but change channels and turn the volume up and down. Neil McCormick of The Telegraph asks; “is the interactive new video any good?”

No Neil, it’s not. It’s terrible.

What’s the point of this exercise? Perhaps Dylan, or more specifically, his label/management/PR, are just trying something new.

Perhaps this is all terrible because it’s Dylan and the footage used would best be kept on the TLC scrapheap. Either way, Bob, please, let’s never do interactive again.

The concept isn’t entirely at fault. What if you could make a Dylan video made up of old 60s footage? Now there’s an interactive video that would be worth your time.

Just imagine.

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Headlines, Television

Why aren’t we watching The Michael J. Fox Show?

A few days ago I read a piece claiming the inevitable demise of NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show and was saddened by the prospect of it ending so quickly. While ratings seem to have somewhat propped back up after the Chris Christie guest-starring episode (at least in the 18-49 demo), there is an air of weariness to it that indicates perhaps, the full season pick-up it received was a little premature.

It’s a shame really, because while The Michael J. Fox Show trades contemporary humourism for a more classic, older comedy routine, there is still a lot to like from it. Mostly because it’s Michael J. Fox (playing one-time NBC anchor Mike Henry who returns to the network as a reporter) and there is still something about him that captivates the screen. His vulnerability and charm come across sharper than its ever been and in reality, much of the show’s humour hinges on him being on screen (which thankfully, is for the majority of the show).

There are some struggles of course, the Modern Family-esque mockumentary narrative leaves a lot to be desired and would benefit the show greatly if it were written out completely. Secondly, some of the characters struggle greatly to really come across as appealing; namely Michael J. Fox’s on-screen sister (played by Katie Finneran) and his eldest son (newcomer Conor Romero). Both are unfunny and unfortunately, so unbelievably unbelievable the only ground they break is that of one dimensionality. Anne Heche’s guest starring role as Mike’s office spoil? Like a throwback to Murphy Brown except without the cantankerous Candice Bergen charm … leaving it more of an annoyance than anything else.

What does the Fox say?

What does the Fox say?

So what’s good about the show you ask? Well, Michael J. Fox. He’s that good that he’ll make up for the rest of the show’s shortcomings and awkward humour. He’ll play a Parkinsons joke and you’re about the burst out laughing before you stop and question your moral ground… then you see Fox light up on screen and laugh along with the joke and you know it’s okay.

There’s a sense that the show wants to find middle ground between the humour of the day (shows like Parks and Recs, Community) and remain relevant, and the humour Michael J. Fox did so well in both Family Ties and Spin City. Perhaps this writer is showing his age when he says that it would probably be advantageous for the show if it didn’t bother trying to be like Modern Family, and that there is a good family dynamic in this show that needs further exploration.

The show doesn’t need to try and be hip and contemporary, and it certainly doesn’t need to be a Parks and Recreation. The Michael J. Fox Show has one of the most enduring and well-loved personalities to have ever graced the small screen and it would be a mistake to try and cast the light on this show around anything, or anyone else. 22 episodes is how long it has to prove to NBC that its worth keeping around, and while the numbers will probably be less than stellar come season’s end, the show has a core that needs some time and life to breathe. Something sadly, doesn’t exist in the world of television.

Let’s start watching.

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The Michael J. Fox Show airs Thursday nights on NBC.

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Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Lights & Motion – Save Your Heart

art_550In the modern realm of post-rock complexities, there are artists whose art and music has undertaken a certain breadth to it. But as you step back and listen to it as a whole, you often realize it is more burden than anything else. A lot of it is very weighty and careens into self-indulgent territory. Explosions In The Sky can write music that is breathtaking, but sometimes their songs are too long, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is similar, where experimental becomes the focal point instead of the beauty, and Mogwai and Tortoise unfortunately, are just far too dreary and mathematical.

A few years ago, Jade Tree Records released music from Statistics, the musical moniker of Nebraska mainstay Denver Dalley. His brand of post-rock combined elements from Midwestern emo’s lineage, and escaped into the ethers of pop and the more aurally pleasing. His songs however, often felt unfinished.

So there must be middle ground somewhere, and Swedish multi-instrumentalist Christoffer Franzen may just be it. Under the name Lights & Motion, Franzen has been making beautifully soaring, instrumental post-rock akin to Statistics (and to some extent, Angels & Airwaves and 30 Seconds to Mars without the inflated rockstar ego), but with a little more grace, a finished veneer, and a stratosphere’s distance in emotional resonance.

There is beauty in music and then there is Save Your Heart, a record so glistening with the sounds of perfect soundtracks the world over that it should really be the sound of every successful spacewalk, moon landing, and the perfect dawn. We’ve thrown the word “epic” around on numerous occasions, but it is by far the one word that is most suitable for Save Your Heart as Franzen has crafted songs that shine with the vision of a brightly burning star. Songs like “Sparks” and “Ultraviolet” are a mixture of pretty guitars, midtempo percussions, and soaring instrumental harmonies, all wrapped in a welcoming glow.

“Snow” is the album’s longest excursion at 6.40 (a pop punk second compared to an Explosions song), and with its percussion-toned opening and graceful ascension, it is the album’s finest moment. Keyboard sprinkles and Franzen’s ability to craft music that is both reflective and optimistic is exemplified to near perfection.

The album is succinct, and spends less time in tangents than most other post-rock artists which is a refreshing change for the genre. “We Are Ghosts” erupts in a euphoric blaze of electronica-laced keys after painting a certain musical serenity, while “Atlas” brings home the beautiful melancholic grace Save Your Heart is so good at doing.  The album closes out with the title track, like an effective closing credits scroll, it is harmony in the end and a fitting bow to a memorable performance.

Few albums will come this close in capturing the imagination of hope and promise in musical form. Save Your Heart’s beauty and grace is one to savor.

[rating=5]

 

Lights & Motion’s Save Your Heart is out now on Deep Elm. Listen to a few songs below:

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Baseball, Headlines

Confessions of the only* Milwaukee Brewers fan in Melbourne

The first professional baseball game I ever attended in person, if you can believe, was a 1991 Toronto Blue Jays game at the Toronto SkyDome. It’s probably as far as you can get from my then hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, and much of that memory is fleeting. What I do remember, for some reason, was that Kelly Gruber was on that team. So out of a roster that included Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and Toronto legend Joe Carter, I remember Gruber. He wasn’t very good, but was sufficiently talented to earn two All-Star berths and of course, a World Series ring with the Blue Jays. It was perhaps, a foreshadowing of what would become of me as a baseball fan; off beat and decidedly off kilter, and somewhat irrational.

Let’s start by saying, if you aren’t born in a North American city with a baseball team in it, then your choices come down to a certain selection criteria you can abide by. Now of course, for those of you born into baseball heritage and cities filled with its rich sporting history, then by all means, you are a legacy fan- born of a Yankee father, or a Red Sox mother, or a parents and grandparents of Cardinal lore.

For those like me, it can come down to one or two things:

1. Marketing exposure/bandwagon jumping: It’s easy, you’re a Yankees fan, a Red Sox fan (after 2004), a Cardinals fan (why?), or, like I see so many here in Melbourne; Dodger fan (because they’re from LA?). Being so far away from the action, and not being an American transplant, it will be apparent if you’re fan of a big team whose marketing prowess (or in the case of a few teams, their on-field success) is fuelled by deep pockets and savvy PR. For some, searching for some American identity, a well-known team like the Red Sox or the Dodgers becomes an easy team to like.

2. Gut instinct and true, unbridled passion for the team:  For some time, I thought myself to be a Phillies fan. Having lived in Philadelphia through high school, I thought supporting the local team would be the way to go. And so I followed along with a loose connection without ever really feeling a strong passion for them. They won a World Series and I thought, “that’s nice”, and when they lost one the next year I thought, “that’s too bad”, but was never really moved either way.

Enter the Milwaukee Brewers. It was an instant connection, my passion for baseball, thought long dormant by my pseudo fandom for the Phillies, was brought back tenfold when a game of MLB2k12 randomly landed me in control of the Brewers. It was passion at first play and since then, I’ve done everything I can to prove that while my fandom took time getting there, wavering through fairweatherness, it’s now found its footing. Like going through life with many girlfriends before finally finding your future wife; once you know, you know. And now I can safely say, that I’m the only* Milwaukee Brewers fan here in Melbourne, Australia, the first since Dave Nilsson packed his cleats and left Wisconsin for Japan.

Just a guy named "Scooter"

Just a guy named “Scooter”

This year marked the first year I can well and truly say I am part of the Brewers faithful. Continents removed from Miller Park, I passionately embraced every BrewCrew win, joyously celebrating Carlos Gomez homers, Jean Segura steals and Lucroy RBIs (the first two earning their well-deserved trip to the All-Star Game). 2013 was of course, an excruciatingly testing year for the Brewers, hobbled by injuries to Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez, the ceiling came crashing down when its once proud son, the future of the franchise, Ryan Braun became the joke to a disgraceful BioGenesis PED scandal once reserved for the likes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. It was a painful blow for a small market team, having chosen Braun over Prince Fielder as its one monster contract player; the team is now saddled with Braun’s hefty contract until 2020.

But I’m still here. Instead of cheering on Braun and Hart homers, I revelled in stunning Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura plays. I stuck around when the losses piled up and the team stunk through woeful pitching, anaemic batting and less than stellar luck. I was there, for almost 162 games, of mediocrity, flashes of brilliance, and a hopeful look towards 2014.

I will forgive Ryan Braun when he comes back and welcome him with open arms, and until then, I’ll tell myself Logan Schafer is just as good. Rickie Weeks is old and hobbled, but who needs him when you’ve got someone named Scooter. And yes, I’ll even tell myself that someday Johnny Hellweg will win a Cy Young (and yes, for the Brewers).

It’s that irrationality and loss of all common sense that proves I’m true Brew. Not because irrationality and loss of logic is synonymous with Brewers baseball, but because it goes hand in hand with true fandom.

My name is Billy, and I am a true Milwaukee Brewers fan.

 

 

 

 

*clearly, this is not true. It just feels like it sometimes in the sea of Yankee, Red Sox, Dodgers garb. 

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Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Save Ends – Warm Hearts, Cold Hands

saveendsTaking a cue from early Saves the Day, Get Up Kids and The Anniversary, Boston’s Save Ends is a wonderful and energetic throwback to the glory years of early Vagrant-era post-emo, pop-fused punk. Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is a wonderful mix of everything that era did well; uptempo melodies, melancholic tones, harmonic vocals and a sense of “growing up” within the songs.

Save Ends features dual male/female vocals that work in unison to give the songs an added texture. Christine Atturio’s voice comes across similarly to how Jolie Lindholm’s did during her time as vocalist for grossly underrated band The Rocking Horse Winner. The songs on Warm Hearts come across as a mixture of Atturio-directed sentimentality (the great “Chasing Embers”) and the Hot Rod Circuit-esque (“Kurzweil”), while tracks like “Song of Susannah” could have been a cut off Designing A Nervous Breakdown or a highlight from a Rainer Maria album. The album opens with the humorously titled “Punkorama 30”, giving credence to the band’s self awareness and lineage, and quickly ascends to fast-paced melodic punk, setting the tone and energy for the rest of the release’s vastly oscillating styles and tones. Much of which results in one of the most rewarding listens we’ve come across this year.

There’s a lot to like about this record, and while the sounds can be a throwback to music from a decade ago, Save Ends aren’t just about sounding like their influences. For those who grew up with mid to late 90s emo, Save Ends are what would become of the sound, and liking this record is about more than just nostalgia- it’s about realising the long lasting resonance of that time and how well this band is able to capture and emote this aural atmosphere.

Falling snow, reflections of Massachusetts, and the pull of the heartstrings are the things Save Ends write home about. And Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is the finest entry into the genre in a very long time.

[rating=4]

 

Save Ends’ Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is out on Tiny Engines November 12th. You can preview and purchase the record via the stream below:

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