Old Dog, Newish Tricks

Dr. Dog – Be the Void

Here’s an album I didn’t think I’d be the one reviewing. Dr. Dog is a band I’ve always liked, but more on an individual song basis than entire albums. For example, “My Old Ways” is a tune I love to listen to, but right now I probably couldn’t tell you what any other song off We All Belong sounds like. Nonetheless, the latest release from these titans of lofi has been out for a few weeks now and if I didn’t write about it, I fear time might forget about it.

The big question about a new album from Dr. Dog is how they’ve improved production values. I can’t say they’ve improved over Shame, Shame. Rather, they’ve gone it bit backwards. While Dr. Dog’s last album was beautiful, this time they went for the fuzzy, classic rock feel of their early, self-recorded material. Everything’s fairly anthemic, energetic and exciting to listen to – I’d say this album has as many catchy tracks as any other of their albums.

After 2011 saw many of my favorite bands release disappointing new albums, it’s really pleasing to hear Dr. Dog, after five albums, is as good as ever. And if you can listen to “How Long Must I Wait” and not find it stuck in your head later, you’re not human.

Favorite Tracks: “Lonesome,” “How Long Must I Wait,” “Get Away”

A Silent Victory!

Seems like I usually write some kind of afterthought about Oscar night, so here we go again. Oscar vet Billy Crystal was back at the helm and even though he was a little cheesy with no shortage on movie puns, it was still a nice change of pace from last year. Anne Hathaway and James Franco? What were they thinking? Billy wasn’t really funny but at least he seems to be comfortable doing something he clearly enjoys. So hopefully the Academy will stop experimenting with strange non-comedian hosts and just let the funny people do what they do best.

The ceremony opened with movie montage (as it often does) featuring Crystal which was probably his best moment, but I still the rest of his old school approach to the classiest night in showbiz. As for who brought home the gold? I was very satisfied. Most of my personal favorites won in their respective categories, the exception being Viola Davis losing to Meryl Streep. I didn’t see The Iron Lady so I don’t know if Streep was truly deserving or if it was just the Academy throwing her bone after, but it doesn’t bother me, I’m sure she’s usually pretty darn good. But The Artist was the big winner of the night and I couldn’t be happier. When Natalie Portman or “NaPo” as Sean calls her called Jean Dujardin’s name in the best actor category? I was ecstatic, it was easily my favorite performance of the year. Really this is one of the first years in awhile where I really have no complaints. The Artist won, Bret Mckenzie won for his song in The Muppets, and now Dean Pelton from Community has an oscar fro screenwriting, let the good times roll.

Sour Power

Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour

I’m not sure when or where I first heard about Band of Skulls but it’s hard to forget a name like “Band of Skulls.” With a name that sounds perfectly suited for a Norwegian death metal band, you might be surprised to find that Band of SKulls is actually a hard rock trio from Southampton. Sweet Sour is the group’s second release and though I’ll say it definitely has it’s moments that’s really all it is, moments. So if you’re looking for the latest and greatest in hard rock you probably wont find it here, but that doesn’t mean you wont enjoy parts of Sweet Sour

The leadoff track, which also happens to be the title track, should be able to give any rock junkie a fix with it’s droning beat and buzzing hammer-ons. Vocal duties on the track and most tracks are split between guitarist Matt Hayward and bassist Emma Richardson. Utizling the male/female hard rock dynamic, it’s hard not to think of Alison Mosshart and Jack White from The Dead Weather, but I think Richardson and Hayward’s vocals tend to blend better and in a very beautiful way. Drummer Russell Marsden provides some perfectly John Bonham-esque beats and ultimately the trio creates a very full sound. I was actually really digging this album on about the first three tracks, but after that my mind started to wander.

Somewhere in the middle of this album I found myself zoning out, and not because I was getting lost in the groove of a song. Constantly I found myself checking how much of the song was left in iTunes and that certainly can’t be good. Like I said earlier in my review there are a lot of great “moments” on Sweet Sour but as a whole it can be boring. I think what did it for me was being worn out by the track runtimes. This is a band that should learn to utilize tracks around the 2:50-3:00 range, as they’re really not doing enough to warrant 5:00 plus minutes. If these songs had a lot of varied sections or some improvisation I’d be content, but these songs just seem to keep going and going. I almost contemplated giving this album a slightly lower rating but I just love some of the things they’re doing so much that I’ll let them settle in with the typical mildly pleased rating.

Favorite Tracks: “Bruises”, “Lay My Head Down”, “Sweet Sour”

I Choose You!

Ah the Oscars, my favorite TV event of the whole year. So many have criticized this prestigious ceremony over the years for many different reasons. Some say it focuses more on the best marketed movies than the actual best movies, and there could be some truth to that. Though for the most part I believe the Academy makes the right decisions regarding who they nominate and who they award. I just love the Oscars because it celebrates the movies and hey, sometimes it’s even funny… Though certainly not last year. Luckily the host with most Billy Crystal is back at the helm and the field of nominees is pretty solid. Though you probably wont see much variance in my list from most critic’s lists as there always seems to be that strange point where everyone agrees on the same things. So who knows, maybe I’ll be way off with some of these, I like surprises.

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“I’d Love to Lick a Lemon Lollipop in Lillehammer”

Lilyhammer

Looks like we’ve entered a new age as movie delivery/streaming service Netflix has delivered it’s first original series in Lilyhammer. The series stars who else but renowned E-Street Band guitarist/Sopranos actor Steven Van Zandt as the endlessly entertaining wise guy Frankie “The Fixer” Tagliano. After the death of a former Mafia associate, Frankie Tagliano enters the witness relocation program and testifies against his organization so that he can start over with a clean slate… And what better place to start over then in the humble city of Lillehammer, Norway?

Infatuated with the city ever since he watched the 1994 Olympics, Frankie imagines a life with crisp snow, fresh mountain air, and beautiful Scandinavian broads, unfortunately this isn’t the case. Under the new name of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen, Frankie finds himself in a freezing and relatively uneventful community where he now must attend immigration classes, job meetings, and other mundane activities. So surely enough Frankie, or should I say Johnny (as that’s what everyone calls him) returns to his old habits of blackmail, extortion, and violence, to open his own bar and start his own crime underworld in the sleepy suburbs of Lillehammer.

Along the way Johnny meets plenty of colorful characters including Torgeir (Trond Fausas Aurvag) a a dimwitted local who quickly becomes Johnny’s right hand man, Jan (Fridtjov Saheim) an adulterous Labor office employee, and Sigrid (Marian Saastad Ottesen) a kindhearted single mother whom Johnny forms a relationship with. The results are a full on black comedy that pokes fun both at the pompous attitudes of Americans and the docile, folksy lives of small town Scandinavians. It’s certainly quirky and if you have been intrigued by anything I’ve said thus far then you will probably like this show.

I was a little hesitant about Steven Van Zandt starring in a series as his role in The Sopranos always seemed minimal, but he’s hilarious. Sure the character is essentially the typical wise guy character, but Van Zandt takes it so over-the-top it’s hard not to laugh. Even Van Zandt’s physical performance, hunched over with a constant scowl is a joy to watch, he clearly enjoys playing this character and I enjoy watching him. Though what really makes the character work is the fact that he’s set in such a unique surrounding. Here we have this tough as nails guy from the Big Apple now in a town with these almost annoyingly helpful Norwegians, it’s the classic fish out of water story.

Aside from Van Zant, the show is cleverly written and finds a good balance between humor and drama. I’d still say the show is a comedy but it definitely has it’s darker moments, you simply couldn’t have a crime show without violence. My only complaint is that this show may be too over-the-top. It is a little hard to believe any of this could happen and Johnny is more or less an Italian stereotype with little depth. That aside this show is very funny with some well executed twists and turns to keep you interested. If you have Netflix streaming than I recommend you check it out and hopefully when Van Zandt is done touring with “The Boss” he’ll get back to work on this.

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

Awake

Awake is NBC’s latest cop drama series from Kyle Killen, the creator of the ill-fated but well received FOX drama Lonestar. Killen’s latest show premieres on March 1st but the pilot is currently available to watch for free on Hulu. I don’t normally watch basic cable dramas but something about the premise to Awake intrigued me.

Awake stars Jason Isaacs (AKA Lucius Malfoy) as American police detective Michael Britten suffering from the effects of a recent traumatic car accident. “Traumatic in what way?” After the accident Michael finds himself living two different lives. In one life Michael’s son is dead and in the other his wife is dead. Michael switches between the two different lives every time he goes to bed and wakes up. Michael also has different therapists for each life, Cherry Jones plays one and BD Wong the other, as well as different partner (Wilmer Valderrama) in one life while in the other he works solo. To help separate the two lives Michael wears a red wristband (for the world with his wife) and a green wristband (for the one with his son). Michael has different cases in each life but as seen in the pilot there are occasional details that overlap, possibly revealing potential clues between what’s real and what’s a dream.

I think it’s a fantastic premise but I’m going to go right ahead and say this pilot didn’t do much for me. Something about the execution seems very typical. Michael struggles with his case, blah, blah, shares some melodramatic scenes with his wife yadda, yadda. The setup may be new but nothing else about this show is or really stands out. Though I will say that I saw the seedlings of ideas that could have the potential to grow into something interesting.

What I did enjoy is when Michael discovered clues between his two different cases and how they connected between his lives. This whole concept of how these lives are related could equal great television if handled well, but I have the sneaking suspicion they won’t be. Where most people will be watching this show to know what it all means, you know the show runners will want to prolong that for as long as possible. What that means is that this show will most likely drag on in the same way that How I Met Your Mother does in revealing who the mother is.

Honestly, I think Awake would have been a much better idea for a movie. I would imagine it like Memento if it was about cops. The problem here is they’ve given the audience a great question with no intention to answer it anytime soon. Though this is by no means a terrible show and could have the potential to become better as the mystery develops.

One thing I almost forgot to mention was the excellent lead performance by Jason Isaacs. I had no idea he could so convincingly play a hardened American detective. Will I watch the next episode of Awake? Possibly, but it if it’s more of the same I’m going to sleep.