Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Three Musketeers

I just watched the 2011 movie, The Three Musketeers. After it was over, my father asked me if I wanted to watch the outtakes. I replied, "I think the entire film was an outtake."

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Rian Johnson's new film, Looper, tells a story that you've never heard before. In the near future, time-travel becomes crudely possible - and highly illegal. Mobs use time-travel to send their victims into the past to be executed and disposed of. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) plays one of these mob hit-men known as "loopers." When he fails to kill the future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) they're both wanted for dead.

If that first paragraph was a little confusing, don't worry: the film explains it much better than I do, though time-travel stories can give some viewers headaches. The plot is filled with interesting and well-developed characters. Johnson's vision of the future seems very plausible which helps keep the movie relatable. The special effects were used intelligently, the most notable of which was making Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis.

The acting from both leads is great, but the most stunning performance comes from Pierce Gagnon, a child actor with surprisingly impressive skills. He was able to flawlessly go from innocent and cute to dark and mature.

Writer/director Rian Johnson used this film to combine mob and sci-fi genres, taking the best from both styles. This film asks the question, "What means the most to you and what would you do for it?" The characters all have their own answers which are often passionate, unexpected, and explosive. Looper is one of the most original films I've seen in awhile and definitely one of my favorites so far this year.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Grouplove @ The Pageant

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Franke.
English band Alt-J opened up the evening of 10/7. The group had a unique sound that blended genres. It felt like the singer/guitarist was in a folk band while the other three members were in more of a dance and electronica mood. Surprisingly, this fused naturally into something that was equally beautiful and danceable. Their drummer had a very tight, precise style that made him a human drum machine. "Tessellate" sounded particularly great.

Grouplove started with "Itchin' on a Photograph." With only an album and an EP to their name, the American band played through almost all of their recorded material throughout the set. Although they're by no means the most ground-breaking band, their simple pop-rock songs were catchy, blissful, and even uplifting. I would argue that everyone in the room was having a good time. How can you not smile when you hear songs like "Naked Kids" or "Lovely Cup"? Their lyrics aren't political or angry, they're about youth and having a good time. Sometimes that's all we need to hear about.

About halfway through the show, bass player Sean Gadd interrupted the song "Chloe" after a few chords. It was drummer Ryan Rabin's birthday. The audience sang "Happy Birthday" to him and Alt-J came out holding a cake with lit candles. Audience participation can sometimes be obnoxious, but this was cool and it made the show a little more special.

This concert was not a life-changing experience, but it was a genuine evening of entertainment with great friends. Never Trust A Happy Song is out now on Atlantic Records.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hobo with a Shotgun

Remember when Tarantino and Rodriguez made the Grindhouse double-feature? Death Proof (favorite car movie ever) and Planet Terror (her leg is a gun)? Leading up to the release of those two amazingly gritty action movies, a contest was held to make the best fake trailer in the spirit of Grindhouse. The winner was Hobo with a Shotgun, directed by Jason Eisener. In 2011, it was released as a full-length movie. It's technically the fourth film in the Grindhouse series (the third being Machete).

The plot is gloriously simple. Hope Town has been over run by The Drake and his two sons. Criminals run everything, the police force is completely corrupted, and public executions are a regular event. One traveling homeless man can't stand it.

Great cinematography is used throughout the film and the color palette is beautiful. The villains are completely evil, but they have great style. You might catch yourself thinking "I should dress like that... but then I'd look like a bad guy." It makes me despise them even more.

The best thing about this movie is how easily the audience can relate. Have you ever been in a room full of people that are completely wrong while you're right? Have you ever lost your temper? Wanted to be a vigilante? Wanted to kick a bully's ass? This film evokes all of those feelings and satisfies them.

Despite the garden sprinkler blood spurts and a gratuitous amount of crude sexual slurs, this film has a great message: you can't wait for someone else to fix a problem; you must fix it yourself. If you are a fan of hardcore justice, epic action, snapping bones, homeless people, or any of the above, Hobo with a Shotgun is worth a shot.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cat Power - Sun

The Queen of Indie Rock returns with her ninth album, Sun. A slightly different direction, more independence, and years of work make this one of her best releases thus far.

The album's opener, "Cherokee," is bitter-sweet. It's a reminder of Chan Marshall's uniquely beautiful voice and her remarkable skill of providing her own backing vocals. "Ruin," the lead-single, has a catchy piano riff and poetic lyrics about wealthy countries complaining. My favorite song, "3, 6, 9," is, frankly, badass. Its based on a stomp beat and Marshall's pretty vocals are as pissed as they can be. The finely written lyrics point out that the freedom to use drugs can, in some cases, ultimately take away more freedom than it gives.

One of the amazing things about this album is that Marshall recorded it almost entirely by herself. There are a few exceptions, however, including Iggy Pop's guest vocals on the 11-minute epic "Nothin But Time." This album also features more synths and drum machines than previous Cat Power albums. This is managed in a way that still feels natural and nothing like traditional electronica music. Even though drum machines are used occasionally, the beats are always inventive and even syncopated on a few songs.

Cat Power has never been associated with electronic music and this album still doesn't feel very electronic. Her beautiful song-writing, voice, and true style stay powerful with every release. This is easily one of my favorite Cat Power albums and also a great introduction for new fans. Sun is out now on Matador Records.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sunday - LouFest 2012

The Flaming Lips. Photo courtesy of Nicole Pruess.
Unfortunately, I missed the first two acts of sunday. I got there just as Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin was starting. This band was originally from Springfield, Missouri and their catchy pop rock was irresistible. The songs were well-written and sounded great outside.

Wild Nothing, who just released a new album this week, was a last-minute replacement. They had a very Cure-inspired sound. Surprisingly, they were one of the best bands to dance to.

Imagine a pop band from the fifties and sixties. Imagine they have all of today's pedals and effects. That band is Cults, one of the groups I was most excited for this weekend. Originally a two-piece, they bring in several extra members for live shows. Singer Madeline Follin delivered an impressive vocal performance and the rest of the band was spot on.

Dawes brought kinda-folky-alterna-rock to a whole new level this weekend. These truly gifted songwriters quickly became many people's new favorite band. Unfortunately, they were cut about ten minutes short due to the rain. Uh oh.

It began to really pour. I mean, seriously pour. Lightning taunted us in the distance. A large group of us were waiting to see Dr. Dog. After twenty minutes of horror, the rain stopped. Fifteen minutes after that, the band started. "The rain is falling / It's after dark," begin the lyrics to "Shadow People." It was perfect. Their groovy, strange rock was everything I had dreamed it would be. It made me forget I was dripping wet.

"Fuck the rain," shouted Wayne Coyne, the charismatic frontman of the Flaming Lips. If you don't know anything about the Flaming Lips' live performances, let me say this: it will blow your mind. You will see things that you didn't think were possible. Magic stardust shot out of a dragon's ass will rain on you from above. It's a bit of a religious experience. Needless to say, they didn't disappoint me. They never have. Although their set could have been longer had it not been for that treacherous rain, I'm not complaining. There is no happier way to end a weekend of great music than with the Flaming Lips.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Saturday - LouFest 2012

Sleepy Kitty. Courtesy of Nicole Pruess.
For the third year in a row, LouFest has been the end of summer highlight for many St. Louis music fans. The well-organized festival presented one of their best lineups yet. Unfortunately, I missed several bands (sorry Little Barrie, Pernikoff Brothers, and THEEsatisfaction), so I'll just talk about what I personally saw.

The festival was kicked off by local favorite Sleepy Kitty. Since this band has only two members, they needed a little help from their friends. Several guests appeared throughout the set. Their fun, energetic music was a great way to start the weekend. At a Sleepy Kitty show, anything can happen. They may play songs from a seven-inch released that very day. They might play a song about the Batman ride at Six Flags. They could throw handmade shakers at the audience. Anything can happen.

King Tuff played most of the tracks from their 2012 debut during their set. The garage-punk band made up for their lack of songwriting prowess with high-energy rock. This made for some fantastic head-banging that my neck complained about the next day. Totally worth it.

Cotton Mather was definitely the wild card at this year's LouFest. In the late nineties, this powerpop band was on everybody's list to be the next big thing. In 2003, the band broke up and pretty much disappeared. Now, they're back together, re-releasing their 1997 hit album, Kon Tiki, and possibly recording new material. Their smooth melodies brightened the day a little, despite the gray clouds.

The hometown heroes, Son Volt, played a beautiful country set. Although they really sounded quite perfect, they were a down-tempo break in a series of rocking sets. My adrenaline was going a little too fast to really focus on their entire set.

It's hard to describe Phantogram to someone that's never heard them. They combine rock, electronica, and R&B in a seamless fusion. The combination of man and machine on drums made their strange beats come alive. The slight drizzle of rain during their set only added to the mood.

Dinosaur Jr. is the loudest band I've ever seen in concert. This is the second time I've seen them, and they're still loud. A little too loud, in my opinion. Their songs sound quite different live than on the album. The verse of "Feel The Pain" sounds just like the album, but the chorus is played as fast as they can possibly play. It's an experience, though not always a pleasant one.

What's a DJ to do in concert? If you ask Girl Talk, the answer is "mix as much as you can live and throw the biggest party you can." The LCD screens on stage showed strange combinations of graphics that felt like subliminal messaging. People danced on stage, shirts came off, and toilet paper filled the air. This was the birthday party you've always wanted.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Dirty Pigeons - The Dirty Pigeons EP

After playing in and around Chicago for about a year, The Dirty Pigeons have finished their first record, an eponymous EP. This four-piece band creates a natural feel that rocks hard with minimal use of effects.

The seven-track release weaves it's way between up-tempo rockers and beautiful songs with a hint of classic country. "The Valley" is serene and pairs well with the soft vocals. It provides contrast to the EP's opening track, "Idle Dollars," a catchy, sort of romping song. The standout track for me is "What's the Point in Changing?" It's dark theme and distorted vocals are emphasized with the surprisingly heavy, epic guitar solo.

The band showcases their versatility with "Sundays Golden Wishes," a beautifully sorrowful country song reminiscing about better times. Although this EP is entirely original material, The Dirty Pigeons pay tribute to their influences on the closing track, "Stills, Young." The obvious Young-ness of the strong, lengthy solo is still genuinely Dirty Pigeons.

On their first official release (out in September), The Dirty Pigeons show that they are a talented band with a strong sound. I hope to hear more from them in the future. Although they're based in Chicago, St. Louis can get a little piece of the action too. The Dirty Pigeons will be playing at the Heavy Anchor on September 8th.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Passion Pit - Gossamer

After 2009's very successful Manners, Passion Pit is back with their sophomore album, Gossamer. Trying to live up to their previous effort, this group might be experiencing a sophomore slump.

"Take A Walk," the opening track, is a beautiful song about dealing with tragedy by taking a walk, getting fresh air and clearing your head. It's one of the few songs on this album that doesn't directly speak about the master theme: love. "I'll Be Alright" is a hyper song about letting go of a relationship. It's my personal favorite on the album. "Two Veils To Hide My Face" is a short, a cappella song that feels a lot like poetry.

Lead-singer/songwriter Michael Angelakos writes lyrics that are very conversational; he's directly speaking to someone in most cases. Many of the songs on this album have group vocals on the chorus, a beautiful technique that grows somewhat old.

Although some tracks have serious lyrics, the pop melody of the instruments prevents me from taking them seriously. There are few exceptions to this rule, including "Constant Conversations."

Passion Pit's first album brought forth the glorious single "Sleepyhead." Gossamer feels as though the band is trying to reach that glory again, but not quite finding the same success. There are several great songs, but none are on the same level of excitement as "Sleepyhead." This album is good, but it's not great enough to be much of anything special. Gossamer is out now on Columbia Records.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

It is not unusual for super-hero movies to be restarted and revisited with a new series. It is unusual to start a new one five years after the last one. That's exactly what Marvel did with The Amazing Spider-Man. Needless to say, I was slightly skeptical. Have they really learned anything? What will make this one different?

The plot develops slowly, something that I enjoy. I don't think the super-villain is actually seen until at least halfway through. This gives the characters much more development. When Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield, gets his powers, he doesn't master them quickly like in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. In fact, it looks a bit like a bad LSD trip. He freaks out, accidentally breaks a ton of stuff, and almost accidentally kills himself a few times. This happens before he even puts on the costume. Speaking of costumes, this incarnation of Spider-Man actually showed the audience how he made the suit. Before, it was something like, "...and then he made a spider suit." In this version, we get a little more details. For some reason, this was a big deal for me. All things considered, this film seemed more real than the last series.

Garfield's acting is excellent, along with co-star Emma Stone. He believably portrays Peter Parker as a high-schooler. He acts awkward around girls, but not overly so. It's subtle. He's funny when he fights bad guys, but not too funny. And never punny.

The special effects were great, although it sometimes felt as though they were just showing off. Despite this, I was still impressed. The cinematography was also inventive. There were several very cool shots. The camera often told the story in a way that the characters didn't need to speak for the audience to understand.

If you asked me today what my favorite super-hero movies are, I would give you two answers. The Dark Knight and The Amazing Spider-Man. Yes, I've seen The Avengers, and it's great. No, I didn't forget it. It just doesn't compare.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is about two kids who fall in love and runaway from their homes on a small island off the coast of New England. Sam, a Khaki Scout, runs away from his troop. Suzy runs away from her younger brothers and their lawyer parents. Fugitives, they plan on surviving together in the wilderness. Soon, everyone on the island is looking for them.

This film takes place in the 1960's and is also made to look like it was filmed in the sixties. The fonts, opening credits, and slightly grainy film set the tone for the movie. The sets, costumes, and music also put the audience comfortably into this time period.

The cast is a bottomless list of talent. Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Edward Norton (Fight Club), Bill Murray (What About Bob?), and Frances McDormand (Fargo) play the leading adults. The kids are played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. Relatively unknown, these child actors fit their roles perfectly.

Director Wes Anderson tells the story in unique and quirky ways. I was particularly impressed by the long continuous shots in the beginning of the film. Anderson also co-wrote the film with Roman Coppola, son of Francis-Ford Coppola (The Godfather). The theme, that love can and will overcome great adversity, is well-known, but still relatable. It also bends genres to combine drama, comedy, adventure, and romance.

I don't think I could say anything bad about this movie even if I tried. This is the best film I've seen in theatres so far this year. Speaking of theatres, it's playing at The Tivoli on Delmar, one of my favorite places. Everything is better when you watch it at the Tivoli. Especially Moonrise Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Evil Henchmen - An Appreciation

Stormtroopers are a perfect example.
A while ago, I started thinking about bad guys in movies. Not the antagonist, but his minions. They fascinate me. For starters, I wondered how they always get so many minions. Do they post ads in the paper? Kidnap guys off the street? Is there some dark part of Craigslist for henchmen? Or do they just have an army of clones, like Darth does? In most cases, this is never explained.

Then I started to view henchmen from a filmmaker's perspective. They're awesome. I discovered three specific traits of evil henchmen that are particularly cool in my mind.

Budget. If I'm making a violent movie, a lot of bad guys will need to be sacrificed. That means hiring a lot of extras. But if I use the evil henchmen approach, they will all wear full-body uniforms. This way, I can make twenty uniforms and have the same guys play them in every scene. I can hire one actor to die four times on screen.

Audience morality. If your audience is mostly normal, they probably have a conscience. And, if they're mostly normal, they're not a huge of fan of murder. When you're protagonist gets a little trigger happy, he can start to look like a bad guy. But if the audience doesn't see the face of his victim, it's not so big a deal. Let's use Star Wars as an example. The Empire's stormtroopers have their faces covered. They don't seem very human so I don't relate to them. But the rebel soldiers have their faces exposed. I see that they're human and I connect with that. I don't want to see them die.

German army around 1939. Not actually communists, but you get the idea.
Lastly, communism. When everything looks the same, it's scary. Like this example on the right. When everything is exactly the same, it reminds us of communism and 1984 and stuff. You hear that voice in the back of your head whispering "assimilate." Uniformed henchmen have that effect on people.

Next time you're watching some totally awesome movie, think about the henchmen. They're a big part of some films and we often take them for granted.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Snow White & the Huntsman

When a story is really good, it gets told over and over again. Grimm's Snow White is one of those stories. The most notable version is definitely Disney's 1937 animated movie. But, like most Disney movies, they took out all of the excitingly brutal murders and scary parts. Thankfully, Snow White & the Huntsman has kept all of the good parts.

Often times in live-action fairy tales, a little humor is added to lighten up the story a bit. There is no humor in this film and it's awesomely dark. Much of this is due to Charlize Theron's part as the queen. She plays the role like she was born for it. She makes the queen as cruel as Adolf Hitler and as sexy as... well, Charlize Theron. Kristen Stewart is obviously making up for bad-ass moments she missed while making Twilight movies. This Snow White is not a damsel in distress, she's a warrior leading a revolution. This is a very empowering movie for women.

The special effects are not only impressively real, but abstract. My favorite example of this is the mirror. He appears as a man completely draped in a thick cloth that is the gold mirror itself. Other great effects include the queen becoming a murder of crows, shattering soldiers made of rock shards, and a troll (one of my favorite parts).

Like many fantasy movies, this one has a lot of strong symbolism. The queen wears all black and so does her army and Snow rides a white horse. Although these things sound stupid and a little obvious, they help build the mythology of the fairy tale. These things, as well as the awesome scenery, make the movie visually-stunning.

Everyone will like this movie. It has fighting, beautiful people of both sexes, a love interest, and a troll. Parents, show your kids how Snow White is supposed to be. Kids, learn how Disney tries to sugar-coat everything. And women, be empowered by everything in this movie.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Childish Gambino @ The Pageant

Photo courtesy of Keegan DeJong
I wouldn't want to be the opener at a sold out Childish Gambino show, but somebody's got to do it. Chance the Rapper, a fairly unknown artist, came off as rather young and naive. He had a DJ on stage with him, but the tracks being played still had Chance's vocals on them. This turned the entire performance into a glorified sing-along. His flow was off and he was missing most of the words. Even when he got it right, it was too slurred to hardly be understood. He also does this weird thing where he goes "byahahahh" all the time. Like this (listen from 0:10 - 0:20). He didn't impress me at all.

Finally, Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover; AKA Troy Barnes from Community) took the stage. He had a full band with him: guitar, bass, drums, keys, and a laptop. They opened with "Outside" quickly followed by "Firefly," the first two tracks off Camp, his first official LP release. His flow was just as tight as the album, never missing a beat. He performed most of his hits, including material going all the way back to 2010's Culdesac mixtape.

The stage set up was very simple. There were a few trees on stage to set the camp atmosphere. The lights were few, but they were used well. The large screen behind him was used in several different ways depending on the song. It was used for still photos, graphics, lyrics, and video. All of the lyrics always matched up with the screen exactly.

The encore was really something. It included one of the very recent singles from his website ("some new shit," as he called it), two freestyles, and a currently unreleased song. The crowd was engaged the entire time. When he said "throw your hands up," no one even questioned it.

This concert only proved to me the truth in Gambino's music. His lyrics are often about overcoming adversity. Despite all of the troubles in his life, he has still managed to become a successful musician, actor, and comedian. Today, influential music sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum don't like him at all. Even with them working against him, he produced an incredible sold out show. To me, that is the real awesomeness of Childish Gambino and it's a message everyone can relate to.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


The simplest possible explanation for Rubber is that it's a movie about a tire that can blow stuff up. That's what I was expecting when I started watching it on Netflix. I quickly discovered that it was much, much more than that.

Yes, this 2010 film is really about a tire killing people using psycho-kinetic powers. However, there is a group of people in the desert with binoculars. They watch the tire in real life as though it were a movie. They make comments about it and ask each other questions. One of them is played by Charley Koontz, known for his portrayal of Fat Neil on Community. The sheriff trying to find the tire knows that he's in a movie, but nobody else does. It's one of the most unique plots I've ever seen.

You might be asking yourself, "why would anyone make a movie about a scary tire?" The answer is, "no reason." In the opening scene, the sheriff explains this to the audience. He gives examples of movies that are based on things without reason. "Why is the alien in E.T. brown? Why do the couple in Love Story fall in love? No reason." He goes on to explain that this is because life itself is filled with "no reasons." He tells the audience (characters in the movie) that the film they're about to watch is a celebration of life's "no reasons."

The cinematography is amazing. The desert looks crisp and beautiful on screen. The acting is perfect and so are the special effects. This sounds stupid, but I'm still not sure how they got the tire to move the way that it did. It's movements were terrifyingly natural.

In all honesty, this is probably one of my new favorite movies. I'm going to be looking out for more films by Quentin Dupieux. Everything comes together in a way that's simultaneously expected and shocking. It's completely weird and spectacular.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Big Sad Whale - Demo

Yesterday, I picked up a free demo CD at Slackers from a St. Charles band called A Big Sad Whale. Having seen the group before at SCW's Open Mic Night, I thought I might give it a go. The group itself is a two-piece consisting of Alex Dabney on drums and Zach Petzel on guitar and vocals. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

The demo has three songs: "21st Century Novelist," "Run," and "Stone Hard Stiletto." The songs, all originals, have a retro-rock kind of feel. Their song-writing could use some work, but they keep it interesting with unique guitar licks and drum fills.

The guitar, especially on "Stone Hard Stiletto," shows some blues influence. The drums, while a little sloppy, are very creative and chaotic. I think they probably could have been recorded better, but, hey, it's a demo. 

The vocals would definitely not win on any reality TV show, and I'm sure Petzel would admit that, but that's alright. Reality TV sucks anyway. The vocals seem to be tame in order to let the instruments and lyrics speak for the band.

I can't say it's perfect because that would be lying. But it's listenable, catchy, and it's homegrown. They get major props for even trying and even more props for giving it away for free. I believe they've given copies to most St. Charles record stores. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Melancholia is a 2011 sci-fi drama directed and written by Lars von Trier. It's about a planet, Melancholia, colliding with Earth and the event's effect on the lives of two sisters. Starring Kirsten Dunst (Virgin Suicides), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Science of Sleep), and Kiefer Sutherland (24), you could say it has an all-star cast.

The first eight and a half minutes are imagery-filled slow-motion clips from the end of the story, the last of which is another planet crashing into Earth. It takes a lot of balls for a director to blow up our planet in the first eight minutes of the film. The slow start is not necessarily a bad thing. The orchestral score makes it quite an experience. It's reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The film is divided into two acts. The first follows Dunst's character, Justine, at her wedding reception. The second follows Gainsbourg's character, Claire, as the planet approaches, passes, and collides with Earth (I'm not spoiling anything, I swear. First eight minutes.) Both of their performances are flawless. I first heard of Charlotte Gainsbourg through her music career, but this movie proved to me that she is also a gifted actress.

The cinematography is almost entirely handheld. This unique approach gives the film a personal, candid feeling without looking like The Blair Witch Project. The camera is not a character.

With heavy themes of both depression and the end of everything, this is definitely a downer. I wouldn't advise watching it on your birthday. But really, when's the last time you saw a good tragedy? Our culture really celebrates comedy and happy endings, but that's only half of it. Tragedies make us thankful for what we have. Melancholia is a reminder that things can be sad and enjoyable at the same time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Karate Bikini - Sauce Of The Applehorse

The St. Louis super group Karate Bikini just released their first full-length album this week. The album, Sauce Of The Applehorse, has been eagerly anticipated for quite some time. I had a chance to ask frontman Tim McAvin a few questions.

Anti-Formula: Where did the name of the album come from?
Tim McAvin: The name of the album came from a silly idea to have merchandise for our first show when we didn't have any recordings, so I made apple sauce and jarred it and made labels for it. In the process of making the labels, I recalled seeing labels at some international food stores where something went wrong in the translation, so I decided to purposely create an enigmatic translation for 'apple sauce.' The actual chinese translation of 'apple sauce' is 'sauce of the apple,' so I just threw a horse on the end, and decided right then and there that that would be the title of an album if we ever got to that point.

AF: How did the band come together?
TM: The very original version of the band came from me recording songs on my own and creating fake MySpace bands while I was a member of Tight Pants Syndrome. Tom Stephens (TPS) told me I should call one of the bands Karate Bikini, so I did. Shortly after that, Joe Scanlan and I had both parted ways with Tight Pants Syndrome and started playing together. Joe brought Jill Aboussie (drums) into the fold. Jill ran into Johnny Horton (Bottle Rockets) one night at work and told him she was playing with us. He called and asked if he could play. That was a no brainer. Jill knew Michelle Rae from their Ska days. Then I asked Mike Martin to join. And somewhere in all of that decided that Karate Bikini was a decent enough name. We've gone through some line-up changes since then and, as much as I loved the original line-up, the current line-up is the best that Karate Bikini has been.

AF: Are any of the songs on this album autobiographical?
TM: Yes, they are all to one extent or another autobiographical. At the same time, I take some liberties with the facts and use plenty of exaggeration to get the lyrics out. "Breaking Up With You" was written right after a break up. In that one, I'm talking to the old girlfriend and putting on a strong face. I'm definitely trying to hurt her with that, but then admitting that I'm kind of drowning in my hurt about the breakup with overindulgence of food and drink and women. The bridge part of that song is talking to a new girl, an in-between girl, and I'm confessing to her that I am broken, and that this is a temporary thing. I say to the new girl: "Welcome to the lion's den/ Is that tattoo real or pretend?/ Come over here/ It's getting near the end." I consider that pretty autobiographical, but not exactly storytelling.

AF: How did you pick the artwork?
TM: The artwork was kind of a no brainer. I worked on different album covers for months and had a lot of things that I liked, and Brian Mcclellan from TPS also did a few things that were great! But when I saw the photograph of the Asian girl with the makeup, I knew that that had to be the cover. Our first release had a painting of Asian girls, and I like the idea of keeping with the theme of Asian girls in bikinis. That's kind of a silly aspect of the band, and may not be politically correct, but it's also fun to have something that is so evocative. If we had gone with the name of one of my other fake bands, we would have pictures of something completely different: neon ameobas or flying pigs maybe. But we are Karate Bikini for better or worse, and that just screams Asian girls in bikinis to me. I consider it campy. Some people might think it's in poor taste. I just think it's funny.

AF: What inspired "Liar's Parade"?
TM: Hmmm? The inspiration for "Liar's Parade"? I usually have all the music recorded then just sing the first line off the top of my head. So "I don't know how to sing" just sort of came out. In this case, as in all cases, after the first line I step back and ask myself what I'm talking about. That way I can decide to either finish it or not. I was able to finish this one because I truly believe that I am a mediocre singer, and it doesn't really matter, and it's kind of an easy task to point out how artificial people, including myself, are. So many things that we act like are important just aren't. I'm not sure if that answers the question or not. The truth is, I don't really ever get too inspired. I just keep doing it for the sake of doing it, and sometimes I get lucky. I think with this song I got lucky.
AF: What's next for Karate Bikini?

TM: Karate Bikini plans on starting the next record. I have the material, and why not just get started on that? I would also love to do some good opening gigs around town and maybe do some out-of-town gigs in the near future. It would also be great to make a little money from this release, so we can have a proper CD release party and have our friends out for a fun night of music.

Sauce Of The Applehorse is out now on iTunes and will soon be available on CD.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Franz Nicolay, Kepi Ghoulie, Kevin Seconds @ The Firebird

Ghoulie. Not my photo and not from STL.
Franz Nicolay, Kepi Ghoulie, and Kevin Seconds have never been in a band together. They are three friends on a combined solo tour. This unique combination made for a very interesting show.

Riley James, a St. Louis local, was the opener. Armed with just his acoustic guitar and his voice, he had a classic, singer-songwriter quality about him. He played several originals as well as a wonderful cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Used Cars."

Playing in no particular order, Franz Nicolay (of The Hold Steady) was the first of the three to perform. He alternated between acoustic guitar, banjo, and accordion. His lyrics were very eloquent and carefully chosen. This attitude was reflected in his clothes: nice suit, no tie, black fedora. Nicolay made a point of talking about each song before he played it, giving the audience a better sense of its meaning.

Kepi Ghoulie (of The Groovie Ghoulies) is known for his style of acoustic punk and fun, simple lyrics. This provided a strong contrast from Nicolay's performance. Kevin Seconds also accompanied Kepi with a very small drum set of just one tom and snare. After a three song medley, Kepi let the audience decide the set list. "Come on, what do you guys wanna hear?" Being in St. Louis, he felt obligated to play tribute to Chuck Berry by playing "Memphis, Tennessee." Later on, he was joined by Franz on accordion. The whole set was fast, loud, and acoustic.

Kevin Seconds (of 7 Seconds) was somewhere in between Nicolay and Ghoulie in regards to complexity. He was accompanied by both of them; Ghoulie on drums and Nicolay on accordion and banjo. His big vocals filled the room. Like Kepi, he took many audience requests. Of the three of them, it seemed that Kevin's songs were able to emotionally connect with the audience the most.

A very enjoyable acoustic evening with three very different artists. Although the room was filled with about twenty-five people, they treated it like an arena rock show and gave it their very best.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lost In The Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs

Lost In The Trees, one of my favorite bands from the past year, just made their third official release, A Church That Fits Our Needs. The band is known for combining folk and classical to create something truly unique. I frequently cite it as Bob Dylan meets Lord of the Rings. Which makes sense because singer/songwriter Ari Picker has a degree in film scores from Berkeley.

Their new album is a bit darker than 2010's All Alone In An Empty House. That's fine with me, however. They've continued to add more instruments to their library of sound, creating a sonic jungle of noise. This is the kind of music that lets you just close your eyes, and envision the story that's being told.

The soft vocals fit nicely with the orchestra as well as the guitar. All of this fits very nicely with the inventive drums. The creative beats remind me of more recent Radiohead material. Not because the two sound similar, but because they're both strange and unusual. 

Let's talk about album artwork. I like talking about album artwork. This artwork is very simple without feeling obvious. A close observer will also notice that the subject of this photo is the same woman from the cover of All Alone In An Empty House. This helps to tie the two albums together. It's a symbol that the band has changed without forgetting their sound.

Certain elements of "Golden Eyelids" remind me of the twister scene in The Wizard of Oz. "Icy River" is an incredibly dark and beautiful song with so many layers I get lost in it. "This Dead Bird Is Beautiful" is a slow song with a lovely piano, and falsetto, female vocals that scream into the distance.

This being their third release, Lost In The Trees has made it past the dreaded sophomore slump. Let's hope that this seals their place in the world of independent, interesting music.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Radiohead @ Scottrade Center

A photo taken earlier in the tour.
Other Lives delivered a solid opening performance. It wasn't stunning, but it was very good.  Their dark folk-rock sound is rather unique which made for a more interesting opener. They played about eight songs from their newest album, Tamer Animals, and then they were done. Because of the arrangement of their stage, I couldn't really see what most of them were doing. Like Radiohead, they had six members including two percussionists.

Finally, they took the stage. Radiohead. They opened with "Bloom" off their most recent album, The King of Limbs. Although they didn't always sound exactly like on the album, they did sound fantastic. Johnny, Ed, and Thom were changing guitars about every song to fit the unique feel of each tune. I had heard that Radiohead doesn't care to play many older songs and this is somewhat true. However, the third song was "Airbag" from 1997's hit album, OK Computer. When playing "Karma Police," a crowd favorite, Thom sang "this is what you get when you forget the words." They didn't play anything from before 1997 which meant no "Sulk" and no "Creep." They did play seven of the eight songs from The King of Limbs, "Codex" being the odd one out.

Halfway through the main set, the band played "an obscure song" called "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy." They also played "Identikit," a new unreleased track, and "The Daily Mail," a non-album single released in the past year. They played two encores. The first encore began with "Give Up The Ghost" played by just Thom and Johnny. The layered vocals and dark subject-matter made it one of the most beautiful performances of the evening. The second encore ended with "Idioteque," a stunning and somewhat unexpected choice for a closer song.

When bands are big enough to sell out stadiums like this, it's expected that they have some kind of a light show. In Radiohead fashion, they had something that was simple and complex at the same time. They had a wall of screen behind them and twelve floating square screens above them. The screens moved into different positions between songs and had live video of each band member.

In my mind, Radiohead is one of the best and most creative bands ever. They write songs that connect with us and move us. They write songs that don't sound like anything else. With all of these things as expectations, they didn't disappoint at all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jackknife Powerbomb @ The Firebird

The first thing you'll notice about Jackknife Powerbomb is their stage presence. As soon as they walk on stage, all members of the band take on a different, dangerous persona. Each musician approaches this differently either by a 'power stance', being visibly angry, or spitting frequently. The second thing you notice is the loud, furious sound coming out of their amps.

They're essentially a metal band but that doesn't really describe their sound. It's an epic, fast, tight, riff-driven breed of heavy rock.  The closest comparison would be Kyuss, the band that sort of evolved into Queens of the Stone Age. The vocals are mostly growly and rough. In the opening song, the vocals were shouted in one-syllable bursts. The singer, Paul, frequently reminded the audience that each song was called "Karate Bikini," the name of the band playing after them.

"Staring at the Face of God" built up until it seemed to fall apart and then came back even stronger. The closer, "Explosions in the Sky," was a complete anthem with several powerful riffs. The lead-guitarist, Mike, rolled out a few gritty jams.

Although they don't have any recorded material, there was some talk after the show about recording an album soon. Let's hope they do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rambos - Rock and Roll Monsters

Sometimes when I hear a crappy Nickelback song off in the distance, I wonder, "How did 'rock' get so convoluted?" I still don't know the answer to that question but I do know that Rambos understand the importance of simplicity and rock on their debut album Rock and Roll Monsters.

"Terrorize," the album opener, sets the tone for the rest of the songs. It's fast-paced and the chorus, sung by the whole band, is very catchy. "We've got an evil muse that tells us to terrorize," they sing. This fact appears to be true throughout the rest of the album's dark lyrics. The songs themselves are relatively simple but that doesn't mean they aren't powerful rock beats. Not only can you headbang to them, you could possibly dance to them at the right venue. "Burn down the disco," they sing on "Radio."

"Chuck Taylors" is an observation that everyone, regardless of race or gender, wears Converse shoes. Taking a break from faster songs, "Vampire" is a beautiful duet that continues with the monster theme without sounding like Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. "Nothing To Say" seems to stomp around without letting anything stop it. The dark/monster theme extends past the lyrics and into the entire band with the rough guitar riffs and crashing drums.

Rambos understand that rock and roll does not need to be over-produced with a thousand guitar pedals and deep, philosophical lyrics. It just needs to be mean, fun, and, you know, rock. Rock and Roll Monsters comes out March 6th on Grape Juice Records.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Heartless Bastards - Arrow

When I hear "blues-rock" three things come to mind. The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and Heartless Bastards. It's very fitting that the new Heartless Bastards album, Arrow, was released on Valentine's Day. Not that the album is romantic or even anti-romantic. In fact, that's just one way that this album is quite different from their previous albums.

Heartless Bastards' lead singer/songwriter/frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom has described the album as having a "super spaghetti western-type vibe." Having recently spent time in the Catskill Mountains, a cabin, and a ranch in West Texas, it's safe to say that this album has been influenced by the great outdoors. Honestly, it makes me want to chase murderers through a canyon in Arizona, armed with only a shotgun and my wits.

The album starts with "Marathon," a slow-building, moody song that hits you like a train when the whole band comes in. "I'm on my way home," croons Wennerstrom like a cowboy that's been gone too long. "Only For You" is the closest to a love song on this one, with vocals that are belted out without feeling strained at all. The "ooh's" on "Skin And Bones" are terribly beautiful and the guitar solo echoes it right back. "Got To Have Rock and Roll," "Simple Feeling," and "Late In The Night," capture the pure rock sound that Heartless Bastards are known for. The album closer, "Down In The Canyon," is a seven minute epic that builds from a slow and angry tune to an intense, fast, pissed-off rock song. Near the end, it feels as though every single member of this band is putting absolutely everything that they can into the song.

Filled with imagery of mountains and the west, this is a great album to listen to while at your cabin, rock climbing, fishing, playing hunting video games, eating steak, sitting outside, or drinking coffee. The Heartless Bastards seem to have changed as a band but that's alright. When artists don't change, they're boring. The trick is to change in an interesting way. Arrow does just that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune

If you're being technical, I suppose Air is an electronica band. However, their new album, Le Voyage Dans La Lune, is electronica like I've never heard before. Once again, this duo is redefining a genre.

Their most recent project is actually a soundtrack to the 1902 silent film of the same name. Translated from french it is A Trip To The Moon. Directed by Georges Méliès, it's considered to be the very first science-fiction film. Originally in black and white, the color version has been found and restored. It's being released in conjunction with the album.

This isn't the first time Air has recorded a film score and I dearly hope that it isn't the last. In 1999 they did the score to The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola. Both the movie and the album are fantastic. I can hardly imagine one without the other.

Their new album is like no other by the band. It's filled with actual studio drums instead of a machine. They blast through without disturbing the unity of the songs. "Sonic Armada" is filled with strange sci-fi noises and a thick bass line. It sounds like aliens, robots, and a flutist having some kind of jam session. "Seven Stars," built on fast drums and slow piano, is probably my favorite track at the moment. The rapid bass and drums create a kind of panic while the dreamy vocals (from Victoria Legrand of Beach House) take me to another world. "Who Am I Now?" features soft female vocals trailed by a dark bass drum until the piano comes in and takes over. "Cosmic Trip" is almost startling by its fast tempo and tight drums. I can almost see stars flying past my bedroom window while listening to this song.

This is the freshest electronica I've heard in a very long time. Combining two of my favorite things, films and good music, this is definitely looking to be one of the best albums of 2012.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Artist

If you went to your favorite cinema today, you might have trouble finding a movie that wasn't playing in 3-D. Most days, you'd never even dream of finding a black and white silent movie. Before it even came out, The Artist was getting attention for being different. I wanted to find out if it was more than just a gimmick.

"Silent movie" doesn't just describe the way this film was made. It also describes the content. The movie focuses on a silent movie star living in Hollywood during the late-twenties and early-thirties, played by Jean Dujardin. His entire career changes when he's introduced to the concept of "talkies." Interestingly enough, Dujardin didn't have much fame as an actor until he starred in a silent movie.

Dujardin's acting is perfect and very expressive. If I were giving out awards, he would definitely be nominated for best mustache and best smile. Seriously, that's the sharpest pencil-stache I've ever seen. It's incredible. And his smile just lights up the entire screen. His co-star, Berenice Bejo, looks like she's walked right out of the twenties just to star in this film. She's a very classic beauty. Uggie the dog also provides a great performance.

Director Michel Hazanavicius provides excellent cinematography, emphasizing on mirrors, shadow, and smoke. All of these things work even better because of the lack of color. The soundtrack is phenomenal. Despite the silence from the actors, the orchestra is not playing the entire film. There are pauses in certain places to help accentuate the seriousness of the scene.

The Artist is a unique film that celebrates the glorious style of the twenties and thirties while examining the pride and struggle of one man. I really hope that this sparks a silent movie revival similar to vinyl in the music industry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Red Tails

"This is the closest you're ever going to get to Episode Seven." George Lucas said that on the Daily Show a few weeks ago. Obviously, I was very excited to see Red Tails in theaters the weekend it was released.

This movie tells of the Tuskegee airmen in World War II. Considered incompetent because of their race, they had to fight just for opportunities to fight. They were hated by some pilots and generals in the same way that the Nazis were hating the Jews, a terribly ironic parallel. However, this is not necessarily the entire focus of the film. All of the characters battle with other personal problems that are incredibly relatable for today's audience such as alcoholism and language barriers just to name a few. These characters are so real that I found myself actually fearing for their lives during the combat scenes. I swear, my heart was racing at some points.

The cast is perfect, each one completely owning their character. It should be noted that Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. both have great performances (I didn't even think of Radio ONCE through the whole thing.) I expect some great things from all of these actors in the future. It should also be noted that this is one of the first blockbuster action movies to feature an all-black cast.

Special effects? What special effects? As far as I'm concerned, everything in that movie actually happened. It is a George Lucas movie, after all. Industrial Light and Magic does it again. The cinematography, as well, was spot on. The aerial battles were filmed in a way that completely made sense. I always seemed to know where everyone was and who was on what side; not an easy thing to do with plane fights.

If you like action movies at all, go see Red Tails. If you like Star Wars, definitely go see it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg, somehow manages to mess up one of the most basic movie genres: action. It seems to lack all story and interest. Let's start by examining the hero.

Chris Farraday, played by Wahlberg, used to be a great smuggler until he quit the business. Now he installs security systems and has a family. His stupid brother-in-law is still a smuggler and people want to kill him. That's about all we know about him. There's nothing about how he got into the business in the first place, met his wife, or when he decided to stop smuggling. Basically, he's really good at hide-and-seek and he's boring.

For an action movie, there isn't really a lot of action. There was one car crash that was pretty good and Kate Beckinsale got her ass kicked for about three scenes. Pee-wee's Big Adventure had more action sequences than this poor excuse for an adrenaline rush.

The dialogue in this movie was hardly believable. The characters don't explain how the operation normally works. The hero is never faced with any tough decisions except "get back into smuggling or we'll kill your family" which isn't really a decision at all. In a good heist movie, I like to know a little bit about everyone on "the team." I had no idea who these people were.

The movie poster for Contraband asks the question "What would you hide to protect your family?" I would hide the fact that I starred in Contraband, Wahlberg. This is the kind of thing that people will bring up at celebrity roasts, high school reunions, etc. for the rest of your life.