Album Review: 3121, Prince


Archive Review:
Prince
3121
Universal

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student March 30, 2006)

A PURPLE PAIN

No matter how often the media poke fun at his bizarre and reclusive lifestyle or how many times Dave Chappelle ranks on his quirky, sexual purpleness, Prince is still one hell of a talented musician. Which is why listening to 3121, the newest addition to the artist formally known as the artist formally known as Prince’s repertoire, is so disappointing.

Following in the footsteps of 2004’s Musicology, a highly successful, but fairly mediocre album, Prince attempts to return to the ’80s synth-pop rhythms and sounds that made him exclaim, “Baby I’m a star,” and mixes things up with a bit of hip-hop and Latin instrumental flavor. Unfortunately, the result is an album that tries hard to rekindle a sound of the past, but ultimately comes out lost and confused in an age where rap and hip-hop make up mainstream pop.

The album opens up with the title track, a funky, amusing little electro house beat about what we can only imagine is Prince’s address to his personal garden of Eden. With lyrics like, “Put your clothes in the pile on the floor / Take your pick from the Japanese robes and sandals / Drink champagne from a glass with chocolate handles / Don’t you want to come? 3121,” one can’t help but assume that this album is more a personal invitation into the secret and opulent lifestyles of the billionaire Jehovah’s witness than anything else.

In the world of 3121, at least in the first six tracks, every day seems to be a party, a party with a bad girl named “Lolita,” lots of “Incense and Candles,” “Black Sweat” and of course “Love.” In fact, the first half of the album plays out more like a self-indulged string of sexual infused funk beats (which might or might not be fantasy), than the catchy pop songs from the ’80s that Prince is most commonly known for.

The album picks up the pace during the second half, however, with a number of tracks that are reminiscent of the pop life of Prince’s past.

“Fury,” which is the best song on the album, feels like a highly polished B-Side cut from any of Prince’s truly classic masterpieces, the flawless Purple Rain, the politically charged Sign ‘O’ the Times and even the campy but boisterous 1999. The song opens with a driving drum beat, catchy keyboard hook that nicely resembles the works of former Revolution member Lisa Coleman and fiery axe licks that remind us Prince is still a guitar virtuoso.

According to the liner notes 3121 was produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince himself, a feat that shows both musical chops but also quite possibly control issues. There are a couple ‘guest per4mers’ including funk saxophone maestro Maceo Parker, some shouts and sexual grunts from Prince’s ’90s band lineup, The New Power Revolution and a surprisingly soulful balladic duet, “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed,” featuring R&B singer Tamara, who nicely compliments Prince’s highly feminine voice in the same way Shelia E. did back in the purple velvet decade of the ’80s.

Overall the album seems to be lost somewhere between classic Prince fare and the sexual soul world of someone like Barry White. It’s quite generous of Prince to invite us to his purple, sexual soirée, however, it’s difficult to truly get into the world of 3121 while we’re doing our normal daily routines like walking to class or riding the C-bus. Perhaps incense and Japanese sandals do in fact make the listening experience all the more rewarding.

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Concert Review:
Gnarls Barkley
The Riviera
Chicago, IL
September 11, 2006

Gnarls Barkley, the musical spawn of two of today’s most fascinating hip-hop hipsters, brought in the noise and the funk to a semi full Riviera theater Monday night. The group, founded by Atlanta rapper/singer Cee-Lo (once frequent Goodie Mob collaborator) and DJ Danger Mouse, whose Beatles/Jay-Z mash up “Grey Album” took the internet by storm a couple years back, flooded the airwaves this summer with the ever-so-catchy mega hit, “Crazy.” While their concise live act was entertaining and enjoyable, it lacked the intriguing power of their studio album, “St. Elsewhere,” mainly due to poor sound mixing and a rushed set.

It’s hard to classify Gnarls Barkley into any one sub-genre of modern pop music. It’s not quite straight hip-hop, not quite straight rock. It toys with the sounds of indie and 60s psychedelic rock while also blending in modern soul, R&B, Motown and funk melodies and rhythms. Bottom line is during a time where rap and hip-hop groups can often be a dime a dozen, Gnarls Barkley proves that its cool for art to imitate art by treading the waters of a number of different musical soundscapes.

The show was a mix of tracks from “St. Elsewhere” combined with a handful of obscure covers of bands as random as The Doors to indie alt-crooners, The Violent Femmes. Highlights from the set included the obvious opus, “Crazy,” which featured an interesting but short intro by the groups string section, The G-Strings, and the gospel anthem, “Just a Thought.”

Then there was the stage presence, an aspect of Gnarls Barkley that received just as much attention this summer as their chart rising single. Dressed in pajama suits and slippers the 13-piece ensemble took the blue-lit stage to a roaring crowd. Cee-Lo, who must enjoy hearing himself speak, was very animate throughout the night, dancing, shouting, enticing the audience and at one point falling over on stage–an accident that was no doubt a result of extreme energy and joy.

Danger Mouse, who is without a doubt the mastermind behind the music side of Gnarls Barkley, was somberly perched over a slew of antique keyboards and soundboards through most of the set, looking up every once and a while to enjoy a sip of bottled beer.

Gnarls Barkley is definitely one of those modern acts to keep an eye on. Cee-Lo, like fellow singer Sleepy Brown has for so long been just a hook vocalist for bigger acts like Outkast or Goodie Mob, however, through Barkley he is able to truly shine and is one hell of a talented singer. With a slightly revamped stage set up, mastered sound mixing and a longer and possibly more accessible set, Gnarls Barkley could very well move away from simply being a studio group and join the ranks of groups like The Roots who continue to toy with the different sounds and musical influences.

Concert Review: Gnarls Barkley


Concert Review:
Gnarls Barkley
The Riviera
Chicago, IL
September 11, 2006

Gnarls Barkley, the musical spawn of two of today’s most fascinating hip-hop hipsters, brought in the noise and the funk to a semi full Riviera theater Monday night. The group, founded by Atlanta rapper/singer Cee-Lo (once frequent Goodie Mob collaborator) and DJ Danger Mouse, whose Beatles/Jay-Z mash up “Grey Album” took the internet by storm a couple years back, flooded the airwaves this summer with the ever-so-catchy mega hit, “Crazy.” While their concise live act was entertaining and enjoyable, it lacked the intriguing power of their studio album, “St. Elsewhere,” mainly due to poor sound mixing and a rushed set.

It’s hard to classify Gnarls Barkley into any one sub-genre of modern pop music. It’s not quite straight hip-hop, not quite straight rock. It toys with the sounds of indie and 60s psychedelic rock while also blending in modern soul, R&B, Motown and funk melodies and rhythms. Bottom line is during a time where rap and hip-hop groups can often be a dime a dozen, Gnarls Barkley proves that its cool for art to imitate art by treading the waters of a number of different musical soundscapes.

The show was a mix of tracks from “St. Elsewhere” combined with a handful of obscure covers of bands as random as The Doors to indie alt-crooners, The Violent Femmes. Highlights from the set included the obvious opus, “Crazy,” which featured an interesting but short intro by the groups string section, The G-Strings, and the gospel anthem, “Just a Thought.”

Then there was the stage presence, an aspect of Gnarls Barkley that received just as much attention this summer as their chart rising single. Dressed in pajama suits and slippers the 13-piece ensemble took the blue-lit stage to a roaring crowd. Cee-Lo, who must enjoy hearing himself speak, was very animate throughout the night, dancing, shouting, enticing the audience and at one point falling over on stage–an accident that was no doubt a result of extreme energy and joy.

Danger Mouse, who is without a doubt the mastermind behind the music side of Gnarls Barkley, was somberly perched over a slew of antique keyboards and soundboards through most of the set, looking up every once and a while to enjoy a sip of bottled beer.

Gnarls Barkley is definitely one of those modern acts to keep an eye on. Cee-Lo, like fellow singer Sleepy Brown has for so long been just a hook vocalist for bigger acts like Outkast or Goodie Mob, however, through Barkley he is able to truly shine and is one hell of a talented singer. With a slightly revamped stage set up, mastered sound mixing and a longer and possibly more accessible set, Gnarls Barkley could very well move away from simply being a studio group and join the ranks of groups like The Roots who continue to toy with the different sounds and musical influences.


Archive Film Review:
A Scanner Darkly-R
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane
Directed by: Richard Linklater

Drug Addiction, Darkly

(This review was published in the Indiana Daily Student July 13, 2006)

Science fiction author Philip K. Dick once said that, “Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error of judgment.”

The author, best known for his sci-fi short stories of the 60s and 70s, wrote his novel, “A Scanner Darkly,” as an allegory for the troubling epidemic of drug abuse that was plaguing not only those around him, but also himself (he was a speed junkie) during the early ’70s. The story is science fiction, relying heavily on futuristic technological advancements, but only on its surface. Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” marks the eighth film adaptation of a Dick story and is on par with previous successful films such as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.”

“A Scanner Darkly” is set seven years in the future in Southern California. Keanu Reeves (playing, well, the best Keanu Reeves he can) stars as Bob Arctor, a police officer who goes deep undercover to infiltrate a growing underground drug cartel of a new radically powerful hallucinatory drug called Substance D. The trouble is Arctor is so far involved that his mind starts to play tricks on him and he begins to question his true identity. On the one hand he is Arctor, the normal guy who spends his days getting high with his friends and constructing mind puzzles that tread the waters of paranoia. On the other hand he is a police officer who goes by the code name Fred. As the plot thickens Arctor begins to unfold the intricate inner workings of the cartel while also coming to grips with his shattered mental state.

“A Scanner Darkly” is complicated and plays tricks on the audience much like the mind-bending drugs play tricks on the main characters. Reeves is decent as Arctor, however, the true shining performances come from Robert Downey Jr. (“Chaplin”), Woody Harrelson (“Natural Born Killers”) and the horribly underappreciated Rory Cochrane (“Dazed and Confused’s” Slater) who all play Arctor’s Substance D fiend friends. Some of the best scenes of the film occur around Arctor’s run-down Cali bungalow where the friends get high, ponder meaningless notions about the current state of the world they live in and create elaborate, paranoia fueled puzzles and conspiracy theories.

Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater delivers a wonderfully written script and the film’s unique style of rotoscoping visual animation (a technique that Linklater helped create with his film “Waking Life”) never distracts the viewer and is a perfect counterpart to the Dick’s often-surreal story.

“A Scanner Darkly” deals with drug abuse and addiction in the same vein as David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” using bits of comedy and surrealism to show the chaotic nature of mind altering drugs. The film is often very funny and visually the equivalent of eye candy, however, there is an underlying level of depressing realization that Substance D or any drug for that matter can truly have devastating effects on the human psyche.

Film Review: A Scanner Darkly


Archive Film Review:
A Scanner Darkly-R
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane
Directed by: Richard Linklater

Drug Addiction, Darkly

(This review was published in the Indiana Daily Student July 13, 2006)

Science fiction author Philip K. Dick once said that, “Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error of judgment.”

The author, best known for his sci-fi short stories of the 60s and 70s, wrote his novel, “A Scanner Darkly,” as an allegory for the troubling epidemic of drug abuse that was plaguing not only those around him, but also himself (he was a speed junkie) during the early ’70s. The story is science fiction, relying heavily on futuristic technological advancements, but only on its surface. Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” marks the eighth film adaptation of a Dick story and is on par with previous successful films such as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.”

“A Scanner Darkly” is set seven years in the future in Southern California. Keanu Reeves (playing, well, the best Keanu Reeves he can) stars as Bob Arctor, a police officer who goes deep undercover to infiltrate a growing underground drug cartel of a new radically powerful hallucinatory drug called Substance D. The trouble is Arctor is so far involved that his mind starts to play tricks on him and he begins to question his true identity. On the one hand he is Arctor, the normal guy who spends his days getting high with his friends and constructing mind puzzles that tread the waters of paranoia. On the other hand he is a police officer who goes by the code name Fred. As the plot thickens Arctor begins to unfold the intricate inner workings of the cartel while also coming to grips with his shattered mental state.

“A Scanner Darkly” is complicated and plays tricks on the audience much like the mind-bending drugs play tricks on the main characters. Reeves is decent as Arctor, however, the true shining performances come from Robert Downey Jr. (“Chaplin”), Woody Harrelson (“Natural Born Killers”) and the horribly underappreciated Rory Cochrane (“Dazed and Confused’s” Slater) who all play Arctor’s Substance D fiend friends. Some of the best scenes of the film occur around Arctor’s run-down Cali bungalow where the friends get high, ponder meaningless notions about the current state of the world they live in and create elaborate, paranoia fueled puzzles and conspiracy theories.

Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater delivers a wonderfully written script and the film’s unique style of rotoscoping visual animation (a technique that Linklater helped create with his film “Waking Life”) never distracts the viewer and is a perfect counterpart to the Dick’s often-surreal story.

“A Scanner Darkly” deals with drug abuse and addiction in the same vein as David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” using bits of comedy and surrealism to show the chaotic nature of mind altering drugs. The film is often very funny and visually the equivalent of eye candy, however, there is an underlying level of depressing realization that Substance D or any drug for that matter can truly have devastating effects on the human psyche.

Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

As Melquiades Lays Dying

One of William Faulkner’s best books, “As I Lay Dying,” tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America’s deep South carrying their mother’s decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother’s final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a “border hopper” or “wetback,” as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.

Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada’s decaying body riding with them.

“Estrada” is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.

Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins’ journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.

“Estrada” was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” both shared the same non-linear editing format that “Estrada” does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.

Watching “Estrada” one can’t help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.

Film Review: Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

As Melquiades Lays Dying

One of William Faulkner’s best books, “As I Lay Dying,” tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America’s deep South carrying their mother’s decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother’s final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a “border hopper” or “wetback,” as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.

Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada’s decaying body riding with them.

“Estrada” is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.

Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins’ journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.

“Estrada” was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” both shared the same non-linear editing format that “Estrada” does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.

Watching “Estrada” one can’t help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.