Monday, August 30, 2010

Pull In Emergency - Review of the Debut Album!

Well, the debut album is finally here -- as of 06 September, that is.

Yeah, I raved pretty hard about single "Everything Is The Same" back in June and I'm happy to report that the self-titled, debut full-length album from London's Pull In Emergency does not disappoint.

Well, it disappoints in one way: it's far too short! And I know some people who've been following the band for longer than I have will complain that "Follow" is not on here -- you guys in the UK can buy it as a download from Amazon.co.uk, though.

Here's something you're NEVER going to hear from me about Pull In Emergency: "They're pretty good considering how young they are."

No, when I heard "Everything Is The Same" -- the lead track on the debut full-length album -- on Lauren Laverne's BBC 6 Music radio show, I played it about 5 times in a row (I use the BBC's iPlayer due to the US-UK time difference) before I ever knew that no one in the band was 18 yet -- close though.

So, yeah, Pull In Emergency bristle on the album with the enthusiasm and freshness of a new band, but not a young one -- that's a big distinction.

One of the benefits of approaching a new band like this from the other side of the Atlantic is that stuff like this piece in The Guardian really has zero to do with what I am enjoying so much about this band.

Naturally, I gravitate to British bands but the rest of the nascent scene these 5 guys and gals may be a part of doesn't matter to me.

Okay, that's out of the way, here we go, on to the album.

The album is 31 largely upbeat minutes of British pop in a post-Libertines world -- the sound of American rock like The Strokes filtered through a specific London sensibility.


And while the first thing that grabbed me about the band was the Chrissie Hynde-like voice of lead singer Faith Barker, now I can say that each member of the band gets a chance to shine over the course of this record. Nothing flashy, mind, but there are consistently interesting bits happening in every song.

So, once you get past the already familiar and ace recent singles of "Everything Is The Same", "In Silence", and "15 Years", the immediate attention-getter for me is "Cold Hands".

"You stole the wind out of my sails...cold hands, I will not let you live this one down!" Faith sings as the guitars of Frankie Bowmaker and Alice Costelloe circle and sound like Stanley Jordan trying to play 1980s-era King Crimson lines, the rhythm section of Suneet Chohan on drums and Dylan Williams on bass lend a low rumble to the track and, a few minutes in, the vocals drop way back in the mix and the guitar lines now turn into "Monkey Gone To Heaven"-style, Pixies-aping attacks and the all-too-brief bridge carries the song into an entirely new space. Just a stunning mix of styles in one track!

On "What You Say", the fast beat marches the song along with the shouty background vocals echoing the title, as Faith insults an unnamed foe.

"You deserve to be alone!" Faith sings as the song, a London cousin to the Arctic Monkeys' "Still Take You Home", rattles forward with confidence.




My advance copy did not have liner notes but I know that the group worked on this album with producer Gordon Raphael who's worked with The Strokes. I think you can hear that influence here as the instruments are all distinctly present in the mix. Without any keyboards on this album -- none that I could make out -- guitar, bass, and drums are all given moments of prominence and the songs zip along with a live sound that I particularly liked and appreciated.

Faith's clear voice is mixed in front and there are a few minor vocal bits where backing vocals come in, or her voice is given some effect -- like in "Cold Hands" -- but the album sounds largely like Pull In Emergency is playing as a band all at once in the next room.

With a jaunty intro like something from The Smiths -- think "I Want The One I Can't Have", perhaps -- "Backfoot" echoes the feelings of being trapped in a city, racing "past dead-end jobs and hopeless people" into an uncertain future.

Near the album's end, we've got "Song 11" -- track 9 on the disc, for those keeping tabs. This one begins a tiny bit like New Order's "Ceremony" at the start but then the cymbals crash and Faith's voice sings:

"I could be the one to change your mind."

Faith sounds like a very hopeful Tracey Thorn here, if Tracey ever tried to "rock out", that is. The instruments quiet down and Suneet taps out another New Order-ish beat, and then the cymbals crash:

"I can't see things getting better...".

Album closer, "Hold Still" fittingly quiets things down a bit and asks somewhat knowingly: "Where do we go from here?"

Anywhere you guys want, really.



You know, I'm a jaded, snobbish music junkie. Given that I worked in a great college record store in 1989 -- the summer of the first import CD single from The Sundays reaching these shores; the summer of The Stone Roses' debut being excitedly mailed to me at the store from an RCA college rep in NYC after he taped the LP for me before its US release -- it's a bit understandable that it would take a lot to get me excited about a band nowadays.

Apart from Kenickie in 1997, Britpop entertained me but didn't excite me. I eased into the Arctic Monkeys and tried to ignore the hype as the first album dropped. I didn't get excited about the band until first album closer "A Certain Romance", and then I could see their moments of genius.

Well, I'm excited now about Pull In Emergency. Next time guys, please give us more than 31-minutes!

You can buy Pull In Emergency's debut on CD from Amazon.co.uk or HMV.com.

In the US, check Amazon.com and iTunes near the 06 September 2010 release date.

Also follow the band on their blog and on MySpace.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Libertines Reunion Actually Happened. Now What?


Well, according to various reports, most notably on the NME site, The Libertines reunion at the Reading and Leeds festivals went off without a hitch. Despite some set stoppages due to fan crushes apparently, the band cranked out the hits without a word of what the future may hold.

I think most fans would trade in their Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things albums for one more halfway decent Libs release.

I hate to say it but the band looks safe in this clip. I certainly don't want to advocate for the Doherty-styled excesses of the past but the Libs look as normal as The Bluetones here, despite the exciting song.

The element of danger is gone, even if it was fake all along.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rose Elinor Dougall - Album Hits Next Week, New Carry On Video!


Okay, I know I already reviewed Without Why back in July but I'm still excited that Rose Elinor Dougall's first solo album finally comes out next week.

And, having seen the video for single "Carry On", I can say that I'm just a bit...swoon-y? Is that a word? Just lovely and a fantastic song, clearly one of the standout tracks on an all around fantastic first solo album.

In the US, you can order the single from iTunes here -- and it's got a non-LP flipside as well!

AND...in the US, you can buy the album as a download starting from Sunday (?) on Amazon.com here!

You can pre-order the album in the UK on Recordstore.co.uk.

Or, from Amazon.co.uk as of Monday, 30 August 2010 here.

Follow Rose Elinor Dougall on My Space:
http://www.myspace.com/roseelinordougallmusic

And here:
http://roseelinordougall.tumblr.com/

Friday, August 20, 2010

Six Assassins with Ling Yun

This short (80 minutes) film from Valley of The Fangs director Jeong Chang Hwa is a serviceable action film if you want a quick fix.

Six Assassins (1971) opens in the Tang Dynasty. Narration reveals the emperor's brother as Lord Zhen-guo Li Ming, a ruler who exploits the people.

There's a lot of confusing court intrigue-type stuff before Ling Yun shows up. He's too busy serenading women on his houseboat in the middle of the river -- yes, we are treated to a song. But Brother Mu is needed in the court even though people are out to get him as he's next in line to the throne. Or something.

As Brother Mu is being entreated back to the palace, he quickly dispatches three assassins hiding in the trees near his houseboat. The scene is very well done for this sort of thing and you almost forget that the guy was singing like Frankie Avalon only seconds earlier.

There's more court stuff and then Brother Mu gathers together his five assassins -- he's the sixth -- and the title group is now complete and on their way to assassinate the bad guy.

One of the guys can't keep his cool and goes off on his own mission and gets captured and tortured. Brother Mu's wife gets murdered and then the real swordplay begins.

I've seen a lot of the Shaws' wuxia stuff from this era and I've got to say that the scenes in Six Assassins are very well done. There seems to be a bit more flying around than was normal for this era but, on the whole, every action scene is exciting and well staged and not overlong or ridiculous.

The only complaint I can make is that the very final duel scene takes place on a set that must have been used in two dozen Shaw features. Additionally, while Lily Li is in this film, she only gets one fight scene in the final four minutes.

Still, Six Assassins is fun and exciting and doesn't waste a lot of time. I watched it on VCD but I liked it enough to want to try to find the DVD if I can.

The DVD is out-of-print but you can order Six Assassins on VCD here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Comments Moderation Is On Due To Spammers

I'm sick of getting these spam comments written in Chinese (I think).

I had 2 on my post this morning within 90 minutes of the post going live!

There's no way to prevent them -- tried Google users only, no anonymous, etc.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Little Life Lesson from Rodney Dangerfield

You know, this is all gonna sound really trite and obvious when I write it down but sometimes that's the nature of blog posts.

Okay, so I was watching a program about Rodney Dangerfield on The Biography Channel and Harold Ramis -- I think it was Harold Ramis -- recounted an anecdote about the comic that really hit a nerve with me.

Rodney went on a vacation to Hawaii and when he returned Ramis asked him: "Rodney, how was Hawaii?"

To which Rodney replied: "How good could it be? I was there!"

So, no matter how much fame, money, drugs, and women the guy had, he was -- on some deep level -- unhappy.

It's hard for me to imagine the guy who careens and pinballs around the scenes in Back To School (1986) and Caddyshack (1980) as being that unhappy with himself.

I relate that anecdote to remind myself that while I am looking forward to returning to Hong Kong at Christmas -- and probably returning and looking forward to another trip next Spring -- I need to be happy with myself first.

It's not so much that I am unhappy now and will be happy in Hong Kong as it is that I'm probably never entirely happy with myself and will be a little more at peace in Hong Kong.

So much for this facile and silly blog post.

Maybe if I had Rodney's money and women, I would be happy? (I don't care too much about the fame, and even less about the drugs.)

The Deadly Breaking Sword with Ti Lung

It would be silly to recount the plot of 1979's The Deadly Breaking Sword as, clearly, it's secondary to the action on display here and, obviously, the Shaw Brothers martial arts films of this era all seem somewhat interchangeable to me. I know that's a horrible thing to say but, really, it comes down to the performers to keep me interested -- I'm not a big enough kung fu fan to just watch for styles of fighting, or something.

This film at least does have a great cast: Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Shih Szu, Ku Feng, and so on.

Okay, so Tuan Changqing (Ti Lung) has the broken sword of the title -- and he also goes by that name. I think. Then Alexander Fu Sheng shows up at a gambling den/pawn shop and has a great fight scene using various fighting styles -- this scene was pretty creative and funny and it's easy to see why Fu Sheng was a big star.

It's pretty clear from these early scenes that somehow the paths of the regal swordsman and the gambling funnyman are going to cross so it's just a matter of how the plot will get them together.

So a famous prostitute arrives at the brothel in town and Fu Sheng sneaks into the place during a fancy party and Ti Lung catches him.

Then Shih Szu tries to get Fu Sheng to kill a guy for her, there are flashbacks, more sword fights, ominous music, and so on.

Michael Chan makes a pretty good villain. Still, the film is a bit too long and Shih Szu and Kara Hui are wasted in this as neither one participates in any action scenes.

You can get the original region 3 DVD of The Deadly Breaking Sword here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Akiko Wakabayashi in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

I'm on a nostalgia kick at the moment.

And what does it say about me that my fondest memories of my childhood involve television? I don't remember being happier than when I was left alone in front of the television to watch something only I wanted to watch; my grandfather was a movie buff but I think the Godzilla films would have strained his patience a bit.

1964's Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster is a lot of fun and Akiko Wakabayashi makes a convincing alien.

Well, is she an alien? She plays the princess of a tiny island who mysteriously survives a plane crash and returns to wander Japan as a kind of psychic who says she's from Venus. Meanwhile, some assassins from that island are out to get rid of her.

Her mission seems to be to warn Earthlings of the arrival of King Ghidorah but it's up to the tiny twins from Infant Island to summon Mothra who brokers a peace deal between Godzilla and Rodan who, along with the larval form of Mothra, fight the golden skinned King Ghidorah near Mt. Fuji.







The Peanuts were a popular singing duo in Japan and they sing a variation on the "Mothra song" here in this film. There's something silly and beautiful about these scenes and they remain oddly moving to me -- the idea of the island of tiny people with their monstrous protector is the stuff of childhood fancy. Not only that, but in a series of films where Godzilla tramples on people, the arrival of Mothra as Earth's saviour is a bit more lighthearted.





Takashi Shimura shows up as Dr. Tsukamoto who attempts to heal the princess-as-Venusian.



Akiko Wakabayashi looks simply stunning in the final scene.






Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lost World of Sinbad (1965) with Toshiro Mifune


I've been looking for this film for a long, long time.

Given the presence of so many Akira Kurosawa-connected people, as well as the stars and people behind the Toho-produced kaiju eiga films, The Lost World of Sinbad (1965) was a film I had to see.

Luckily, I found a DVD on the Australian-based label Eastern Eye so here goes with a review.

(The film was released in 1963 in Japan but I'm using the year of the US release via American International Pictures for the release date.)

The film on this Aussie DVD is the original Japanese language track, letterboxed, with clear English subtitles. The DVD is Region 4/PAL and it's finding stuff like this that makes me happy that I got an all-region/PAL-to-NTSC player.

The picture quality is adequate but not great. The extras on the DVD include some stills and a few trailers for other Eastern Eye releases.

The film runs 93-minutes here and the title card is translated as Samurai Pirate -- enough of that Sinbad nonsense.

So, the pirate Luzon (Toshiro Mifune) is due to be burned at the stake and he somehow replaces his body with an effigy and a sarcastic note. The scene then switches to a ship with Luzon at the helm declaring his desire to be a pirate for real since he was accused of being one. And the Masaru Sato score kicks in.

Luzon's ship is smashed in a storm and he wakes up in the water attached to a piece of wood. The Black Pirate (Makoto Sato) steals his gold and Luzon is left to die but instead washes up on a shore where he soon makes his way to a kingdom that looks remarkably like old Japan only done up a bit more exotically.

Conveniently, the locals speak Japanese and Luzon soon hears of the cruel King who gets girls for payment from people who can't pay their taxes. The King's daughter, Princess Yaya (Mie Hama), comes through town in her royal carriage and soon Luzon is smitten.






In the woods, as he makes his way to the castle, he encounters the rebel leader Miwa (Kumi Mizuno) and her gang.

He agrees to help them after he makes his way to the castle alone. There, he learns that the Princess is set to be married to a Chinese prince but the wedding gifts were stolen after the Black Pirate sank the vessel carrying them to the kingdom.

The Premier, who plans to kill the king, meets with the old witch in the castle -- Hideyo (Eisei) Amamoto in drag.

Luzon befriends Princess Yaya's scared maid (the stunning Akiko Wakabayashi from all those kaiju eiga classics, as well as Mie Hama's costar in 1967's You Only Live Twice).




The witch seems to be watching Luzon's actions with a kind of magic mirror -- that only shows silent film in black-and-white (!) -- and so Luzon's attempts to help the Princess may be in jeopardy.

Luckily, he's befriended the lustful wizard Sennin (Ichiro Arashima) whose only power seems to be turning into a fly -- a talent he uses to suddenly land on the breast of a dancing girl in the court of the evil Premier. Ichiro Arashima is known by fanboys like me as the silly pharmaceutical company chief in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).




So while Luzon is buddying up with Kumi Mizuno's rebels, the Premier is plotting with the Black Pirate to raid the Chinese Prince's ship. If the guy doesn't make it to shore, he can't marry Princess Yaya and so she will have to marry the Premier in that case.





But, never fear viewer for Luzon is going to ride a giant kite into the castle at nighttime and then sneak into the palace and rescue the princess.

In an exciting sequence that reminded me quite a bit of the ending of Flash Gordon (1980), Luzon kites into the kingdom and rescues the princess -- not like I'm ruining what is, after all, a fairy tale, right?

It's worth noting this is really the only significant scene involving special effects from Godzilla effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya. The miniatures of the castle are quite nice but not used very much except in this kite-flying sequence.

And, unlike the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad pictures, there are no monsters here in this pirate production -- just that old witch played by Eisei Amamoto.














Kurosawa fans will be disappointed to find that Takashi Shimura is in this for less than 2 minutes -- and in one scene he's sleeping!



More an Errol Flynn-flavoured romp than something like the Harryhausen Sinbad titles, The Lost World of Sinbad was a lot of fun and it represents a more innocent era. Sure, there are adult level jokes involving the lusty exploits of the wizard Sennin -- lots of Benny Hill-worthy shots of a busty village girl -- but the film on the whole is both a kids' film and a fun adventure flick.

I wish there had been more of the Masaru Sato score in this film as he, along with Akira Ifukube, composed some of the most memorable scores in the kaiju eiga canon, as well as a few titles for Kurosawa.

I'm glad I finally got to see this film as the Region 4/PAL DVD is worth seeking out for a reasonable price for any fan of the Kurosawa or kaiju eiga classics.







[Photos: Eastern Eye DVD/Toho Co., Ltd.]