Review: Various artists, Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers

When the electrifying, trancelike street music spearheaded by veteran Congolese band Konono No. 1 reached Western ears in the early 2000s, it sounded like something beamed in from Mars. Konono’s music was based around traditional instruments like the likembe thumb piano, but the need to use hand-built, jury-rigged amplifiers to be heard on busy Kinshasa streets brought in heavy, loud distortion that gave Konono a rough, propulsive, hypnotic edge. It sounded weirdly and radically modern—the same kind of thing that forward-thinking punk and electronic musicians like Sonic Youth had been playing around with for years, but approached from an entirely unexpected angle.

The Konono aesthetic has had some time now to filter through Western indie-rock and electronica, and it’s expanded intriguingly on the double-disc compilation Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers, which opens up the floor to 26 American, British, and German indie bands who rework material from Konono and other Congolese bands, including Kasai Allstars. The results are largely enthralling, and sometimes nearly as revelatory as Konono itself sounded in 2004. Heard in context on Tradi-Mods, for instance, the seamlessly incorporated influence of Konono on Andrew Bird’s electronically processed, looped violin is obvious. The disc is a triumph, and a great example of what a remix album should be: reverent to what made the original material fascinating, but not so much that it can’t fly away in its own unexpected directions.

Originally published Nov. 30, 2010 on Read the complete article.

Recap: Grinderman at First Avenue

From his earliest days in the 1970s with Boys Next Door, and later The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds, Australia’s Nick Cave has always trafficked in a swampy, machismo-laden stew of sex and sleaze-ridden spirituality. Even at his most gothically elegant, that electric charge of sinfulness is at the core of his art, whether in his songwriting or novels like The Death Of Bunny Munro. You’re never sure whether he’s going to buy you a shot of bourbon, rob you at knifepoint, or lecture you sternly on how God is coming soon to destroy the world. That’s also a big part of the magnetically dangerous stage presence that makes Cave one of the quintessential rock ’n’ roll frontmen, which he proved with a powerful show at First Avenue last night, performing with his latest project, Grinderman.

Originally published Nov. 24, 2010 on Read the complete article.

Meet the characters of ‘Harry Potter’

Over the course of seven books and (soon) eight films, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has become a rich and complex world populated by dozens of characters, each with their own personalities, histories, and agendas. There’s so much happening, you might need a scorecard to keep up. To get you up to speed before the Nov. 19 release of “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows,” the first of the movie series’ two-part finale, here’s a quick primer on the major characters in Harry’s story. In these final two films, the evil Voldemort begins him final assault on the wizarding world. The key to his defeat rests on whether Harry can unravel the secrets of two sets of mysterious magic items. First, he must find and destroy the seven horcruxes into which Voldemort has sent his soul. And Harry must also discover the three fabled Deathly Hallows, which can make their possessor the Master of Death.

Originally published on Nov. 16, 2010. Read the complete article.

Can young ‘Potter’ stars maintain career magic?

Wizard franchise made them famous, but breaking free of these roles could be tough

The magic is ending soon for the long-running Harry Potter series, which will close out with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” being released in two parts Nov. 19 and July 2011. But filming is already over for its three stars — Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the boy wizard, and Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who play his best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.

Now it’s time for them to look ahead to their future, and answer a question even a Hogwarts professor might have trouble seeing in a crystal ball: Can they make the transition from child actors to successful grown-ups?

It’s not an easy one for any young celebrity, says Stephanie Zacharek, chief film critic for Movieline. “Because they’re working in this very weird world, a lot of things can go wrong for them. It isn’t what we would call a normal way to grow up. Different child actors handle it with varying degrees of success.”

Originally published on Nov. 15, 2010. Read the complete article.

Recap: Richard Thompson at First Avenue

If you’re not close enough at a Richard Thompson concert to see his fingers dancing across his guitar neck, you’re missing one of the most consistently sublime sights in the world of rock music. Thompson moves with such fluidity that it’s astonishing that he’s 61 years old and can still make such virtuosity seem effortless.

That blazing fretwork shone with full force Saturday at First Avenue, where Thompson wrapped up his U.S. tour backing his latest album, Dream Attic. Eschewing an opening act, Thompson instead commanded the stage for the entire evening, playing two sets backed by the quartet with whom he recorded the new album earlier this year. With a leopard-print scarf giving a dash of color to his usual ensemble of black beret, black shirt, and black jeans, he first zipped track-by-track through Dream Attic in its entirety, followed by what he wryly termed “some of our hits-with-a-small-H.”

Originally published Nov. 8, 2010 on Read the complete article.

Comets and cannibals: Best disaster movies

‘Unstoppable’ and its runaway train are latest in a proud, terrifying tradition

It’s a disaster in the making: A runaway freight train carrying tons of hazardous chemicals is rocketing towards a populated town, threatening thousands of lives.

In “Unstoppable,” based on a true Ohio incident, Denzel Washington plays a veteran train engineer who joins conductor Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) in a daring plan to prevent the disaster. The duo’s efforts are complicated by their own bosses, who are more concerned with their corporate image than saving lives.

Reteaming Washington for the fifth time with director Tony Scott, “Unstoppable” harkens back to the heyday of the disaster-film genre, in which the danger comes not from criminals or other human antagonists, but a large-scale catastrophe. Here’s a look back at the genre’s greatest hits — and crashes, booms, and bangs.

Originally published on Nov. 3, 2010. Read the complete article.

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