Snatch, Directed By Guy Ritchie (Screen Gems)

Snatch - Directed By Guy Ritchie Snatch
Directed By Guy Ritchie
Screen Gems
By: Eric G.

Guy Ritchie's second film, Snatch, jolts across the screen so fast it's hard to make heads or tails of it. That could be a ploy to secure repeat viewings, but it's more likely a sign that Mr. Madonna is out to grab some attention. It's no surprise to find out that Ritchie made his name directing music videos. His flash editing style zips through scenes with a cartoonish bag of tricks that MTV has probably registered by now. Like his debut, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch is a flippant crime caper set in the dregs of England's societal echelons. This time, however, Ritchie ups the comic book factor, heightens the double-crossing, and sharpens the wit.

Critics are dogging Snatch for its lack of character development. What a waste of time. The characters in Snatch aren't exactly complex. They're thugs with descriptive names, and their voice-over introductions more than suffice for 'character development.' Who wants to sit through a slew of superfluous establishing shots of a guy like Brick Top? As soon as Alan Ford's face hits the screen, we know Brick Top is a mean son of a bitch who would just as soon kill you as look at you. And Benicio Del Toro's Franky Four Fingers is thusly named because he has a gambling problem. Why Franky Four Fingers has a gambling problem is no concern of mine. I'm here for the action and the laughs and Ritchie doth provide them both.

Our narrator and his sidekick, Turkish and Tommy, are hapless thugs, who find themselves mixed up in Brick Top's illegal, underground boxing ring. The sub-plot surrounds the theft of a diamond the size of a fist, and, of course, all of Ritchie's cockney gangsters want it. The ensuing hijinks showcase Ritchie's knack for comedy of the absurd. There's a whiff of Tarantino in some of his tricks like the uncanny, coincidental interweaving of characters, but Ritchie seems to be making a name for himself with that showy editing style and his ridiculous caricatures of the English criminal underground.

Speaking of ridiculous caricatures, Brad Pitt steals the show with his interpretation of an Irish gypsy whom Turkish and Tommy have hired to take a fall in the ring with one of Brick Top's thugs. Pitt's incoherent accent almost caused Ritchie to subtitle his lines, but it's far funnier having no idea what he's saying. I can't imagine how anyone kept a straight face in a scene with Pitt. His expressions alone steal every scene he's in. Pitt's comic side should come as no surprise, though, to anyone who remembers his role in True Romance, where he played Michael Rapaport's mind-blown stoner roommate with dead-on precision.

Ritchie's directing style certainly overwhelms his storytelling ability. The plot really isn't the reason to see this film, though. Ritchie somehow makes the plot secondary to the way the characters play off one another. Snatch is a fluff comedy, and its gratuitous violence and seediness make it a guilty pleasure. Ritchie's writing is nowhere near as meticulous or idiosyncratic as, say, Quentin Tarantino's is, but he's got an ear for comedy. If he could raise the level of his storytelling to that of his dizzying directing style, his name would be recognizable as a director first and as Madonna's husband second.

The Letter E, No. 5 Long Player (Tiger Style)

The Letter E - No. 5 Long Player The Letter E
No. 5 Long Player
Tiger Style
By: Eric G.

While I respect bands that make music only to please themselves, I have to question their motives when releasing products to the public that have little entertaining value. Of course, The Letter E probably thinks this record is very entertaining, but listening to people show off rarely is. Everybody knows the guys in The Letter E can play. With members of June of 44, Blue Man Group, Rex, and blah, blah, blah, The Letter E has quite the post-rock pedigree. And the band, consequently, writes laborious instrumental songs that are musically impressive but emotionally vacuous.

The chiming, interweaving guitars are terribly complex and delicately orchestrated while the percussion is subtle and dynamic, but it feels like a lot of icing without much cake. No. 5 Long Player will surely impress those guitar geeks that sit and listen to records with their friends just to high-five each other when they recognize a showy chord progression or a difficult arpeggio. The rest of us, however, will sit blue in the face with boredom waiting for it all to end.

I’m somewhat amazed Bob Weston could hold his eyes open long enough to produce this record properly. The production is exquisite, though. Every instrument is crystal clear, and you can even hear the guitar players' callused fingers sliding up and down the fretboard amidst all the carefully plotted monotony. I’m sure Weston got paid well, though, or was at least given complimentary tickets to see the Blue Man Group.

Intricate, instrumental post rock is much maligned even without this album adding fuel to the fire. The trail always leads back to Slint's Spiderland, but blaming Slint is like blaming Nirvana for Silverchair- it’s hopeless. The carbon paper thins with every copy made. The Letter E is a group of astounding musicians- far more accomplished than anyone in Slint, but Slint's genius was in its simplicity, which is a lesson The Letter E could use desperately.

Guitar wizards are a dime a dozen, but great records are a bit rarer (everybody knows that Steve Vai can play guitar, but who wants to listen to his records?). While I can applaud The Letter E's collective musical prowess, I sincerely hope each member starts listening to some rhythm and blues very soon because No. 5 Long Player could use a little soul.

The Carter Administration, Betty Ford Start Packing, The Carters Are Coming (Self-Released)

The Carter Administration - Betty Ford Start Packing, The Carters Are Coming The Carter Administration
Betty Ford Start Packing, The Carters Are Coming
Self-Released
By: Eric G.

With middle fingers waving only half-jokingly, The Carter Administration returns with another batch of catchy, unpretentious rock and roll- some old, some new. Categorically, I wouldn't call it "pop" and I wouldn't call it "punk" either even though the band clearly incorporates both in its tightly wound anthems. This is a rock band to the core- no agenda, no politics, no self-ingratiating angst- just plain old (school) rock and roll fun.

You should remember "Tickle Me Emo" from the band's 1999 release, High On Voting. Packed full of razor sharp riffs, it's the memorable vocal line that propels the song forward. The title may be a playful stab at wimpy punk, but the song itself is a nostalgic trip down dysfunctional memory lane sung with a strange mix of bored detachment and open-faced honesty. "Carter 8 Chappaquiddick 1" further explores poppy, singsong-style vocals, but this time the clean guitar riffs steal the show.

All three members of the band sing their own songs, so there are three distinct facets to the band's sound. There's the aforementioned pop side while "Roll Mama Over" showcases a more accomplished edge. The commercial appeal is obvious as soon as the double-tracked chorus hits, especially with that sugary falsetto note. The gritty, aggressive side of the band rears its head on "Complain & Complain & Complain." The song grows angrier with each verse and practically explodes after a raucous bridge: "you're not that pretty so I don't know what I was thinking/you're not that witty and you piss me off when you're drinking." The infectious chorus of "Math Is Hard" matches the dirty guitar charge effectively. The band even has the balls to taunt us with a solo of sorts complete with a whammy bar crescendo (50 points).

Despite their charm, songs like "Goin' Out A-Partyin'" and "Tonite Is The Night" don't quite match the head-bobbing, sing-along feel of instant gems like "Kinder, Gentler Motherfucker" or "EZ Duz It", but don't be discouraged- this is an action packed set of songs. With all fourteen tracks blowing by in less than thirty minutes, the few songs that don't set you on fire are over before you can think of a reason not to like them. And with such (college) radio-friendly fodder as "Tons Of Trouble" you'll be singing along too loudly to care.

Embellish, Wake Me Up! (March)

Embellish - Wake Me Up! Embellish
Wake Me Up!
March
By: Eric G.

All I can say is that the people in this band must be getting laid often. What else could explain ten of the happiest, most unabashedly cheery guitar pop songs I've ever heard? Embellish is a Danish sextet sporting clean, poppy guitars, galloping bass lines, jaunty rhythms and syrupy boy/girl vocal harmonies. Obvious references like The Housemartins, The Beautiful South, and even Crowded House permeate almost every single song. Embellish doesn't subscribe to the retro-French pop chic trend that seems to be taking over European pop exports; instead, the band clearly prefers traditional guitar-based rock with just enough quirkiness to make it stand out.

The openness and pure giddiness of the songs might turn off those who prefer a little mystery or darkness in their pop. Embellish makes no apologies for its borderline cheese-factor, though. Hummable choruses and catchy hooks don't hurt anybody, but weak lyrics do. "Super Cool Girl" is a bad enough title and makes an even worse chorus, and Embellish draws it out dramatically- like it's some sort of insightful epiphany. It's a shame too because the guitars are sharp, clever even. In the verses vocalist Claus Hansen sounds like an unlikely cross between Daniel Ash and Paul Carrack, but all is lost when the chorus hits with its sappy refrain and Hansen's light-hearted falsetto.

"You" takes the cheese to a whole new level. It sounds like the theme song to a bad 80's sitcom. The innocuous production aside, lyrics like "you ooh ooh/you ooh ooh/you're the only one that matters to me" would make almost anyone want to listen to some Bullet Lavolta records at top volume. "Drug Deal" offers the first sign that, perhaps, this band isn't quite as squeaky clean as it seems. A taste of black humor pops up in the chorus: "she doesn't care who you are/even if you're a bum or a drug dealer." Juxtaposed with the melodramatic music, those lyrics actually sound pretty funny, especially the way Hansen belts them out with his crystalline voice.

And, of course, it's no surprise to stumble across a song called "Sunshine" on an album this happy-go-lucky. It's probably one of the best examples of Embellish's penchant for bouncy, carefree, Partridge Family-style pop. The faux-moodiness of the verse explodes into a joyous chorus of "bop bop bada bada" accompanied by piano and organ. The band clearly knows how to construct toe-tapping pop songs with grandiose choruses- that's not the issue. If Embellish could just reign in some of its sappier tendencies it could really grow into one of the premiere indie pop acts. As it is, though, Wake Me Up! is just too inconsistent.

The Convocation Of…, S/T (Gold Standard Laboratories)

The Convocation Of… - S/T The Convocation Of…
S/T
Gold Standard Laboratories
By: Eric G.

Tonie Joy's effect on the punk rock underworld is overwhelming to say the least. As an integral member of countless influential punk bands (most notably Born Against, Moss Icon, and Universal Order Of Armageddon) Joy has pretty much developed his own sub-genre of punk with his definitive, acrobatic guitar style. His latest outfit picks up where his last band, The Great Unraveling, left off, which is at that precarious point of tension where everything is about to blow.

The Great Unraveling was a long, drawn-out tease- an experiment in repetition and dynamics that I had little patience for. It's hard to watch a guy known for explosive punk rock meander aimlessly on his guitar without ever climaxing and cashing in on the build up. The Convocation Of… traverses similar trance-inducing terrain, but this time there is a reward for my patience. Guy Blakeslee's wiry, muscular bass lines wrap themselves tightly around George France's libidinous drumming, and Joy steps in with his noisy, virtuoso guitar to set the songs on fire.

Vocals are intermittent and secondary, but when Joy does decide to approach the microphone he lets out manic, unintelligible barks that make the music that much more disconcerting. Musically, The Convocation Of… focuses on Shellac-style instrumental exercises, but the band replaces Shellac's booming assault with a slippery unease. "Solitaire" showcases Blakeslee's serpentine bass style as well as Joy's buzzsaw guitar architecture. France pummels his drums to death but retains immaculate precision. The band's chemistry sounds like it would translate into a violent live show, but on record it offers few surprises. Surprises aren't necessary when the music is this agitated, though.

Twisting the tension on "Moments Escape", the band recalls some of Hammerhead's early forays into instrumental brutality. On "Highway" Blakeslee and France create the perfect forum for Joy to unleash his tonal rage on the guitar. The bass riff is the closest thing to a groove a punk song would allow and France follows its cues dutifully. Joy's vocals aren't always necessary and can detract from the tension of the music. He has a rough voice and an all-too-familiar inflection even a novice could trace back to Fugazi.

This music is so carefully plotted out and so emotionally stilted that it's hard to relate to its awkward attempts at anger. Fans of punk rock listen to it to vent their frustrations not to be frustrated by it. The Convocation Of… walks a fine line in that regard. I think this album would translate better as instrumental music, but keep in mind any band of Tonie Joy's is held under intense scrutiny. That said and despite the flaws this is an impressive debut.

Brassy, Got It Made (Wiiija)

Brassy - Got It Made Brassy
Got It Made
Wiiija
By: Eric G.

Apparently, tooting your own horn runs in the Spencer family. Muffin, Jon's sister, yells out the name of her band no less than a bazillion times on her band Brassy's debut album, Got It Made. She moved to England presumably to escape the looming shadow of her brother's underground star here in America. Little did anyone know that she was planning her own attack on the music world in the form of a retro-new-wave-punk-rap act. Brassy is a quartet comprised of distorted vocals, guitar, bass, and, yep, one DJ, who handles both drums and scratches. I thought I was going to have to skewer this album after my initial listen, but, oh, how wrong I was.

At first it was hard deciding whether I kept listening out of morbid curiosity or simply because I enjoyed it. I was unprepared for what besieged my ears. I still can't believe it's taken this long for a band to capitalize on a new wave/rap fusion. I must admit the description in the bio didn't exactly fire me up with excitement: "Brassy are Elastica sharing a sloppy wet kiss with the Beasties." I know. I thought the same thing when I read that. It sounds like it would be such a piece of shit, but that's a pretty accurate description.

The band mixes angular post-punk riffs with booming bass, sassy, sarcastic rhymes and furious scratching. Those elements look absolutely absurd on paper, but you have to hear it to believe it. On "No Competition" the beats are fast and the bass is low, and the vocals, while distorted in Ill Communication fashion, are cocky and catchy. Muffin Spencer's got her brother's brazen attitude and egomaniacal confidence, but it doesn't come across hollowly like "Blues Explosion!" grumbled through a microphone would in 2001.

Spencer snarls her way through "Parkside": "I'm all that/oh yeah/I got style/to spare." The guitar certainly recalls the simple rock arrangements of early Beastie Boy songs but avoids the stubborn idiotic stomp that plagued much early 1980's rap. "Work It Out" is totally infectious and mixes the sass of new wave acts like The Waitresses with the wiry riffage that Elastica nicked so freely from bands like The Stranglers. The assault is incessant. This band struts and shows its ass on every song, and you can't help lapping it up. Spencer has a commanding presence, and her osmosis of countless styles just oozes into every song.

It's so true- if Elastica had returned from obscurity with an album like this it would have taken England by storm (but, alas, it dropped The Menace on us instead). "You Got It" is a razor-sharp punk pogo laced with all of Brassy's tricks. The Miami bass bits blow by so fast it's hard to discern them and the scratching only raises the level of affection. From the shout-along backing vocals to the start/stop energy, this song is bound to slay live. "Who Stole The Show" throws late 70's funk into the mix. Spencer's bratty delivery works so well in call and response form, and the ape-simple beats recall Run DMC in its prime.

Every single song delivers the goods, and the album just snowballs into an action-packed onslaught of ace tunes. "Nervous" is straightforward punk, clocking in at less than two minutes, and Spencer seems just as comfortable at the helm of an all-out rocker as she does snotty rap. "Good Times" showcases her vocal abilities, which, heretofore, seemed less than musical, but she slaughters that assumption with ease. The song is chock full of hooks and the riff is reminiscent of vintage new wave pop at its finest.

This album defies categorization. It is rife with cliché. It's too long (seventeen songs), but it also seamlessly splices more genres of music than most people can name. And, most importantly, it rocks with all the brashness and contempt that any young, start-up band of punks should have.

Brassy, Got It Made (Wiiija)

Brassy - Got It Made Brassy
Got It Made
Wiiija
By: Eric G.

Apparently, tooting your own horn runs in the Spencer family. Muffin, Jon's sister, yells out the name of her band no less than a bazillion times on her band Brassy's debut album, Got It Made. She moved to England presumably to escape the looming shadow of her brother's underground star here in America. Little did anyone know that she was planning her own attack on the music world in the form of a retro-new-wave-punk-rap act. Brassy is a quartet comprised of distorted vocals, guitar, bass, and, yep, one DJ, who handles both drums and scratches. I thought I was going to have to skewer this album after my initial listen, but, oh, how wrong I was.

At first it was hard deciding whether I kept listening out of morbid curiosity or simply because I enjoyed it. I was unprepared for what besieged my ears. I still can't believe it's taken this long for a band to capitalize on a new wave/rap fusion. I must admit the description in the bio didn't exactly fire me up with excitement: "Brassy are Elastica sharing a sloppy wet kiss with the Beasties." I know. I thought the same thing when I read that. It sounds like it would be such a piece of shit, but that's a pretty accurate description.

The band mixes angular post-punk riffs with booming bass, sassy, sarcastic rhymes and furious scratching. Those elements look absolutely absurd on paper, but you have to hear it to believe it. On "No Competition" the beats are fast and the bass is low, and the vocals, while distorted in Ill Communication fashion, are cocky and catchy. Muffin Spencer's got her brother's brazen attitude and egomaniacal confidence, but it doesn't come across hollowly like "Blues Explosion!" grumbled through a microphone would in 2001.

Spencer snarls her way through "Parkside": "I'm all that/oh yeah/I got style/to spare." The guitar certainly recalls the simple rock arrangements of early Beastie Boy songs but avoids the stubborn idiotic stomp that plagued much early 1980's rap. "Work It Out" is totally infectious and mixes the sass of new wave acts like The Waitresses with the wiry riffage that Elastica nicked so freely from bands like The Stranglers. The assault is incessant. This band struts and shows its ass on every song, and you can't help lapping it up. Spencer has a commanding presence, and her osmosis of countless styles just oozes into every song.

It's so true- if Elastica had returned from obscurity with an album like this it would have taken England by storm (but, alas, it dropped The Menace on us instead). "You Got It" is a razor-sharp punk pogo laced with all of Brassy's tricks. The Miami bass bits blow by so fast it's hard to discern them and the scratching only raises the level of affection. From the shout-along backing vocals to the start/stop energy, this song is bound to slay live. "Who Stole The Show" throws late 70's funk into the mix. Spencer's bratty delivery works so well in call and response form, and the ape-simple beats recall Run DMC in its prime.

Every single song delivers the goods, and the album just snowballs into an action-packed onslaught of ace tunes. "Nervous" is straightforward punk, clocking in at less than two minutes, and Spencer seems just as comfortable at the helm of an all-out rocker as she does snotty rap. "Good Times" showcases her vocal abilities, which, heretofore, seemed less than musical, but she slaughters that assumption with ease. The song is chock full of hooks and the riff is reminiscent of vintage new wave pop at its finest.

This album defies categorization. It is rife with cliché. It's too long (seventeen songs), but it also seamlessly splices more genres of music than most people can name. And, most importantly, it rocks with all the brashness and contempt that any young, start-up band of punks should have.