Friday, October 29, 2010

Music Review: The Vampire Diaries: Original Television Soundtrack

It was only a matter of time before one of the most popular shows on the CW Television Network got its own soundtrack. Much like other teen-centered TV dramas of the past, like Fox's The O.C. and other vampire-minded hit shows like HBO's True Blood, Vampire Diaries (which airs Thursday nights on CW) is trying to capitalize on its hit show with a hit soundtrack. And it was a bloody good decision.

Based on the L.J. Smith novels of the same name, the second-year TV series revolves around two brothers (Stefan and his elder, Damon) who obsess over the same gorgeous girl (Elena) and fight to control the fate of a whole (fictional) town (Mystic Falls, Virginia).

Viewers have long commented on the beautiful and fitting music that accompanied key episodes in season one (2009) and now season two, which began in early September. As of October 12, they have a chance to hear 16 tracks that span nearly 65 minutes on The Vampire Diaries: Original Television Soundtrack. It not only features some familiar names from the alternative music realm, but one of the hottest album covers of the year (featuring the aforementioned main stars of the show). Then there's the music itself.

Composer Michael Suby's "Stefan's Theme" clip and rock vets Placebo's Kate Bush cover "Running Up That Hill" set the tone right for a dark opening to the album. The deep bass and contrasting light, tremolo-aided electronics and guitars of the former track, and the thumping, downtempo beats and cut-up vocals of the latter make for an excellent one-two punch.

Track three kicks up the volume some, as alternative rockers Silversun Pickups, led by the always youthful-sounding Brian Aubert contribute the excellent, urgent rock of "Currency of Love," which was previously only available as an iTunes-only bonus track on second album, Swoon (2009).

The "Darktimes" remix of Bat For Lashes' "Sleep Alone" thoroughly turns the groove inside out and adds a lower register vocal to Natasha Khan's. It's very well done, but the original would have fit here better, with its decidedly more ghoulish background vocals and overall darker mood.

If vampires like to dance, there's a few choice cuts here. Howls' "Hammock," which sings about "howling at the moon" is a fine, low-key dance rock track. There is also the decent retro synth pop of Goldfrapp's "We Radiate," and rising 18-year-old dance pop star Sky Ferreira's "Obsession." The latter, at least lyrically, fits the show more so than the former, and has the potential to be a club hit in the vein of Katy Perry, who happens to be a fan of her work (and had a controversial way of showing it several months back).

This article was first published in full earlier today at Blogcritics Magazine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Music Review: Jimmy Eat World - Invented

Arizona's alternative rock/power pop legends Jimmy Eat World do not make throwaway albums. They are one of those bands who always records more repeat-worthy songs than not, but who set a new standard in rock that is so high, any future records will be judged by it for as long as they keep making them.

1999's Clarity is the group's masterpiece and always will be, as songs like "Crush" and "Ten" set the stage for the commercial emo movement (i.e. Fall Out Boy) in the decade that followed. But other, more pop punk groups (i.e. The Ataris) also followed in the footsteps of the band's near perfect power pop/post-punk follow-up, 2001's Bleed American, which featured hits "The Middle" and "Sweetness," among others. Those two records were the peak of Jimmy Eat World's creative powers.

And what they, along with its notably more aggressive, emocore-based major label debut Static Prevails (1996) have in common with its recently released seventh LP Invented is producer Mark Trombino (who also drummed for Drive Like Jehu). Can he help bring back the magic of any of those early records (not including the band's out-of-print self-titled 1994 debut record)?

There are indeed shades of J.E.W.'s 1999 masterpiece throughout the new record, for starters. For example, closer "Mixtape" has a cappella parts somewhat reminiscent of Clarity's closer "Goodbye Sky Harbor." But as singable as its chorus is, the slow-moving tune doesn't come close to the powerful and intense "Dizzy" (from its previous and sixth album, 2007's Chase This Light), which has to go down as the best album closer in the Jimmy Eat World catalog since the aforementioned "Goodbye Sky Harbor."

That said, there are quite a few hummable, memorable and rockin' tracks on Invented.  "Heart Is Hard To Find" opens the sound barriers up with heavy acoustics and a warm touch that makes one think the song would fit right in with the Bleed American record. (End of review excerpt)
This article was first published IN FULL earlier this evening at Blogcritics Magazine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New England's OT Win vs. Ravens Could Come with a Price

It was an improbable 23-20 victory for the Patriots last Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. The defense of the home team was supposed to be inferior to Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens big defense. After all, this was the same Baltimore team that convincingly eliminated them from last year's playoffs in a blowout in this very stadium, which had previously never happened in the Tom Brady era.

Yet, coming into the game, the Patriots were 5-0 against the Ravens in the regular season. So how did the Patriots eek this one out? Big time defensive play, led by Jerod Mayo's astonishing and team-leading 18 tackles, and clutch catches by a new but familiar face, wide receiver Deion Branch. He caught a 5-yard Brady pass early in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to get the Pats within three points at 20-17, followed by about six more key receptions near the end of regulation and overtime combined to set up kicker Stephen Gostkowski's game-tying late fourth quarter field goal and game-winning one with 1:51 left in OT.

But nearly halfway through the second quarter came the only inexcusable negative play in the game. Ravens veteran tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from young Pats safety Brandon Meriweather, and consequently took a while to get up from it. He would leave the game.

Even Pats fans like me said, "That's a no-no" after watching the replay. NFL players aren't supposed to leave their feet or "launch" into opposing players, especially with helmets. It was labeled helmet-to-helmet contact by the referee, and I wouldn't have been shocked if he was kicked out of the game in addition to being penalized for it.

Starting this weekend, NFL players will definitely be suspended for clearly flagrant hits to the head, instead of (or in addition to) the usual light fine. Meriweather will indeed get a fine or be suspended for New England's next game against San Diego, even though the new policy wasn't in effect when the hit to Heap happened and that the Pats player has no prior history of such flagrant hits. And though a suspension would be detrimental to the team, I would have no problem with it.

Patriots fan or not, you can't excuse and not suspend or at least heavily fine ($50,000 or more) anyone who uses any part of their body as a weapon, be it Meriweather, Pittsburgh's James Harrison, Atlanta's Dunta Robinson (who gave himself and victim DeSean Jackson concussions on Sunday) or others, since NFL rules rightly prohibit such play.

There's a big difference between playing "aggressive," as Meriweather said he was doing when he hit his "friend" Heap, and (illegally) going up high on a defenseless receiver who didn't even have the ball in his hands, as was the case with Heap. It was just stupid, and even Pats coach Bill Belichick had the "Give me a break" look on his face when Meriweather went to the sideline to explain himself.

Can the Pats still win without Meriweather? Yes, but they'll need to fight against being timid and weak at the safety position should Meriweather be unavailable, and remember to just tackle the way they were taught, not to look for the kill. Being carelessly aggressive could end someone's season and even career, as players past and present are well aware.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Red Sox End Disappointing 2010 Season on High & Classy Note

For only the second time in Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona's tenures, there will be no playoff baseball in Boston this year. Like 2006, they finish the season in third place in the AL East, and for similar reasons to that fateful season can blame it largely on a rash of injuries to key players, along with a mostly lousy bullpen (that Epstein did nothing significant to help before and during the season) and disappointing starters (Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield).

But the 89-73 Red Sox had one, make it two last victories to celebrate last weekend: they won the last two games of the season against the Yankees to tie the season series at 9-9, and more importantly, prevented their arch rivals from winning the AL East division in the process, making Tampa Bay the champs and for a change, the Yankees the AL Wild Card representative in the 2010 postseason that starts on Wednesday.

Mike Lowell Day

But the real celebration that occurred this weekend was the Red Sox's tribute to retiring hero, cancer survivor and longtime third baseman Mike Lowell a half hour before the first game of a Sox-Yankees double header at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon.

Mike Lowell, 8-3-10
With the whole Red Sox and (equally classy) Yankees teams looking on and applauding the festivities at the top of their respective dugout steps, they watched as Lowell's wife Bertha, their two kids and good friends Mike Redmond and (former respected Sox utility man) Alex Cora made surprise appearances to help out with the presentation of gifts. It was a warming, memorable moment for both fans and the participants on the field.

This article was first published in full at Blogcritics Magazine