Old Man Gloom Mourns Loss on ‘Seminar VIII: Light of Meaning’ and ‘Seminar IX: Darkness of Being’

Originally published in PopMatters

Aaron Turner has been a staple of the Boston metal and hardcore scene throughout the ’90s and early 2000’s as a musician and entrepreneur. He founded the prolific independent label, Hydra Head Records, which he used to help shape the Boston scene by distributing albums from local bands and giving them sonic reach. Collaborating with musicians on an international basis, Turner has become a more ubiquitous force, yet still holds strong ties to the musicians with whom he cut his teeth. That said, he and his longtime comrades as Old Man Gloom have returned with a new pair of sibling albums (which is not unusual for the band) through Profound Lore Records: Seminar VIII: Light of Meaning and Seminar IX: Darkness of Being.

Old Man Gloom began as a project between Turner and drummer Santos Montano with help from Luke Scarola on electronics while recording. They eventually grew to include fellow Boston hardcore players Caleb Scofield of Cave In and Nate Newton of Converge as full-time bassist and guitarist, respectively. Since Scofield’s abrupt death in 2018, Cave In bandmate Stephen Brodsky took over as bassist. Both Seminar VIII and IX are undeniably born from the grief over the loss of their brotherly bandmate.

These albums are atmospheric exercises in extreme metal and hardcore punk. Turner and Newton trade off on vocal duties, and Brodsky lends his smooth voice on a couple of songs. Newton’s higher register, mildly melodic scream complements Turner’s low growl. However, there are exceptions to the aggressive vocals, such as the beginning of “Calling You Home,” as Newton softly talks/sings in a style reminiscent of Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy. Old Man Gloom has always played with quiet to abrasive dynamics. From the massive strike downs of “Wrath of the Weary” to the faint acoustic ballad “Death Rhymes,” the Boston supergroup plays across a vast emotional soundscape. A band like this goes for spatial tone over technical savvy.

This collection of songs, unlike previous releases, boasts raw, meditative energy. It feels less produced, a little looser. There are elements of improvisation, drawing from Turner’s work in his main band, Sumac. Turner can be heard soloing throughout the two albums, his dramatic guitar work wailing and bawling, whether prominent or low in the mix. In “Canto De Santos,” sounds are scattered as if the band is setting themselves into a trance-like state, aiming to perform with the right kind of potency. “In Your Name” eases in with a snare drum roll akin to 18-19th century battlefield drummers, which fits the explosive sound that the rest of the song brings. The twelve-and-a-half minute track builds up to a guitar solo over a heavy blues riff. The classic feel is unusual for a band with such an experimental sound, yet they ascend into the solo seamlessly.

Old Man Gloom are masters of building momentum, increasing the strength and heaviness with riffs and bulldozing drums. “Procession of the Wounded” is relentless right off the bat and features a crushing guitar riff that spans the entire song and never loses power. Background keyboard notes add a delicate, unexpected dynamic, especially in the last few seconds when the keyboard notes are left alone. Although only a little over four minutes, it sounds like it lasts twice as long. “Final Defeat” builds onto itself until it is mostly a cacophony of layered vocals and noise. “Canto De Santos” begins patiently, methodically. Soon enough, the other instruments creep in, first with a steady pounding kick drum, then joined by beating guitars and crashing cymbals.

Some tracks are less experimental, more derived from the familiar tropes of heavy music. Songs like “EMF” and “True Volcano” are fast and punchy, colliding with the listener’s auditory senses. “Heel to Toe” features a standard verse-chorus form, while squealing feedback in the chorus gives the song unrefined intensity. “The Bleeding Sun” starts slow and sludgy, then pummels with a classic hardcore punk beat and strumming pattern familiar to fans of Converge. After the build-up, “Canto De Santos” erupts into galloping drums and features a frenetic noise guitar solo towards the end of the ten-minute track.

Like previous releases, Seminar VIII and IX are laced with electronic sampling and ambient sounds. Although often difficult to discern, the electronic ambiance provides a naturalistic, yet futuristic vibe. Many songs are bookended by droning sounds and noise. “EMF” begins and ends with a sample of what sounds like a suffering animal’s moans. “In Your Name” closes with ambient sounds of wreckage, or possibly clicking machinery, leading to the next track. It’s a way of connecting the songs, eliminating the need for closure, and allowing them to bleed together as parts of a larger scheme. However, some songs have distinct beginnings and endings, such as the rigorous “Procession of the Wounded” and the following two tightly composed tracks. Still, there are momentous stretches throughout both albums that make it a singular cohesive listening experience.

Compositionally and thematically, Seminar VIII: Light of Meaning and Seminar IX: Darkness of Being reflect aspects of each other, tying them together. “Procession of the Wounded” takes a short riff from “By Love All is Healed” and stretches it out into a full song. “Calling You Home” and “Canto De Santos” share a lyrical parallel in making a declaration of “watching” and “waiting” during climactic points in each song. The closing song for each album has love in the title (“By Love All is Healed,” “Love is Bravery”). A heavy feeling of loss pervades Old Man Glooms’ newest releases. Longtime fans of the band may notice something indescribable missing in this collection of songs. Yet, these songs are a way of coping and documenting grief and loss, as well as commemorating how much Scofield meant to the band.

Album Review: Big Ups – Two Parts Together

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

Brooklyn based post-hardcore band Big Ups have kept a low key presence while radiating a big sound with every record they release. The band consists of Brendan Finn on drums, vocalist Joe Galarraga, guitarist Amar Lal, and bassist Carlos Salguero Jr. Big Ups has drawn comparisons to legendary post-hardcore bands like Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard, but they’re much more than that. Their music hangs on to basslines and guitar progressions that reminisce in 90’s alternative rock, something along the lines of early Smashing Pumpkins, Helium, and Dinosaur Jr. Galarraga has said about their music that “there’s something else that’s going on that I don’t even know if we can quite put our thumb on.”

They’ve been a stripped-down rock band with only the essential elements since 2010 and they’ve been doing it with a fresh sense of character. For their third album, Two Parts Together, released via Exploding in Sound Records, Big Ups decided to play with sounds that are new to them to add to their atmosphere including violin, synthesizer, glockenspiel, drum machine, and field recordings.

Galarraga has also stated that he “wanted to be in a band that is heavier in sound, but accessible.” They definitely maintain the heaviness that they established for themselves in their first two albums. Certain parts of their songs have choppy rhythms, lopsided time signatures, and irregular transitions, influenced by and for fans of math rock. But Two Parts Together isn’t a completely accessible album. Parts of it could appeal to the masses, but the album as a whole is too experimental. That’s not to say that it isn’t good. The album is strikingly dynamic, but it’s about as accessible as a Sonic Youth album, a band of legendary status that never rose above the underground, and that’s where this kind of music succeeds.

The first track, also the title track, begins with chaotic strumming and a crescendoing crash cymbal, then drops dramatically into a barely audible ambiance, a spacious verse section. This kind of movement defines Two Parts Together, an album composed of wildly dynamic movements between quiet and aggressive progressions. This is a moody album, one that swings from cathartic pounding to tranquility like a slow pendulum in an enormous clock.

Big Ups find their uniqueness in playing with opposites. Two Parts Together is full of lightly steady drumming, pretty guitars and basslines that suddenly burst into thunderous distortion. This is a band that will create a peaceful milieu and let it float with elegance, then disrupt the peace with crunchy, muddy distortion and screams. The shifts are polarizing, crashing into each other and then disappearing.

The vocals never rise above the instrumentation, rather it is another equal part of the music. In all three of their albums, Big Ups have not applied a single vocal melody to their songs. Galarraga goes for either spoken word or shouting and screaming, and this adds to the dramatic dynamics of Two Parts Together. The spoken word verses are delivered as quiet ruminations, insights that can only come from difficulties, epiphanies that can only arise from trauma.

Galarraga’s vocal work often sounds like the whispers of an inner voice, something subliminal or subconscious. His spoken word delivery can be so calm, it almost sounds troubled. When recorded and played through a field recorder, his voice has a disembodied effect, as if it’s coming from a distant loudspeaker.

Aside from his delivery, Galarraga’s lyrics have a mysterious quality, something contemplative and deeply philosophical. He articulates a search for self-realization in an enigmatic world. The closing lines to “In The Shade” give off a looming and ominous feeling: “What’s latent / what’s hiding / whats scared / what’s unknown / what’s dormant / untapped / in the shade.” It almost reminds me of cosmic beings in an H.P. Lovecraft story. Other lyrics throughout the album are similarly ambiguous, but also explore the idea of how one should perceive the world. Galarraga commands you to “look into the crystal / and see what you want to see” in “PPP,” one of the album’s singles. In “Fear,” the album’s other single, he asks, “Which version of the world / is the one that’s worth believing?” before shouting the chorus: “How you fear what you know / how you fear what you don’t know.” There is an idea of creating meaning for oneself that is present throughout this album, as well as a need to sift through the many facades of truth that a person can be subjected to in life.

Two Parts Together spins with emotion and intellect, but not recklessly. It’s an incredibly well-composed album that takes sonic risks. Listen to it and other records by Big Ups on Spotify, iTunes, and other streaming services or find the album in a record store near you.

Album Review: Ty Segall & White Fence – Joy

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

White Fence is Tim Presley’s vehicle for garage rock and psychedelic expression, his one-man recording project that has gone eight albums strong since 2010, and two of them are written and recorded with the prolific Ty Segall. Joy is the follow-up to White Fence and Ty Segall’s 2012 release, Hair, also from Drag City Records. This album plays less like a collection of songs and more like a singular musical composition broken up into movements. Clocking in at thirty minutes, most songs are around two minutes long or under.

A song called “Beginning” cannot be more fitting of an introduction to an album with its meandering bassline and guitar work that invokes 1960s psychedelia and surf rock. Songs like “Good Boy” and “Hey Joel, Where You Going With That?” are lyrically and sonically reminiscent of The Beatles, and Segall makes an obvious admission to this when he sings “yellow sandwich submarine,” This is where Joy really takes off. The songs are groovy and fun. Segall’s voice is gentle and trippy, otherworldly, warping, slightly creepy. Tim Presley’s bass lines consistently bounce and act as backbones to each song.

Segall’s lyrics are often intentionally nonsensical and often surreal, yet you may be able to find a particular meaning in it all the same way critics found meaning in John Lennon’s lyrics when he was at his most absurd.

There’s a bit of a narrative laid out in Joy, an idea of a protagonist leaving home to set off on a journey, to find happiness. This might be something autobiographical, as Segall’s lyrics often are, connoting loneliness and his thin relationship with his mother. It’s hard to say given such sparse lyrics, but they could be suggesting that he sacrificed his relationship with his family, who may have wanted him to live a normal life with a salary job, to pursue his dream of being a musician. The self-reflective “A Nod” brings this notion forward as he sings, “tried to please my mother / tried to please my father / tried to please everyone but me.”

Later in the album, the lyrics become condemnations of a capitalistic lifestyle and a need to be surrounded by supportive people in terms of one’s dreams and desires. Segal rejects the complicated necessity for cash, preferring a simpler lifestyle of just being around caring people.

“Other Way” is a straight up punk song, but it fits into Joy in the sense that it’s like a sudden dark point of an acid trip. It almost sounds scary in comparison to the rest of the songs. Ty Segall sounds like he’s singing, but it’s not really a melody. It’s more of a shaky wail. This song adds an interesting narrative effect to the album as a whole as if you ran into a monster along the way in your trippy journey and needed to run the other way as fast as you can. But as Segall sings “you look the other way,” I can’t help but think that this song is his expression of angry resentment towards loved ones who look down on him for doing what he loves.
“She Is Gold” is a climactic point of Joy, clocking in at over five minutes, the longest song on the album, beginning with a patiently simmering jam and building up with rolling floor toms and a persisting guitar solo to an energetic ending that fades out. This is the energy that makes Joy worth listening to. It’s an exploration of what it means to find happiness and how it may conflict with the happiness of others. It’s lyrically endearing and sonically whimsical.

Album Review: Mark Miller – Imperfect

Originally published in Imprint Entertainment

In small-town Bowling Green, Ohio, nobody had ever seen anything like the cardboard-crafted prop-heavy stage setups of a Marktron live show at the time that he began occasionally performing less than a decade ago. He wore a robot suit, assembled a cityscape, and put his friends in suits to dance with him onstage, everything designed by Marktron. It was imaginative and eye-popping, nothing less than a handcrafted spectacle.

With his debut album, Imperfect, Mark Miller, aka Marktron, has decided to start his venture into recording by spelunking deep into the cave of himself. Imperfect is a ponderer’s rap record, an exhibition of vulnerability and self-examination. In fact, it is so deeply introspective that it can hardly be considered the music of Marktron, but rather the music of Miller himself, the man inside the robot suit, a man who wants to vent the blazing concerns that burn within him and reveal his strong values for his family and imagination.

Much of Imperfect is a confession of regrets in terms of growing up. Scattered throughout are monologues of self-examination. The overall mood is darkly mellow and at times fatigued. Songs like “Silence” give off the feeling of staring out the window at a rushing river of downtown traffic as the Midwest rapper projects a repetitious line: “It’s so noisy out there.” Inherent in Miller’s music are feelings of social isolation, psychologically toxic self-consciousness, loneliness, and introversion. In many ways, Imperfect is a painful display of being plagued by self-abusive thought processes.

But there is a positive side to the songs on Imperfect. There are pervasive signs of humor and aspirations to be a better human being. In “Ghost,” Miller admits that his son and music are motivators for him to find some sense of progress. He professes a desire for self-improvement in “Growing Up” and “6 Months” and the therapeutic nature of art in “The Music.”

Not every song is a self-examination. “Lies” and “Villains” take a politically and socially commenting turn, and “Nowhere” comments on the people of Northwest Ohio and the land’s mind-numbing psychogeographic effect.
With some decent hooks tossed around, plenty of calmly muted keys and minimalist beats reminiscent of 90’s rap (no hi-hats and a scarce amount of bass), and an energetic closing track employing a breathless flow, Imperfect is a great first effort. At times it seems Miller lacks vocal dynamic, sounding a bit lazy or weary, although it may just be his Midwestern accent, which makes me enjoy the vocal distortions that he applied on certain songs. I almost wish he played around with effects more, but since this is his first foray into producing beats as well as going through the process of mixing and mastering, I’ll look forward to his next recording effort to see the kind of improvement he’s bound to make.

Album Review: Adam Hood – Somewhere In Between

Originally published in Imprint Entertainment

You may have heard Adam Hood’s songs through the voices of many country music stars such as Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack, and Little Big Town. The Opelika, Alabama native has spent much of the last decade fine-tuning his songwriting chops for others as well as performing as a solo artist. Now, Hood is getting ready to release his fourth full-length studio album, Somewhere In Between.

Adam Hood’s style of music is a mix of country, blues, folk, soul, and you can even hear a bit of alternative rock influence. There’s a lot going on here. In fact, he doesn’t want to pin his songs into any particular category. He simply calls it “southern music.”

This isn’t the kind of pop-country music you hear on the radio about tractors, trucks, cornbread, and barbecue sauce stains. Hood’s lyrics are deeper, honest, more thoughtful. He exercises a strong storytelling ability in these songs, painting detailed images of wholesome southern small towns and the good people living in them. These stories seem to be at least partly autobiographical, as Hood obviously knows them well. Coming from a working-class family himself, his lyrics address the quaint life of working-class southern folk. Throughout his new album, Hood addresses the importance of persisting through hard times and taking time to appreciate the simple life.

One idea that pervades Hood’s music is the idea of restlessness, which may come from his persistent touring throughout the years, driving here and there from gig to gig, at times alone and more recently with a full band.

Songs like “Keepin’ Me Here” and the anthemic “She Don’t Love Me,” featuring Brent Cobb, remark on Adam Hood’s tendency to stay unsettled as well as the absence of a woman in his life to keep him anchored in a particular place. There is heartache in his music, but it’s clear in the liveliness of his music that his lovelessness hasn’t turned him bitter. “Keepin’ Me Here” illustrates his restlessness and lovelessness perfectly, and is also the most southern rock song on the album with its steady electric strumming and driving drums.

 “Downturn” points out his preference to keep his life circumstances from stagnating, as he sings, “Running in circles beats the hell out of sinking in sand / and I simply can’t stand to stay where I am.” Hood is wise to the notion that any kind of change, whether good or bad, is valuable.

Other songs preach the notion of finding something to look forward to, even if it’s something minimal like having a little time off work. “The Weekend” is the kind of blues song that you would hear a band play over the pool tables of a dirty southern whiskey bar on a Friday night, a tune for the working class folks looking forward to the little things in life that keep them going week after week. The truth behind songs like this, “Easy Way,” and “Real Small Town” is that people don’t need a fortune to be happy. Somewhere In Between is a collection of songs that pay homage to everything that Adam Hood values about growing up in small-town Alabama through his love of southern music.

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

It’s clear that Trent Reznor, founder of legendary industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, isn’t opposed to evolving his musical style, which he has dramatically since the band’s inception three decades ago. That said, he seems to have found a balance within himself between new and old as Nine Inch Nails’ newly released full-length album, Bad Witch, perpetuates an aesthetic Reznor established for the band in the late 1980s while exploring sounds that are non-existent in previous records.

The influence of Atticus Ross is prominent, leading the band even deeper into electronic soundscapes. Ross, who has been a collaborator of Reznor for the better part of two decades, officially joined the band in 2016, making NIN, a band with an ever-changing lineup save for Reznor, a duo. Ross and Reznor have pushed NIN into a cinematic atmosphere, employing heavy electronic patterns that are reminiscent of the 1980’s cyberpunk culture. The mood of Bad Witch can be described as something hopeless, apocalyptic, and technological. And when it isn’t roaming through near-silent atmosphere, it’s jazzy and danceable.

I really can’t stress the cyberpunk aesthetic enough. This album is armored in thick looping breakbeats. At times the beats are smooth and groovy, like in the closing track, “Over and Out.” At other times these beats are fast and frantic, sometimes disorienting, overwhelming, and even smothering. In “Ahead of Ourselves,” the second track, Reznor implements flashes of screams, guitars, and drums within a steady beat, creating jarring juxtapositions of the orderly with the chaotic.

Reznor still likes to intermingle the pretty with the disturbing, an aesthetic apparent in NIN’s early music, which is evident in an unprecedented use of horned instruments that squeal throughout the third track, “Play the Goddamned Part,” one of two instrumental tracks on the album. The horns sing soothingly into “God Break Down the Door,” a song which Reznor sings an ominous melody with vibrato in his voice, another unusual technique for the 53-year-old musician. The production on this one is the epitome of what Bad Witch is going for. It’s glitchy and pulsing, like being enveloped and mesmerized by the light of an arcade game.

The entire album has a cohesive arrangement, and you can imagine Reznor sitting in the studio for hours on end meticulously fine-tuning small details until the music reaches perfection, which it probably never does in his mind. This is not unlike Reznor’s behavior and mentality as he has discussed on record.

If you’re looking for a three-and-a-half-minute jam that will get you amped up and fit right into your party playlist, you won’t find it in this album. There is no viral single here. “God Break Down the Door” has been released as the lead single for the album, but it doesn’t feel like a standout track. Bad Witch a holistic listening experience. This is an album that is meant to be swallowed whole, an album that should be absorbed entirely, not in small parts at a time.

The record is short with six songs adding up to a little over thirty minutes. It is the last part of a conceptual trilogy of records which includes their last two release, Not the Actual Events and Add Violence, both EPs.

Nine Inch Nails are currently on a worldwide tour in support of Bad Witch. Tickets are still available for their show at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta on September 27th.

Film Review: Mandy

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

Dutifully opening with a song by prolific prog-rock legends, King Crimson, “Mandy” is a psychedelic action horror film that relies on highly stylized and disorienting visuals to illustrate a story that rides on drug use, which is only a secondary aspect of the entire narrative. This is a love about love and desire that turns into a revenge flick. “Mandy” is a stunning slow burn, full of lingering tension even in moments of apparent tranquility. Nicholas Cage’s style of acting is fitting as a humbly awkward man who later falls into derangement. Andrea Riseborough, as the titular character, is quietly charming, and Linus Roache turns in a psychotically narcissistic performance through long, discomforting monologues.

Living in the Shadow Mountains in 1983, Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) works at a lumber company. His girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), works a day job as a store clerk and makes elaborate fantasy art on her own time, which Red admires. She spends a good amount of time immersed in a fantasy novel. Then, she is noticed by a man named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), who is the leader of a cult who call themselves The Children of the New Dawn, as he is driven past her while she walks down a road, and thus begins his obsession with her.

The movie, directed by Panos Cosmatos and written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, with music by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, is a unique visual experience that rides the effects of hallucinatory imagery. There are moments of mundanity interspersed with images of surreal landscapes and cosmic enormity. At times it seems they might be on another world, yet this might be a hallucinatory effect, and there is something fun about this mysterious play on perception. Reality is often brought back by mundane details such as a one dollar bill used as a bookmark in Mandy’s fantasy novel, characters watching television, and Mandy’s store clerk job.

The movie is split up into sections with beautiful title cards like the introductory title cards of an 80’s fantasy movie. Cosmatos’ use of unsourced lighting is straight out of classic 1980’s genre tropes. There is often a red light or red saturation indicating an evil presence or nature.

A pivotal scene involving potent psychedelics makes interesting use of superimposition to establish a discomforting, illusory mood. “Mandy” relies heavily on atmosphere rather than cheap jump scares, as the slow pacing stretches out the menacing mood of certain sequences, and some of the fight scenes and inexplicable weapons are delightfully reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness.”

Along with the theme of psychedelic horror, there is a biker gang reminiscent of Hell’s Angels, but more demonic and rendered inhuman due to heavy drug abuse and unidentifiable because of their BDSM attire.

But let’s talk about bathroom scenes in films for a moment. It’s a place where a character can be alone and uninhibited, where they can do private things. You may see a character enter a bathroom and have an emotional collapse, or make a life and death decision. A bathroom scene can be the most revealing scene in a film.

Nicholas Cage is quiet and innocuous throughout much of the movie, humble in the sobriety of his character. He’s a bit oafish, yet gentle and comfortably in love. Shortly after the cause of his trauma, there is a bathroom scene where his performance is ignited by a range of emotions that is so satisfying to watch because it is everything you want to see from Nicholas Cage all at once.

Manipulation of reality and judgment is the particular charm of “Mandy.” And although the decisions he makes in his acting are still sometimes awkward and unbelievably forced, Nicholas Cage’s performance is intense and cannot be overlooked. He perfectly embodies the terror of his character’s reality within an emotional rollercoaster that will reinstate your love for him.

Film Review: The First Purge

The first scene in The First Purge is an interview between two men. One is a convict and the other is a government agent. They discuss the convict’s need to release the violent nature inside him. The agent reacts with favorable curiosity, as if this man will be useful to him.

Soon you see a government worker alongside Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei), deemed “The Architect” of The Purge and working with the New Founding Fathers of America, a government organization, to conduct a social experiment, which will be known as “The Purge,” but the NFFA have ulterior motives force them to manipulate the experiment. They want to lessen incarceration and establish population control, and they need the experiment to be a success.

This is the premise of “The First Purge,” as well as an exemplification of the entire franchise’s premise. The actual event known within the franchise as “The Purge” is a planned phenomenon that benefits capitalistic institutions more than it benefits common people. In the movie, the practical reason for the NFFA to establish “The Purge” is for people to be allowed to release their inner aggression for twelve hours and contain it within themselves for the rest of the year, thus reducing crime rates and establishing peace.

Like the other three films in the series, you can expect a lot of murder and untamed behavior. You can expect the exact same narrative formula. There’s a lot to say about these movies, considering the heavy political subtext, but they’re all basically the same. The commencement siren sounds off at about twenty minutes into this movie just like the other ones. You watch a group of people try to survive the dangers of the night.

This entry into the franchise continues the socio-political horror story set in the near future, although it takes place closer to present day, and thus is established in more believable circumstances. There are obvious parallels with this film and current American politics, namely the decisions of the Trump Administration in terms of establishing morally bankrupt policies for what they would address as the greater good. This is obvious from the pre-released promotional images of a bright red ball cap with the words “The First Purge” embedded on it in white letters, a jab at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign merchandise. This night of bloodshed is said to make the country better than ever.

Of course, like the other “Purge” films, the political aspects of the story are just a subtext. The main plot revolves around Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), two humble citizens of Staten Island where the psychological experiment is contained, are who we follow and hope to stay alive until the end. Nya has a longstanding relationship with a man named Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), who she was once romantically involved with, who is also a drug kingpin and has a large amount of money and resources. Aside from these three, the film is packed with supporting characters, perhaps too many. All of whom you can expect to meet an untimely death.

So, what does this installment of the franchise offer that the previous films didn’t? Well, “The First Purge” seems to properly depict what people actually want to do during twelve hours of lawlessness. They want to have a good time. They throw parties, drink, dance. This film is much more believable in its portrayal of human desires than the other films. A major problem with these movies is that they assume everyone hides the fact that they harbor psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies, that they would do horrible things often if only it was legal, and they can unleash these tendencies on Purge Night by murdering, raping, and stealing. It’s an absurd depiction of mankind for the sake of horror.

There’s a surrealistic quality in the beautiful, yet deranged imagery of some of the Purge participators. The director makes heavy use of slow motion, dutch angles, and extreme close ups to express the unleashed madness of those who choose to roam the streets. The insanity of the night often comes from facial expressions. Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), the convict from the beginning scene, is a grotesque and almost cartoonishly exaggerated homicidal maniac, often filmed in head shots or extreme close ups to capture his hideous face, his scarified forehead and rotting teeth. Like the other movies, the masks and costumes add a particularity to some of the characters. They dehumanize the most willing Purge participators, making them demonic, monstrous. In this sense, some characters are acceptably one-dimensional.

“The First Purge “has plenty of jump scares and moments of intimidation. These movies have been good at building and sustaining tension. This entry feeds the frenzied popularity of the franchise. Although this may be the most compelling film out of all of them, it only provides a small amount of newness to the franchise, but if you’re a fan or are curious enough to find out why others’ like it, you’ll want to see this one. The movie hits theaters on July 4th.

Film Review: The Happytime Murders

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

Are you looking for a good time? Do you like watching puppets do raunchy things to each other? Then look no further than “The Happytime Murders,” directed by Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.

Brian Henson had a role in the production and direction of many of the Muppet films and shows, so it seems that this is his way of extending his reach from children’s entertainment into adult comedy.

“The Happytime Murders” is a whodunit mystery. We follow Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) as he tries to uncover who is killing off the cast members of “The Happytime Gang,” a puppet sitcom from the 1980s going into syndication. Elizabeth Banks plays Jenny, the only human character from the sitcom and Philips’s former squeeze. Melissa McCarthy is Detective Connie Edwards, Philips’s former partner when he was on the force. Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, and Leslie David Baker round out the movie in supporting roles.

The humor is kitschy and crude. There’s some ridiculous sexual puppet imagery, which includes bodily fluids flying across the room in the form of silly string. There’s also some drug use, but it’s drugs that only a puppet would use, until Melissa McCarthy shows up. These sorts of obscenities juxtaposed with the wholesome pretense of puppet characters is where the humor comes from. It’s debauchery displayed by characters who shouldn’t be behaving this way, who should be making children laugh. Henson knew he could be extra brutal with the puppet killings, as the puppets are of course made out of fabric, so he took that to a gratuitous level as well.

The problem with “The Happytime Murders” is its lack of originality. We’ve seen all of this before in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Team America: World Police” and Peter Jackson’s cult classic, “Meet The Feebles.” Audiences might appreciate the sick humor of “The Happytime Murders” because this is another movie that places puppet characters in depraved situations, which is obscenely fun, but the lack of innovation here can’t be brushed aside.

In the world set up within “The Happytime Murders,” puppets and people coexist together with puppets being socially devalued as secondary or inferior to people. Does this remind you of anything? It’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” all over again. There are certain points when the dialogue plays with the notion of racism against the puppet community, which would have been interesting and unique if they delved deeper into the subject, but these moments are too few and far between.

Just like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” this film uses obvious elements of film noir, such as Philips being a private investigator forced into one bad situation after another who is visited by Sandra Jakoby (Dorien Davies), a puppet woman filling the role of femme fatale and using her sexual appeal to manipulate Philips. There is an ample amount of tension that makes the story compelling, as we look for clues along with Philips as he tries to solve the mystery, but that’s generically how the whodunit works. Considering the overall style and substance of “The Happytime Murders,” there just isn’t anything inventive here. Then again, it’s a bad idea to expect a movie like this to have much substance. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s worth a laugh.

Film Review: Sorry to Bother You

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

In the wake of acclaimed films like “Get Out” and “Black Panther,” Hollywood may be seeing a kind of renaissance of exceptional films made by talented and ambitious black filmmakers. In the next few weeks, Significant Productions and Annapurna Pictures will bring us Boots Riley’s much-talked-about directorial debut, “Sorry to Bother You.” Riley is best known for being the lead vocalist of hip hop bands The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club and has stated that he spent roughly seven years working on this script. Hopefully, this is only the first of many.

People are calling “Sorry to Bother You” a science fiction comedy film, but there truly isn’t an easy way to fit it into a specific genre. It’s absurd and hilarious, but there are elements of many genres inherent in the narrative including drama and magical realism. It also features obvious elements of horror. There are so many labels to slap on the forehead of this film. You could call it Kafkaesque, or a protest film, or a rise-and-fall story. This movie is all of those things.

The plot revolves around Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a black man desperate for money and living in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), an artist and sign flipper. Cash gets hired as a telemarketer at a company that offers miniscule pay and no real chance at obtaining benefits, leaving employees desperate.

“Sorry to Bother You” is a political, economic, and social commentary on the low wage workforce, particularly black sales representatives who seem to have to adopt a “white identity” to be acceptable and appear good at their jobs. In fact, Cash’s life begins to change when he figures out how to literally speak in a white man’s voice, provided by an overdub of David Cross’s voice throughout the film. As Cash begins to move up the hierarchical ladder and make sacrifices along the way, the film starts to question the morality of upward mobility in a capitalist social structure.

Viewers will sizzle at every deadpan joke, every shocking moment. Some of the humor is dry as a bone. Some of it is explosive and startling. Much of it is visual and explicit, such as sudden sexual imagery, and sometimes brutal imagery, such as people getting hit in the face by cops. It feels like tasteful shock value. It’s the kind of humor that will make you feel uneasy. You’ll laugh and wonder if it’s acceptable to do so, if it makes you a heartless person for laughing. The truth is that this is a thoughtful and complex film, but the humor is not for the overly sensitive or politically correct.

Much of the humor comes from the uncanny bantering between Cash and his friends and coworkers, as well as experimental editing and characters innocently dipping their toes into moments that are entirely illogical. The movie relies heavily on breaking the rules of what is possible. There are certain highly unusual things that happen and audience members must accept this for the sake of engaging in an unpredictable story.

“Sorry to Bother You” uses a star-studded, ethnically diverse cast led by Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yuen, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer, with appearances by Terry Crews and Danny Glover. To top it off, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, and Steve Buscemi lend their voices to the film.

This is a movie you must see. It’s ambitious and eclectic, stylistically unlike any movie made in recent years. See it in select theaters on July 6th and nationwide on July 13th.

Event Coverage: The Book of Mormon, Fox Theatre, Atlanta, July 2018

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

IMPRINT was in the seats of the Fox Theater in Atlanta for a weeklong run of performances of the hysterical musical, The Book of Mormon. Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Robert Lopez are the writers of the script, music, and lyrics. You may recognize Stone and Parker’s names as the creators of the long-running animated television program, South Park. Robert Lopez is previously known for co-creating Avenue Q, another successful musical. He has also composed songs for Disney animated films.

The Book of Mormon is the first stage musical from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, although they’ve always incorporated music in South Park episodes and in their films. Their first film is called Cannibal: The Musical, obviously a musical film. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut also incorporated roughly twelve musical numbers. Stone and Parker grew up in Colorado, which means they got to experience plenty of Mormon missionaries ringing their doorbells and insisting on spreading the word of their scripture. The Book of Mormon first appeared on Broadway in 2011 and has since garnered nine Tony Awards, one for best musical.

The story is about two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, played by Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson, respectively, who are sent to Uganda to convert the natives to Mormonism. Upon their arrival, they are shocked by the reality of the violence, disease, famine, and destitution that the people are subjected to, and it seems that Mormon scripture isn’t all that helpful. The Book of Mormon is a commentary on the nonsense of Mormonism through the missionaries’ devotion to it, but also on religion in general.

The Mormon missionaries are portrayed as naive, sheltered, and childlike. They weren’t trained to deal with people with disturbing diseases or warlords who threaten the safety of others. The Book of Mormon is a bit of a coming-of-age story in the sense that the Mormon missionaries have to mature faster than they’d like within this mess they’re in. The musical has a buddy movie feel, focusing partly on the unusual companionship of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two opposites who have to connect with each other in circumstances that are less than comfortable.

The characters are goofy and caricaturistic. The missionaries speak with nasally, high pitched voices, reminiscent of the cartoon characters of South Park. The characters’ dialogue and the movements of the choreographed dances are hilariously exaggerated. The humor in the music often comes from the melodramatic sincerity of singing show tunes and ballads in a place where nobody should be all that happy or hopeful about anything. There’s plenty of irony to please any purveyor of stage comedy, especially when the Mormon missionaries sing a song called “We Are Africa.” It’s funny because they definitely are not.

The Book of Mormon is full of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s signature explicit humor. Throughout much of the show, there is a character, played by Andre-Chance Goddard, who happens to be the village doctor, who declares excitedly that he has maggots in his scrotum, a callback joke that gets funnier every time he says/sings it. There are also plenty of jokes about AIDS and female circumcision. This is the type of humor that Stone and Parker go for. They have a tendency to provoke people with gratuitously crude jokes. In past interviews, they admit that they don’t do it intentionally, but they are just offensive people. Stone and Parker only want to “put on a good show.” They just want to create something funny and enjoyable, and if it ends up offending people, then so be it. Even if this play isn’t for everybody, at times I couldn’t hear the dialogue because the laughter was too loud. There’s no doubt that this musical is hilariously offensive.

The Book of Mormon is directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. The musical is still being performed every year on a global scale, so go see it if you get a chance.

Event Coverage: Shakey Graves, October 4, 2018

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

The Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park District looks like a galleon on the inside with different compartments in which to hang out. Two or three bars covered in hand-painted art in every room, at the top of every staircase. Hand-painted art all over the walls, even black stars painted on some of the ventilation shafts hanging above. There’s a large room in the middle of the venue with a couch area where people can mingle before and after performances, two ATM machines, a photo booth, and a large merch area built like the merch tents you would find at a music festival complete with Tabernacle shirts, hats, and scarves. This room also leads to a smoking area overlooked by a brightly lit Ferris wheel.

There is plenty of standing space as well as a seated balcony in the stage room where The Wild Reeds play songs from their debut and sophomore albums. They play indie folk-rock ballads and anthems, complete with some surprisingly body-moving breakdowns.

The Wild Reeds released their sophomore full-length album, The World We Built, last year from Dualtone Records. There are some cute decorations hanging around the stage including some colorful fuzzy balls on the keyboard. A sign made of twist balloons spelling out “PARTY” is propped up above the kick drum. Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe occasionally switch instruments and lead vocal duty. Lee looks so excited to lead. They’re all excited to rock with each other.

There’s an accordion the size of a small microwave set up next to the keyboard. I wasn’t sure what Kinsey Lee was doing when she was pushing the air door in and out, but she seemed really into it. Deep into their set, bassist Sharon Silva asks the audience, “Have you ever felt like nobody wants to listen to you?” as a lead into a song, and this is the type of full honesty they display on stage. The Wild Reeds play passionately as if every song was a point they wanted to make in a heated argument.

Several minutes pass after their set and out steps Alejandro Rose-Garcia, who goes by the name of Shakey Graves, in front of four tall screens projecting images of a bonfire and a running river. He steps out alone with his hollow-body guitar, washed in projection light, and he begins to play “Nobody’s Fool,” the title song to his 2015 album. The lights pulse along with a steady kick drum. He has the presence of a full band and the swagger of a blues troubadour, the way he grooves with his guitar. He’s playing the kick drum and tambourine with his feet, allowing him to sway and keep a whiskey bar beat. The projected fire dances on his body, his face, jacket, snapback, and hollow body guitar.

After three songs, the rest of the band step out and get behind their instruments and the projection switches to something glitchy and pixelated, later switching again to changing color stripes in a racing motion with tire track pattern. The lights brighten and roam and the band look like a ragtag group of fun, humorous, and casual music makers.

Shakey Graves engages the crowd with hand gestures, his lead guitarist loses himself in guitar solos, and in the middle of the set, they play a hard rock blues rendition of “Something in the Way” by Nirvana followed by the first song of his fifth studio album, Can’t Wake Up, released earlier this year via Dualtone Records. At one point Shakey Graves holds the mic and soon his hat is off so he can shake his hair. Girls cheer when he takes off his jacket. There’s a fun call and response moment when he recklessly grabs the mic stand and carries it around so he can sing in an alternating fashion with the crowd.

He finishes the set alone in fire the same way he started, his gutar and his foot on the pedal of a kick drum. A nice way to frame the set.

Event Coverage: Metz, September 30, 2018

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

The bar was lit with dim fluorescence at 529 in East Atlanta Village where IMPRINT was present for a Sunday night punk show headlined by Toronto trio, Metz, and featuring sets from Dead Now and Illegal Drugs.

A low-lit dirty bar is what I personally prefer to house a show like this. A quaint stage, no barrier, nothing fancy. The stage room was dark, smoky, full of heavy music enthusiasts.  A vending machine stood in the back that dispensed packs of cigarettes as well as a few candy bar selections and packages of peanuts.

The show began with Illegal Drugs, a band of Atlanta natives who released their self-titled debut album in 2016. Bassist Tom O’Neil was jumpsuit and mustache-clad while guitarist and vocalist John Robinson and Drummer Shane Patrick sweated through their shirts. These guys have a mechanic’s aesthetic, as if they’ve been working over engines all day. And like a smooth-running machine, Illegal Drugs’ performance was equally fine-tuned, dishing out post-punk jams with subtle influences from grunge and new wave.

Next to play was Dead Now, a band consisting of ex-Torche member Andrew Elstner and the members of Atlanta’s sludge metal duo, Day Old Man. This was a surprising, yet fitting addition to a show headlined by a band like Metz. Dead Now released their debut self-titled EP through Brutal Panda Records last month, which is comprised of five fiery stoner rock songs complete with plenty of fuzz and spectral vocals.

Bobby Theburge set up his drums at the front of the stage, making the three of them aligned with each other. His pained facial expressions complimented the sparkly red body of Elstner’s guitar. Derek Shulz’s bass work was as fuzzy as his mustache and mutton chops.

Dead Now seem to aim at taking the metal stylings of Black Sabbath and adding more weight and volume. Their performance of “Powershapes,” a growing fan favorite with its ruthlessly chugging main riff, left me wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Before playing their last song, Elstner turned to the band and said into the mic, “Hey Bobby, hey Derek, I love you guys.” This is a prog metal stoner rock at its best.

At last was the brutal performance by Metz. The Canadian three-man punk outfit consisting of guitarist and vocalist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies, released their third album last year, titled Strange Peace, through Sub Pop Records. Metz’s style of punk is sludgy and relentless, a little enclosing, a little reminiscent of a claustrophobic fit. Their songs are driven by pummeling repetition, which gives off the feeling of a stampede.

Metz have an aggressive stage presence. They began by playing “Mess of Wires,” the opening track to Strange Peace, and a small mosh pit boiled up in the crowd. Slorach used so much of his body when headbanging that his feet would occasionally lift off the stage floor. Menzies beat his drums with such force, it was like watching a blacksmith hammer steel on an anvil. Edkins could be seen swaying with his mouth slightly open during a prolonged jam in the middle of “Wet Blanket.” He let himself lose control. At times, his shouts couldn’t reach the microphone because he was too compelled to shake his head. When he would talk to the crowd between songs, his words would slide out of his mouth in reckless moans.

During the show, the lights went out and the band stopped playing for a moment. Benny, the light operator, explained through his microphone that the volume of their music was so loud that it was causing the lightboard to vibrate and malfunction and Edkins responded by saying, “We love you, Benny.” There is love that comes from this kind of damage, as well as the damage that informs bands like Metz to write songs like “Wasted” and “Spit You Out.” Benny’s malfunctioning lighting control console was a clear indicator of Metz’s awesome and ferocious set.

Event Coverage: Foxing, September 8, 2018

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

I was looking forward to seeing a passionate spectacle at The Masquerade in downtown Atlanta. I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve seen enough concerts at venues like this with bands like Foxing to know what I was getting myself into. Foxing is the kind of band that becomes their music when performing. They don’t just write songs and play them for people. They become possessed by their own music.

But before Foxing is the first opening band, an indie pop band called Kississippi, composed of three girls and two guys who look so young they must barely be in their 20s. They look awkward, as if they haven’t grown into themselves yet, but they’re content as long as they’re playing their songs. They’re touring in support of their debut album, Sunset Blush. The Philadelphia band is the vehicle of creativity for Zoe Reynolds, who sings, plays guitar, and writes the songs. She sings sweetly through their driving, down-strumming movements, smiling at her band, slightly embarrassed and happy to make everyone her friend. Kississippi’s music is groovy, danceable, and Zoe remarks on how this is the most responsive that a crowd has ever been for them.

Chicago’s Ratboys played next, lead by the goofy and personable Julia Steiner on vocals and guitar. They just released an EP titled GL, which is composed of extra songs from the studio sessions of last year’s LP, GN. Ratboys rock through a couple of songs and I’m slightly stunned by the changing expressions on Steiner’s face, how her nose scrunches and she bares her teeth, how she rolls her eyes upward. Between songs, she says things like “I’m glad you’re all fucking cool,” and, “I’m trying to figure out how to talk without cussing.” She has a great sense of humor, poking fun at herself and being hyperbolic. Steiner’s smile is contagious even when she mentions that the next song they play is about being miserable. The crowd cheers and she says, “I’m glad we’re not alone in this.”

Then comes the soulful and trance-inducing performance from Foxing. The St. Louis band released an album, Nearer My God, earlier this year. Foxing employs plenty of synth and well-honed digital sounds alongside guitars and drums. They play some of their most chest-swelling songs, including “Glass Coughs” and “Night Channels.” The room rumbles during “Bastardizer,” a guitar-heavy song from their new album. Frontman Conor Murphy pulls out a trumpet and blasts it at climactic moments. He moves back and forth, on and off stage, to sing as close to his fans as he can get.

Foxing commands a communal presence in a wash of light and color, playing voluminous post-rock that seems to epitomize the feeling of coming out of an immense struggle. There is a spirituality that lifts and permeates throughout their performance. Even the moments between songs are ethereal with the sound of an ambient drone note traveling while Murphy speaks about how much everything means to him. “This is the best show of this entire tour,” he says. “I really mean that.”

Event Coverage: Code Orange “The New Reality Tour” July 13th, 2018

Originally published by Imprint Entertainment

The floor waits to heat up in Hell, one of three indoor venues along with Heaven and Purgatory at The Masquerade in downtown Atlanta. It’s Friday the 13th and the lights are low while people trickle in for the last night of Code Orange’s “The New Reality Tour” featuring support from hardcore peers, Vein and Show Me The Body.

Vein’s backdrop hangs in soft blue and green light beams like a sign of impending catharsis. This is a hardcore punk show, so the people are ready and willing to burst into a frenzy as soon as the music starts.

Hailing from Boston, Vein opens the show with songs from their debut album, Errorzone,  released on June 22nd. Their performance is immediately manic to match they’re erratic music. Vocalist Anthony DiDio welcomes the audience to return the animosity. The mosh pit forms and persists. People at the front of the stage groove and scream the lyrics of songs like “Virus://Vibrance” and “Doomtech” back at Anthony who sticks the mic into their faces so their screams can be amplified like his.

Show Me The Body from NYC hits the stage next. They play songs from their 2016 debut album, Body War. This is a hardcore punk band heavily influenced by hip-hop, noise music, and sludge metal, creating a heavy and groovy sonic concoction. There is nothing fancy in their performance. No backdrop. No wild lights. The minimal performance is engaging considering frontman Julian Cashwan Pruitt’s vehement presence. Pruitt plays an unusual instrument, a modified banjo that sounds like it’s strung with guitar strings. Pruitt stalks back and forth across the stage and when he spazzes out in short tantrums, spit flies from his mouth. Fans demand that they play “Body War,” the titular track of their album, and before they do as their last song, they humbly thank Code Orange for taking them along on “The New Reality Tour.”

Soon enough, after the crowd condenses, Code Orange take the stage with a violence that envelops the audience. The band from Pittsburg play songs from last year’s Grammy-nominated album, Forever, with so much passionate energy and rage in their faces.

The five members of Code Orange clearly have a strong connection. They’ve been making punk and metal music with each other for the last decade. No one leads the band. They all move together. No one is the lead vocalist. Keyboard and guitarist Eric Balderose, guitarist Reba Meyers, and drummer Jami Morgan trade vocal duties. Unfortunately, bassist Joe Goldman couldn’t be there due to a recently sustained injury, so someone wearing a Friday the 13th hockey mask stood in as bass player, which was fitting for the day. There were several people wearing masks on and off stage.

Code Orange have a spectacular stage presence. Balderose swings his blue hair in front of his synthesizer set up and occasionally steps away to amp up the crowd. Reba shreds her guitar and jumps around, swinging and throwing her long red hair in all directions.

Guitarist Dominic Landolina persistently commands the crowd to give up more and more energy, and the crowd does so with an astounding fury. There are writhing people being carried by the many hands of the audience. Bodies climb the stage just to run and jump from it. In fact, Code Orange invites people to climb onstage to jump off. People are compelled, beckoned by the music, to fly at hardcore shows.

There is an incredible communal energy at hardcore shows. They are extremely participatory, and as violent as they are, the energy is positive. If somebody falls in the mosh pit, someone else helps them up. Everybody is sweating together. Everybody is shoving each other together.

The Café Crowd

I’m at a cafe listening to some people in chairs having a passionately belligerent political debate involving many obscure economic facts that I can’t repeat because I don’t remember. One guy spoke angrily over the others about the reality of these facts, how there are too many idiots who don’t care about empirical data, which is pragmatically more important than belief or tradition, and his friend agreed, then he walked away confident and proud as if he just had great sex, and that the release of tension is the only thing that matters and makes everything okay and nobody’s all that afraid. He swaggered and smiled and said hi to a hyper little girl holding a dead bird and walked into the cafe to maybe use the restroom or something

then these two girls walk in and almost bump into another child. They’re tall and leggy and wearing giant heels and one is wearing these shorts that let her ass hang out. They sit down and the one with the ass starts talking business, about what sounds like PR stuff, and the other fills out paperwork, then the one with the ass starts telling the other to not let anyone touch her for any reason and to have a backup name in case her clients don’t believe her first one and that she has her number so she should call if she has any questions, and I realize that this is a job interview for a position as a stripper

and so this old man is pounding on the bathroom door, cranking the doorknob as if it’s stuck, and the person in there is probably a little scared. I think this girl sitting by the counter keeps flipping her hair so she can turn her head towards me to make eye contact, but I might be wrong and I couldn’t believe her smile which left me sinking, fading, vacant and I wish this kid standing too close to me would stop pouring packets of sugar in his mouth

and somehow I’m surrounded and alone at the same time and when I look forward to death I can’t tell if I’m energized or exhausted