Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
by Justin Eisenstadt
Astute observers may notice that I only review albums on Justin's Jukebox that I actually like. As such, I don't consider Justin's Jukebox so much of a "music review" podcast as I do a "music recommendation" podcast. After all, you wouldn't put songs on a jukebox that you did not actually want to hear!
There are albums that I really like, there are albums that I love, and then there are albums that I could not possibly imagine living without. Plastic Beach, the third studio album by the virtual band that made virtual bands popular, Gorillaz, falls into all three of those categories. It was released in 2010, and I am fully aware that the fourth Gorillaz album, The Fall, was released last year, but neither that album nor the group's first two albums latched onto my soul with such tenacity in the way that Plastic Beach did. Two years after its release, I still listen to this album constantly.
I received a promotional copy of this album about a month before it was released when I was an intern at 98 Rock. It's ironic that an album I now treasure so dearly, an album that has claimed a slot in my illustrious Top 5 Favorite Albums list, was one that I did not have to pay for and in fact was not even on my radar. Up until that point, I considered myself only a casual Gorillaz fan at best. Because I did not watch their music videos nor go to any of their shows, I was (and still am) missing out on a good 50% of the intended Gorillaz experience.
I was not immediately hooked upon first listen, but after repeated listens this album will sink its hooks deeper and deeper into your subconscious, reeling you in. There is so much variety here, so many ideas jammed into one package, that you will continue to discover new elements that previously escaped your attention. The number of cameo appearances here is staggering: Snoop Dogg, Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals, Mos Def, Lou Reed (the principle songwriter of The Velvet Underground best known for the gender-bending "Walk on the Wild Side"), veteran R&B singer Bobby Womack, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, Mark E. Smith, Bashy, Kano, Little Dragon, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and my personal favorite, hippy-dippy hip hop trio De La Soul. You may remember that De La Soul won a Grammy for their collaboration with Gorillaz on the song "Feel Good Inc." I've loved De La Soul ever since my buddy Tim introduced me to their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising and particularly the track "Tread Water," a song which my girlfriend Lena finds terrifying (this will be a common theme during this review).
Speaking of common themes, let me give my interpretation of what this eclectic collection of hip-hop, art rock, funk, electronic, and orchestral music is all about. In both a figurative and literal sense, this album is about garbage. Damon Albarn, the creative genius behind the Gorillaz and the producer, composer, and maestro of this album, was inspired when he compared two landfills that he visited, one in Mali and one outside London, and compared the way that two countries dealt with garbage. In a more abstract sense, this album is also about the detritus of pop culture that accumulates in the collective consciousness, the bits and pieces which wash up on our shores and get recycled and rehashed and remade. There is a deep, biting, and even melancholic criticism of consumer capitalism in the guise of songs about microwave breakfasts ("Superfast Jellyfish"), fast cars ("Stylo"), and game shows ("Sweepstakes").
This is a truly post-modern album (and God help me for the shit-storm the use of that term is going to unleash); it is a pastiche of styles, references, and even artists. Compare the mash-up of Arabic rhythms and odd Reggae-style rapping of "White Flag" with deceptively simple keyboards and Lou Reed's deadpan vocals on "Some Kind of Nature."
The two tracks which really define this album are "Superfast Jellyfish" and "Stylo." This first one is a bizarre hip-hop collaboration between Damon Albarn, Gruff Rhys, and De La Soul which features samples from a 1986 commercial for Swanson's microwave "Great Start Breakfasts." I love it, but Lena finds it utterly terrifying (probably because of the repeated references to King Neptune and his water-breathers and "dying like rabbits"). "Stylo" opens with a pounding electro-funk beat that serves to highlight Mos Def's deft and understated rhymes and a an unforgettably commanding Bobby Womack, who, at 68 years old, is kicking serious ass.
Before I wrap things up, I just want to highlight one more song that is a must-listen that might get passed over coming as it does as the penultimate song on the album. "Cloud of Unknowing" is basically just a synth and Bobby Womack, whose soaring, slightly gravelly singing serves to expose the emotional core of this album. After all the snark and satire, this song is refreshingly sincere and optimistic. Make sure you stick it out and get to this song. You can skip the last one if you want to.
by Colin Caccamise
This movie is awesome, I could spout nothing but praise for this film for years, but let's get to the point. We saw this film in low-fi old fashioned 2-D, but after seeing this film, I'd be willing to break a cardinal rule and pay money to enjoy this film in 3-D. From start to finish, Joss Whedon was able to weave the last 5 years worth of comic book films into one great piece of cinematic glory. That is truly the genius of this film, it proves that comic book films can be done, but also done well.
Let's start with acting, Robert Downey Jr. returns as everyone's favorite sardonic billionaire playboy turned superhero, Tony Stark/Iron Man. His cutting wit and sarcasm blends in with the cynicism his character is showing to the world and the team in which he's asked to take part in. Stark, throughout the film continuously proves that he is hero they need him to be, willing to sacrifice himself for the people, thus furthering his character development from the Iron Man.
Next, we have Chris Evans continuing on from the last Marvel film, Captain America: The First Avenger. His portrayal of Steve Rogers is interesting as he finds himself as a soldier out of his own time, becoming more and more conflicted with his superiors and their directions. He and Stark comes to conflict as Stark feels that S.H.I.E.L.D shouldn't be trusted at face value whereas Evans feels they can trust them as their goals are the same. Their confliction is one of the underlying points of the films, a tension that exists through three-quarters of the film.
Mark Ruffalo was the true shock of the film, his portrayal of a tormented Dr. Bruce Banner in hiding, was phenomenal. It was great as physically, Ruffalo was lanky and scrawny and nerdy, all the things that we feel Bruce Banner should be. This film also for the first time goes into the torment that Banner feels and how he tries to deal with it, admitting that he once attempted suicide but became the Hulk as a byproduct, saying the monster inside him wouldn't let him die. It should be said that the Hulk tears shit up in this film. Ruffalo has supposedly has been signed on as Banner for six more films. Solid performances by Jeremy Renner as Haweye (a villain for almost two thirds of the film) and Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, whose performance is leagues ahead of the lackluster performance she dropped in Iron Man 2.
The unsung hero of this film is writer/director Joss Whedon of Buffy/Firefly/Serenity/Dollhouse fame, to nerds there is so little this man can do wrong. Going into this film, I was really skeptical of this film as the usual combination of high profile actors and writer-director with such a large fan following (examples of such films are Ocean's Twelve and New Year's Eve) fall flat or spread themselves too thin and implode as a result. This blend of humor and action are trademark of Whedon's work, this in my opinion is a capstone to Marvel's effort to create this new film continuity.
I am reminded of the 1980 victory of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in Lake Placid, what's the comparision you may ask? The comparison I can make is that this film is the "Miracle" of this generation of nerds, the inextricable marriage of acting, writing and directing that only comes around once in a decade or two to make something beautiful. This film proves that comic book films can work.
SEE THIS FILM.
5 out of 5 stars