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Reviews Written by
Scott Sweet "Music Freak" (Colorado Springs, CO)

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Collection: 1988-94
Collection: 1988-94
Price: CDN$ 18.69
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5.0 out of 5 stars For those who missed them the first time (like me), June 24 2004
This review is from: Collection: 1988-94 (Audio CD)
I'd never heard of Strange Boutique except as the previous band of vocalist Monica Richards (Faith and The Muse). I went back and snagged the albums, and this stuff rocks. A little U2 ("In The Lonely Trees"), a little Cure ("Chant The All"), some Echo and The Bunnymen ("Whipoorwill"). Add nutmeg as desired. If I'd heard these folks during their run, I might have avoided years of bad top 40 radio.
The CD covers all three albums, and a signature sound is evident. Richards' gentle vocals were a perfect contrast to Fred Smith's (ex-Beefeater) wall of guitar echo. Steve Willett reminded us that the bass can also be a melody instrument. The drummers, first Danny Ingram (ex-Madhouse) then Rand Blackwell, laid down a solid spine beneath the whole thing. I hear a little of The Police's Stewart Copeland in Ingram's style.
From the CD traycard: "[...]Strange Boutique was a product of the post-punk Washington harDCore music scene, yet they created their very own eclectic brand of powerful, guitar-driven ethereal music." Based on the CD, this is a very accurate description. I guess, um, that's why it's on the traycard...
The cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" has a smooth-yet-jagged groove which typified Strange Boutique. It's also a perfect closing to the album; SB (I'm tired of typing Strange Boutique) may not have had the national exposure they deserved, but they galvanized the crowd whenever they played. They're playing a reunion show in DC July 3rd. I have to work that night, so go see them for me.

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4.0 out of 5 stars A low-fi, more danceable version of Lycia, March 17 2004
This review is from: Vane (Audio CD)
"Vane" was an outlet for the harsher, more industrial side of Lycia's slow ether-rock. The whole album has kind of a fuzzed-out, distorted quality. It's like listening to a Lycia album when your car speakers are blown. If you've heard Lycia's "Live," this CD has a similar sound.
Vocally and lyrically, it's standard Lycia (which is fine with me). The beats are harder, and there's no acoustic anything. The majority of the music is effects-drenched guitar and a synth beat.
"In Vain" - a smooth, galloping dance beat with a good hard snare and a thick wall of guitar glaze.
"Darkness" - my favorite track; melancholy space-rock that would fit really well on Lycia's "Cold".
"Forever and Ever" - a good, strong finale that would fit on Lycia's "Ionia" if it didn't have so much distortion and noise processing. The ethereal sequence at the end has a good mystic feel.
In the past six weeks, "Vane" has become scarce. If you can snag it, it's a good addition to the body of Lycia's work. All the Lycia basics are still there. It was just a rougher, edgier direction for Mike Vanportfleet and company.

The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Reloaded
Price: CDN$ 21.78
80 used & new from CDN$ 0.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Three stars for disc 1, five for disc 2, March 16 2004
This review is from: The Matrix Reloaded (Audio CD)
The first disc has nu-metal, industrial rock and techno. Mainly b-sides, but nothing too awful.
It's all about the score, babe. Don Davis builds on the themes and signatures created for the first film. His collaboration with Juno Reactor and Rob Dougan works beautifully with the on-screen action. "Teahouse" has good tribal hustle - Not quite Asian, not quite Aboriginal.
"Mona Lisa Overdrive" starts out with James Bond techno, then shifts gears (literally) into standard techno-stomp. Don Davis keeps an orchestral layer riding over the whole thing, but the beat is the priority. Trinity's motorcycle sequence has a nice angel-choir opening, to go with the "deus ex Ducati" shot.
"Burly Brawl" is one of the most epilepsy-inducing things I've ever heard. It gets that way when Juno Reactor takes the lead from Davis at 3:23. The layers of beat loops AND voices AND strings AND synth almost make my ears tired. Plus, the tempo speeds up about five times as the fight reaches its climax. It goes with the sweep of the "Matrix" films - trying to encompass *everything,* with varying degrees of success.
Davis' "Matrix Reloaded" suite is a great closing piece at over 17 minutes. You get enough of each part of the film that it doesn't feel rushed. There's enough time to ease in and out of the emotional changes in the movie. Zion has a military feel, the love story is more classical, and the Matrix itself has a more paranoid, minimalist style.
Disc 2 is better than the score of the first "Matrix." Logically, the "Matrix Revolutions" score is even more intense and rewarding. Where the movies were sometimes confusing or overdone, the music is good enough to listen to on its own. Specifically, "Burly Brawl" will make you drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit.

Price: CDN$ 22.10
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4.0 out of 5 stars Long live pasta-rock!, March 16 2004
This review is from: Comalies (Audio CD)
This is some polished, catchy goth-metal. The vocal interplay between Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro is good, and the strings flesh out the overall sound really well. None of the songs get off course with overlong solos or spoken interludes.
All three Lacuna Coil releases have a similar sound. Some nu-metal bones with goth strings/keyboards, and Scabbia's vocal beauty at the heart of it. Her style is like that of The Gathering's Anneke Van Giersbergen, or Evanescence's Amy Lee (but I think Lacuna Coil was doing this stuff first.) Every once in a while, the two singers betray their Italian origin with a "d" sound when singing "th"ere or "th"is. No big deal.
The first five songs have a similar mood and tempo. Then "Aeon" throws in a beautiful acoustic and vocal intro, before launching into "Tightrope." "The Ghost Woman and The Hunter" is one of my favorites, with a slower beat and more laidback music during the verses. "Entwined" sounds the most like The Gathering of any song on the CD. Granted, I like both bands. The title track is a nice closer, sung in Italian, then English for the chorus.
"Comalies" doesn't try too hard to be metal or goth; it's a good blend of styles. A *little* more variety in their sound will keep me a happy little consumer.

Elegant...and Dying
Elegant...and Dying
Price: CDN$ 16.73
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5.0 out of 5 stars Saviour Machine without the hope, March 16 2004
This review is from: Elegant...and Dying (Audio CD)
Virgin Black leads us to a bottomless chasm and asks us to leap with them. The metal guitar and drums come in only after the singing and gentler music have brought hope and God into question. "Elegant...and dying" is a perfect example of using metal as a vehicle for sadness more than rage.
Rowan London's singing and Samantha Escarbe's lyrics express suffering and sorely tested hope. The rock is strong in a Saviour Machine/Opeth/Primordial fashion, but the piano is the most menacing thing about this album. While the bombast and cinematic style are very similar to Saviour Machine's "Legend" trilogy, Virgin Black focuses on the pain of faith instead of any peace or joy found in it.
"The Everlasting" is worth the price of the disc all by itself. At 17:13, the song alternates among every singing style and intensity of music used in the prior tracks. The third verse in "Beloved" sums up the whole CD: "Can anyone taste my blood? / I have clung, quivering, with bruised flesh / Christendom rise and dress yourself / What delicious tears you've made me shed."
There's a LOT of beauty and complex arrangements throughout the CD, but its strongest impact on me is how it romanticizes anguish, how it acknowledges God but challenges all hope equated with His name. "Elegant...and dying" is worth any three CDs of thorny-lettered Satanic speed metal. Plus, these songs are all pretty freakin' long; you get quality AND quantity.

The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix Revolutions
Price: CDN$ 32.94
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5.0 out of 5 stars Two words: "apocalyptic" and "stentorian", Nov. 11 2003
This review is from: The Matrix Revolutions (Audio CD)
Let's get the geekery out of the way:
The film doesn't provide as much of an ending as I had hoped. Just like "Reloaded," the events (and everything The Oracle says) will make more sense with repeat viewing when the DVD comes out. I miss the rush, the newness of bullet-time days.
As for the score:
Thank God they stuck to film music this time! ENOUGH with Top 40 collections that do not relate to (or even appear in) movies. Don Davis' music has gotten a little bigger, a little "grander" with each episode. For this finale, the score is truly huge. Juno Reactor's collaboration fits perfectly, especially on the last track. This stuff is Wagnerian, full of Sanskrit choir and end-of-the-world crescendos.
Davis fits the music to the scenes. The "real world" music ("Men in Metal," "Niobe's Run," "Moribund Mifune") has a military thrust, appropriate to the "Saving Private Zion" battle. Inside The Matrix ("The Trainman Cometh" and "Tetsujin"), there's a more chaotic, techno style.
The second half of the album blows me away. Exaltant choir, mad swirls of strings and flutes, sledgehammer percussion, and wall-to-wall horn blasts. This music is more epic than the looooong Gilgamesh-inspired showdown between Neo and Smith. "Trinity Definitely" has a tragic beauty much like that of Anton Dvorak's "Largo" (from "The New World"). "Neodammerung" sounds like a world war. "Why, Mr. Anderson?" sounds like that world gettin' blowed up real good.
Juno Reactor comes back for the closing "Navras." You've got orchestra, choir, New Age wailing and techno all in one big dance track.
The CD is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Crank it up.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect within the film, less so by itself, Oct. 30 2003
This review is from: Signs (Audio CD)
I'll play the contrarian: I really enjoyed the film. The higher meanings and the semi-surprise ending worked for me. It's a spiritualized Twilght Zone episode.
James Newton Howard is so attentive to the plot and underlying emotions of each scene that the music becomes indispensable. Other reviews have rightly mentioned the Bernard Herrmann minimalism. The three-note motif is a similar tactic to the five-note signature of "Close Encounters." Howard's intent with the opening theme was to create what he called "[...]a context of expectations." The music telegraphs that at SOME point, something big is going to happen to go along with it.
Normally, the music will change to mark a shift in location (city, country, planet). Since nearly all of this movie occurs within 20 acres, the repetition and thematic simplicity reinforce the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film. Still, this presents exactly the same problem as with John Williams' score for "Minority Report." Parts of the score become TOO sedate when removed from the film.
The furthest Mel Gibson's character gets from the confines of the farm is in flashback dreams of his wife. In turn, that memory keeps him cooped up under his roof, trying to hide from God. Howard uses warm strings to signify the issue of faith gently working its way back into the Hess household. Changing which instrument does the three-note trickle greatly varies its mood and effect.
The subdued nature of the score also gives the crescendos more punch ("Into The Basement," "Asthma Attack," and "The Hand of Fate - Part I") There's a thread of heartland Americana in the gentler parts of the score, particularly in "The Hand of Fate - Part II."
The music and the film are a great partnership. On its own, the soundtrack is worth getting for the energy of the first track, and of the last three.

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4.0 out of 5 stars It isn't a new sound, but the execution is awesome, Sept. 16 2003
This review is from: Fallen (Audio CD)
The songs rock, Amy Lee's voice is strong and mature, and the strings are beautiful. With that said: Care to hear where this style of spiritual nu-metal came from? One word: VAST. Even the lyrics are printed in a curved style similar to that of VAST's debut.
Evanescence has a solid sound built on nu-metal beats and guitar, cinematic strings, and the vocals of Amy Lee. She sounds like a blend of Sarah MacLachlan and Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering). Hopefully, on the next album they'll incorporate more variety; five songs are in that standby of dramatic keys, E-minor. It would be easy to fall into the Creed trap and play it safe with 38 versions of "Bring Me To Life."
The eleven tracks break down into Style A (mid-tempo angst rock) and Style B (haunting piano ballad). The ever-present strings give "Fallen" a concept album feel.
It's worth waiting for "Bring Me To The Song That's Better Than The Daredevil Movie" to hear "Going Under." "My Immortal" has an elegiac strength and some nice strings from film composer Graeme Revell ("The Crow"). "Haunted" is my personal favorite, the most "goth" song on the album. The speed-metal drums after the first chorus contrast nicely with the beautiful singing. The choir is just icing on the cake.
"Tourniquet" is another winner, with its overtly Christian lyrics. The orchestral break at the end is gorgeous, a chance to catch your breath after all the intensity of the CD so far. "Imaginary" is pretty much an offshoot of "Haunted." "Taking Over Me" would fit just fine on Disturbed's "The Sickness." "Hello" is my other favorite, a sister piece to "My Immortal."
My only big gripe: I don't like the way Lee's eyes follow me all over the damn place on the CD cover. I've never been good at staring contests.

The Cell (Widescreen)
The Cell (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Jennifer Lopez
Price: CDN$ 14.96
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4.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars for imagery, 3 stars for plot, Sept. 14 2003
This review is from: The Cell (Widescreen) (DVD)
"The Cell" has been dissed as a surrealist makeover of "Silence of The Lambs." The films do have similar plots, but director Tarsem Singh's visual style renders "The Cell" worthy of consideration on its own merits. Jennifer Lopez does a good job in the heroine role, and Vincent D'Onofrio is impressive in portraying different extremes of the same bad guy. You can't help but feel for Vince Vaughn's FBI agent, who gets dragged into some maximum freakocity in his efforts to find and rescue the killer's next victim.
If you really wanna play the "derivative" card, look no further than "Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors."
My advice, specific to this DVD: 1) Use the "Script-to-Screen" feature. You can see that the finished product is tighter and more effective than the original form of Mark Protosevich's script. 2) Don't bother with Tarsem's audio commentary; he sounds like Apu on stimulants. Plus, as another reviewer noted, Singh basically confesses that the look of the film is more important than its content. 3) Try Howard Shore's isolated score. He also did "Lambs," but "The Cell" has a stronger, more chaotic soundtrack.
With those caveats, the film does some things very well. The visual style is amazing, especially inside Carl Stargher's skull. The skip-frame work and film speed changes give the whole thing a dreamlike feel. While the film is not an indictment of child abuse, its most powerful scene for me is Stargher's childhood agony under his father's roof. It is a difficult minute to watch. In an early scene, the adult Carl is walking through his kitchen with the imprint of a clothing iron on his chest. Later on, we learn how that got there. I juuuust about had to put a chair through the TV screen.
Another amazing visual trick (just before the showdown) is the gold/floral border that surrounds Catherine and Child-Carl. It doesn't quite remain fixed in place as the camera moves between the two characters, and it makes the scene look as if it's in YOUR dream, rather than onscreen.
The DVD has some good knicknacks, the sound and picture transfer are top-notch, and the movie is a visual feast. With deeper character development, you'd have about another fifteen minutes and a more powerful film. Still, this is Jennifer Lopez' best work since "Selena." I refuse to call her J-Lo until I hear people calling Ben Affleck B-Aff.

With a Million Tear-Stained Memories
With a Million Tear-Stained Memories
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5.0 out of 5 stars Seventeen years later, a perfect introduction, May 13 2003
Black tape founder and coiner of the term "darkwave" Sam Rosenthal selected these tracks with his wife Lisa Feuer. I doubt the selection could've been juggled any better; all but ONE of my favorites are here ("I Have No Nore Answers"). Given the leeeeeength of most Black Tape songs, two discs are a necessity. The division between vocal (Disc 1) and instrumental tracks (Disc 2) gives the album a very orderly, spacious feel.
The songs are compiled from 1986 debut "The Rope" to "The Scavenger Bride" (2002), including a 2003 update of "Memory, Uncaring Friend." These cuts are a nice review of the members who have come in and out of the band over seventeen years, mirroring the transitory nature of life so often illustrated in this music. (Yeah, I went overgoth right there - had to try it out.)
In brief, the music tends towards somber, orchestral ether-folk with little if any percussion. It can get overwrought, but just as often it revives the soul from the crushing banality of "Three girls, and just two roses...who will The Bachelor choose tonight?" This kind of conviction and solemnity is refreshing.
Recommended tracks:
Disc 1
"Memory, Uncaring Friend (2003 version)" - Bret Helm (Audra) turns this thing into the song Peter Murphy should've recorded for "Deep."
"The Broken Glass" - I just really like songs that alternate between B-minor and G-major.
"Could I Stay The Honest One? (1998 Acoustic Version)" - I'm a big fan of Julianna Towns' vocals. Check out her earlier work in Skinner Box. Lisa Feuer's flute work has a neo-classical charm.
"Russia" - Black Tape's best piano song, partially based on a melody from Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije Suite."
"Tear Love from My Mind" - Sounds like the love theme from an obscure, intense 70s Swedish drama.
"Bastille Day" - Elysabeth Grant has a great voice; part lullaby, part siren song.
Disc 2
"For You Will Burn Your Wings upon The Sun (Part 4)" - Even without drums, this sounds like the slow destruction of a planet. Vicki Richards' spiraling violin is like the wailing of a prophet who knows that God is displeased. One of Black tape's juggernauts.
"Like a Dog/Letter to Brod (Part 1)" - A great mood piece, full of Eastern melody and low, dark synth.
"The Green Box" - Sounds like the aftermath of "For You Will Burn Your Wings..."
"The Christ in The Desert" - Good dramatic tension between the elegiac piano and the harsh electronics.
"Das Liselottenbett" - Feuer's flouting shines in this mournful piece.
"Beneath The Icy Floe" - Close your eyes and medidate. When you open them, you'll have a beard down to your knees. (Ladies, skip this track.)
"We Watched Our Sad-Eyed Angel Fall" - Good cinematic pathos, and a reminder that the end of the tunnel is as black as the tape.

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