250px-Captain_EO_posterRelease Year: 1986

Rating: 8/10

Today would’ve been Michael Jackson‘s 56th birthday. To commemorate the event, I decided to watch Captain EO, which I haven’t seen in a few years. For those who don’t know, Captain EO was originally a part of a Disneyland 3D ride held in the Epcot center. After his death, Disney made the smart move of opening it yet again for longtime fans to re-experience and for the younger generation to see it for the first time. The movie/ride was a big deal at the time because it featured the talent of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. It’s both whimsical and weird, much like Jackson himself.

The plot of the movie is simple and a bit vague. The King of Pop is the captain of a rowdy bunch of misfits who are on a mission to deliver a special gift to an evil queen. The crew doesn’t have a great reputation as EO himself mentions and it’s not hard to see why. They’re clumsy, slow, and kind of stupid, but still charming all the same. They reach the queen, she tries to destroy them, Jackson does some dancing and wins everyone over with a little bit of magic. By the end, the queen changes her ways. That’s pretty much the gist of the short film. It’s not really clear why they’re delivering a gift to the queen or why it’s so important they transform her. But it’s a film meant for a ride, what do you expect?

There’s no doubt the movie is a little weird. Jackson’s crew consists of some robots, a two headed alien, an adorable little fuzzy thing, and Hooter, an elephant that eats everything. Captain EO must really suck if he can’t even recruit at least one other human to help him out. They may be dumb, but they’re pretty charming just because of the way they look. Compared with the CGI filled entertainment of today, the use of costumes, puppets and claymation is awe inspiring. Some of it looks a little dated, but most of it held up well over the years. Even the evil witch queen looks really cool. As a kid, I was both intrigued and frightened by her appearance. She’s kept up by several tentacles and has menacing claws that clack whenever she moves. Even her whip lashing minions look scary. Covered in wires and metal, they come after the captain whips swinging. Even EO is scared. There’s one point when he tries to run away, leaving the crew behind. It’s funny that no one acknowledges this once the mission is complete. Eventually, he wins the scary guys over too.

For some reason whenever Jackson is saving someone, it involves a lot of magic and dancing (see Moonwalker game). It’s no different here. Once the music gets going, it turns out EO has powers in the form of color beams shooting from his fingers. This turns the evil minions into back up dancers. Yes, the whole thing is a little silly, but EO is all about the dancing and since it’s Jackson the moves are nothing less than stellar. What’s interesting is the look and feel of the choreography incorporates some “Thriller” moves along with moves Jackson would use later on in “Bad.” He also sings to the queen in the form of “We Are Here to Change the World.” It’s not the best Jackson song, but the heavy synth and bass inspired music is catchy. In the midst of all the dancing and singing the queen becomes dizzy. EO takes the opportunity to hover up to her, he apparently flies, and shoots beams in her face. This scene gets a little awkward because she starts moaning and you think “what is really going on here?” These beams turns her into a beautiful queen leaving EO and his crew dancing their way out to the tune of “Another Part of Me.” Everything is right in space once again.

Overall, the short film gets 8/10. Okay, so the plot isn’t entirely believable, but it’s still entertaining. The special effects and complex costumes still look good today and there are even some funny moments thanks to Hooter. The whole thing comes together when Jackson starts dancing and singing, what he does best after all. The music is catchy, Jackson looks great, and pulls off some impressive moves he would incorporate into his later routines. If anything, it’s a short film that’ll make you smile and thank Jackson for the wonderful music.

Where_Tradition_Meets_TomorrowRelease Year: 2004

Rating: 8/10

Jonathan Coulton isn’t your average singer/songwriter. While his songs start off normal they soon delve into a world filled with giant squids, cyborgs, weird babies, and any other strange thing you can think of. He is the ultimate geeky musician who can spin tales about married life to Tom Cruise being crazy. This five song EP is a great introduction to the musician as all the songs are humorous, witty, and catchy.

The Future Soon” starts off with some light folk rock music and lyrics about a guy having trouble connecting with his crush. Seems normal enough until Coulton sings “Work through the daytime, spend my nights and weekends/Perfecting my warrior robot race/Building them one laser gun at a time.” This scientist just wants the ability to “engineer away” his less than favorable traits. As the song continues things get weirder as Coulton talks about robot wars, bionic eyes, and a robot bride. Mid-way through, robotic bleeps and boops begin playing bringing the mad scientist feel full circle. This has to be the ultimate geek anthem for those who wish to get rid of their awkwardness.

The mad scientist (or evil villain) concept comes back on “Skullcrusher Mountain.” While the lyrics here describe someone in their lair making their own monsters and even having their own servant, the music is very light and flowing creating this weird dynamic between the music and the lyrics. Even the way Coulton sings is calming and reassuring as if it wasn’t about a mad scientist. The best part comes when he’s trying to convince someone to visit his lair and says “The voices in my head that control me/say I shouldn’t kill you yet.” It’s one of those lines that makes you crack a smile every time you hear it. “I Crush Everything” is a somber track about a giant squid who can’t be with a woman because he would kill her. Told you his songs were weird. Though the mood is a little sad, the folky music is nice and relaxing matching perfectly with the odd track.

Coulton pulls off a country/bluegrass vibe on “Betty and Me.” While a twangy banjo plays away, Coulton sings about creating the perfect baby by handpicking the DNA to avoid all the traits Betty hates about him. He repeatedly sings “Betty says our baby will be better than me.” There’s also a funny part during the second verse where singer has his own ideas about the baby: “Betty was pretty firm about our baby being human/I said we should give him wings and a nice prehensile tail/He could travel with the circus making money, making friends with clowns.” When you think about it, the lyrics are bleak. The wife dislikes the husband so much she wants to make sure the baby is nothing like him. It’s also implied she is having an affair with her doctor later in the song. But this could also be a crude commentary on practices that let couples pick the sex of their child etc.

Mandelbrot Set” is in short a catchy history lesson. It’s a tribute to Beniot Mandelbrot and his fractal of the same name. The music here is more rock influenced and kind of bouncy. What’s great about this song is even if you have no idea what Coulton is singing about, you’ll still sing along with him because it gets lodged in your head. The part I like in particular is the pre-chorus that kind of sounds like a rhyme from the way he sings it; it really catches your ear. There also might be a nod to Nirvana in the line “You’re a heart-shaped box of springs and wire.” Whether you understand what he’s talking about or it goes right over your head, you can’t help bobbing along to this track.

Overall, the EP gets 8/10. This release is a great introduction to the quirky singer/songwriter. He combines his love of folk rock and geeky things to create really unique, humorous, and just flat out weird songs. It’s just amazing how he can make you feel sorry for a giant squid who only wants to love. Sometimes they’re silly, other times their bleak, but Coulton’s songs are always memorable and catchy.

48046_456382897776374_1004413287_nRelease Year: 2014

Rating: 8/10

Plastic Visions is a promising new band with a bratty, brash, and raw sound. It features frontman Kane Stewart and his cousin Brad Shultz on guitar. That’s right, the same Shultz from Cage the Elephant. While there are some similarities between the two bands, Plastic Visions tries to stand out. With their punk/surf and noise rock infused sound, they are an exciting and fresh band in the rock scene. The songs may not be perfect, but that’s what makes them so charming.

Things get started with “Kamikaze.” The music is loud and moves along at a stumbling pace, like its had too much to drink. Here, Stewart lets his raw, gruff vocals fly and they’re pretty good. I have to admit the singing reminds me of Matt Shultz if he smoked three packs a day, but at least their voices aren’t too similar. They may have similar styles, but both have different sounds. The best part of the track comes during the bridge where everything explodes in noise. It’s so hectic and fuzzy it sounds like a cassette fast forwarding out of control. It may not be the strongest track on the EP, but it’s enough to peak your interest.

“Now I Know” has great energy and chaos packed in a two minute track. The rapid, out of control drumming makes your head spin while the guitar sounds like it’s screaming for its life during the solo. It’s one of those tracks where it’s so good, you lose your mind to it. “Little String” is where the band comes more into their own sound. While there’s still plenty of noise to be found on the song, this one has more of a surf rock feel with the dreamy guitar solos infused with the punk attitude. The vibe of the song is raw and spontaneous, like they weren’t sure if they were going to make the song at all.

The best track here is probably “Love Hate.” The surf rock/punk rock infused sound comes to the forefront here. The music is really upbeat and makes you want to jump around. With the distorted guitars it really does manage to sound like a classic punk track from the ’80s. It just has that feel good vibe to it and as Stewart sings “Love hate, love hate” you can picture him running around the stage. The closing track “Bitch, this Ain’t LA” is another strong track. With a guitar riff that runs up and down the neck and the sole, cocky lyric of “Bitch, this ain’t LA” this is the band’s punk rock anthem. Something about it is so fun and energetic. Even though the same line is repeated throughout the song, you feel like it’s meant to be a dig at someone. Midway through, the pace slows down allowing Shultz’s under-water guitar sound to shine before the pace slowly builds back up. It’s great track that shows the band adapting a unique sound.

Overall, the EP gets 8/10. It’s a really promising effort from the band and one that makes you excited for a full length album. While they do share some similarities with Cage the Elephant, they try really hard to create their own chaotic, nosy sound. By the time they’re ready to release their next effort hopefully they’ll fully develop their sound, so they can escape from Cage the Elephant’s shadow. If you love snotty punk rock with lots and lots of noise, check out Plastic Visions. Hopefully, they’ll be the next big thing in rock very soon.

The 2014 VMA’s will premiere Monday August 24. This means it’s time to remember how good they once were. As a music lover, this was the one event I always looked forward to. Screw the Grammys and who cares about the American Music Awards? The VMAs was the end all, be all of award shows. It was the place where anything and everything could happen. Of course, I don’t love the show as much as I once did. A lot of it has to do with the music it focuses on, but also they just aren’t the same. They feel more organized and less spontaneous than they used to be. But the VMAs will always be known for the amazing performances. Some were innovative, some just plain rocked. This playlist is all about the best performances in VMA history, including some of my personal favorites.

“The Real Slim Shady/The Way I Am” – Eminem (2000)

There have been some phenomenal moments in VMA history, but nothing compares to this Eminem performance. With a sea of look-a-likes behind him, Em and his clones slowly worked their way through Radio City Music Hall. The crowd couldn’t believe their eyes when a sea of blonde weaved through them. The rapper even stopped in front of Carson Daly and Fred Durst when their part in “The Real Slim Shady” came up. Once he got to the stage, Em put on a passionate and anger filled performance of “The Way I Am” and dedicated it to his critics, of which there were many at the time. It remains of his best and most innovative performances and one no one can ever duplicate.

Michael Jackson Medley (1995)

The King of Pop wasn’t a regular at the VMA’s, but one year after his awkward kiss with Lisa Marie Presley, he returned to the stage to perform a string of hits. Sporting a smart hair cut, MJ blazed through his classics like “Beat It,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Scream,” “Billie Jean,” and “Black or White” with a little help from Slash, who stayed on stage a little longer than Jackson wanted. Either way, Jackson was clearly excited as he ran across the stage shouting “Party!” while blasts of pyro went off. But he wasn’t done yet. The artist came back for what has to be the best rendition of “Dangerous.” Everything from the back up dancers to the costumes to putting on his sister’s voice was on point. He ended his 15 minute performance with the moving “You Are Not Alone.” When it comes to putting on a show, no one does it better than Michael.

“Sober” – Pink (2009)

Though Pink has done similar set ups since this, nothing beats when she first showed off her acrobatic skills at the 2009 ceremony. All while singing, she leaped and twirled through the air with the help of a trapeze artist. The entire time she hung above the crowd while pulling off impressive moves. When she flipped upside down and didn’t miss a beat, it made you hold your breath wondering if she was going to fall. But she pulled off the act flawlessly and proved to be one hell of a performer. She sounded great and looked stunning all while doing something most would consider dangerous. Many things happened at the ’09 ceremony, but this performance stands out among the rest.

“Three MCs and One DJ/Intergalactic” – Beastie Boys (1998)

I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about the Beastie Boys when I first saw this performance, but I knew I liked their performance. The part I liked in particular was “Intergalactic.” I hadn’t heard anything like it at the time. For some reason I also remember the TV screens behind them. With them jumping around the stage, they definitely had fun while rapping and it shows. Since then the song has turned into one of my favorites from the rap group and whenever I hear it I can’t help but think back to this performance.

“Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” – Backstreet Boys (1998)

For this performance, the loveable guys did what has to be their greatest song. With lots of sexy back up dancers, they pulled off some sweet choreography, while Nick and AJ did their best attempts to look sensual (nice try). Since my favorite was Nick, of course I loved the part where he gets to sing solo before joining the rest of the guys. At least this time they left the “scary” costumes they had in the video at home leaving nothing but sweet bubblegum pop.

“Slave 4 U” – Britney Spears (2001)

I wasn’t the biggest Spears fan at the time, but even I couldn’t deny what a good song this was. Here, she proved she was no longer the clean cut pop princess. Sporting her much talked about belly button piercing, looking sweaty, and wearing a revealing two piece, she shimmied and shook her way across stage making sure everyone got a good look at her toned physique. The eye-popping moment came when she sang and danced with an albino python draped around her neck like it was a plain scarf.  As expected, no one could stop talking about the performance.It’s still one of the hottest and shocking moments in VMA history.

“Dope Show” – Marilyn Manson (1998)

Like many young children of the ’90s I thought Marilyn Manson was the creepiest thing around. This 1998 performance didn’t help my perception of him at the time. Once he opened that long coat to reveal breasts, I was so lost. The only thing I thought to myself was “I thought he was a man.” From some of the crowd reactions, it seemed like I wasn’t the only confused one. I wanted to change the channel, but it was so intriguing I just couldn’t. Of course now I absolutely love Manson and all his eccentricities, but the initial shock he gave me is why I will never forget this performance.

“Vogue” – Madonna (1990)

Sure, Madonna’s iconic moment is her performance on the very first VMA’s, but if you ask me this one takes the cake. It would’ve been so easy for the singer to go with something really sexy for this song. She could’ve even recreated the video and it still would’ve been great. Instead, Madonna wanted to leave her mark on the ceremony by doing the unexpected. She’s decked out in full Victorian garb with bloomers and all. She even has the deathly pale makeup and a fan to complete the look. Speaking of the fan, the snap of it during the choreography is so satisfying. She walked gracefully across the stage and even provided some tantalizing moments as the dancers peaked up her dressed and graciously cupped her breasts. It’s risque, unique, and just plain awesome.

“Like I Love You” – Justin Timberlake (2002)

Justin got everyone talking last year with his inclusion of a mini-Nsync reunion during a medley of his hits. While that was fucking awesome, the performance that I’ll always remember is his very first solo VMA appearance. This moment was special because it was his first live performance without Nsync. Many wondered how he would do or if he would get nervous on stage. Turns out he did pretty well. I just remember him coming out of that huge boombox looking a little like Michael Jackson in his fedora. It’s definitely not his strongest performance, but it’s pretty memorable.

“Scream” – Janet Jackson (2009)

2009 was a rough year for music. The world came to a halt with the death of Michael Jackson. There were endless tributes that year, but the best one was from his own sister Janet. It began with a medley of his hits while several dancers sporting his iconic outfits to serve as a reminder to the great music the man gave us. Then Janet stormed out to dance with her brother one last time. Considering what she was going through at the time she absolutely killed it. One could only imagine what was going on in her head. Even though she gave it her all, you could see the pain in her face when the last shot of the two came up on the screen.

“Pop” – Nsync (2001)

It’s Nsync and Michael Jackson. Do I need to say more? This was the ultimate treat for someone like me who loved both artists. And yes, I did jump and down when MJ stepped out. Amazing.

“Lithium” – Nirvana (1992)

This performance is notable for several reasons: one because it’s fucking Nirvana! But also for the prank Kurt Cobain pulled on MTV. The frontman wanted to perform “Rape Me,” but the network was insistent the group play the popular “Smell Like Teen Spirit.” They finally settled on “Lithium.” When cameras zoomed in on the band, Cobain opened with “Rape Me” causing everyone in the control room to panic before launching into the song they were supposed to play. Finally, comes the moment when Krist Novoselic’s bass hits him in the face. He was trying to catch it, but clearly failed. To make matters worse, Kurt kicked him in the butt as they walked off stage.

“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day (2005)

Green Day had an amazing year in 2005. Their album American Idiot was still getting tons of praise and they were getting awards left and right for it. At the VMAs they were not only winners, they also gave us this memorable performance of the hit song you couldn’t get away from. Looking smashing in his jacket, tight pants, and eye liner Billie Joe Armstrong showed everyone why they were the best damn band on the planet (and still are). They did the song flawlessy, sounding great and everything, but the best part came at the end when Billie bulges his eyes and the stage is illuminated in red from all the pyro. It was the best performance of the night and even got them a standing ovation. It can’t get better than that.

220px-Uneasy_Listening_Vol._1Release Year: 2006

Rating: 7.5/10

This collection from the Finnish rockers takes various remixed, alternative, and acoustics versions of their songs, some of which were found on their singles. While some of the material is great and presents a different side to the band, a lot of it doesn’t alter much. Either something very little is changed or seemingly nothing is changed at all making the listener wonder what makes this version so special.

The best material found on the release are the acoustic tracks. Something about Ville Valo with a lone guitar makes for intriguing and sometimes haunting songs. The unplugged version of “It’s All Tears” gives the track a folk feeling with the throbbing bass and weird key arrangement. It sounds like it should be played in a gypsy camp. “Buried Alive by Love” strips the track of its hard rock sound and presents a naked tune with Valo’s powerful vocals on display. The only downside is he sounds a bit strained by the end. Acoustic renditions of “Please Don’t Let it Go,” “For You,” and “Pretending” are all good, but the best one is “Funeral of Hearts.” Not only does this give the listener a chance to hear Valo’s impressive vocals, but it makes the entire track creepy and foreboding, like he’s singing about someone’s doom. These versions really show the strength of the songwriting and how well they work even when most of the music is striped away.

Many of the tracks are supposedly remixed, but end up sounding very similar to their original versions. The only thing that’s different about the Strongroom mix of “Join Me in Death” are re-recorded vocals. I’m not really sure why they felt the need to re-do the vocals, but they sound good either way. “In Joy and Sorrow” adds string instrumentation creating a really beautiful sound, while “When Love and Death Embrace” is nothing but the shorter radio edit of the single. It’s the same story with “Close to the Flame;” the music has been slightly altered, but overall sounds the same. The most baffling remix on the LP is “One Last Time.” There seems to be nothing different from the version found on Razorblade Romance. The muted vocals and the instrumentation are the same. The only difference I found was here, Valo continued singing once the music faded out. A lot of these versions don’t add anything to the songs and almost seem pointless.

While most of the tracks are lacking, there are some really good mixes. One of the best is the disrhythm remix of “The Sacrament.” The song is already beautiful, but this version takes away the electric guitar and hard rhythm replacing it with stringed instruments giving it a classical feel. It sounds even prettier than before and somehow gives it a bigger presence. It’s a well welcome take on one of their best songs. Another good mix is “Salt in Our Wounds” Thusla Doom version. Doom is the perfect way to describe the sound. It begins with heavily distorted music that sounds like violent crashing thunder. The music is very dramatic and adds a darker element to the track that fits right in. The downside is it drags on longer than it should, but it still manages to be better than the original recording.

Whether or not the remixes completely changed the song or barely touched it, they still sound good. This doesn’t apply to “Lose You Tonight.” It actually starts off really well with the track slowed down creating a haunting mood for Valo’s crooning vocals. But half way through things get iffy. For starters, during the bridge grumbling music comes on that sounds like a monster’s stomach growling. If that wasn’t enough to take you out of the song, it ends with eagles screeching and a woman screaming for some weird reason. Add that to the fact it runs on too long and it makes for an offputing track. But for an album that’s pretty lengthy one bad track isn’t a bad feat.

Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. With the exception of one song, most of tracks here sound pretty good, but it almost seems pointless getting this collection since most of the so-called remixes don’t alter much. Sometimes it’s a subtle change, other times it sounds like nothing is different. There are some great remixes that change the mood and tone of the song and when you hear them you wish there were more versions like these. At least the acoustic renditions are enough to save the release. They show a different side to the band and Valo’s voice is on full display. If you’re a collector, this is a nice addition to their discography, but don’t expect anything amazing.