This week, Rick Ross delivers a doozy of a mixtape; At The Drive-In and Refused simultaneously return to action; Van Halen brings the house down at Cafe Wha?; Wes Anderson remains firmly in his comfort zone; Mad Men finally ends its year-long hiatus; and a dragon in Skyrim gets a macho makeover.
Rick Ross — Rich Forever Mixtape
In the face of his alarming epileptic episode back in October, Rich Forever finds Rick Ross as defiantly bombastic and outsized as ever. The tape flows seamlessly between wealthy triumphalism and grimy street tales in the way that only Rozay can, and serves as yet another reminder of the Maybach Music frontrunner’s uncanny ability to bring out the best in those around him. Styles P struts and swaggers over “Keys to the Crib“‘s plush, brassy beat. “Triple Beam Dreams,” meanwhile, finds Nas reclaiming his mid-’90s conviction with one of his rawest, grittiest verses in ages. (Esco’s vintage flow strikes a particularly potent contrast in light of his former foe’s lullaby to his newborn child.) Even Diddy’s worn-out ad libs sound relatively fresh here, bolstered by Ross’s imposing couplets.
Despite all the star-studded assists, though, the Bawse remains the tape’s roaring, thumping heart. Across Rich Forever‘s twenty tracks, Ross simply commands attention, exercising his heady clout at every opportunity. “It’s only one Rozay,” he declares at the end of “King of Diamonds,” and he’s right: at the moment, nobody embodies hip hop’s exultant, vigorous spirit quite like Rick Ross. If this mixtape is, as he suggests, “just an appetizer” before God Forgives, I Don’t, then it’s unreasonable to expect the long-awaited album to be anything short of a modern classic.
— Yang-Yi Goh
At The Drive-In and Refused reunite at Coachella
In an improbable and sudden flurry of activity, the music world rejoiced on Monday when it was announced that two of the most influential underground bands of the ‘90s would return to the stage once more. Post-hardcore legends At The Drive-In and hardcore innovators Refused each gave word of their impending reformations and confirmed their mutual intent to play the 2012 Coachella Festival. As a result, the massive concert has already become the most anticipated musical event of the year.
ATDI and Refused followed fairly similar career trajectories, with both groups torn asunder near the turn of the millennium at the peak of their popularity. Each band was well known for the overwhelming intensity of its live performances, and perhaps it was that same intense nature that led to their eventual demise. Following the release of the seminal Relationship of Command, ATDI was in such a state of disarray and exhaustion that the band could no longer continue. Likewise, Refused crashed and burned after dropping their game-changing final record The Shape of Punk To Come. For both acts, it seemed as though the overwhelming passion and ingenuity poured into the creation of their masterpieces was ultimately too much to bear, ruining the group dynamics in the process.
Ever since, fans of the bands have eagerly awaited reunions—though they often seemed implausible considering the murky inter-band relations at hand. Refused’s followers were even cruelly teased in 2010 when the band’s old website was reposted as a page with the words “Coming Soon.” Any past sins by either group have been quickly forgotten by fans, though, with the announcement of their participation in this year’s Coachella.
Just be sure to grab your tickets while you can, because while their volatility and impassioned sounds have made At The Drive-In and Refused living legends, those same qualities could just as easily drive both to flame out in spectacular fashion once again.
— Jeremy Wolf
Van Halen play Manhattan’s Cafe Wha?
For acts that have spent their careers burning their image into stadium jumbotrons, the chance to play an impromptu show at a tiny club is the ultimate press junket. There’s no better media boost than an audience of journalists and music insiders reporting in a riptide of excitement, while you come off with a ‘we’re one with the fans’ vibe.
That, however, wasn’t the case with Van Halen, who took the stage last Thursday at Manhattan’s Café Wha?, a venue boasting a 250 capacity and a $5 cover charge. True, the audience was mostly media types and the band did have a lot to advertise: the return of acrobatic original singer David Lee Roth and the upcoming release of A Different Kind of Truth, Roth’s first record with the Van Halen since 1985, for starters. And, once their 12th album drops on February 7th, the group will take their guitar-driven antics to arenas across the U.S. knowing full well everyone will be questioning if the band’s restored lineup is as happy as the strut in their songs suggest. Even so Van Halen had a much more immediate, personal purpose playing Café Wha?—one that went far beyond simply hyping themselves up.
“I carved my name on one of these banisters,” said Roth between songs. Previously owned by his uncle Manny, Café Wha? is in many ways the place Roth first got his start. It’s also a place from which he drew a few anecdotes for the crowd, including his encounter with a young Bob Dylan when he was seven. “It took us 50 years to get this gig,” said the ever-smiling frontman. “It was easier getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
With that driving enthusiasm, Van Halen went through an hour-long set that played like a greatest hits collection, romping their way through classics like “Hot For Teacher,” their cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and the ecstatic closer “Jump.” As a teaser for the new album, the band also played “She’s The Woman”—a track previously left on the cutting room floor—for the first time since the 1970s. As one might hope in such a small venue, there was no excess flash or any unnecessary light shows—the focus was firmly on the music. Roth wore overalls instead of one of his bare-chested get-ups, and the only pyrotechnics came from Eddie Van Halen’s legendary guitar.
With their energizing performance, websites and magazines can now speak of Van Halen in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and Dylan for leaving their mark on that famous little Greenwich Village club. More importantly, Roth can say he’s carved his name into Café Wha?—twice.
— Michael Ronan
It seems as though Wes Anderson has finally managed to out-Wes Anderson himself. The trailer for the latest offering from the world’s most accessible auteur manages to cram a couple precocious adolescents, pastels, Bill Murray shirtless, handwritten notes, quirky dialogue, and slow-motion tracking shots all into a mere two minutes. If this trailer hadn’t already come with Anderson’s name attached to it, one might mistake Moonrise Kingdom for a parody. The only thing that it’s missing is some ‘60s classic rock. This should all be cringe inducing, tired and boring even, but for some reason I can’t help but be excited for this film.
No matter how many Andersonian elements litter the trailer, the fact remains that Moonrise Kingdom still looks like it has an interesting plot. Even though the film’s star, Jared Gilman, is no young Jason Schwartzman, I am interested to see how he manages to pull off the patented “Anderson overly articulate child” trope. Will that kid get annoying after fifteen minutes? Probably. Thankfully, the cast is rounded out by a veritable who’s who of adult stars including Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and, of course, Bill Murray. Will I ever get tired of watching Bill Murray drunkenly wander around? For sure not. Nothing spells cinematic gold quite like Bill Murray in a semi-serious role. Or any role for that matter. Somebody needs to just give that man an Oscar already.
— Justin Earley
Mad Men — Season 5
If it seems like years have gone by since you last saw a new episode of Mad Men, it’s because it has been. A contract dispute between series creator Matthew Weiner and AMC resulted in a 525-day hiatus for the critically acclaimed drama. Fans of the show’s unfiltered look at a decade of rampant alcoholism, sexism, and greed were forced to turn to less reputable sources (i.e. Jersey Shore) for their decadence fix. Thankfully, with a projected March 25th premiere date, the misery is over.
Production delays aren’t the only source of anticipation for Draper disciples. Season 4 left the normally sure-footed storyline on uneven ground. Nearly every character (especially the partners) has experienced some form of personal or professional problem by now, but rarely have these obstacles appeared at the same time. The ongoing financial struggles of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce paled in comparison to Don’s whiskey-induced blackouts or Lane’s messy family situation. In essence, Season 4 was a time for some serious soul-searching throughout the entire agency.
Consequently, we were left with some uncharacteristic resolutions for the normally amoral cast. Don cleaned up his drinking and married his secretary on an eleventh-hour whim. Joan decided against aborting the baby she conceived out of wedlock with Roger Sterling. It’s as if the delightfully unscrupulous agency decided to grow a conscience en masse. This type of wishy-washy “integrity” may work while SCDP is down and out, but let’s see what happens when these liquored-up suits start to taste success again. Without further ado, here are a few predictions for Mad Men’s long-awaited fifth season:
— Don Draper will return to his philandering ways. Consider the circumstances under which Don decided to marry his secretary: his company collapsing around him; his oldest friend (Anna Draper) passing away from cancer; a losing battle with alcohol. So he did what any man would do (on a whim) and chose a woman who would provide a measure of stability in an otherwise crumbling life. We’ve already seen how Don acts when he’s successful, and he doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to self-control. His ex-wife Betty doesn’t seem too happy either. Hmm….
— The Vietnam War will play a heavy role in the season’s storyline. This one is a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning that every facet of the late ‘60’s was affected by the conflict. Joan Harris’s husband is a field doctor in Vietnam, fresh off receiving the news that his wife is pregnant. It’s unclear if he’ll see any combat, but let’s just say that conventional drama series wisdom doesn’t bode well for Greg Harris.
— Drugs will play a bigger role among the cast. It’s 1967 in the show’s storyline—the “Summer of Love” is fast approaching. The series has dabbled in the use of weed and heroin before, but I have a feeling that they’re about to affect the main cast, just as they’re about to affect America as a whole.
— All of Sally Draper’s scenes will suck and you’ll want to change the channel whenever she shows up. Okay, that might be more an opinion than a prediction. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
— Tom Barrabi
Video of the Week
Pause your Skyrim quest, grab a Slim Jim, and feast your eyes on the greatest mod in gaming history. Oooooh yeeeeaaah!
— Justin Tasch