Friday, June 9, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: Echobrain, Starsailor, The Line, Buckaroo Banzai DVD (2002)

Echobrain's Echobrain

Whenever a musician leaves a successful band, the public usually figures that the individual in question has lost their mind. On one hand, you have fame and fortune, but the flip side of that coin is artistic stagnation and the desire to blaze new creative trails. When Jason Newsted left Metallica, many wondered what would come next for the talented bassist. Well, after a brief aside backing pre-teen rock ‘n’ roll prodigies the Moss Brothers on their wonderful Electricitation album, Newsted has returned from his musical hiatus with a new band and an exciting new sound in Echobrain.

The self-titled Echobrain (Chophouse Records/Surfdog) illustrates a more complex and diverse side to Newsted’s playing. Teaming with youthful musicians Dylan Donkin and Brian Sagrafena, the trio has forged a distinctive identity for Echobrain. The band explores the possibilities of hard rock with elements of jazz, funk, pop and soul in a manner that is as far away from Metallica as one could imagine. Songs like the mesmerizing “Adrift” or the ethereal “We Are Ghosts” showcase a carefully-crafted, deliberate rock sound while the muted, mysterious “SuckerPunch,” with Newsted’s former bandmate Kirk Hammett adding his guitar, strikes in a little harder vein.

Faith No More’s Jim Martin contributes his six-string talents to the forceful “Spoonfed” while the blues-tinged “Highway 44” sounds like vintage seventies radio rock with big, looping riffs and funky rhythms. Donkin is a surprisingly mature vocalist and an imaginative guitarist, Sagrafena a dynamic drummer, adding complex rhythmic dimensions to the band’s sound where a lesser talent would fall short. Newsted has been forced into stretching his own talents past Metallica’s expectations in order to compete with his younger bandmate’s energy and enthusiasm. Echobrain, the album, is a significant debut, a powerful introduction to a band I suspect you’ll be hearing quite a lot about in the future.      

Starsailor's Love Is Here
British pop music has long held a fascination for cultists here in the colonies but not since the Beatles has Britpop managed to achieve more than a fleeting notoriety on these shores. Contemporary musical stalwarts like Oasis have barely dented the charts stateside, but that hasn’t stopped a steady trickle of hot U.K. bands like Coldplay from making a play for pay with U.S. releases and tours. Starsailor is the latest underdog in this impossible voyage, the band’s debut Love Is Here (Capitol Records) a mix of lush pop instrumentation and bittersweet poetic lyricism.

Appropriately named after a song by fey pop icon Tim Buckley, Starsailor’s moody musical confections feature the emotionally scarred vocals of guitarist James Walsh. Songs like “Poor Misguided Fool” or “Way To Fall” offer wry and often lovelorn observations on life, the music soaring and gliding behind Walsh’s vocals like wisps of a cloud. Although there’s nothing on Love Is Here that’s going to receive significant radio airplay considering the current musical climate here in the land of McPop, Starsailor have nonetheless crafted a complex and provocative set of songs. Love Is Here is an encouraging debut album with suburb musicianship, finely detailed songwriting and a distinctive, atmospheric sound that evokes memories of another batch of Buckley acolytes, This Mortal Coil. Well worth checking out...

Hailing from the unlikely musical hotspot of Big Bear Lake, California, The Line has been working their way through the indie rock ranks for over half a decade now. Tours with punk faves Sublime and Guttermouth as well as a coveted slot on the 2001 Warped Tour have the band poised on the brink of bigger things. With their fourth album and major label debut, Monsters We Breed (Volcom/MCA), the band cranks up the volume a notch, delivering their trademark high-octane mix of punk and roots rock on an engaging set of hard-rocking tunes. Singer Don Horne sounds like a cross between Midnight Oil’s Peter Garret and Soul Coughing’s Mike Doughty, his powerful vocals propelling songs like “Take What’s Ours” or “Earthworm Crisis” above the efforts of similar bands. Combined with Ryan Immegart’s manic guitarwork and the band’s introspective lyrics, Horne’s vocals create an anthemic, arena-rock quality to the Line’s instrumental assault. Monsters We Breed is a strong album, one that would appeal to mainstream rock fans as well as died-in-the-wool punk fanatics.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
Back in the day – 1984 to be exact – an ambitious action film came and went almost unnoticed across the screens of America’s multiplex theaters. The first of two planned serialized films, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (MGM Home Entertainment) was considered, at the time, to be a failed experiment. The movie had its apologists, though, cultists such as myself who held onto cherished copies of the flick on scratchy VHS tapes, the film growing in popularity through video rentals or one of its frequent late-eighties cable TV appearances. Finally, Buckaroo has made his long-awaited debut on DVD and after a recent viewing with the apprehensive Mrs. Gordon, we both agree that the movie is still a hell of a lot of fun!

A pre-Robocop Peter Weller stars as the enigmatic Buckaroo Banzai, a half-Japanese, half-American genius who is a brain surgeon, quantum physicist, rock musician and samurai warrior. Banzai’s posse/band the Hong Kong Cavaliers is made up of rough-riding adventurers like “Perfect Tommy” (Lewis Smith), “Rawhide” (Clancy Brown) and “Reno Nevada” (Pepe Sena). A youthful Jeff Goldblum is “New Jersey,” the newest HK Cavalier while Ellen Barkin plays Banzai’s romantic interest. Together, these modern high-tech cowboys continue the experiments in exploring the eighth dimension that got Banzai’s parents killed. Along the way they battle crazed aliens (including a hilariously madcap John Lithgow), discover the secret behind H.G. Well’s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast from the thirties and save the earth from destruction. If this sounds kind of over the top, well, it is... The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension was the first (and last) sci-fi western, a masterful combination of action, comedy, satire and cheap thrills that has grown more entertaining as the years have passed. (The View On Pop Culture, February 2002)

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