The Karma Police once arrested Judge Dan Mancini for talking in maths.
"I'm the next act, waiting in the wings."—Radiohead ("All I Need")
From the Basement began as a podcast in 2006, was expanded into a British television show in 2007, and made its way to the United States (courtesy of Rave HD and the Independent Film Channel) in 2008. Each episode of the show consists of studio-bound live performances by a variety of alternative, indie pop, indie folk, and psychedelic bands and singer/songwriters. There is no host, no interviews, no between song banter—just music. This disc is a 129-minute compilation of 29 songs by 17 artists lifted from the show's two six-episode series.
The selection of performances is carefully balanced. The disc kicks off with a long string of up-tempo tunes (including some radio hits) by widely known bands Radiohead, The White Stripes, Beck, and the Shins. Indie folk crooner Neil Hannon's "A Lady of a Certain Age" marks a shifting of gears toward mellower, more introspective tunes. He's followed by the equally gentle "Your Only Doll (Dora)" by Laura Marling. Next, Sonic Youth takes things in a predictably psychedelic-punk direction with "The Sprawl" and "Pink Steam." For the remainder of the disc, the tunes seesaw between energetic pop/rock and navel-gazing folk. Mr. E of Eels delivers two mellow tunes all on his own (one on guitar, the other on piano), followed by two hard rockers by Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. Looking quirky and self-consciously ironic in a fairy princess dress with gigantic balloon sleeves, indie darling PJ Harvey gives raspy performances of "The Piano" and "The Devil" from her White Chalk CD. Super Furry Animals do their best imitation of The Band on "Let the Wolves Howl at the Moon," then get funkier on "The Gift that Keeps Giving." A kneeling Damian Rice delivers two acoustic numbers from his O CD. He's followed by Autolux, who start soft and build to a crescendo on a song called "Let It Be Broken." The set glides into a quiet finish with two acoustic guitar numbers by Swedish indie folk troubadour José González, after which Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke does solo interpretations of "Down is the New Up" and "Videotape" from In Rainbows. Each of the performances on From the Basement is loose and natural, proving that these cats and kittens can play. If you're a fan of indie rock, you'll dig what you find on this disc.
The White Stripes
Albert Hammond Jr.
Super Furry Animals
As any DVD featuring musical performances by tousle-haired hipsters and navel-gazing singer/songwriters ought to be, From the Basement is housed in a paper case that is flimsy, surely recycled, and most definitely bio-degradable (my eyes are biological and just looking at the case made it degrade a bit). The tray that holds the disc appears to be molded from the sole of an old shoe or hardened bean curd or both. The disc itself is made out of certified fair trade recycled wood. Just kidding—like all DVDs, it's made out of a Gaia-raping space age polymer. What can you do?
The disc's 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is solid, but less consistent than one would expect of a show shot in a controlled environment on high definition video. Colors are mostly accurate, though skin tones occasionally drift toward the red. Detail fluctuates, looking great in close-ups but less impressive in medium shots and far less impressive long shots. There are three different audio options to choose from. Two Dolby mixes (stereo and 5.1 surround) are surprisingly anemic—especially the 5.1 mix, which isn't much more dynamic than the stereo version. A DTS track outstrips them both, offering high register clarity and plenty of low end punch. In fact, the DTS track is so much superior to the other two that if your system can't process a DTS signal, you may want to pass on this release altogether.
There are no extras.
If you're a fan of the artists on the disc, you can't go wrong. The video presentation is more than adequate, and the DTS audio mix is so stellar you'll feel as though you're watching the bands run through songs in a rehearsal space. Those who can't stand mildly depressing introspection should give this one a wide berth.
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