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Music DVD Review: Various Artists – From The Basement

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Producer Nigel Godrich, known most notably for his work with Radiohead, created From The Basement, that puts the spotlight squarely on the performers. Shot on high-definition video with sound produced by Godrich at London’s Maida Vale studios, musicians play in a studio with no host or audience. The shows first surfaced on the Internet in December, 2006 and viewers were allowed to buy and download individual videos.

Since that business model “just wasn't feasible as it didn't generate enough money to produce the shows to the level we wanted,” according to their website, the following December it premiered on television in the U.K. on Sky Arts and in the U.S. on the now-defunct Rave HD in February, 2008. The Independent Film Channel ran the series in the fall of 2008, cutting the six episodes from the first series into half-hour segments. A second six-episode series ran on Sky Arts from December 2008 to January 2009.

Running over two hours, the DVD is a best-of collection from the first series with the understandable added inclusion of second-series guests Radiohead, owing to their relationship with Godrich and being one of the biggest bands currently on the alternative/modern rock scene. They open the disc with “All I Need” and “Reckoner,” two wonderfully ethereal and evocative tracks from In Rainbows.

The White Stripes, flanked by men dressed like Jack White in black suits and hats, are up next with their amalgam garage rock. Their hit “Blue Orchid” segues into a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Party of Special Things to Do” wherein Jack cuts loose on guitar.

Beck, another artist who has worked with Godrich, plays two tracks from The Information, one of their collaborations. It’s not surprising to see all of the equipment required to create the intriguing, imaginative soundscapes he sings atop. Jamie Lidell, who played with Beck, is a modern-day Bobby McFerrin. It’s fascinating to watch him work alone in contrast to Beck, manipulating and layering tracks created from his beatboxing, which he then sings over.

Following Jarvis Cocker’s “Fat Children,” the DVD develops a pattern in its presentation. After two quiet performances by singer/songwriters Neil Hannon and Laura Marling, each playing solo on acoustic guitar, the music gets plugged back in for two raucous Sonic Youth songs. The Eels, although it’s just E by himself for two songs, return the intimacy. “It’s A Motherfucker” is a beautiful piano ballad about loss and the expletive is the perfect choice in context. Albert Hammond Jr. leads a band that cranks things back up and delivers a rockin’ twosome, demonstrating he doesn’t need to go back to The Strokes. The emotion PJ Harvey creates is equal to the power of a group. “The Piano” finds her oddly enough on guitar while she adds effects with her feet. She then moves to a piano oddly adorned with Christmas lights and assorted knick-knacks on “The Devil” where she is accompanied by a metronome.

The Welsh quintet Super Furry Animals throws the cycle a curve as the group delivers delightfully lilting melodies on their two offerings. However, Damien Rice tries to keep the formula going as he plays two tender songs while kneeling before a mike. Autolux, whose sound is influenced by Sonic Youth with their fuzzed-out guitars, steps into the rock spot and make me wish they had another offering included. The lights are lowered for Jose Gonzalez’ two intimate songs on acoustic guitar.

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke closes out the disc with an appearance that must have had fans excited as they got to hear two songs from “In Rainbows” sessions almost a year before the album’s release. Yorke on piano played “Down Is The New Up,” available as a bonus track, and “Videotape.”

The video throughout looks good. The editing is well paced with the music, although some of the shots are too close on the musicians. The audio is available in DTS Digital Surround Sound, Dolby Surround 5.1, and Dolby Digital Stereo. The surround mixes are my preference as both do a good job of using the rear speakers to engulf the listener within the music.

The From The Basement DVD should garner more interest future episodes of the show as it makes for an enjoyable visual mixtape, perfect for playing at parties or a lone music lover.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I saw the Radiohead stuff from this DVD on VH1, when it was played as a special (and included several more songs from In Rainbows). But not everyone has cable, and the other stuff here is pretty great too, especially PJ, the White Stripes, and Sonic Youth. Nice review, great DVD.

    -Glen