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The weekend's best matchup has to be Sex and the City vs. entropy—is there anything left in the tank as the groundbreaking HBO series enters its sixth season Sunday night?
IS THAT A WEAKEND PLANNER
IN YOUR POCKET, OR ARE YOU
JUST HAPPY TO SEE ME?
When Basketball’s Over, a Young Man’s Fancy Turns to…Anything Handy
Now that basketball is over (did the postseason wimp out in the end, or what?), marking the beginning of summer (although it sure doesn’t look like it) and the official end of boy fun for two-and-a-half months, I’m struggling to reacclimate myself. The real challenge comes when I come home from work; it’s exacerbated by the fact that I promised my wife I’d quit smoking my nightly cigar (just a small one—they call them sticks at the Big Easy, where they’re sold in tins of 10) either at the conclusion of the NBA Finals (which happened Sunday) or on her birthday (Monday), meaning that’s that.

So here I am, looking around for things to tide me over till next Thursday, when the NBA Draft on TNT provides me with a boy-fun oasis for a few hours, and lots to talk about with Beer and Trakin for days afterward. Free cell no longer provides much of a challenge (although it’s good for the odd 10 minutes), and choosing among ET, Extra and Access Hollywood in the pre-primetime block is no choice at all. At that juncture, I find myself listening to new music, a bounty of which has come along at precisely the right time, fortunately. I can’t get enough of Sam Roberts (see below), the Pernice Brothers contains my nightly Byrds/Beach Boys fix, Grandaddy is brilliant, Radiohead’s “A Punchup at a Wedding” is addictive and there’s a four-cut sequence on the Fountains of Wayne (“Hackensack”/“No Better Place”/“Valley Winter Song”/“All Kinds of Time”) that’s simply breathtaking.

On top of that, I’m actually reading books for the first time in months; Nick Hornby’s Songbook contains one kernel of insightfulness after another, and I’ve returned to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which has reminded me why Michael Chabon is one of my favorite young novelists. I’m even considering watching a baseball game (something I rarely do before the playoffs) this weekend—the Dodgers-Angels freeway series has rarely contained such intriguing plot points. Will I manage to keep my peepers open for the entire nine innings? If not, there’s a lot to be said for an afternoon nap. The weekend's best matchup, though, is Sex and the City vs. entropy—is there anything left in the tank as the groundbreaking HBO series enters its sixth season Sunday night?

OK, so far, so good. One week down, just 10 more to go until the Kickoff Classic. —BS

THE POPCULT TOP 10
1. Steve Winwood, About Time (Wincraft Music)
: One of the most underrated figures in rock, this onetime child prodigy as lead shouter of the Spencer Davis Group returns to his roots on this Colorado-based jam-band label, home of String Cheese Incident, whose management he now shares as well. Harking back to the pastoral folk-jazz-rock of his Traffic years, the new record is notable for being based around the classic Hammond B-3 organ signature swirl that marked that legendary U.K. art-pop band’s recordings. Guitarist Jose Neto and drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr. remind us that Winwood was experimenting with world-beat and African pop elements long before it was hip, while the haunting flute lines recall the distinctive playing of Chris Wood. Being relieved of commercial expectations has loosened Winwood up considerably, no more so than on the album’s one cover, a funkified, live in the studio version of Timmy Thomas’ 1973 soul hit, “Why Can’t We Live Together?” These tracks, which are given plenty of room to breathe, evoke an era when albums worked as an interconnected series of signposts on the road to a final destination, rather than as disparate songs. If nothing else, the current major-label doldrums have injected some veterans with a welcome new urgency. This new album may well cause Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters like yours truly to reconsider the legacy of Winwood and Traffic. —RT 

2. Democrats Get Animated: Check the Flash movie Bushenstein on the Democratic Party site, a Frankenstein spoof in which President Dubya builds the perfect right-wing Supreme Court justice out of the parts of old extremists. Now all the Dems need is a cartoon mascot of their own... Mighty Mouse, perhaps? —SG

3. eastmountainsouth, eastmountainsouth (DreamWorks): The singer-songwriter duo of Kat Maslisch and Peter Adams come by their mastery of American roots music honestly—they hail from its epicenter (she from bluegrass Mecca Clinch Mountain, he from Birmingham). The astonishing thing about the pair’s major-label debut, though, is its seamless blend of old and new. Adams and Mitchell Froom juxtapose banjos and bazoukis with loops and beats, and the result is a ravishing, timeless album. Starting with an exquisite take on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” ems follow up with incandescent originals like “You Dance, “ “Too Soon,” “So Are You to Me,” the updated spiritual “Rain Come Down” and the breathtaking “Show Me the River.” This is one for the “year’s best” list. —SG

4. Hallucinogenic Simulation of the Week: Take a gander at the virtual kaleidoscope that appears when you click on the link to single "Just Because" on the Jane's Addiction site. It rocks along to the song! Almost cooler than the track itself! (May cause convulsions, dizziness and/or vomiting, depending on substances ingested.)
—JO

5. Nick Cave, Nocturama (Anti), at Hollywood Palladium: There was a time when this Aussie punk poet maudit was set to become the next Jim Morrison, but moving from major label Elektra to tasty Epitaph imprint Anti seems to have relegated him back to cult status. His latest album continues with the stark, somber pace of his last few efforts as he petitions the Lord with “Wonderful Life,” where he wants to believe so badly it hurts. Things pick up considerably with the Stonesy “Bring It On” (with SaintsChris Bailey, who performs the song with Nick on the current tour) and the Lou Reed-like “She Passed By My Window.” The closing “Babe, I’m on Fire” clocks in at almost 15-minutes, a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” torrent of free-associative images and “Before the Flood” urgency. Moving over to the more cavernous Palladium from the sitdown Wiltern, Cave and the Bad Seeds, minus longtime member Blixa Bargeld, but with guitarist/organist Mick Harvey and violinist Warren Ellis, put on a crowd-pleasing set that included teeth-ratting versions of old favorites like “Tupelo,” “Do You Love Me?,” “From Her to Eternity” and “Henry Lee.” The wiry Cave, in patented black, his high forehead getting higher, stalked the stage like a demented Delta preacher—Elvis Presley meets Iggy Pop— leading the faithful in cries of expiation and release. God-fearing has never been so cathartic. —RT

6. A Quick Pitch: With the new season of Project Greenlight debuting Sunday night (cue up your TiVo, player), buzz surrounding Tucker & Gamble, a female screenwriting duo who were disqualified early—but who’ve already captured the imagination of more than a few insiders. While earnestness tends to be the watchword for affairs like PGL (and the winning screenplay had better have plenty of “uplift”), the pair’s strip-club caper comedy script, Cheeks, shows they’ll probably be the ones writing the movies you want to see. Check out their very saucy “audition” video for the show by going here, then clicking on “Top 10 Screenwriter Finalists.” —SG

7. Fashion Fad of the Week: In Tokyo, rather than see-through skirts, with-it gals are wearing skirts with images of panties, legs, et al., printed right on the fabric. Pretty lifelike, ain’t it? —DC

8. Unloading on The Matrix Reloaded: A huge disappointment that is almost as bloated as Laurence Fishburne. In fact, Joel Gallen’s five-minute MTV Movie Awards parody with Andy Dick, Wanda Sykes and Will Ferrell, et al., has more energy, wit and invention than the Wachowski brothers’ entire sequel, the worst follow-up helmed by the director of the original since Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The two set pieces—the multiple Agent Smiths and an extended freeway chase—will have you wondering how they did it, but the scenes are more like the two hit singles on a stuffed turkey of an album packed with filler. Let’s pray The Hulk is better. It can’t be much worse. —RT

9. Quote of the Week: “Sex is for boys as clothes are for girls.” (from Showtime’s Out of Order, Episode Three)
—BS

10. Feet of Clay: Clay Aiken comes clean in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. In the piece, the American Idol runner-up reveals that he bites his toenails [Ed. note: Dude’s limber, but ICK], hates cats, isn’t gay, has never been in love and has never broken anyone's heart—except, perhaps, the heart of Idol winner Ruben Studdard, whose single sold 100k less than Aiken's this week, give or take a few grand. Isn't it funny how fate works? —VN

DO YOU BELIEVE IN ROCK & ROLL?
Sam Roberts, We Were Born in a Flame (Universal):
Remember when the line, “They’re great live and they’re big in Canada” was an A&R in-joke? I heard that one a lot during the ’90s, given my stated fondness for the Odds, a brainy, virtuosic Vanvouver band that never managed to duplicate its homeland success in the States. Now, at last, an artist has come along with the goods to turn the joke back on itself.

Sam Roberts came out of nowhere last year to become an instant sensation north of the border, releasing an indie EP that yielded a pair of hit singles, coupling it with, from what I’m told, a live act so explosive that he soon became a sort of national addiction. When a visiting friend from Toronto played me the EP a few weeks ago, I became addicted myself.

This young dynamo from Montreal obviously considers rock & roll dance music, and the immense visceral pull of his wondrous debut album emanates directly from its nonstop grooves. Talk about squeezing out sparks—Roberts’ rhythm guitar powers these 13 tracks with a pull that is downright gravitational; apart from drums, he plays nearly all of the instruments, and their combined force brings a torqued-up intensity to the record reminiscent of Who’s Next, no less—with a recurring element of Beatles circa 1965 on the second half of the album (less immediate than the first if you love the EP, but it will reward a return visit).

Yes, he’s a neoclassic rocker—echoes of Revolver and “Gimme Shelter” lurk in the songs as well—but Roberts’ formalism seems tribal, not studied, with choruses that rise up like chants, sweaty and abandoned. At the same time, his vocals convey a genuineness that’s utterly disarming, making for a tough/tender combo that’s positively Lennonesque. I defy you to sit still for “Don’t Walk Away Eileen,” with its staccato beat in the manner of Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp, the insanely danceable “Brother Down” or the thrilling “Where Have All the Good People Gone?” Significantly, the pulse in each of these performances feels like it’s coming straight from the heart, not from a production technique.

“Brother Down,” Roberts’ first Canadian hit and the initial U.S. single, has the groove, the hooks, the immediacy and the underlying panache to be a multi-format stateside hit. If it gets exposed, I don’t see how it can fail to connect. The latest Canadian single is a newly tightened up version of the equally memorable “Where Have All the Good People Gone?” The album doesn’t include the epic six-minute-plus original version, which builds to an absolutely breathtaking climax—all the more reason you’ll need to score a copy of The Inhuman Condition as well as the album.

There’s no question that Roberts is the real deal, and there’s nothing complicated about his allure—it’s direct, immense and lasting. This guy’s got the rhythm in him, and he aims to put it in you. Bud Scoppa

SHINY ROUND THINGS
Kenna, New Sacred Cow (Columbia):
This Ethiopian-born singer/songwriter is at once a scat-singing Terence Trent D’Arby, a high-tech Ben Harper and a melodic Craig David. Kenna’s collaboration with the NeptunesChad Hugo, an old Virginia Beach buddy, ranges from the angular ‘80s, Duran Duran-style techno-pop of “Within Earshot” and the big beat dub of the first single “Freetime” to the drums-and-bass electrofunk of “Sunday After You” and the jarring buzztones of “Hell Bent,” warning, “Controlling me is losing me.” With high drama and cool rhythms, the onetime Fred Durst prodigy’s stark piano ballad “Yeneh Ababais” is crooned from the rose’s point of view, while “War in Me” builds to a Police-like world beat crescendo, swathed in strings. “When the status of my fear soars, I’m waging a war,” insists Kenna, who attacks the front lines with a colorblind, yet rock-hard, take on modern dance-pop. Roy Trakin

White Light Motorcade, Thank You, Goodnight (Octone): Occasionally, a band comes along with a combination of high-concept melody and ornery rock sensibility so disarming, you wonder where they’ve been all your life. Such is the case with New York’s WLM, which lays out its debt to the likes of the Stooges, Oasis and even Stone Roses psychedelia right out there on the counter, but then chops it all up and throws it in the blender. The inspired result is at once achingly tuneful and chaotically rocking, with production by Brad Jones playing up the layers beautifully. Rockers “Open Your Eyes,” “Semi-Precious” and the climactic “Looking at Stars” make the band’s mark, but yield at intervals to winning ballads “All Gone Again,” “Closest” and “Useless.” Moment of Zen: the outrageous guitar outro on “Dream Day.” Go toward the Light. Jon O’Hara

NEW YORK MINUTE
Out and about in New York City this weekend? So go for it—but grab an umbrella on the way out. LL Cool J and Dru Hill double up at the Beacon Theatre Friday. The same night, Alana Davis brings her "32 Flavors" to Tribeca Rock Club Friday; Teitur opens. Dixie Chicks and Michelle Branch play a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden Friday and Saturday. Extend the weekend to Monday and catch Norah Jones at the Beacon, with Gillian Welch opening. —Valerie Nome

TRAKIN’S PICKS TO FLICK
The Hulk (Universal)
Premise:
Thinking man’s comic book superhero summer blockbuster, as a Berkeley scientist finds himself turning into a not-so-jolly green giant when he gets angry, a dangerous legacy passed onto him through experiments conducted by his father.
Stars: Aussie newcomer Eric Bana (Black Hawk Down), Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, original TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno, comic creator Stan Lee
Director:
Former art-house auteur Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) goes for the mainstream jugular.
Thumbs Up: Dark, brooding, with plenty of computer-generated action, too, according to early reports.
Thumbs Down: Will it move along too deliberately for the hot-weather popcorn crowd?
Soundtrack: Kathy Nelson-supervised Decca/Universal/UMG Soundtracks includes Danny Elfman score and “Set Me Free,” the new song by Velvet Revolver (STP’s Scott Weiland with ex-Guns N’ Roses members Slash, Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan.
Website: The clean, easy-to-navigate www.hulkmovie.com gives you news, cast info, message boards, multimedia downloads, a contest, links, merchandise and frequently asked questions.

Alex and Emma (WB)
Premise:
Based upon Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, about a novelist with a gambling problem who takes a $100k advance on his next novel to pay off his debts, agreeing to a 30-day deadline. He then hires a beautiful stenographer to help him get the book done, as they fall in love acting out the ongoing narrative from various time periods.
Stars: Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Sophie Marceau, David Paymer, Cloris Leachman, Rob Reiner, Rip Taylor, Chino XL
Director: Rob Reiner returns to the romantic genre of his successful When Harry Met Sally…
Thumbs Up: Charming premise, charming leads, impressive literary pedigree.
Thumbs Down: The time-traveling plot device has been used before, and don’t the romantic leads seem a little too cutesy?
Soundtrack: None.
Website:
www.alexandemmamovie.warnerbros.com gives info about the movie, cast and crew, photo galleries, trailer, downloads, contest and bulletin boards.

The Hard Word (Lions Gate)
Premise:
An Aussie caper flick about three bank-robbing brothers stuck in jail who find a profitable way of passing their time as the “fatal consequences of sex and greed come between bad cops and good criminals.”
Stars: Guy Pearce (the lead guy in Memento), Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under), Joel Edgerton, Robert Taylor.
Director: Writer/director Scott Roberts makes his feature debut after co-writing K2 and penning the screenplay to 1986’s Riders of the Storm.
Thumbs Up: You just know Pearce and Griffiths smolder with quiet sensuality and the right blend of Down Under grit could make this a Memento-like sleeper.
Soundtrack: Metropolis Records album features original score by David Thrussell
Website:
www.thehardwordmovie.com gives you an overview of the plot, cast/crew information, a trailer and a message board.

From Justin to Kelly (20th Century Fox)
Premise:
American Idol’s first-season winners team in a musical about two college students who meet during spring break in Miami, fall in love and break into song and dance at regular intervals.
Stars: Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini
Director: Robert Iscove (She’s All That)
Thumbs Up: Show up opening day, sit in the middle of the theater and yell rude comments at the screen.
Thumbs Down: We’re looking forward to the sequel, in which Clay and Ruben meet cute, fall in love and set up house in a West Hollywood duplex.
Soundtrack: No official soundtrack because the push is on the pair’s individual RCA Records solo albums, including a version of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way (I Like It)” and the Go-Go’s “Vacation.”
Website: www.fromjustintokelly.com has section with movie information, including photo gallery, production notes, cast and crew bios, a multimedia download section, links for the pair’s individual albums, bulletin boards, a contest and place to register for news updates.

DENISE’S WEAKEND COCKTAIL
I had a great start to this week! Monday night, I finally met my boyfriend—Justin Timberlake. I know it’s very high-school girlish of me, but I can’t help it—I have a crush! He’s so young and so hot. I went to a Meet and Greet at Staples Center and realized how much older I am compared to the typical fan. There were screaming teenage girls everywhere, and scattered amongst them were a few older screaming gals like myself. I didn’t go to Monday night’s show, but I am going this weekend and still don’t know which lucky friend I’m going to take with me. To my surprise, some of my friends aren’t nearly as mesmerized by young Mr. Timberlake as I am. One friend actually laughed when I asked her if she wanted to go with me. Am I really that pathetic? Yes, I am! This week’s cocktail is dedicated to all of you dirty-minded gals and the hot boys you lust after.

Hot & Dirty
1 1/4 oz. pepper vodka
Splash dry vermouth
Splash olive juice and garnish with olives

I really don’t think it’s off-the-wall for a grown woman to have a crush on Justin. Yes, he was learning to ride a bike when I was learning to drive a car, but I feel that once they’re legal drinking age, they’re fair game. Young guys have so much stamina and are so eager to please, so do you really blame me? Besides, I have friends who have much stranger crushes than my innocent (except for last night’s dream) crush for the former NSYNC-er. Plus, have you seen his abs—are you kidding me! It’s not fair for him to torture and tease gals with his beautiful body. It’s not odd for us to lust after someone who’s unattainable, but some of your crushes are just strange— Martha Stewart, Woody Allen and Jessica Rabbit—a cartoon! So, you have a crush (weird or not) and need to get their attention. I’m not sure these will get you a date, but they’ll definitely get you noticed.

Top 10 ways to get your crush’s attention:
10. Leave sweet love notes—EVERYWHERE (his car windshield, apartment door, favorite lunch spot, happy-hour hangout, etc.)
9. Call him (repeatedly) and hang up when his voicemail picks up. Don’t worry about Caller Id.
8. Drive by his house often to see if he’s home. Wear a disguise in case he’s there.
7. Send him e-greetings expressing your undying love.
6. Call him at work, and when the receptionist asks who’s calling, say it’s his future wife.
5. Get a T-shirt printed with his picture on it and wear it everywhere.
4. Print wedding invitations with your names on it and start passing them out.
3. Call his mom and introduce yourself.
2. When you see him out with his friends, flash him your best assets.
1. Ram into his car, then wait patiently for the repair bill and restraining order.

De’s L.A. bar pick of the week: Are you craving attention? Belt out a ballad to the one who makes your heart pound and your groin thump at the Brass Monkey on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown. This tiny karaoke joint is a packed with singing singles hoping to hook up. The two-drink minimum will get your party started and help loosen those inhibitions, giving you the courage to pounce on your prey, and the place is usually too crowded for him to easily escape your grip. Since the Brass Monkey is so close to the Staples Center, I might even swing by this weekend after the concert to calm my post-Justin hormones.

Thanks to all of you who responded to my e-mail with your crushes and stories. You guys always make me laugh. Have a safe and fun weekend! Until next week—hugs and kisses. Denise Bayles

Contributors: Denise Bayles, Darren Cava, Simon Glickman, Valerie Nome, Jon O’Hara and Roy Trakin

Edited by Bud Scoppa

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