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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Nicsperiment's 1/10/17 Blockbuster Movie Marathon Reviews, featuring Batman v Superman, The Legend of Tarzan, Suicide Squad, and Jason Bourne

Last year, after Thanksgiving, I figured I should just take a day off of work to watch movies all day. Yesterday, I did the same thing. I was going to only watch three, but I threw on a late edition, giving me nine hours to watch four movies. But will these four critical piñatas all rain down Werther's Originals, or sweet, sweet candy?

*     *     *
I start the day at 5 am, helping my wife off to work and my son off to school. I make a big bowl of Frosted Flakes, and toss in Batman vs Superman, a movie I've been avoiding since its release...but curiosity finally got the better of me.
I see as I review this that the title of the film is actually Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I know they are trying to presage the upcoming Justice League film, but what a stupid title.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 
The recent Zach Snyder Superman reboot took America's most golly gee superhero and tossed him into a gray, joyless, overlong slog. Also, it severely miscast the leads, making for a charisma-free Superman and a Lois Lane who seems like she'd rather knit him a sweater than get in his cape (and before that, I would have guessed Amy Adams could have chemistry with a chain-link fence). Instead of trying to inject some of Marvel's carefree joy into their films, DC seems to be going all in on the grimmest tone possible here. Again, for Batman v Superman, the casting is hit and miss. Jesse Eisenberg's highly irritating Lex Luthor seems like a troll on the audience--an awful choice (and I like the kid). Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is good—strong and otherworldly, just like she should be. Ben Afleck as Batman is surprisingly not bad, but not at all written well. In fact, this is a big dumb movie, and it is big and dumb because the script is terrible, going from one needless scene to the next like my dog chases butterflies she is never ever going to catch. The writing is so contrived, stupidly ponderous (especially when it tries to incorporate religion!), convoluted and badly structured, when what it is getting at—Lex Luthor tricking and coercing Batman and Superman to fight each other--could have been accomplished easily, in half the time, just like this sentence could have. Instead, this simple story is barely comprehensible, even when it has 2.5 hours to breathe, and it still feels hyper-rushed and overstuffed. How can you spend this much money so incompetently? Plenty of inept action films lack geography in their action scenes, and this film certainly does, but it also lacks geography in general...and logic...and humanity. I'm not saying all of this as some incensed fan of Superman and Batman, and here they're only unlikable mopes, anyway. I'm saying all of this as a person who doesn't like bad movies. This movie is really damned bad. I give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a 2/10.
The review aggregate website, Rotten Tomatoes, gives Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a 27%. Right on, Rotten Tomatoes.

A family friend got us one of those little electronic popcorn poppers department stores had for sale this past Christmas. I was initially skeptical of his gift, but now that I've used it a dozen times in the past two weeks, call me a believer. I set up a towel on the floor so that I could pop batches into my bowl as I watched these that I would not have to get up...ever.

The Legend of Tarzan
In the 1980's, Hollywood loved Africa. Unfortunately, Hollywood is all about trends, and when they got tired of that, they just moved onto the next thing. Same thing with music: in the 80's, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel did their best work under the influence of Africa. Africa, however, is not a trend, but an actual place full of actual, beautiful humans (and a few really ugly ones, too—and I don't mean aesthetically). The return to this location after a long absence is welcome. Even though this Tarzan movie is a basic rescue film, with mid-level CGI and a “tired of us yet” cast, including Christopher Waltz as the villain and Margot Robbie as the damsel-in-distress (no matter how many times the film tries to tell you she's not one, though at least, for once, she's not objectified), it's shot well, and the story is coherent, unlike that travesty I just watched before this. A coherent film can set up its conflict in less than 90-minutes, and this one does it in 15. The Legend of Tarzan also does a good job explaining Tarzan's origin and who he is now without making the film into an origin story. It's a Tarzan story, but you can enjoy it whether you're a fan, know anything beforehand about Tarzan, or think Tarzan is a weird name that you've never heard before. I enjoyed it, even if it is just an inconsequential bit of fun. It's also kind of strange to just get a random Tarzan film when Tarzan hasn't been around for a while. Actually, now that I think about it, it makes sense: chiseled male lead who hardly wears a shirt...female lead who always keeps her's on...focus on romance storyline between the two...actual character development (Samuel L Jackson is somehow in this movie, too, and he has a solid arc)...shot at the end that shows how the romantic leads finally do decide to try again at that thing that didn't go so well the last time... and a gentle pace? This is one of those based-on-an-old-property date-movie action films! Like Zorro in the 90's! I didn't know they made these anymore! I should have watched this one with my wife. I give The Legend of Tarzan a 6/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives The Legend of Tarzan a 36%. Maybe, after the video game demo Batman v Superman, I just appreciated watching an actual movie.

Running just barely on schedule, I make easy mac and pop open a can of pringles and a Mountain Dew while Suicide Squad's Blu Ray loads.

Suicide Squad
Man, I'm starting to think that DC hates their own properties. First Man of Steel makes Batman Begins look like Citizen Kane. Then DC decides, for some reason, to just hand their whole thing off to the guy who made Man of Steel. Then that guy made the unbelievably bad Batman v Superman. Then they took an easy grand slam idea of putting all of their B-villains together for a quirky, fast, and fun adventure, cast it perfectly, and then they hired David Ayer to make this steaming pile of crap. I'll give Suicide Squad this: at least it's actually fun at points. Suicide Squad goes for that “introduce a bunch of characters to popular songs, then keep introducing scenes the same way” vibe (think Forest Gump). That carries it for a little while, but then the plot falls apart, the scenes themselves aren't as good as they should be, characters get scattered cool moments together when they should be getting them the whole time, and then the ending goes into slo-motion for a killing object flying toward the bad guy for seemingly 20-minutes. This movie could have been a cult classic for the ages, full of style and memorable scenes. Instead, the only thing that sticks from this film is the super cool, trippy neon color-swirl artwork from the posters (and opening logo and credits). Oh, yeah, and the complete Margot Robbie hypersexualization picks right back up. Tarzan let her keep her clothes on (even her love-scene and the aftermath with Tarzan just shows some tasteful shoulder), but in Suicide Squad, it's a crop-top and panties for her for the majority of the film. Maybe it's Martin Scorsese's fault. I give Suicide Squad a 4/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Suicide Squad a 26%. Keep aiming high, DC!

I make more popcorn, lock up the dog because she's acting weird, and throw on my final movie, with just enough time left on the clock.

Jason Bourne
Out of all four films, the one I was least looking forward to was Jason Bourne. It just looked like a quick re-hash cash-in by filmmakers and a studio who needed money. The Bourne trilogy ended satisfactorily nearly a decade ago—why continue his story? Plus, a reboot from a few years ago failed. Plus, the reviews seemed mediocre, and the film had zero buzz...but then I actually watched it. 
Holy crap! If you like the other three Bourne movies, you have to watch this one (NOTE: THE JEREMY RENNER ONE DOESN'T COUNT! nooffensejeremyrener). It's got a closing car chase that just might be the best of the entire series (which is saying a lot), a destruction derby for the ages. The closing fight, and the film's other action sequences are great, as well. As for plot, Jason Bourne tries to incorporate current cultural events, and even though it's still a general “old white dudes at the CIA are evil” storyline, it cracks along nicely enough, and never gets in the way. Bourne, now grizzled and wearing down, gets a little more character background, stuff splodes, and Paul Greengrass shows how, with great editing, quick cuts can actually be used to show the grace of motion. After Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, I thought we'd be in for more awesome action films with real stunts; visceral films that didn't have to lean on CGI. Instead, films like the three above this one(particularly the first and third), where nothing is real, and nothing feels like it has any weight or substance, have filled the cineplexes. Jason Bourne reminds me that this franchise (along with, surprisingly, the Fast and the Furious franchise) has been keeping practical stunts alive in the CGI wilderness. A real police SWAT car smashing through five dozen real cars, or a CGI Superman smashing through five dozen CGI cars? I'll take the real thing every time. I give jason Bourne an 8/10.
Jason Bourne only got 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Reading over a few negative reviews, it doesn't look like any of those reviewers actually watched the film--they get simple plot points incorrect, and neglect to mention any of the standout scenes. Film criticism is all a crock, except for on The Nicsperiment, of course. Also, 56% is the highest Rotten Tomatoes aggregate review of any of the movies I watched today. HOLY CRAP, MOVIES SUCK NOW!!!

BONUS OBSERVATION: In recent years, I've been very saddened by the lack of memorable music scores in action films. Outside of Star Wars, few have had any memorable cues of which to speak. Not one Marvel film score outside of the first couple of X-Men has even registered. Fury Road again got my hopes up for iconic music making a return to film. With these four films, Tarzan and Suicide Squad feature pretty forgettable orchestrations. However, I have to go against the grain and say that I love Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL(of Mad Max)'s Superman theme. It has received a lot of flack for paling in the face of John Williams' legendary Superman music from the 70's (and I love that music!), but I like that they tried to do something different. Their ambient, minimalist, yet powerful theme stirs my emotions, even though nothing that's actually on the screen is making an impact. Also, John Powell's Bourne music is as resonant as ever, even ten years since the last one. It still gets my blood pumping. Or maybe that's the eight pounds of popcorn I just ate. Good day.

Monday, January 09, 2017

My First Review of the Year Is for a 24-Year Old PC Game

The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel changed the way I perceive life and interact with my environment. It isn't the greatest game of all time or anything, but it is a good game, and the first of its kind I experienced, during those strange couple of years in life before puberty.
Also, I think it's a pretty funny piece of criticism.

Here's a link to the review.

Happy second week of the New Year!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The State of Blogging 2017: What Happened to Blogging?

As The Nicsperiment enters its FOURTEENTH year of blogging COUGH*with a two-year inactive streak during '06-'08*COUGH, I'm left to wonder: what happened to everybody else? Is textually blogging dying as a format? Just among my peer group? Is everyone fleeing to a different blogging arena?
My sister-in-law has a blog-tracker on the bottom of her now apparently defunct blog. It shows the name of the roughly 25 or so blogs she follows, the most recent post for each respective blog, and how long it has been since each of those posts have been published. Outside of The Nicsperiment, only one of those 25 or so blogs has been updated in the past month. Outside of The Nicsperiment, only five of those 25 or so blogs have been updated in the past year. Half of them haven't been updated in the last half-decade.
What is going on?
Why aren't these people blogging anymore? What kind of outlet do they now have for the things they were blogging about? Were they just blogging because their friends were doing it? Was there a collective, "Well, if you're not doing this anymore than neither am I?"
I took my decade-ago two-year leave of absence because I thought being in a committed relationship meant that I couldn't do anything I liked anymore, including playing video games or watching any movies my wife wasn't into. Even my wife thinks that was a really stupid thing for me to do. In late 2008, I slowly incorporated blogging back into my life, and found it invaluable to my sanity. Any time I've had a break from blogging since, I've found that I have also been struggling mentally.
Blogging is my outlet, a designed introvert's outlet if ever there was one. Even if I'm mainly reviewing music and video games and not discussing my personal life all that much, I am still exercising my emotions. Has everyone else just found a better way of doing that? Maybe they just film themselves talking on youtube now, but if that's the case, sorry guys, but I am not going to watch videos of you talking on youtube.
I have noticed that my readership has stayed steady as long as I blog consistently. If I don't, the page view counts eventually go down. I don't know how many of these views are Russian spybots, but for Russian spybots to be that invested in my blog, it has to have at least some Internet real-estate value.
Anyway, with all that said, I've reached a point where I realize if I set yearly goals for The Nicsperiment in terms of content, I generally don't reach them, which leads to discouragement. My only plan is to keep working steadily through my "Every Album I Own" series, review each video game I complete on my side-blogs, and post other mostly media-related content when I am moved to. Hopefully, I will get some travelogues in there, as I feel that is where I have done my best work. I'd love to somehow compile all of those into one physical volume one day, even if it is only for my own enjoyment. Actually, that may be the secret to continuous blogging. If you are blogging for your own benefit, simply to speak without caring about being heard, you will surely blog consistently. If you only care about reader response, you may struggle to blog when that readership isn't what you want it to be. Or something.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: While I was proofreading this post, my wife, who had no idea I was writing this, texted me to notify that she is ending her six-year absence of blogging, by beginning an all new blog. When I told her the irony of what I was currently doing and asked her opinion on the issue, she simply said, "They just do all that stuff on Facebook now." Awesome.)
Happy 2017. Here is a picture of all of my son's Nintendo Amiibos. When he realized that anyone anywhere in the world with unblocked Internet access can view The Nicsperiment, he asked me to post this picture with the caption, "Boy with the most Amiibos in the world." I told him that mostly grownups read The Nicsperiment, and that they may not know what an Amiibo is, but in the spirit of a true blogger, he insisted.
Boy with the most Amiibos in the world.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2016

About a million music albums were released in 2016. I heard maybe a couple hundred of those. Out of that, here are my favorite nine, in an attempted briefer fashion than previous years.

9. The Algorithm -- Brute Force

After three albums, I'm ready to say it: Rémi Gallego is a genius. His unique instrumental blend of metal and electronic music grows more sophisticated and beautiful with each new release. On Brute Force, Gallego adds touches of lovely, soaring electric guitar, which take his compositions to the next level. It's time for this Frenchman to get some international recognition.

8. FM-84 -- Atlas

I know that movies like Garden State and Elizabethtown feature girls who are not realistic, but one summer in the 80's, I met this girl named Autumn at the beach in Grand Isle, and we made friends, and she always called me "Honey" instead of "The Nicsperiment," and she had this awesome clubhouse where we ate watermelon, and she had an NES and a ton of awesome games, but the best thing is, this guy named Col Bennett, under the moniker FM-84, recorded a whole album about it.

7. Michael Giacchino -- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

I saw Michael Giacchino speak live earlier this year at an event for which I really need to do a write-up. During a Q&A, a crowd-member asked how Giacchino felt to be "this generation's John Williams." "I think John Williams is this generation's John Williams," Giacchino replied sheepishly. Now, Giacchino has been tasked with writing the first score for a live action Star Wars film not sound-tracked by the maestro. Giacchino does not falter. While I won't even pretend like the Oscar-winning Giacchino is Williams' equal, his score for Rogue One features a wonderfully heroic theme for the heroes, a great dastardly theme for the villians, and a seemingly endless amount of motifs for others. He does a great job of incorporating Williams' previous Star Wars work at just the right moments, creating work that gives Williams his due, and expressing his own personality as well. Giacchino's action music is the best since Williams' score for The Force Awakens last year, and he gives hope that a soon-to-be post-Williams soundscape has a bright future.

6. Pure in the Plastic -- Polyenso

This album in one sentence: What I wish Justin Timberlake would sound like. Somebody sign these guys.

5. Childish Gambino -- Awaken, My Love

If Donald Glover has a better year then this one, someone needs to check to see if his DNA is shaped like four-leaf clovers. Coming fresh off the birth of his first child, and the incredible success of his creative work on FX's Atlanta, Glover's musical project drops rap completely in favor of an old-school 70's funk and R&B attack. The diversity of the sounds on this album is almost as big a surprise as Glover's lively voice. Consider me on-board.

4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --Skeleton Tree

Formless, shapeless; Cave, grieving the loss of his son, calling out across the water, hearing no response, trying to live regardless.

3. Radiohead -- A Moon Shaped Pool

Experimental rock music should have run out of ideas years ago, but these Brits just keep uncovering new ones, and everything on this haunting lullaby of an album sticks, from the odd rhythms, to the nervous, seemingly sentient sounds wandering around each corner.

2. Norma Jean -- Polar Similar

With Polar Similar, Norma Jean have not only transcended whatever they once were, but whatever genre or scene could have every claimed them. This is huge, deep, relentlessly heavy--and I mean heavy on a metaphysical level as much as a musical level--restlessly progressing to some black summit, yet not bleak, not depressing, just heavy, heavy and massive. This is an astounding work by a band without peer.

1. Solange -- A Seat at the Table

I've always had an antagonistic relationship with Beyoncé's music, solely based upon the fact that when Destiny's Child's broke out, their album was the display CD at the local Wal-Mart where I worked. After hearing the umpteenth tween belt out, "Can you pay my bills, can you pay my telephone bills...," I decided I never wanted to hear the lovely Ms. Knowles voice ever again. If someone would have only told me the she had a cooler sister who sat in the back of the claass, always wore black, and never smiled, and maybe I would have thought better of the Knowles family. A Seat at the Table presents a sort of minimalist R&B unlike anything I've heard, with live instruments and excellent songwriting. This is an album of ideas and deep metaphors, with Solange repeating the coda "away," near the beginning and end of A Seat at the Table in a fashion that gifts the word a thousand meanings. This is a great work, my favorite album of the year...and she wrote it right down the highway from here!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Songs of 2016 (Not Found on Albums in the Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of the Year)

Brace yourself: I'm about to say a bunch of really controversial stuff, like In Utero isn't Nirvana's best album, that I like the idea of David Bowie more than the actual David Bowie, and that politics don't matter and can neither ruin nor improve your life, except when George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and then my dad's farming business went bankrupt and I had to start giving my Winn Dixie paycheck to my parents so we could pay our light bill. Nevermind, I guess.
Here are my nine favorite songs from 2016 that don't appear on any of my nine favorite albums from 2016. They are arranged, seemingly like the events of 2016, in no particular order.

Shell Sport -- "Rain Print"
The way this random kid from Greenland puts beats and bass together in this song makes me hope that he makes a lot more songs.

David Bowie -- "Lazarus"
Knowing how non-plussed I've been about David Bowie, my wife arrived back from a January trip to New York with the words "You've got to listen to this song." "This song" is "Lazarus," a haunting, fog-horned swansong from a guy who's influence of innovation and imagination on other artists has always had a stronger effect on me than his actual back-catalogue. While the non-video six-minute version is more powerful with its extended jam-session ending, this abridged video-version is stunning, and a hell of a way to go.

Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil -- "Nonchalant"
The Wow to the Deadness EP from whence this came overwhelmed my expectations. I've never been wowed by Steve Albini's production skill's, even on Nirvana's In Utero, but he brings out the best in this scrappy band of old guys, really finding some space in this straightforward, nearly shamanistic rock song.

Deftones -- "Prayers/Triangles"
The mid-section to Deftones' Gore is the weakest thing they've ever done, sounding more like watered-down alternative rock than the spacey art-metal they've perfected over the years. Thankfully, the album's opening salvo is excellent, particularly the first track, "Prayers/Triangles," which is as hypnotic as head-bangers come.

Drive-by Truckers -- "Guns of Umpqua"
American Band is a huge step back in the write direction after DBT's shockingly inconsequential English Oceans. The standout from this thoughtful collection of protest songs is gorgeous, spectral "Guns of Umpqua," contrasting the more menial aspects of life with a horrible real-life Oregon school-shooting.

ORKA -- "softly" ft. Amy Seach
I discovered the reclusive ORKA this year through an older song, "Phantom." His sensual, earthy grooves feel infinite, while piling on a strange soul that seems alien. He only released a handful of songs this year, with "softly" being my favorite. It fully captures the way he drags the listener through near-orgasmic soundwaves, and also makes me cry when I look at how many Youtube views it has next to any random video of Taylor Swift pulling out a wedgie.

Chevelle - "Shot From a Cannon"
Chevelle's The North Corridor almost feels like an exercise in denial, as it seems to be determined not to give the listener what they want. The building atmosphere from the last several albums is almost completely diminished, and the heavy grooves one expects seem to be hiding around every corner, hesitant to reveal themselves. Instead, the band settle for a very bare bones, simplistic, nearly generic rock approach, until the awesome closer, "Shot From a Cannon," where they introduce the groove that will bring the apocalypse. More of these on the next album, please!

Alcest-- "Kodama"
Alcest is the critically heralded band I always want to like, but their formless, spacey guitar-work always seems to put me to sleep...until the excellent Kodama, which takes inspiration from Master Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. This eastern tint gives Alcest a sense of dynamics heretofore missing, and the opening title track, with its quiet to loud breaks and soaring vocal moments, announces a band intent on keeping the listener wowed and engaged.

Kent - "Den sista sången"
People, generally those very young and naive, who have previously never seen the candidate they voted for lose an election, have been calling 2016 the worst year in history. In my years, I've seen both parties come and go, but my lot in life strangely not change regardless. Hmm. However, knowing that Kent will never make another album does directly effect me. While their swansong album, Då Som Nu För Alltid, is sadly not their best, the closer, "Den sista sången," and its corresponding final performance video hit me right in the tear-ducts.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


It's been almost five years since I've visited, and I'm not sure if it's even still a thing. I've written a lot of negative things about Pitchfork in the past, and I believed and still believe all of them. I guess at the end of the day, Pitchfork is a business (if it's still around), and it has to back up its business. I almost forgot they existed, but this review is inextricable from my too-cool-for-school music review website experience. But let's back it up.
I saw Phoenix on SNL in 2009. They performed "Lisztomania" and "1901," thought the songs were great, and loved the band's positive energy. I knew that the album the songs were from, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was receiving critical praise, and I picked it up at Best Buy for a low, low price. Those two SNL songs kick off the album, and are basically bouncy pop-rock, full of fun, weightless lyrics. They third song is a slower, semi-disco track. Four and five are basically one long song, a keyboard-based instrumental buildup with a gentle vocal coda. I'll note here that, as far as I know, Phoenix performed this album as a four-piece, playing keyboard, bass, and guitar, and a drum-machine performed the drum parts. No drummer is credited. These four guys carve out a signature sound, and it becomes apparent by the halfway point, sixth track, "Lasso," that this sound is extremely limited. Vocalist, Thomas Mars, has a certain cadence and rhythm, and a certain group of notes he likes to sing. It doesn't vary on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Tracks five through ten show that the band have a certain thing they can do, and that they did it best on the first two tracks. The last five tracks are essentially B-grade reinterpretations of those two songs.
I've long held the opinion that many modern music reviewers listen to an album's first few tracks, turn it off, review it, then throw on the next one. I am fairly certain that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's many "album-of-the-year" accolades came from reviewers who did just that. After quickly reaching a wall in my own listening of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I fled to those positive reviews to try to find out how to enjoy the rest of it. Pitchfork did that typical thing they always do where they ignore the best, often most popular songs, and talk about deep-album cuts as if they are the true standouts. This would seem to counteract my initial statement, but Pitchfork's praise of these songs was often complete gibberish, nonsense showcasing the reviewers' large vocabularies. I found no solace in this gibberish. The other reviews did the general, "mention the first couple of songs" thing, and that was it. I then decided on my own that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would work great as an EP, ending at track five. As a ten-track album, it reveals Phoenix as a band with some pretty unfortunate limitations. I think the fact that no one has heard from them since proves this point. Outside of a 2013 album that the previously mentioned reviewers couldn't even pretend to be interested in--and why would they? Praising it wouldn't raise their cool points, so why do it?--they've been silent.
This experience from seven years ago planted a seed in me to start writing my own music reviews (though I had written some scattered reviews before, as well as made end-of-the-year lists). I was disgusted by the little effort put into reviews by major publications like Rolling Stone (the "just listen to the beginning and the singles" approach), and even more disgusted by the trendy ("we're too good for anything, except what you won't get"), tone-deaf approach of Pitchfork. Why not write my own reviews? I decided I'd shoot for two things: objectivity and honesty. Objective in that I want to review the music I am reviewing, and not its cool-factor and lack thereof, and honesty in how certain factors may influence my ability to be objective.
Objectively, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix starts off great, then repeats itself in weaker and weaker variations, till it squeaks to a close. Honestly, the fact that the album received numerous accolades, despite being quite average, may be why I have only given it a five instead of a six or a seven. Whatever the case, this review is yet more proof that I like to talk about myself far more than I like to actually review anything.

Phoenix-1901 (Live on SNL on 4/4/09) from Joaquin Sharpe on Vimeo.

2009 Glassnote
1. Lisztomania 4:08
2. 1901 3:13
3. Fences 3:45
4. Love Like a Sunset (Part I) 5:39
5. Love Like a Sunset (Part II) 1:57
6. Lasso 2:48
7. Rome 4:38
8. Countdown 3:57
9. Girlfriend 3:24
10. Armistice 3:05

Saturday, December 24, 2016

PFR- Disappear


I feel like in many ways, the reputation of PFR's Disappear is doomed. I've lately read several articles lamenting the lack of backing veteran Christian artists are finding in their latter years (here's a great one!). For one, Christian music is a niche genre. Then there's the fact that some people de-convert and don't care for the lyrical content of the music anymore. There's also a large crowd who treats music as disposable, and doesn't come back to anything they've listened to in the past. That doesn't leave older Christian artists many listeners.
PFR were not quite huge in the 90's, but certainly had a following, and held a certain respect in the mainstream Christian rock scene of the mid-90's. The respect was due to the band's excellent, Beatles-esque harmonies, their tight musicianship, and strong songwriting abilities. While they never put out an absolute standout mid-90's album, like their respective peers DC Talk with Jesus Freak, Jars of Clay with their self-titled album, or Newsboys with Take Me to Your Leader, their Great Lengths is at least on par with Audio Adrenaline's Bloom. Then they "broke up." DC Talk also broke-up (or went on a still-active 18-year hiatus...whatever you want to call it), Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys mutated into ungainly, original member-free zombies, and Jars of Clay shunned their original fanbase to produce one of the most critically acclaimed back-catalogues of the past 20 years. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, PFR got back together to record Disappear. They also put out a live album, and an album of re-workings, then broke-up for what we can assume will be forever. However, this final PFR review of mine is for Disappear, PFR's final full-length album of original material, released by Squint Entertainment in 2001. Shortly after Disappear's release, Squint Entertainment went out of business... leaving Disappear not promoted. With the factors I mentioned in this review's opening sentences already working against it, this complete lack of visibility rendered Disappear's title unfortunately apt. I am the only person I know who owns it. But fifteen years later, I'm still listening.
Man, this is like the saddest review intro I've ever written. Disappear is a good album, not perfect by any means, but it doesn't deserve to be as completely overlooked as it has. It shows PFR maturing, yet not becoming boring or predictable.
"Amsterdam" kicks things off with high-energy, but experiments with some cool guitar effects and brings a sense of urgency and a bit of darkness, which the band's previous music never quite touched upon. It also brings back those fabulous harmonies their previous, supposed-to-be-final album, Them lacked. "Gone" keeps the energy high, making for a very rocking opening duo. "All Ready" then comes completely out of left-field with a Celtic, autumnal intro, perhaps full of even more energy than the previous two songs. "All Ready" also features, in its chorus, some of the most beautiful harmonies PFR have sung.
After this wonderful opening trio, the band offer the standard PFR CCM radio ballad of the album, with "Missing Love," but it's actually one of the best they've done. It features some gorgeous strings, and lets them breathe for an excellent extended outro--I hate when a band doles out the money for some classical instrumentation then relegates it entirely to the background--I love the respect PFR show for it here. "Closer" picks the rock back up, a mid-tempo number that highlights Disappear's excellent production qualities--with a trio, you'd hope guitar, bass, and drums are all given equal love in the mix, and PFR continue to excel in this.
Unfortunately, Disappear is not a perfect album, and is let down by its sixth and seventh tracks. "Even a Whisper" perhaps aims for the circular melodies of past songs like "Merry-Go-Round," but falls into a pit of cheese. It also features an unfortunately boppy drum beat that brings to mind what I call the "K-Love" rhythm. This song is not going on my PFR mix-tape. "Language of the Soul" also disappoints, another ballad, but nowhere in the league of "Missing Love," just too schmaltzy. Thankfully, these two songs come and go, and Disappear picks back up. "Falling" is a return to urgency, and thematically links back to "Amsterdam." There's a definitel sense of searching and longing in these lyrics that I enjoy. "Me," is next, a true weirdo of a song, and maybe my favorite for that very reason. In between the industrial choruses (I'm not kidding!), an effect-laden guitar riff, and a distant spaghetti-western bass line bring to life an imaginative sound I haven't heard in any other song. It may be too strange for some, and certainly not what one would expect from PFR, but I dig it. It reminds me of when I moved into my first apartment, broke and lying on the carpet in the middle of the night next to my stereo, but I'll actually get to that when I review another band's album in a few weeks.
Disappear closes with "You," a hazy, sort-of ballad that ends the album on a definite high. It's spacey and mysterious, yet victorious, another unique feather in PFR's cap. The strings return and are again allowed freedom to soar, lifting Disappear into a twilit stratosphere for its final two minutes.
And that's it. No more PFR--and just when it looked like, instead of becoming old and boring, they were going to experiment with new sounds more than ever. Miss you guys.
Also, the only person to post songs from this album to Youtube was apparently raptured five years ago.

2001 Squint Entertainment
1. Amsterdam 2:41
2. Gone 3:20
3. All Ready 3:09
4. Missing Love 5:24
5. Closer 3:15
6. Even a Whisper 3:11
7. Language of the Soul 3:47
8. Falling 2:56
9. Me 2:35
10. You 4:46