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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster -- III

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I talk about how I am constantly looking for a new Björk. Even though she just put out a pretty great album, it's no secret that Björk is no spring chicken. At least she's alive, though. Most of Lynyrd Skynyrd is dead. I love Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Well, why didn't you review them, The Nicsperiment reviewer guy?
Because I landed on the Lynyrd Skynyrd portion of the alphabet in November of last year, and in November of last year, this happened, I decided to skip old Lynyrd Skynyrd. Let's just say that on Sunday, November 9th, on a family trip to the Denham Springs, Louisiana Bass Pro Shop, I complained to the manager after hearing "Sweet Home Alabama" on the music intercom. I was not the only complainer. Several of the cashiers had to leave the store and go outside so they wouldn't punch a customer. College football is a big deal in the South.
Anyway, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster are not Lynyrd Skynyrd. Not even close. Skynyrd hit on more of a delta blues and boogie sound, at which Maylene only hints on their third album, III (really only on the opening guitar riff of III's "Listen Close.") This is heavy music, more indebted to the indigenous sounds of Appalachia than the big muddy. I picked up III during the summer of 2009, hoping to scratch my Skynyrd itch. Because this was my sole aim, I didn't appreciate what III was attempting to accomplish. It has taken nearly seven seasons of FX's Justified, which premiered a year after III was released, to ease my ears into III's banjo touches and whiskey jug slaps.
On it's own merits, III is a pretty decent album. The guitar riffs are heavy and technical. Vocalist, Dallas Taylor, sounds like the dude from AC/DC, if the dude from AC/DC had drank an entire fifth of whiskey filtered through every cigarette ever made. The rhythm section is adequate. Track three, "Just a Shock" is one of the better mixes of heavy and poppy I've heard. Dallas Taylor shows he can sing smoothly, if a little high and dirty in the chorus, though the verses and guitar are ferocious enough. Track five, "Step Up (I'm On It)", with it's banjo and foot-stomping is catchy enough to have foundd its way into a video game and a Sons of Anarchy episode. Actually, in many ways, III and Sons of Anarchy are reminiscent, with all the stories of repentant and not-so repentant outlaws. Really, the two are a match made in heaven. Track six, the (as above-mentioned) Skynyrd-esque "Listen Close" is a sad, personal, and rather prophetic song from the road, as Taylor senses his marriage slipping away due to distance. IV, released two years later, drops a lot of the outlaw stuff to chronicle Taylor's divorce. I'll review that one in a couple of days.
The effect of switching between grittier songs, and ones with a little gloss is enjoyably dizzying, but the three tracks after "Listen Close" fall into a same-y funk that drags down the album. By the time the banjo and old-man singing of track ten,"Oh Lonely Grave," kick in, it's a little too late to revive the album. Closing instrumental "The End Is Here...The End Is Beautiful" is lovely, like a Southern meadow at twilight, but by then, the album already feels over.
So in the end, III does a lot of cool things, but just can't sustain the momentum of its opening half. But while III isn't Skynyrd, Maylene do have their own musical identity that is well worth checking out.

2009 Ferret Music
1. Waiting on My Deathbed 4:03
2. Settling Scores by Burning Bridges 3:52
3. Just a Shock 3:13
4. Last Train Coming 2:31
5. Step Up (I'm on It) 3:28
6. Listen Close 3:40
7. The Old Iron Hills 2:33
8. No Good Son 2:49
9. Harvest Moon Hanging 3:24
10. Oh Lonely Grave 4:12
11. The End Is Here... The End Is Beautiful 5:11

Monday, March 30, 2015

Wii U Game Reviews: Super Mario 3D World (Review)

I posted this on my Wii U Review Blog. I am having a ton of fun playing these games and writing these reviews. If you've read any of my game reviews for The Nintendo 64 Museum, you'll know I write those in a sort of stuffy, formal, fussy form, as I try to treat that space of the Internet as a literal museum you accidentally find when you are wandering around a back alley. The reviews are written in present tense, as the games are still playable and alive, even though they have now become relics of a past age.

I have no such restraints with the stuff on my my Wii U Blog. I just write them however I want.


Click the link below to reach Wii U Game Reviews:

Wii U Game Reviews: Super Mario 3D World (Review): ZombiU  Released on the Wii U November 22, 2013 by Nintendo  Retail: $59.99 Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.7/10 Mario. When I was a kid...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Marvin Gaye -- Midnight Love

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All of Marvin Gaye's introspection on the nature of good and evil inside himself found within the album, In Our Lifetime, gives me a headache. I think those lyrics are a sign of Marvin's increasingly troubled mental state at the time. He would only release one more album before his death. Midnight Love is that album. Two years later, he'd be in the ground.
In a wikipedia-listed quote whose source I can actually vouch for, Marvin says before beginning the sessions for Midnight Love, "I'm worried that I'm getting so introspective, no one will listen. I can't afford to miss this time. I need a hit." Apparently, Marvin recognized how alienating his lyrical pondering had become, as well. This almost leads to an over-correction. On Midnight Love, Marvin keeps his topics simple: love and healing. Also, Midnight Love not only falls squarely into the genre of 80's pop--with its pioneering use of "that 80's drum-machine sound," coupled with "that 80's synthesizer sound," and everybody's favorite "80's sexy saxophone," Midnight Love pretty much invented 80's pop music.
As a kid in the 80's, I hated stereotypical 80's music. I preferred the more timeless sounds of U2, or the Police's last album. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have an 80's pop sweet-spot that Midnight Love strikes right down the Billy Ocean, "Carribean Queen" right down the middle. Midnight Love's beat is so infectious, its rhythms...healing. Marvin was an ailing man when he recorded Midnight Love, and in a way, he was always ailing. I can understand. The kind of healing that he wants here isn't just sexual, though that is a component. It's a deeper, nearly intangible kind of healing he was looking for. At the end of his search, he created one final lasting work for the people to enjoy--but for him, it wasn't enough. R.I.P. Marvin.
If I were you, I'd make sure I picked up the Midnight Love 2000 re-release that ends with a bonus instrumental of the song "Rockin' After Midnight." It is so fun and good-vibing, and it is emblematic of most of the rest of the album: Gordon Banks on guitar, someone else on the sax, and Marvin singing and playing eight instruments himself. Working for the people.

1982 Columbia
1. Midnight Lady 5:17
2. Sexual Healing 3:59
3. Rockin' After Midnight 6:04
4. 'Til Tomorrow 4:57
5. Turn On Some Music 5:08
6. Third World Girl 4:36
7. Joy 4:22
8. My Love Is Waiting 5:07

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Marvin Gaye -- In Our Lifetime

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Marvin Gaye's penultimate album, In Our Lifetime, is an absolute mess. Fittingly, Marvin's personal life was an absolute mess, as well. Both of his marriages had failed, and due to his crippling cocaine habit, he was short on cash. This made him even more insufferable, as while his reliability decreased inversely with his mooching for drug money, he seemed confused as to why anyone could ever be upset with him. That's why you shouldn't do drugs, kids.
Eventually, Marvin's record company grew tired of his meanderings. They'd already blown a ton of money on a disco record Marvin had scrapped at the last second. Eventually, Marvin's session and touring bassist, Frank Blair, snatched the recordings of a concept record Marvin was putting the finishing touches on, and took them to the label. The label edited the recordings as they saw fit, and released them as In Our Lifetime.
Marvin was actually going to call the album In Our Lifetime?, the question mark fitting considering all of the pondering the album contains. It's hard to blame Frank Blair or Tamla (really Motown, of which Tamla was a subsidiary), though. In Blair's case, the bass-playing is probably In Our Lifetime's finest aspect. In Tamla's case, it's pretty tough to watch someone blow all your money without seeing any profit. Either way, it's hard to grieve the results. I'm not sure this album would have ended up among Marvin's best with his editing in place of the label's. The basic songs just aren't on par with Marvin's better work.
If you purchase In Our Lifetime today, it will include Ego Tripping Out, a disco song Marvin recorded and released as a single before his work on the In Our Lifetime sessions. I am doing this album a favor by not including it in the tracklisting because my hatred for pure disco creates a pretty bad bias, and because to describe it, I would have to use the word "insufferable" twice in the same review. Let's talk about the other eight songs.
I was going to do a track-by-track review here, and even got a third of the way through it, but just trying was giving me a terrible headache. As much as the Wikipedia intro wants you to believe this is a critically important album, the simple facts that it went out of print when Marvin's others didn't, and that finding lyrics online to half of these songs is impossible, it's pretty clear what popular opinion of In Our Lifetime actually is.
I'm more in line with that reality.This is the only one of these Marvin albums I'm reviewing of which I don't actually own a physical copy.
I like the spacey "Far Cry," which  doesn't actually have any real lyrics, as Tamla only had Marvin's syllabizing scratch track to use. Gaye hadn't gotten around to recording any for the song before the masters got yanked. This works for "Far Cry" though, as it sounds like some kind of ghost dance 4:28 before the end of the world. The jazzy piano, bass, and cymbal breakdown halfway through is magical. The final two minutes of the title track do the same thing--it sounds awesome. The bassline on "Funk Me" is infectious, and I love the nerdy glee in Marvin's voice when he repeats "funk me, funk me, funk me" near the end of the song. But unfortunately, a lot of the rest of the music here is light-weight, and Marvin's good vs evil on the dance-floor lyrics have a paranoid edge that takes most of the fun out the album. Like I said, In Our Lifetime is a mess, with an unmistakeable touch of genius somewhere deep underneath, like a Caspar David Friedrich moonrise with a Thomas Kinkade landscape painted over it. Due to Gaye's early-80's drug-addled excesses, and Tamla's meddling, that's about the best In Our Lifetime can offer.

1981 Tamla
1. Praise 4:51
2. Life is for Learning 3:39
3. Love Party 4:58
4. Funk Me 5:34
5. Far Cry 4:28
6. Love Me Now or Love Me Later 4:59
7. Heavy Love Affair 3:45
8. In Our Lifetime 6:57

Monday, March 23, 2015

Marvin Gaye -- Here, My Dear

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People didn't know what to make of Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear in 1978, so they panned it. People don't know what to make of it now, so they praise it. Here, My Dear is Marvin's oddball record, an 80-minute concept album about his divorce from his first wife, Anna. Five songs top the six minute mark, with a handful of others coming close. Melody is not highly valued; confession is. Marvin is blatant about his feelings, even when he is feeling pitiable and selfish. The lyrics are literal (from "Is That Enough"):

You got a flair for style
and the style is all the while
What could I do
The judge said she got to keep on living
the way she accustomed to
She trying to break a man
I don't understand
Somebody tell me please, tell me please
Why do I have to pay attorney fees (My baby's)
Attorney fees (Ooh baby)
This is a joke
I need a smoke
Wait a minute

And yet, Marvin stills finds the time to include an eight-minute sex-journey through space ("A Funky Space Reincarnation") which includes the lines:

Let's razzmattazz and all that jazz
Let's touch each other
Let's touch each other's ass

This ain't no masterpiece. Despite the wide range of lyrical insanity, though, most of Here, My Dear's 80 minutes is a soothingly calm ocean of music, in the dead of night, where you float, blindfolded. Despite the stress it was created under, the actual sonic experience of Here, My Dear's music is densely comforting. Where Marvin's going to take you next, nobody knows, not even him, and it's his problem, not yours.
Yes, Here, My Dear is weird. Most of the time, mainly when Marvin throws that grit into his voice and lets the sax wail, it's great. Sometimes, when Marvin is being petty, and so self-focused it's like he even forgot to write a song, it's not. But who has ever released an album like this before? Who is ever going to release an album like this again? I mean, the court told Marvin that his wife would get half the royalties from his next album, so he titled it Here, My Dear.
This is Marvin Gaye at his most vulnerable, more honest than ever, both more and less likable. Considering Here, My Dear is the work of a musical master, even if it is his overindulgent oddball, it is worth checking out, and at least making a day of. With repeat listens, the genius therein exposes itself more and more, even if it has too ooze from between some pretty gnarly emotional and musical architecture.

1978 Tamla
1. Here, My Dear 2:48
2. I Met a Little Girl 5:03
3. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You 6:17
4. Anger 4:04
5. Is That Enough 7:47
6. Everybody Needs Love 5:48
7. Time to Get It Together 3:55
8. Sparrow 6:12
9. Anna's Song 5:56
10. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You (Instrumental) 6:03
11. A Funky Space Reincarnation 8:18
12. You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You 5:32
13. Falling in Love Again 4:39
14. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You (Reprise) 0:47

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Marvin Gaye -- I Want You

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Let's get the bad out of the way first: the moaning. Three songs on Marvin Gaye's I Want You feature a woman moaning ecstatically. While throwing moaning sounds into "You Sure Love to Ball," the penultimate track on Gaye's previous album, Let's Get It On, worked, the three attempts to better songs with it on I Want You fail. They distract, are extraneous, redundant, pornographic without being sexy, and worst of all, they belie the idea that I Want You doesn't already inhabit a sensual enough mood without them. They cheapen something truly special.
There, that is I Want You's only flaw, dropping it from a 10/10 to a 9/10. Moaning. Now let's get on with the rest of it.
Without the moaning, I believe that I Want You would be considered one of Marvin's masterpieces. The album creates a lush, relaxing mood from the onset, with deeper emotional tones than some of Marvin's previous work. "I want you," he sings in the title track, "But I want you to want me, too." Desire isn't enough. It has to be reciprocated. Marvin doesn't just want sex. He wants connection.
The rest of the album flows accordingly: a rhythmic bed, lush blankets of orchestration, Marvin's voice floating above. The whole thing feels like a 40-minute dream, replete with repeating motifs. I Want You is Marvin's most impressionistic album, fully deserving the impressionistic artwork that accompanies it. And still, it gets down.
This is an album made by a master at his peak, marred only by a silly production decision. This is an album that could only have been created by Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr.. Despite its lesser-known status in Gaye's canon, I Want You is an album on which to stake a legacy.

1976 Tamla
1. I Want You (Vocal) 4:35
2. Come Live with Me Angel 6:28
3. After the Dance (Instrumental) 4:21
4. Feel All My Love Inside 3:23
5. I Wanna Be Where You Are 1:17
6. I Want You (Intro Jam) 0:20
7. All the Way Round 3:50
8. Since I Had You 4:05
9. Soon I'll Be Loving You Again 3:14
10. I Want You (Jam) 1:41
11. After the Dance (Vocal) 4:40