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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Time For A Month of Reviews 12 Americans Will Care About!

Summer of 1999, late afternoon, I was sitting in my Thunderbird on my Winn Dixie lunch break, enjoying everything I could--especially my Winn Dixie lunch breaks. I had a cyst on my lower back I had convinced myself was a cancerous tumor. I thought I might croak any day, so I was trying to soak up every minute of life. If you are seventeen and have strange growths in embarrassing places, show your parents, and go to the doctor. Enjoying every moment is cool, but I was living under the impression that I would soon die a hero, as everyone would conclude I lived aware of my impending death for months, but kept it to myself so as not to bother anyone. When the cyst finally burst through my skin in class a few months later, and blood shot all over my pants, I realized I didn't want to spend my final days in embarrassment, and finally showed my parents, which then led to a second realization--you mean, if I would have just gone to the Dr. two years ago, he could have cut this out of me and thrown it in the trash, preventing months of fatalism and agony? But that hadn't happened yet. On this particular afternoon, I was happy and ready for death, jamming out to sweet tunes on KLSU, my local college radio station, and future place of not-dead employment.
Suddenly, strange tones came out of my speakers, and I put down my Dr. Pepper and PBJ, entranced.

"I think this is the best thing I have ever heard," I probably said out loud, but I'm not going to pretend that I remember exactly saying that, nor am I objective enough about my own perceived awesomeness to pretend that I didn't say that. The sure thing is, I had never before heard a song containing so much feeling. I mean, I had, but not something so brand new and so foreign like this particular song. Turns out, it literally was foreign. The sounds were created all the way in Scandinavia--Eskiltuna, Sweden, to be exact. The creator, Kent, a Swedish rock band, was at that time trying to make headway into the U.S. market. I headed to my local Blockbuster Music, or Music Warehouse, or whatever it was before it became FYE to pick up the CD from which the song came, Isola. Apparently, only about 12 other Americans had the same idea, as the album somehow sold horribly in the U.S., and the band never released another disc here. They did, however, go on to become the biggest rock band in Sweden, releasing eight consecutive #1 albums in that country post-Isola. Their latest, Tigerdrottningen, came out only months ago.
GUESS WHAT, LUCKYS! I AM GOING TO REVIEW EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!
Hooray! My awesome cousin bought me their career-spanning boxset, which collects every single album and song Kent ever released. You can thank him for the next month of content! And you'll like it!!
Coming up: Kentober!!
!
Crap...it's not really October, but none of the summer months sound cool when combined with other words. Kently? It looks like it rhymes with gently! Kentgust? Actually, that sounds pretty cool, like some kind of all-consuming musical storm with really proper manners. But these reviews will span both July and August...so what do I do? Kentlygust? Crap...
NOTE: I might review some other things from other forms of media during Kentlygust, as well. There are a lot of drafts in the old Nicsperiment safe, so Kent haters, do not despair.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kashmir -- E.A.R.

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10/10

As of this writing, this particular review has slowed down my Every Album I Own series considerably. After listening to E.A.R. a couple times, I was pretty sure I had a perfect album on my hands, but I've given out so many "tens" recently, I just didn't want to do that again. Thus forth, therefore, consequently, because of this, what have you, I gave this album a month to sink in my estimation. I've listened to E.A.R. at least five times a week during that period, many times with my whole family. It has not sunk.
E.A.R is the work of a bunch of old pros who can do whatever they want. Kashmir have taken their indie or alternative, or whatever pointless moniker one wants to put before the word "rock" rock sound, added beautiful layers of noise and instrumentation, and written the best songs and album of their career. Frontman, Kasper Eistrup, seems more concerned with mortality than ever, but he also seems set on enjoying the people he loves for whatever time he has here. Eistrup pushes his voice into startlingly vulnerable regions at times, particularly on E.A.R.'s first single, as he belts out, "I was at your funeral, with my best friend/At the dive bar in your neighborhood, where all good things come to an end."

E.A.R. also manages a sort of rapturous flow, where most of the opening songs are stretched in length up to track seven, the nearly nine-minute "Pedestals," before ending with three short euphoric codas, then a bitter, yet rebellious epilogue. E.A.R. is the sound of a band at the top of their game, and I'm going to go listen to it right now. If you're alive, you should do the same.

2013 Sony/Columbia
1. Blood Beech 4:45
2. Piece of the Sun 5:26
3. Peace in the Heart 6:53
4. Seraphina 5:34
5. Milk for the Black Hearted 5:09
6. Trench 4:21
7. Purple Heart 4:57
8. Pedestals 8:38
9. This Love, This Love 4:14
10. Foe to Friend 4:22
11. E.A.R 3:59
12. Peace in Our Time 1:59

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

True Detective -- Season One (Review)

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True Detective
2014 HBO

Season One
SCORE: 8/10

I know I am late to the True Detective party. I do not currently have the Home Box Office Channel. Thankfully, no one I know has mentioned anything specific about this show to me, so I came in blind. All I knew was: Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey were in a TV show, that show received a lot of acclaim, and it was filmed and took place in my home state of Louisiana. Over about I week, I've watched all eight episodes. Thanks, Amazon. I mean it. Here is a relatively spoiler-free review of True Detective Season One.
True Detective is a limited series, composed of eight hour long episodes. While there will be second season of True Detective, the story told and characters told of in this first season standalone. Obviously, I rated this an 8/10 because I don't think it is perfect. Let's get the bad out of the way first.
The most shocking element of this series to this swamps of Louisiana born-and-raised reviewer is that True Detective was actually written and created by a fellow Louisianan, Nic Pizzolatto of Lake Charles. I say this...I write this, because as I watched the show, the local flavor felt off. True Detective takes place entirely in Acadiana, or Cajun Country. The vast majority of Acadians are white and Catholic. The music of Acadiana is cajun and zydeco. So while the show's Acadiana-shot locations look authentic, the stereotypical gospel music soundtrack and staged Protestant Tent Revivals seem like they should exist a few hundred miles away. Most of the show's last names (including the Woody Harrelson-portrayed protagonist) are Anglican: Hart, Tuttle, Lange. There are some Fontenot's and Theriot's, but they are on the periphery. Considering the show-runner is from Lake Charles, the details should have been tighter. Then again, maybe it's better that they weren't. Ever hear of Southern Hospitality? Cajun Country is the heart of this concept. With that said, the viewer will be hard pressed to find a positive-portrayal of anyone from the region. Good old boys who cheat on their wives, loose women, crooked preachers, and rape and death cult members--that is all you're going to get. It's the typical cinematic portrayal of Louisiana. I guess I should just be thankful there aren't any racists. It's a shame that one of our own couldn't do it right, but perhaps Pizzolatto grew up sheltered in a Lake Charles suburb and learned about the rest of the state from TV and movies, just like everyone else. Or perhaps there just wasn't any way to do his home state right and still tell the story he wanted. I believe it is the latter, as Pizzolatto makes sure to name-drop as many Louisiana towns as possible throughout the show's run--a consolation prize for authenticity. Conversely, the recently ended first season of Fargo (another limited series show, which I will soon review), while featuring its fair share of weirdos, freaks, and psychos, was able to portray a large amount of its Minnesota dwellers as good, salt-of-the-earth people. Granted, the shows' morality systems, Fargo's black and white to True Detective's muddy, muddy gray (at least until its latter moments), differ, but still.
True Detective's plotting is also a bit...convoluted. While the show is most dedicated to the relationship of the two leads, cleaning up a few plot details would have been nice. I'm all for certain ambiguities in the details, and in fact, I'll be praising some of those in a moment, but there are certain elements of the death cult (particularly which demographic they actually victimize, who did the victimizing, etc.) that should have been drawn a little sharper. The entire plot is essentially one enormous loose thread, which is fine to an extent, as the two leads' relationship matters most, but this is still problematic to the quality of the season.
Finally, like many modern shows, True Detective attempts to play the self-righteous feminist (check the speech the prostitute gives Harrelson in the second episode), but the viewer can be sure, if a beautiful woman pops up on screen, that woman will eventually appear naked, filmed at every angle. For some reason, the guys always keep their clothes on. It isn't television, it's HBO.
Now to the good. I've mentioned the relationship between the two leads. Much like FX's The Bridge, the relationship between True Detective's two detective's is by far the show's strongest element. Hearing the old-fashioned, rational Harrelson character once again make the mistake of asking the nihilist, unhinged McConaughey character a simple question, only to receive a long-winded, nonsensical answer is one of the great pleasures of modern television. Watching these two men slowly learn to respect one another, while still staying true to character is a wonderful experience. The show mines both humor and pathos from this, its strongest element, and wonder of wonders, the two of them actually develop and change! The character interplay gives the show a massive beating heart, and makes True Detective more than worth watching. The show features a few other minor players, but no other character gets to be drawn so fully. This is the Harrelson/McConaughey show, and the two leads shoulder the burden admirably. While McConaughey will deservedly get accolades for his brooding, off-the-wall performance, Harrelson also deserves credit for the emotional gauntlet he convincingly portrays his character inflicting upon himself.
While I complained about the filmmakers bungling the details of the setting, True Detective does do an excellent job of creating a setting, and a mounting feeling of dread. The unfathomable evil the detectives face is well-crafted as something that may be more than natural. The show contains elements of cosmic horror (meaning, the terror could be oozing from another plane, possibly from a realm we cannot even begin to comprehend), but allows the viewer to put as much emphasis on this as they want. One tantalizing shot near the end of the final episode is particularly delicious for those who want the show to go in that weirder direction, but it can also be summarily dismissed by those who don't care for such a thing. These sort of loose threads are great--they add to the mythology of the show, allow viewers fun conspiracy theories, but don't detract from the show's greater purposes.
True Detective is beautifully shot--a cinematic treat. Of particular note is the hypnotic opening credits sequence, which highlights the show's weirder vibes. In the end, it is those weirder vibes, along with the relationship between the two leads that lifts True Detective above the pack.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Kashmir -- Trespassers

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9/10

Kashmir's expansive Trespassers is another giant leap for the already excellent band. The album's sound is relatively huge, and includes some of the strongest work of their career. While Trespassers falls into a slight bit of sameness in its latter half that holds it from perfection (though each song is individually great), it is still a great piece of work. Its theme seems to revolve around the concept that we are all Trespassers on time's territory. While this is a stark idea, the band manage to wring quite a bit of hope from it, as well. Album centerpiece and standout, "Still Boy," features a huge chorus hook and deliriously shifting dynamics, summing up Tresspassers beautifully in its gorgeous, wistfully hopeful bridge (I'm sure, as "wistfully hopeful" is a contradiction, the French have one word to sum up the feeling).
Like the chicken needs the fox
And daylight longs for the dark
I excuse myself to go and make my mark



2010 Sony/Columbia
1. Mouthful of Wasps 5:16
2. Intruder 4:24
3.Mantaray 4:10
4. Pallas Athena 2:28
5. Still Boy 5:12
6. Bewildered in the City 6:29
7.Pursuit of Misery 4:07
8. Time Has Deserted Us 4:04
9. Danger Bear 3:40
10.The Indian (That Dwells in This Chest) 5:23

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kashmir -- No Balance Palace

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9/10

Now here is a tough, wicked little masterpiece. On No Balance Palace, Danish rockers, Kashmir, bring some darker-toned electric-guitar picking to the forefront of their once sunnier sound, and tell a subtle tale of light vs darkness in everyday city life. The devil lives in an apartment at the top of a black, abandoned building on the corner, throwing trash from the window onto the street below. Almost everyone parties the days away under a disco ball, oblivious, never noticing that sometimes Lucifer has come down to stand in the corner and watch. Best to drive on. Just don't pass up this album.


2005 Sony/Columbia
1. Kalifornia 5:27
2. Jewel Drop 4:20
3. The Cynic (featuring David Bowie) 4:22
4. Ophelia 3:56
5. Diana Ross 0:31
6. The Curse of Being a Girl 3:39
7. She's Made of Chalk 5:05
8. Ether 5:21
9. Snowman 3:14
10. Black Building (featuring Lou Reed) 1:58
11. No Balance Palace 8:03

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Kashmir -- Zitilites

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7/10

In the spring of 2002, I introduced my cousin to the band Kent (who is about to receive a review extravaganza). My cousin later repaid the favor by introducing me to Kent's Danish alternative-rock counterparts, Kashmir. He bought me their (at the time) three latest albums as a gift over consecutive holidays, and I enjoyed two of them very much. Quite tellingly, though, he saved the earliest released of those three albums, Zitilites, for last. This is because, of the three, Zitilites is easily the least enjoyable. It lacks the momentum of Kashmir's later albums, and bogs down under the immense weight of its hourlong runtime.
A trend I've noticed in this review series: If your album is between 13-15 tracks and eclipses the runtime threshold of an hour, it will probably become a bit monotonous and difficult to slog through. Zitilites definitely hits this barrier around its saggy middle, but it has one major thing going for it: cool factor (just look at the album cover). Kasper Eistrup's voice falls inside that striking Thom Yorke-wavelength without encroaching into the realm of fatalism (I don't know if that made sense. I love Thom Yorke, but Eistrup never sounds as if he is intoning the world's end). The band's guitar tones are really enjoyable, even if they aren't always in service of the most interesting riffs. Zitilites seems to be housing a naked energy that is never quite unleashed. Kashmir would finally unleash it a couple years later on No Balance Palace, but because Zitilites keeps the sword in the sheath, it is enjoyable without ever causing much excitement. "Ramparts," is as close as it gets.


Then again, I should probably mention that Zitilites is a transition work between Kashmir's earlier, more straightforward rock sound, and their later, darker, vaster, more atmospheric indie work. Because of this, I guess I should cut Zitilites a little slack. Then again, with gorgeous songs like "Petite Machine," it doesn't need much.


2003 Sony/Columbia
1. Rocket Brothers 5:26
2. Surfing the Warm Industry 4:26
3. The Aftermath 4:22
4. Ruby Over Diamond 3:09
5. Melpomene 4:39
6. The Push 4:46
7. Ramparts 4:06
8. Petite Machine 4:44
9. The New Gold 3:40
10. Big Fresh 5:11
11. In the Sand 3:13
12. Small Poem of Old Friend 6:04
13. Zitilites 4:01
14. Bodmin Pill 3:59

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Karnivool -- Asymmetry

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7/10

Through the first four tracks of Asymmetry, experimental rock band, Karnivool, sound like they have kicked off a masterpiece. The stretch of "Aum" through "We Are" is powerful enough to give the impression that even a genre standard like Dredg's El Cielo is about to be surpassed. Unfortunately, several songs later (after the stunning "Aeons"), the band fall into a rut, and Ian Kenny's philosphical lyrical meanderings grow tiresome. That's too bad, as the atypical drum rhythms, fuzzed-out buzzsaw guitars and bass, and soaring vocals really hit the spot before they wear out their welcome. Even when they do, the album isn't necessarily bad, just not nearly as good as it could have been.

That paragraph felt a little too general. I guess what I am saying is that tracks one through six would be the EP of the year. The rest of Asymmetry is kind of like a surprising trick being repeating and repeated to diminishing returns. Karnivool need to attempt to keep the momentum going for the full album next time. (Maybe the fact that the fourteen-track, hour-long album climaxes with the fourth track ties into the title?)

2013 Density Records/Sony
1. Aum 2:22
2. Nachash 4:50
3. A.M. War 5:18
4. We Are 5:55
5. The Refusal 4:54
6. Aeons 7:18
7. Asymmetry 2:36
8. Eidolon 3:45
9. Sky Machine 7:49
10. Amusia 0:54
11. The Last Few 5:15
12. Float 4:17
13. Alpha Omega 7:57
14. Om 3:51