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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The National -- High Violet

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Look, I know I just basically reviewed The National's Boxer as if it was the worst thing anyone has recorded, but it's not. Though I haven't heard anyone talk about this band in a while, nor do I know of any of the folks who were eight years ago championing Boxer as the greatest thing ever still throwing it on at any point in the present, even I can admit, Boxer is neither my thing, nor terrible. With that said, I don't think Boxer is, as a whole, engaging, dynamic, or worthy of high praise. It isn't the only The National album I own, though. I bought Boxer way into 2012. Two years before, for the simple reason that Sufjan Stevens contributed to it. a lot of people liked it, and 7digital had the album on sale for $5, I bought a very recently released High Violet. I made it through the first five songs, and thought two things (both of these The National albums get a two item list): 1. This is pretty good. 2. My wife would really like this. Well, my wife really did like it a lot. Actually, she still has this on the iPod mix that plays on random ad nauseum in her car. Also, the first five songs...really, the first six songs on High Violet are pretty good, especially if you cut out "Little Faith," which is basically a microcosm of both The National albums I've heard. "Little Faith" starts with a cool-sounding head-rush of rhythmic, treated distortion, and the track could really take off from there, but the rest of the song has absolutely nothing to do with the intro, never incorporates it in any way, just repeats it again as an outro. That's pretty much Boxer to a tee ("t"?), and High Violet for the most part, though neither album repeats the cool parts from the beginning at the end...they're just boring. I say "for the most part" for High Violet because Boxer is two cool songs followed by nine mostly boring ones, and High Violet is three cool songs, one boring one, two cool ones, and then five really boring ones, sans the outro to "Conversation 16," where the vocalist repeatedly intones "I was afraid I'd eat your brains...cuz I'm evil." By boring, I mean the drummer plays a constant rolling beat that rarely changes in dynamics, and never features any space, the bassist completely disappears, the singer's baritone drones on an on and on, barely wavering in tone, range, emotion, the lyrics obtuse, and guitars and horns that are just kind of there. Blah.
The cool songs are so cool, though. "Terrible Love" is a great opener, suggesting wells of emotional and musical potential. "Sorrow" is quiet and brooding, the kind of second track that seems like it will lead to an explosive third. "Anyone's Ghost" isn't explosive in any way, but it is full of an unparalleled brooding angst, like the previous track actually built up to it. Then, unfortunately, "Little Faith" happens, and I've already talked about that. Thankfully, "Little Faith" leads directly into "Afraid of Everyone," possibly The National's most menacing and aggressive song, though when I listen to it now, I can't help thinking that if the drummer would have accented the end of each measure of the outro with some crash cymbal, the song would feel much more full and cathartic. As I mentioned in the previous review, this dude doesn't like cymbals all that much, outside of his hi-hat. The next song is "Bloodbuzz Ohio," which is actually *gasp* fun. Little else that follows "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is fun, though. The band settle into a hazy, barely mid-tempo fog that does nothing for me, outside of the brains part. The fact that the vocalist's lyrics are so non-sensical makes this second half even more alienating. "You and your sister live in a lemonworld, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo." I don't have any idea what this dude is talking about, but listening to him singing that line over and over and over again is quite annoying.. "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." I don't think I even want to know what that means, but it certainly doesn't resonate.
I don't know, man, I just don't get it. St. Vincent, either, while we're at it on Paste darlings. However people describe these artists, I feel like other artists have actually fulfilled those descriptions, and these haven't. The music just bores me. Happy Thanksgiving. Goodnight.

2010 4AD
1. Terrible Love 4:39
2. Sorrow 3:25
3. Anyone's Ghost 2:54
4. Little Faith 4:36
5. Afraid of Everyone 4:19
6. Bloodbuzz Ohio 4:36
7. Lemonworld 3:23
8. Runaway 5:33
9. Conversation 16 4:18
10. England 5:40
11. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks 4:12

Monday, November 23, 2015

The National -- Boxer

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Remember Paste Magazine? It was like the kindler, gentler Pitchfork, except it was a real magazine, except now it is not a real magazine anymore, and it is online like Pitchfork. Whereas, Pitchfork is the snobby hipster idiot, Paste is the kindly, bearded, sweater-wearing English Professor, except they both like the exact same music.
I once !HUGE NERD ALERT! worked in the Audio-Visual department of the main branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. The head librarian of that department at the time was completely out of her depth, and seemed to base most of her library music-collection purchases based on Paste Magazine reviews, for lack of personal knowledge. That meant that there was always an issue on her desk, and when things got slow, I'd grab Paste and take a look at what was lukewarm (that was a joke, cuz none of it was hot). I remember two things about Paste:
1. Every issue seemed to contain an interview with an "alt-country" band that insisted, "We're country, but we're not like this modern radio-country that isn't really country at all. We're like Hank Williams and old-timey real country." But really they were just white kids from the suburbs who could never properly convey the suffering of the country greats because they've never had to strive through anything, and anyway, their music was most likely so boring, Hank Williams would only see it fit for the soundtrack to his post morning six-pack nap. Or it was modern bluegrass, which is just as bad. 2. The National was on every Paste cover ever published and won every Paste Album of the Year award, even in years in which The National did not release an album. I bought The National's Boxer for $3 on Amazon's digital music blowout (this was my second National purchase/attempt to like The National). Here's what I think about The National's Boxer:
I don't like The National. Their music is really, really boring (IT'S DAD ROCK). The singer's voice, for the entirely of this album, is essentially what happens when you ask a dude with a baritone to work out 676 x 4363 in his head..."ummm..." There's little variation in tone, emotion, or...even notes. I read once that they have a bassist...I'm not sure what he does. There's a drummer, and I guess he jumped on the whole "I know, after decades of better drummers' experimentation, musicians much more talented than myself have determined which parts most constitute a full and satisfying-sounding drum kit, but that's stupid, and so are cymbals" bandwagon that so many...I'm not going to call them drummers, they're percussionists, have jumped on, and he mostly just goes boom boom (bass drum) tap tap (snare drum) or some variation thereof with some tom rolls tossed in, meaning the drums completely lack any sense of dynamics, and are good for absolutely zero amount of catharsis, as there is no crash cymbal to pay-off the constant boom-boom tap-tap. This is also why John Mark McMillan's recent album is just good and not great. When the National do break out some cymbals, it's like "Why don't you use them for the whole album, and not this one inconsequential part?" Also, I might be a little passionate about this topic.
There are some horns sometimes, and the band have been called "cinematic," and I guess that's why, but cinemas feature moving pictures, and the stagnancy of this music from track to track is more evocative of a photograph. The National's music is "photographic."
Here's why Boxer was so heralded:
The first two songs are very different, and they're very good, and something you'll notice if you read a lot of reviews of any kind of media is that a very massive cadre of reviewers do not in-fact listen to, watch, or play the entirety of what they are reviewing, and only experience the beginning, make a snap-judgment, and rush out the most "I'm smarter than you, here's my opinion" one or two-paragraph and move on to whatever-is-next crap review they can.
Well, I could have just listened to the first two songs on Boxer, which I think are very good, and said "This album is so awesome" in an avalanche of five-dollar words that obscured the fact that I have no idea what I am talking about, but I actually listened to this stupid album that I don't even like multiple times just so I could give you my honest opinion of it. To be completely honest, those first two songs are great, and are everything people say The National are, and while the rest of the album isn't "bad," per se, it is everything I said The National are in the previous paragraph. Boxer is like falling into a muddy, barely intelligible baritone that doesn't even make sense when you can understand it, forever and ever and ever, and the sound never changes, even when they whip out the acoustic guitars, and after five listens, I tried an experiment where I only listened to the first ten seconds of every song in quick succession, and I almost drove my car off the Bueche Road Extension railroad bridge.
If you enjoyed this, or hate-read it, I'm reviewing High Violet next.

2007 Beggar's Banquet
1. Fake Empire 3:25
2. Mistaken for Strangers 3:30
3. Brainy 3:18
4. Squalor Victoria 2:59
5. Green Gloves 3:39
6. Slow Show 4:08
7. Apartment Story 3:32
8. Start a War 3:16
9. Guest Room 3:18
10. Racing Like a Pro 3:23
11. Ada 4:03
12. Gospel 4:29

Thursday, November 19, 2015

So Much for M

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M, you had your chance, and now it's over. You had the terrible misfortune of occupying the weirdest year of my life. I can barely remember writing reviews for you. I hope they were decent. Maybe I will look back on them later and think, Man when I wrote M, I was on fire! 
Now, onto N, a letter featuring some very eclectic artists, perhaps the most oddball letter of all--my favorite childhood letter because Nicsperiment, my legal name, starts with "N."
Goodnight. See you soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Morning Jacket -- Okonokos

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First listen: checked this out from the library at which I worked. Listened to it on the way to Tennessee, while my wife slept. It is over two hours of live music, two hours of long music, with a first disc containing songs that work better as singles and sing-a-longs, and a second disc that features extended, double-digit minute jam sessions. I've seen this band twice. Once, in 2006, they played for like three hours. That was too much. Two would have sufficed for what this band does. The second time I saw them was a few months ago. They only played for two hours. That was about right. Also, my wife's ex-boyfriend wasn't standing five-feet away from me the second time. Okonokos features two hours and ten minutes of music. It worked well for me as a captive listener. Plus, Tennessee mountains match well with music made just down the road from there. I didn't rush out and buy this album, though.
Second listen: More than half-a-year later, my brother-in law got me the 4-LP vinyl version of Okonokos to go along with the new record player he got me for Christmas of 2007. You know those Saturdays when you're doing stuff around the house for hours? Going through this set of music, switching out the record four times, flipping four records (that's eight sides) suits such an occasion nicely. Also, that box set looks nice on my vinyl shelf. So in all, this thing is a little bloated, but the music is great and showcases all sides of My Morning Jacket, from the Z-era back. Plus, the live recordings of these performances are probably better quality than the original studio albums for some of the band's earlier work. And that's all the My Morning Jacket I own.

2006 ATO

Disc One

1. Wordless Chorus 4:14
2. It Beats 4 U 4:26
3. Gideon 3:48
4. One Big Holiday 5:56
5. I Will Sing You Songs 8:38
6. Lowdown 4:14
7. The Way that He Sings 5:08
8. What a Wonderful Man 2:59
9. Off the Record 6:54
10. Golden 4:51
11. Lay Low 6:20

Disc Two

1. Dondante 11:18
2. Run Thru 9:35
3. At Dawn 3:05
4. Xmas Curtain 5:02
5. O Is the One that Is Real 3:36
6. I Think I'm Going to Hell 5:16
7. Steam Engine 11:07
8. Dancefloors 5:15
9. Anytime 4:03
10. Mahgeetah 7:08

Monday, November 16, 2015

My Morning Jacket -- Z

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My wife has, at some point, brought every My Morning Jacket album ever released into our house or car. I've heard all of them. With that said, I have purchased one My Morning Jacket album for myself. That album is Z. I purchased it shortly after its release in the fall of 2005*, due to a really awesome Late Night with Craig Ferguson performance, and a recommendation during one of many hours-long phone conversations with my future wife about music. Hint: if you have a girlfriend and she talks to some other heterosexual, non-DNA-sharing dude for hours on the phone every week, she is probably not going to be your girlfriend for very much longer. Z is one of the better recommendations once-friend, now wife has made over the last 12 years, but let's get to it.
My Morning Jacket made three albums before Z. Those albums contain some really good songs, but they aren't all that cohesive and the production work is some of the worst I have heard in my long hobby of music-listening. My Morning Jacket made three albums after Z. Those three albums have their moments. My wife has them on her car iPod and I've heard them plenty of times. With that said, this is the EVERY ALBUM I OWN review series, not the EVERY ALBUM I OWN, AND ALSO THE ALBUMS I PUT ON MY WIFE'S IPOD AT HER REQUEST review series, so I will review Z, right now, maybe, if you're lucky, and also the live album My Morning Jacket put out after Z, which my brother-in law got me on a 4-vinyl set to go along with the new record player he bought me (one of the better Christmas gifts I've received, plus I finally got to throw away the old record-player that had spinrectile disfunction). I'll review the latter in a couple days, and can you tell I'm stalling? On December 31, 2005, when I listed Z as my third favorite album of the year, I struggled badly to describe it. I ended up saying this:
"Of the nine albums on this list, Z is certainly the hardest to talk about. What is it? I still can't figure it out. It's not that the lyrics are obscure or arcane-in many ways they make perfect sense. It's defining the music I can't do. What is it? I will now turn one of those phrases I usually hate: Imagine mid-60s Who shaved off their rougher edges, moved to Hawaii, bought 21st century synths, added lots of reverb to the vocals, a little drum machine, and then took a really warm, refreshing bath. That's pretty much all I can think of. This is a consistent, genre-defining, beautiful rock record."
I guess that's pretty sonically accurate. Also, when I finish this review series, I'd love to make new versions of all my old best of the year lists. 2005's number one would most likely that I have some emotional distance. Anyway, that little blurb sums up the sound of Z pretty well, but not what necessarily makes the album so great.
What makes Z great is its structure, which is something My Morning Jacket haven't come close to replicating since. The way the album starts off in such a mysterious, yet reassuring place with "Wordless Chorus," then hurtles through a sort of mystical forest of sound with "It Beats 4 U," then awakens with "Gideon," then wanders off back into the woods during the psychedelic jam session at the end of midpoint, "Off the Record." Then the next song is literally called "Into the Woods." Then the album kind of jams out for a couple of songs, and the instruments, especially the piano (though this is a rock record), shine so brightly, and then there's such an unexpectedly gentle song, not that the album has been rough up to this point, then there's jamming and spacing out with the closer, "Dodante." Z just flows so well, and with the actual songs being so good, and so well played, and so diverse...the album is perfect. Without question, if I made a new The Nicsperiment's Nine Best Albums (I've Heard) of 2005 list today, nearly ten years later, Z would still be riding high. My wife's ten-year old advice was good advice.

*This is one of those albums that reminds me of house/dog-sitting for my aunt during November of 2005, reading her Harry Potter books, watching her TV (both How I Met Your Mother and Bones premiered that fall, though I only stuck with How I Met Your Mother), and drinking her beers. That was such a lovely time in life, not having a job, but sitting on a decent sum of money I'd made in my Katrina disaster-relief job (84 hours a week yields a lot of overtime), walking along the crawfish ponds, watching the ducks take off during some of the loveliest, deepest orange sunsets I've ever seen, and generally feeling like any wonderful thing could happen at any moment. I haven't done a ten-year retrospective yet, but as this review is coming exactly ten years after that time, maybe this bonus paragraph is it.*

2005 ATO
1. Wordless Chorus 4:12
2. It Beats 4 U 3:46
3. Gideon 3:39
4. What a Wonderful Man 2:25
5. Off the Record 5:33
6. Into the Woods 5:21
7. Anytime 3:56
8. Lay Low 6:05
9. Knot Comes Loose 4:02
10. Dondante 8:01

Monday, November 09, 2015

If Idris Elba Was James Bond

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As current James Bond, Daniel Craig, is talking retirement from the role, one particular actor's name keeps popping up as his successor. I didn't feel like putting a colon or a dash in that previous sentence, but that actor is Idris Elba. Elba is best known for his role as the business minded gangster, Stringer Bell, on The Wire, but he's been in a ton of recent films, including Thor, Prometheus, and Pacific Rim. While some might think Elba is a controversial choice for the role, I say that line of thinking is ridiculous. What living British actor can portray that kind of icy cool, with just a speck of vulnerability, coupled with an imposing physicality? Bond's got to have a sort of smoothness and intelligence, and Elba can do that just as well. Who else, at this exact moment in history can equal his fit for the role?
It doesn't matter what you think, I'm right, and the answer is "no one."
However, there is one caveat (I saved the colon for now): Daniel Craig, who has filmed four James Bond films in the last decade, and who is beginning to seem a bit too old for the role as it is, is 47. Elba is 43.
Idris Elba is not a young man. For further reference, Sean Connery was 31 when he filmed Dr. No, the first James Bond film. So here's what I think Eon Productions (who make the James Bond films) should do (here comes the second colon...I limited myself to two for this entry):
Don't reboot the series. Don't make another film about how the double-0 program is under attack, or some extreme thing is happening and Bond has to go rogue, or get revenge. Write a script where Bond is assigned a spy mission, and have Bond undertake that mission. Nothing about how the very fabric of MI-6 is threatened with destruction. Just write a simple story about some supervillian with a dastardly plan, send James Bond through some exotic locales to stop him, and throw in some thrilling action sequences to boot. Make sure the script can be shot as a film that runs no longer than two hours (Spectre had no business being two and a half hours long!). Cast Elba for the role.
Yes, like George Lazenby, who starred in arguably the finest Bond film put to celluloid, give Elba a one-off shot at James Bond. If he's still feeling fresh afterward, and everything works out, give him a second one.
Less pressure for everyone. Less invested. Smaller budget due to less minutes being filmed. Elba gets to take on the role at least once before he is past his prime. All of us Bond fans get to reap the rewards...