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Friday, April 29, 2011

Foo Fighters -- Wasting Light

I hesitated to write up a review of this album for as long as I could. Foo Fighters have always had a tendency to put out some incredibly strong singles (14 years later, "Everlong" is still one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded) and then surround those songs with incredibly bland, samey filler. Dave Grohl most likely thinks just as much, even going so far as saying of fourth album, One by One, "four of the songs were good, and the other seven I never played again in my life.." I wanted to make sure my first positive listens weren't just hype from the good songs drowning out the others, but a month on, I can make a definitive statement:
Foo Fighters have released the best and most cohesive album of their career.
The first single, "Rope," is on par with most of the bands greatest work. It is preceded by an almost equally strong opening track "Bridge Burning." I was expecting the intensity to fade immediately after "Rope," as it usually does by the third track of a Foo Fighters album. The tempo does slow for "Dear Rosemary," but the groove is still heavy, and the chorus is still catchy. The momentum doesn't stop. It never does. The next track, "White Limo," is easily the craziest, awesomest thing they have done in years, and you should watch the video right now so you can see how awesome it is:

Okay, now that you've done that, you can go buy this and find out that the next track is awesome, and so is the one after that, and the one after that, and all the rest of them. It's crazy, but beyond just putting out some great singles, Foo Fighters have actually put out a pretty great album.
I think the difference between this and most of the Foo Fighter's previous albums is that the ballads do not suck. I would hesitate to even call them ballads. It's just that for once, when the tempo slows down, the album does not. The songs are still great. On top of that, the more uptempo tracks don't bleed into each other, which is usually Foo Fighter's most egregious offense. Every track differentiates itself from the next nicely. Every song is actually good.
So go buy this now, unless you hate rock music, in which case you are stupid, so go away.
P.S. Nirvana bassist, Krist Novoselic, makes a guest appearance on the second to last track, "I Should Have Known." His performance is distinctive and wonderful, and if regular bassist Nate Mendel (who turns in solid work here, as well) ever decides to join back up with Sunny Day Real Estate, Grohl should ask his old Nirvana bandmate to come back full time.

LAZY COMPARISON: Like a Foo Fighter's greatest hits album, except all the songs are new.

2011 RCA Records
1. Bridge Burning 4:46
2. Rope 4:19
3. Dear Rosemary 4:26
4. White Limo 3:22
5. Arlandria 4:28
6. These Days 4:58
7. Back and Forth 3:52
8. A Matter of Time 4:36
9. Miss the Misery 4:33
10. I Should Have Known 4:15
11. Walk 4:15

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Tribute to Blindside's A Thought Crushed My Mind

**NOTE**As 2011 approaches, so does the ten-year anniversary of some of my favorite albums. The Nicsperiment will highlight the most underrepresented of these sadly unnoticed mini-masterpieces throughout the next year. While A Thought Crushed My Mind was released in 2000, I figure a tribute is still due.

The summer before my senior year of high school has proven to be, even 12 years later, the most formative time of my life. It was the first that I worked for someone other than my father and the first that I had a car. During my hour long lunch breaks at the Winn-Dixie Supermarket of New Roads, Louisiana, I sat in my car and only listened to the local college station (and my future place of DJ employment), KLSU. During those incredible days, KLSU did something they have not really done since. During regular programming, they played heavy music. Coming from a classical music/classic rock background, I became taken with much more unorthodox music earlier that year, but I had never EVER listened to heavy music before. Then KLSU played THIS SONG:

It has everything a 17 year-old kid still high off of watching The Matrix could want, and the album it is found on has a cool humans vs robots apocalyptic short story that follows each song in the CD Booklet to boot. It may sound cheesy now, but I am so biased by my memories that it still sounds awesome to me. I had never heard keyboards and electronics, down-tuned chugging guitars, and that kind of singing and screaming together before. It opened my mind to the fact that there might be a huge musical sea I could swim a lifetime in that I was now only dipping my toes into...and then a few weeks later, I heard this song:

After I first heard 'My Own Summer" by Deftones, I wanted every single song to sound like it. I probably still do. All the agression and energy, the atmospherics set off dopamine-releasing centers in my brain that had just been waiting for those particular sounds. From that point on, I began to actively seek out heavy music, and that is how I stumbled onto Blindside's A Thought Crushed My Mind.
In the Spring of 2001, after winning some free CD's from the very radio show I would soon host, I headed to the Bible and Book Center to pick them up.
Bible and Book Center? Wasn't I just talking about Deftones and Fear Factory?
Well, yes, I was, and I still love those bands. However, in the Spring of 2001 I was a little stunned to realize that artists who shared my lifelong faith also released music in the heavy genre (and had been doing so for quite some time). I had already gotten into P.O.D (whose recent release at the time, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, is a classic) and Project 86 (whose entire back catalog is pretty much classic) but was struggling to find any other bands that could keep up musically with their secular counterparts that I loved so much.
I don't even remember what CD I won at the time, but I do remember that in addition to this, the woman behind the counter threw in a free "Heavy Music" sampler. This sampler only had four songs on it, one each by the aforementioned P.O.D. and Project 86, one by a great band called Stavesacre, and one by some band called Blindside.
The Blindside song is called "My Mother's Only Son." Here it is:

The dark notes the song starts with reminded me immediately of Deftones, but the intro to the song didn't really sound like anything else I had (or have) heard. The vocals sounded like they were coming from some sort of Nordic superman, singing prettier than a lot of things I'd heard, but erupting into a blood-curdling scream in the same breath. The strings sounded incredible, moody, yet not overly polished, the guitar menacing, the rhythm section relentless, grabbing the back of my head and forcing it into motion. The harshly self-examining lyrics, the fake stops and starts all pointed to a band more intelligent than most of their peers.
On top of that, I found out that English is not even this band's first language. They are Swedish! I essentially turned my car back around (...maybe a few days later) and bought Blindside's CD, A Thought Crushed My Mind, the album this song came from. Even with the not-on-sale $18.99 sticker price and the amusing sticker placed over the apparently "not-Christian" cover art, I did not hesitate to purchase it. What followed was a musical love affair which resulted in the only time I ever listened to a CD so much, it actually BROKE IN HALF. This is not an exaggeration. You can ask my cousin, Adrian "The Rabbit" Morgan, who re-bought the album for me and gave it to me as a birthday present at the end of that year. Top-ranked professional eaters do not lie.
The reason I spun this disc so much is pretty simple:
Blindside presented heavy, original music, at times incredibly abrasive, at times incredibly melodic, with thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics that revolved around topics that interested me. On top of that, they utilized the perfect amount of atmosphere and scattered just enough string-quartet moments to make each one special and not redundant. Vocalist Christian Lindskog's lyrics centered on eliminating every selfish part of himself until only God remained. Despite the fact that English is his second language, his lyrics are in the upper pantheon.
I don't want to go into a track by track look at this album because in ways it flows as one beautiful, raw, exhilarating song. It starts off slamming you with heaviness then takes a detour into a standing-bass led string break that gets some extra thump from the drums before diving into the heaviness again. The album does this for awhile until it reaches an incredible salvo of heaviness that finally relents in an incredible, sweat drenched whisper that dives right back into the heaviness. By the time the final track, "Nothing But Skin" arrives, one can't help but feel exhausted--and I mean that in the most positive light. I don't mean exhausted as in "just done something hard all day and now tired," but the fulfilling exhaustion one gets after doing something worthwhile. "Nothing But Skin" is the perfect period, a summation of the album's ideas in a blisteringly beautiful nine minutes. My stupid words can't describe this song, so here it is:

The strings and a heavy bass groove lead the song at moments, but it shifts into so many quiet/loud transitions, it is almost impossible to let your guard down while listening. Then it builds into the lyrical and musical climax of the album:

People say I should eat more, boy they should see me now
I'm almost vanishing, skin so thin I can see right through
Makes you more visible inside me, you rise as I bow
Fight for every breath and breathe only you

So if this album is so awesome, why didn't it catch on? I have a few ideas:
Of course, the fact that Blindside are Swedish with no connection to America certainly kept them off many people's radar. They weren't exactly promoted highly either. I think the main answer to this question is pretty straightforward:
"A Thought Crushed My Mind" was ahead of its time. People just weren't ready for it, and at this point, it has been overshadowed by releases that came after it, including releases by Blindside themselves. Listening audiences just weren't ready for a band with distinct Christian lyrics to be this devastatingly heavy and yet still have moments of beauty. P.O.D. had the good fortune to rap at a time when rap-rock was popular. Blindside had no gimmick. I don't mean to say that P.O.D. was or is a gimmick band by any means, just that what they were doing (and had been doing for a while) just happened to become popular when they were at the peak of doing it. Screaming and singing overtly Christian lyrics didn't become popular in the mainstream until Underoath's They're Only Chasing Safety was released in the summer of 2004--more than four years after ATCMM. Underoath's album started a fad that lasted a few years, but came too late to bring attention to Blindside's 2000 release. Of course, by then, Blindside had been on their own journey.
After the aptly named "Kings of the Game" tour, which featured P.O.D., Project 86, Blindside, and at one point as an opener--and I am not kidding--Linkin Park, P.O.D. pushed hard to get their Swedish buddies signed by a major record label. Their efforts were successful. In the fall of 2002, Atlantic Records released Blinside's major label debut, Silence, a minor hit which went into a more radio-rock (but still quite enjoyable) direction. Blindside went on to release About a Burning Fire on Atlantic as well, which brought them even more attention. Billy Corgan even played guitar on a track. The major label thing didn't last long, though, and Blindside had their next album,The Great Depression, produced in Sweden. It was released here to slightly less fanfare than the previous two albums (though I think it is arguably their best release and will maybe do a tribute to it, too...maybe in four years.), and then the band went on a five-year hiatus. During this time, many people referred to Silence as "Blindside's first album," neglecting not only ATCMM, but Blindside's enjoyable self-titled debut, as well.
Blindside are back now, though, and you can pre-order their long-awaited upcoming album, With Shivering Hearts We Wait, here. I don't know if it will have any kind of impact on me like A Thought Crushed My Mind did, but I bet at least one kid out there will listen to it so much, the disc will break in half.
In the meantime, you can purchase A Thought Crushed My Mind for 75 CENTS! at If you are a fan of heavy music, secular or Christian, and you have never heard this, you owe it to yourself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Difference Between Barack Obama and George W Bush

Gas prices topping four dollars. The worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Declining U.S. influence around the globe. Which President oversaw these things?
When gas prices reached record levels during Bush's presidency, I was quick to say that he didn't appear to care. Then he launched an investigation into the whole thing, and eventually gas prices reached a level comparable to when Bush entered office ten years ago, at least for a little while. I don't know if his investigation had anything to do with it. So far, President Obama's comments have been equitable to "I know that gas prices suck right now." No word on what he is going to do about it, but it is once again becoming unbearably expensive to fill one's car up with gas.
When Bush was in office, I was all over him about his environmental policies. Then his successor had the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history happen under his watch--in the second year of his presidency. Despite what he promised, President Obama has not "kicked B.P.'s ass." Bush pushed around the idea of drilling in the Arctic, and I went crazy on him, but in the end, who will have the better environmental record? That Arctic drilling never happened. There are still a lot of tar balls floating around the Gulf of Mexico.
The IMF has projected that China will financially surpass the United States in 2016. I'm not sure what the President is going to do about that.
Obama has arguably acted unilaterally (think Libya) just as much as Bush had.
President Obama's ferocious critics foam at the mouth that he is a Muslim terrorist, socialist, communist, Nazi, fascist, Kenyan-citizen, God-hating, tree-hugging, baby-killing, inhuman cyborg. Bush's most rabid critics (and this is a group that has included me in some of these respects) accused him of being an idiotic, evil-genius, environment-hating, Nazi, facist, war-mongering, fundamentalist, oil-loving, 9/11 plotting Cheney-puppet.
Here's the truth:
Both guys are just dudes. Both of them want the best for the country, and both of them are doing everything they know or can think of to achieve this.
Bush didn't plan 9/11.
Obama doesn't want to assign your children lifetime careers the moment they come out of the womb.
Bush doesn't want to bulldoze and pave over every green object that he sees.
Obama doesn't want to sacrifice your children on an altar to Molech.
President Obama can't fix every problem no more than Bush could.
President Obama isn't the source of every problem no more than Bush was.
They aren't saviors.
They aren't villians.
They are each just as good as any of us.
They are each just as big a knucklehead as any of us.
Chill out.
Be rational.
It's not that hard.
I need to remember this, too.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Weeknd -- House of Balloons

I often use reviews as an excuse to diffuse hype. I don't know why I enjoy doing that so much. Maybe I just don't like to see other people have fun. Or maybe I just don't like to hear people say things that aren't true. The Weeknd, a solo project from Toronto vocalist, Abel Tesfaye, is everything people are saying about it.
To save time and to have fun by being as brief as possible, here is a one sentence summation of this album:
Heavily trip-hop influenced, dark R&B, smoothly sung in a high-registered falsetto by a vocalist taking a narcissistic bath in drugs, alcohol, emotionally-damaged women, and his own self-pity.
I am going to take a shower now.

LAZY COMPARISON: Portishead backing R. Kelly on that night he got in a lot of he narrates his actions.

2011 Self-Released
1. High for This 4:09
2. What You Need 3:26
3. House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls 6:47
4. The Morning 5:14
5. Wicked Games 5:25
6. The Party and the After Party 7:40
7. Coming Down 4:55
8. Loft Music 6:03
9. The Knowing 5:57

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No One

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion's belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God's dominion over the Earth?
-Job 38: 31-33

You be the captain,
and I'll be no one.
-Kasey Chambers

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Open Letter to Best Buy

mDear Best Buy,
Today a band I like, Between the Buried and Me, released a new CD. According to your website, your store on Millerville had a copy of this album. I work right next door to this particular store, so on my morning break, I ran over to purchase it. I found a shelf-divider announcing the sale of the album but unfortunately saw no copies behind it. I checked your in-store computer, which proclaimed you had two copies of the album in stock. I found an employee and revealed this information. The employee walked over to the B's, saw there were no Between the Buried and Me albums, told me sometimes the computer doesn't update when copies of music are sold (remember, your store just opened, and Between the Buried and Me aren't the Beatles), and that they must be sold out.
I already stated one reason this excuse was ridiculous in the above parenthetical. I must also say that if I can send $500 to someone in China using Paypal through my wife's cellphone and see it reflected in my bank balance five seconds later, your computers can probably reflect an accurate tally of your inventory. I say this with confidence because my wife's phone was pretty inexpensive and I am barely worth four figures, while you have cutting edge technology at your disposal and billions of dollars to back it up. Surely you have better resources than I do. Your employee offered to order a copy of the CD for me. I declined.
If this was the first time this had happened to me, I wouldn't be that angry. Even if it was the second or third time. But this was the tenth time. I couldn't take it anymore. I went back to work, finished what I was doing and clocked out for lunch. Instead of heading to the Best Buy over on Bluebonnet, I drove across town to the FYE on Constitution. I did not call them beforehand or check their website to see if they had the CD. I knew they would have the CD. And they did. Though it was two dollars more than you advertised, I purchased it. I also purchased the new Foo Fighters album (and will review it soon), which was for sale at the same price you offered. I could have bought the Foo Fighters CD at your store and had your employee just order the BTBAM album for me, but the purpose of a walk-in store is to WALK-OUT with the item you want. I did walk out of FYE with BOTH albums, and the nice employee there also gave me a promotional Foo Fighters wristband that I will probably never wear but will enjoy looking at and remembering my positive experience from time to time.
I wish I would have just went to the break room and read for my fifteen minute break instead of wasting the time at your store. I have decided that I will not make that mistake again. Ten chances is too many. You only lost a $20 purchase today, but if you can't get your stuff straight a lot of disgruntled customers will add up. You are already facing diminishing returns right now. If you want to get a handle on that, you should try eliminating elements that annoy customers away.
With Regrets,

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Radiohead -- The King of Limbs

Radiohead sound like they are taking a really nice nap at the start of eighth studio album, The King of Limbs. The first track, "Bloom," sounds like it might build to something huge...then ends. Unfortunately, the nap continues into track two, "Morning Mr. Magpie," which spins its sleepy wheels until it stops. The band groggily get up to pee on "Little by Little" but still seem to just be dreaming about songs they have already recorded.
The twitchy blips (all the percussion on this album sounds electronic...c'mon, Kid A at least had a little bit of real drums) of segue track, "Feral," lead into lead single,"Lotus Flower," and the band gets back into bed. Don't worry, though. As they settle back into sleep they only think about mundanity. "Lotus Flower," despite being a lead single, is nothing you will remember much of later. It is pretty, as is most of this album--just like floral wallpaper.
Going back to sleep finally produces something interesting, though, as sixth track, "Codex," actually works as a gratifying piece of music. While Radiohead have ventured into plaintive, piano-led territory before, the sombre beauty of this song truly makes it a highlight, not only for The King of Limbs, but for the band's entire repertoire as well. When the slow, straining trumpets come in, they are only icing on the cake (and actually mean something, unlike their purely aesthetic appearance in the first track). Radiohead actually use the momentum built up by this song to lead into another stand-out track, "Give up the Ghost," whose gentle resignation is reminiscent of In Rainbows' "House of Cards," but not to a derivitive degree.
This leads to "Separator," which announces itself by really sounding no different from the previous tracks. The bass is prominent and leads the song, along with vocalist Thom Yorke's falsetto, and the same kind of glitchy, slightly annoying beats that have accompanied the majority of these tracks. A jolly little guitar pops up a little way in as if to announce "oh yeah, this is an album" but a few minutes later, the song ends. That's it. The last words Yorke sings are "wake me up." I'm serious.
Radiohead have been accused of many things in the past, but never of being boring. The King of Limbs is boring. For the first time in almost fifteen years, no boundaries are pushed, little of interest is said. I actually tried to skip to "The Eraser" at a few particularly dire moments, but then sadly realized that song is on Thom Yorke's solo album, from which these largely guitar-less tracks seem to be B-Sides.
If Radiohead were attempting to achieve something they have never done before, they have certainly succeeded. They have disappointed. They have created an album that can be considered, at best, inconsequentially lovely.

LAZY COMPARISON: Like a Thom Yorke solo album, or a Radiohead album where all the members of the band are on Ambien and watching Thom Yorke record music while he copiously pops capsules of Ambien and also the engineer and producer are on Ambien and there are robotic sheep gliding in the air in gentle arcs above the studio stuffing Ambien into their mouths with their little hooves.

2011 Self-Released
1. Bloom 5:15
2. Morning Mr. Magpie 4:41
3. Little by Little 4:27
4. Feral 3:13
5. Lotus Flower 5:00
6. Codex 4:47
7. Give Up the Ghost 4:50
8. Separator 5:20