Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Nicsperiment's Nine Best Albums of 2011

Well, it's that time again. The Nicsperiment's claim to miniscule fame, the Top Nine, is here again, celebrating its seven year anniversary (though no Top Nine was held in 2006-2007). I'm going to lay off the hipster bashing this year, simply because I am becoming so far removed from that scene, I am not even sure what music they are all up on this year. A singing goat in skinny jeans with ironic facial hair? Who knows, and who cares.
Of all the stuff I heard this year, here is my top nine:

9. Foo Fighters -- Wasting Light
The problem with Foo Fighters is they can kick out hit single after hit single, but making a full, enjoyable album has seemed out of their reach. The closest they've come is There is Nothing Left to Lose, but with Wasting Light, they've finally done it. Perhaps it's the determination to rock that drives the album, or maybe it's just that Dave Grohl is getting older and has more life experience to draw from. Whatever the case, legit, emotional songs like "These Days" are packed between the singles instead of filler this time. Nice job, dudes.

8. Blindside -- With Shivering Hearts We Wait
Six years is easily enough time to build up unreasonable expectations, but WSHWW is just different enough to completely subvert them. WSHWW features the cleanest production and most electronic and orchestral touches of any Blindside album to date, but the heart and soul of the band is still there beating away (and performing whatever onomatopoeia souls are capable of). On "Our Love Saves Us," particularly, Blindside don't sound like a new band, but one reinvigorated and hopefully ready to produce another ten year run of consistent releases.

7. M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
HUWD features a great song, "Midnight City," which has been featured all over the place, and always mentioned as a highlight. Fortunately, there is more to this double-album than one song, and all 22 fit together for a highly rewarding listen. While overdriven keyboards are a key component of M83's sound, the 80's nostalgic instrumental work and vocals are good all around, especially the slap bass on the sublime "Claudia Lewis."

6. Eisley -- The Valley
Eisley have always projected talent, but their fairy-tale whimsy can be a little tough to take sometimes. Unfortunately, the band member's lives haven't exactly been Disney fables lately. Divorces, broken engagements, and other sad drama could have devastated Eisley, but instead they've used their heartache to create easily their best album to date. They have finally realized every Fleetwood Mac comparison made about them in the highest capacity possible. To make matters excellent, the band have all moved on to much greener personal pastures, while we still get awesome songs like "Smarter" (just as good as "Go Your Own Way") to listen to whenever we want.

5. The Weeknd -- House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence
This dirty, druggy R & B trilogy is the closest trippy escapist music I guess we will get to Portishead, while Portishead Portisheads around. Of course, Portishead isn't this vulgar, but... House of Balloons is pretty much perfect, while the following two mixtapes make for a great middle and finale in this messed up tale. Thursday might have the best song of the year, "The Zone," or at least my favorite song in the last 12 months. Also, these are all free. Crazy how so much of the best music was free this year...

4. Josh Garrels -- Love and War and the Sea in Between
There really wasn't a precedent for Josh Garrel's new album this year. It came out of nowhere as a free download on his website. It's one of the most diverse things released this year with the power of Sufjan-like compositions, folk, some rapping, and just about everything else, and every single thing works. Love & War & the Sea In Between is stocked full of passion, honesty, and creativity. It amps up what is to be expected of a singer/songwriter, Christian or otherwise. You will like it, your girl/guy will like it, your dog will like it, your fish will like it, and I will like that you like it. It's still free, by the way, so DOWNLOAD IT NOW.< Also, "Ulysses" might be the most beautiful song of the year. Of course, there is a difference between "beautiful" and "favorite," but this one is up there.

3. Explosions in the Sky -- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
I know it's wrong, but I've always considered Explosions in the Sky to be a sort of Godspeed You Black Emperor-lite, sort of in the same vein as Coldplay is to Radiohead. Not anymore. While Godspeed ended their run slipping deeper and deeper into stinky instrumental protest music, Explosions in the Sky have been consistently creating full canvas works of art, none more beautiful than their newest, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. Their previous album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, had a title that alluded to Catcher in the Rye. With Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, Explosions in the Sky have proven themselves to be the purveyors of the novel without words, musical compositions divided into massively beautiful chapters, each one better than the last. "Let Me Back In," this album's denouement, is their most mysterious track yet, and its emotional aspirations are as brilliantly achieved as this album is as a whole.
A NOTE: EITS is also one of the few bands whose album artwork and packaging match the feel of their music. Buying a physical copy in this case (which literally contains a home for the album) is most definitely worth it.

2. Drive-By Truckers -- Go-Go Boots
Drive-By Truckers can rock out better than anybody, but they really stretch their storytelling abilities on Go-Go Boots. The result is the most endearing, entertaining old friend of an album this year. Some of these tracks sound like they could be sung on the front porch, but my favorite is a dark, fireside tale, "The Fireplace Poker."
This year, though, a new friend was the overall best...

1. Hands -- Give Me Rest
Some things are perfect, and imperfect people like me will falter in attempting to describe them. The lazy thing to do is just not try, but this album deserves at least some type of description. Anyway, life is hard, and sometimes it doesn't make sense. All of us who walk with the Lord have some pretty intense discussions with him, at times. This is one of those conversations. There is yelling and screaming. There is more than pleasant singing. There are moments of intense anger. There are moments of intense worship. There are some moments of absolute devastation. There are some moments of absolute beauty. Nice ambient touches are the cherry on top. Those are about enough words from me. Buy this now, or hear about it in their own words. Whatever. Just hear it.

Of Note: The Tenth Man!
10. Craig's Brother -- The Insidious Lie
Craig's Brother are finally back, and with a fine album in tow. Its only weakness is a slightly slack third quarter, but other than that, it is quite excellent to have this band back, and I hope they have even more in them for 2012. Some of the work on The Insidious Lie, particularly the heartingbreaking "Aaronic Blessing," is the best Craig's Brother have done.

Also of note:

Major/Minor -- Thrice
Major/Minor flows as one long, excellent song, hard to break into fragments. "Blinded" might be my favorite, but it's tough to call.
While AHATHHAFTCTTCOTE is a solid, albeit ridiculously named album, "Boaz," the sixth track, might be my favorite song of the year, battling The Weeknd's "The Zone" for ultimate domination of my ears.

The Appleseed Cast -- Middle States
Man, I wish this was a full length album. As it is, we just get four awesome songs, though none is better than the title track.

Coldplay -- Mylo Xyloto
What the heck is this? No, seriously, what is this? Rihanna duets? The vomitous rainbow cover of this album is appropriate. A bunch of pretty noises thrown on each other until they aren't all that pretty anymore. Well, some of them still are. I really like, "Charlie Brown," in particular. I can't even tell if Coldplay are trying to ditch their populist tendencies, or if they have amped them up so high they don't even sound like anything anymore.

A Plea for Purging -- The Life and Death of a Plea for Purging
This band refines their sound even more, and the result is some really awesome, really heavy songs, unfortunately broken up by some monotonous acoustic tracks that kill the momentum every time they roll around, which is too often. Culling those songs into one acoustic track would give the album back its flow, and would lend powerful tracks like "My Song," even more heft.

Embodyment -- Forgotten
Embodyment have been dead for eight years. Songs recorded right before the Texas rock band's demise have been floating around the Internet ever since. Finally, all of the songs tracked during the band's final session have been compiled in a goodbye EP, and their high quality makes Embodyment's long absence all the more distressing.
Here's the final track, "Hindsight." You can buy the EP for ridiculously cheap on Amazon. Have a happy New Year. And also, Embodyment, if Five Iron Frenzy, The OC Supertones, The Insyderz, Further Seems Forever, and EVERY SINGLE BAND THAT BROKE UP IN THE LAST DECADE can get back together, you guys better get on it...NOW!

Album That Should Have Been On My List Last Year:
Rosetta -- A Determinism of Morality
This album combines almost all of my musical interests: space, metal, ambiance, atmosphere, and raw, unbridled emotion. The growled vocals just sound like another instrument (I mean that as the highest compliment), but there is one, and only one sung line. It happens on "Release," in the direct middle of the album: The problem with now is no matter how much we want it to, it doesn't last forever. I wish this album could. Around the time that I first heard A Determinism of Morality, I was reading Edgar Allen Poe's masterpiece of an only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Track six, "Renew," soundtracks the final chapter of Poe's novel brilliantly.
Here's the illustration from the last page of an old edition of Poe's book, with a YouTube of the song underneath.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winding Down

Well, that's it for the Every Album I Own Reviews for this year. It was a pleasure to end on a band I have so much love and admiration for, and I will be resuming this feature early in 2012 with the rest of the letter "B" reviews running the gamut from Blink-182, to Brave Saint Saturn, to the Boss. Should be pretty interesting...AT LEAST TO ME!
The annual Top Nine feature will make its 2011 appearance in a little over a week, and between now and then, maybe a few random posts will show.
On a personal level, I am bringing my family back to my fatherland, the place I was born and feel alive, and also a place that is really muddy right now, so hopefully we get some sun this week to ease the moving. I could go on about my love of countryside over the city, but maybe in another post. Until then, Merry Christmas to you and yours, and if you get a chance to talk to any type of help line, be sure to tell them the same so that you can get an awesome awkward silence. I just told the lady from the electric company "Merry Christmas" and received a delightful stutter before I got the perfunctory "happy holidays." Gotta love this messed up country. We will all be scared to breathe for fear of offense pretty soon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blindside -- With Shivering Hearts We Wait


After a six year gap between full lengths, Blinside are back in full force with With Shivering Hearts We Wait. The band took their time with this release and it shows. Everything on this album seems meticulous, including the pared down ten track count, the shortest of any Blindside album. This extra time also allowed Blindside to focus on exactly what kind of sound they wanted to go for.
WSHWW is heavy on strings, and electronic elements, keyboards, and even programmed beats at some points, but underneath is still the same Blindside we all know and love. Blindside have been compared to Muse more than anyone else with what they've done on this album, and while that comparison isn't off, Blindside still sound more like Blindside than anyone else, even on the most experimental tracks, like "Our Love Saves Us."

Perhaps the best marriage of the various musical themes found throughout WSHWW occurs on the closing track, "There Must Be Somthing in the Wind." It's got all the strings, beats, and electronic stuff in full force, but it also features the band playing their instruments at the height of their powers, and Christian Lindskog singing at the top of his game.

Also true to good old Blindside is the lyrical depth. WSHWW is more relationship focused than any other Blindside album, whether that be between humans, or between God and man, and the album title in regard to these lyrical explorations is quite apt. Song titles and certain lines hint at a depth that can only be reached with multiple listens, and six months after its release, With Shivering Hearts We Wait is still growing on me and changing every time I hear it.
Despite this album almost functioning as a comeback for Blindside, it also sounds as if it could be a goodbye. I really hope that is not the case. Six years between albums is tough, but no more albums is much worse. Let's hope this isn't the last we hear of Blindside. Seventeen years into their career, they still sound as vital as ever.

2011 Red Ink
1. There Must Be Something In the Water 3:56
2. My Heart Escapes 3:41
3. Monster On the Radio 3:09
4. It's All I Have 3:50
5. Bloodstained Hollywood Ending 3:13
6. Our Love Saves Us 3:27
7. Bring Out Your Dead 3:39
8. Withering 3:33
9. Cold 3:22
10. There Must Be Something In the Wind 7:03

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blindside -- The Black Rose EP


I like to refer to a feeling existent in some music as "after the party." Not "the after party," but something else entirely from my imagination. Essentially, the feeling conjures the atmosphere of two or three o'clock in the morning, long after the band have played their set, and the crowds have gone home. With almost all the lights off, and the moon high above, the band come back onstage and play a different set to an empty room. That is what I mean by "after the party." I don't really think anything about The Great Depression denotes "party," but The Black Rose is the set Blindside play after it, in the middle of the night, to an abandoned concert hall.
The slightly-electronically charged first four rock songs all fit this mold, as well as the dark, acoustic title-track that follows.
"The Way You Dance" is the best example of my thesis.

And here is "Black Rose" just because I'm nice, and also because it greatly proves my point, as well.

These songs fit together perfectly as a quick, complete experience, but Blindside also added three live songs as a bonus. Blindside is a band whose performances of songs get better with time (I've seen em four times, and each show was better than the last). It is obvious that these three Great Depression selections, recorded at Sweden's Hultsfred Festival, haven't been sitting in Blindside's arsenal for very long. While these songs are well-recorded (you can even hear the bass!) and full of energy, Blindside aren't quite yet there with them. They still make a fine bonus to the meat of the EP, though, so I won't knock the score down on their account. This is a fine effort.

Also, you can buy it straight from the band for only $4.99!

2007 Wasa Recordings
1. The Way You Dance Blindside 3:30
2. Slow Motion Blindside 3:59
3. Pretty Nights Blindside 3:00
4. The Color of My Eyes Blindside 3:29
5. Black Rose Blindside 5:09
6. My Alibi Blindside 5:34
7. Fell in Love with the Game Blindside 3:30
8. When I Remember Blindside 4:45

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blindside -- The Great Depression


Man, this is a good one.
At some point in late 2004/early 2005, Blindside's vocalist/lyricist, Christian Lindskog, took a trip to South Africa. He was emotionally devastated by the things he saw there, from people living in extreme squalor, to orphaned children dying of AIDS. Upon his return to the Western World, he realized something even more devastating: many people In America and Northern Europe, despite having every necessary resource available at their fingertips, despite being in good health, with doctors and medicine never out of reach, despite having televisions more expensive then most of the people he had just left's houses, were absolutely and completely depressed. This shocked and angered him, and this dichotomy, between the appalling situation of the needy in the third world, and the woe-is-me attitude of the privileged in the first world drives The Great Depression.
These themes aren't spelled out, nor do they hammer the listener over the head. There isn't anything preachy about The Great Depression. The album simply travels through Christian's anger and sadness at the things he has seen and the restoration of his own joy through Christ. Also, the irony of the fact that he himself is depressed isn't lost on him. This all makes for one dark, really honest album, one that a lot of fans weren't ready for.
The change in sound may not have been expected either. While there was a huge sound change between the first two independent releases, and the two major-label releases, the two major-label albums are pretty similar in style. For a lot of the newer fans, the major-label version was the only Blindside they knew. This isn't major-label music. This music is raw, desperate, and wounded.
Check out "Put Back the Stars," one The Great Depression's more beautiful tracks.

It sounds like the band is crawling through thick mud in the dark. Every instrument and the vocals are given moments to struggle. I think a word I would give to each musical element on this album is "sacrificial." Everything does what is needed of it, when it is needed. If the guitar should be minimal, it is minimal. If it needs to be loud and in the forefront, it is there. Chops never get in the way of anything. Nothing is fighting to be the star. Every element is working together.
On "Ask Me Now," for instance, Simon Grenehed's guitar is content to let Tomas Näslund's bass handle the main riff for the verse until he takes over the chorus, and both are content to let Marcus Dahlström's drums carry the song.

Blindside also don't use heavy as a gimmick. When Christian's anger is at its height, the album is at its most intense. For instance, "Yemkela," a song about a sick child Christian met in Africa (the piano outro in this song leads directly into "Put Back the Stars.")

Wasted disposable dying scum
Two months tops before silence replaces your small beating drum
Isn't that what we're all waiting for
So we can go home and celebrate our good life

But I feel gun powder
Burning under my skin
Don't say another word
You might set off a spark
Cause i've got gun powder
Burning under my skin

Take me back to tv-land
Numbness is a safe zone
They never trained me for reality
I'm a reality-tv clone
Now did you say your 10 going on 11?
Something is terribly wrong
Somehow I'm dying with you

But I feel gun powder
Burning under my skin
Don't say another word
You might set off a spark
Cause I've got gun powder
Burning under my skin


There are no gimmicks here. Honesty is the name of the game, and whatever Blindside were feeling musically and lyrically is what is there unfiltered on The Great Depression. They recorded this at home in Sweden without executives staring over their shoulders, and with a friend as producer, and it shows.
The Great Depression is also easily the most musically diverse of Blindside's albums, but everything flows organically so that every song feels at home.
"My Alibi" is almost a techno song but doesn't sound the least out of place.

One factor that might explain why the kids didn't jump all over this album:
Blindside don't sound like kids on The Great Depression. Stand-up bass, violins, and sophisticated lyrics may have been too much for scene children.

That was "This Time," The Great Depression's penultimate track. Perhaps what I just said in the previous paragraph is ironic, too. The next track, album closer, "When I Remember," starts with the line "The boy is gone." Lindskog isn't referencing an African orphan in that song. He's talking about himself, and he is right. This is a heavy album for grown-ups that isn't always heavy, but is always heavy. It doesn't have to rely on theatrics or show, but does whatever is necessary whenever it is necessary. Instead of over-indulgent orchestration, all Blindside needs to hammer the final chorus home is for Lindskog to screan "my skin! my bones! my soul! my feet! my love!" instead of sing it. That kind of subtlety makes an album about the biggest topics in the world seem more intimate than...well, I hate that word, but that's what The Great Depression is. It is intimate, intense, honest, and one of the best works of art any Christians have ever produced. I hope one day it is recognized as such.

2005 DRT Entertainment
1. The Great Depression 1:27
2. This Is a Heart Attack 3:10
3. Ask Me Now 3:34
4. We're All Going to Die 3:00
5. Yemkela 3:38
6. Put Back the Stars 3:57
7. Fell in Love with the Game 4:07
8. City Lights 3:13
9. We Are to Follow 4:02
10. You Must Be Bleeding Under Your Eyelids 4:56
11. My Alibi 4:33
12. Come to Rest (Hesychia) 4:29
13. This Time 4:47
14. When I Remember 4:27

Friday, December 16, 2011

Star Wars: Dark Times -- Out of the Wilderness # 3

Photobucket Middle chapters can be notoriously difficult to pull off. The third issue of Dark Times "Out of the Wilderness" arc does everything it needs to, turning the plotlines temperatures closer to their boiling points, while edging the various disconnected plots and characters closer to chaotic union.  It does one better, though, offering tantalizing glimpses into Jedi Dass Jennir's character by unveiling unexpected bits of history from his childhood.  All this, plus the incredible artwork of Douglas Wheatley, Dan Jackson's atmospheric color work, and Randy Stradley's gritty, snappy writing continue to make this comic a must read.

Buy it for $2.69!
Dark Horse Comics
Publication Date:November 30, 2011
Format:FC, 32 pages
UPC:7 61568 18817 2 00311

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blindside -- About A Burning Fire


About A Burning Fire really could have been something. It's got some of Blindside's best songs. It's pretty good. But it could have been great. The could-have-been theme is in the title. Vocalist/lyricist Christian Lindskog has had it with recording in L.A., and is ready to get back to his wife and home in Sweden. Missing home makes him feel opressed, cold, and alone, and he wants God to basically burn these things away from him, bring him home, and make him new. This could have been an epic album, but those themes are only present on half of the tracks. The middle of the album contains two critiques of consumerism that sound like B-Sides from Blindside's previous album, Silence. There's a yodeling song that is surprisingly good ("Shekina"), but doesn't really fit, and a slow jazzy song that isn't great ("Roads") and doesn't fit either. If this album was cohesive, it could be a classic, but as it is, it's just a collection of songs that contains some classics. I know that the band had to not only deal with studio demands (this is their second and final release for Elektra Records), but was also infighting over which songs would make the cut. This second part isn't rumor. The band released studio videos leading up to AABF's release that contain some of these arguments, including guitarist Simon complaining, "I want to put the songs that are awesome, but Christian wants to put the songs that suck." Of course, Blindside's members are lifelong friends and not about to let petty things like that ruin their relationships with each other, but unfortunately for the listener, we get an album that doesn't come together as well as it could.
Again, though, there are some truly great songs here, including "All of Us," which might be Blindside's best.

As you can hear, Blindside sound as passionate as ever on this song, and they do on most of the rest of the tracks on this pretty good album. It's most certainly still worth checking out, even though you'd be hard pressed to hear me heap more complaints on an album I gave a final score of an "eight" to.
Also, the closing title track crushes in A Thought Crushed My Mind mode (again, out of nowhere). So there's that.

2004 Elektra
1. Eye of the Storm 4:02
2. Follow You Down 3:01
3. All of Us 3:32
4. Shekina 4:46
5. Hooray, It's L.A. 3:17
6. Swallow 2:26
7. Die Buying 3:19
8. Across Waters Again 4:13
9. After You're Gone 2:58
10. Where the Sun Never Dies 4:18
11. Roads 4:15
12. About a Burning Fire 4:36

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blindside -- Silence


Something really weird happened in 2002. Blindside, a band few had ever heard of, signed to a major label. This was particularly strange because Blindside's most recent album at that point, A Thought Crushed My Mind, is about as far from major label as possible. I mean, it's called A Thought Crushed My Mind. While I had introduced friends and relatives to Blindside, I didn't know many outside of our circle who had heard of them. In all honesty, Blindside were probably a little too nuts for most of the people in my inner circle anyway.
That being said, Blindside getting signed felt like seeing my best friend's garage band jump to a major (not that Blindside and I were best friends, but I had hung out with them by this point...those dudes are nuts!), so it was a little strange to suddenly see so many people listening to them. I mean, they were on Conan. From Solid State Records sales-underachiever to Conan.

I mean, look at the gesture Conan makes at his throat when he greets them after the song. Worlds colliding violently!
Anyway, Blindside was given a shot at the big time. This is where the band really showed their talent. While I don't like Silence nearly as much as A Thought Crushed My Mind, simply for genre reasons, I must say Blindside essentially showed up to the modern hard rock party of 2002 and blew every other band out of the water. Some screaming garage band from Sweden isn't supposed to do radio rock better than all the American bands already toiling away at the genre, but Blindside do.
Radio rock is actually a bit of a misnomer. This album did get radio play, but Christian Lindskog still screams a decent amount. Sure, his melodic singing dominates this time around, but the screaming is there. The "radio" element is more in the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure of the songs. Structure appears in Blindside's earlier catalogue, but on Silence it almost seems as if they are making a mockery of the whole concept by the ease with which they perfect it.
Also, there are a few tender, quiet songs that any of those radio rock bands would be hard pressed to pull off. The title-track is an excellent example of minimalism, but the full sound of "Midnight" might be even more powerful.

Also, there's a funny pun in the first verse.

2002 Elektra
1. Caught a Glimpse 3:25
2. Pitiful 3:14
3. Sleepwalking 4:03
4. Cute Boring Love 3:36
5. The Endings 3:44
6. You Can Hide It 3:11
7. Thought Like Flames 3:54
8. Time Will Change Your Heart 2:58
9. Painting 3:36
10. Midnight 4:12
11. Coming Back to Life 2:49
12. She Shut Your Eyes 2:59
13. Silence 5:37

On the Way to the Fourth Decade Pt.2

* A series of observations as my 20's end *

One of the lamest things that has happened in the last few years?
The process of getting sick.
When you are young, you run around outside (well, not you kids today, you are probably inside playing Angry Parrots on your IPass) all day, and all of a sudden when you go inside for dinner you start coughing, and your nose starts running, and then you don't sleep well, and you are sick the next day, and your mom takes care of you, and you are fine tomorrow.
Here is what getting sick is like right before you hit your fourth decade:
My kid is sick again. Uh-oh. I hope I can get some sleep.
Have to get in for work early tomorrow now. Less sleep. Dang.
Kid isn't sleeping because he is sick. No sleep for me at all and have to work a long early day. Great.
There's that old feeling in my throat again. The one I can see a mile off, like a marauding army on a hillside miles away. Great, I'm going to get sick.
Three days later: Now my throat really feels bad. Here we go.
That night: Don't sleep well.
The next day: Feel bad. This is when you tell your wife, "I am getting sick."
The next day: Feel even worse. Have optimism that you have a 24-hour bug, even though it took almost a week to develop.
The next day: Near death. There is no way you could have possibly felt this bad when you were a kid. How would you still be alive?
The next day: Things take a downturn.
The next day: Plateau.
The next day: Starting to feel a little better. "Little" is a tiny increment.
Three days later: You aren't "well," but you can function fine.
Three days later: Your kid is sick again. Here we go.
Of course because you are an adult in 2011, you couldn't afford to take off from work for more than a day or two. So you have been working the whole time.
You are old.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blindside -- A Thought Crushed My Mind


I've already done an entire tribute to this album in an attempt to describe how good I think it is. That doesn't excuse it from the "Every Album I Own" feature, though, so here I'll try to do something a bit different and a lot briefer( briefer a word? The more I look at "brief," the more it doesn't seem right either. Sigh...English. It's not even this band's first language, so what does it matter?). Why is A Thought Crushed My Mind so much better than Blindside's self-titled debut?
Easy. It is focused. With the recording of one studio album under their belt, Blindside had a good idea of what they wanted to do for their second. After touring with a spate of heavy bands, most notably P.O.D. and Project 86, Blindside decided they wanted to do their own spin on "hardcore" music. They definitely put their individual stamp on it (this band could re-record "Hey Jude" and make it sound like they wrote it). Blindside's undefinable uniqueness is their greatest edge over their peers.
At some point Blindside also figured, "what these songs really need is a string quartet." They were right. I can't really think of any band outside of Sigur Rós (must be a Scandinavian thing) that's used strings to augment their music this successfully. The strings don't pop up on every song, but every moment they appear is a moment they should.
The strings bring the most to the final track, "Nothing But Skin." I mentioned in my review of Blindside's debut that their trademark passion arrived out of the gate. Well, here that passion is focused to a point of beautiful breaking. A Thought Crushed My Mind's theme is a brutal personal battle to lose all selfishness and become nothing but a vessel for God. Even if you think that the idea of Jesus Christ is equatable with that of the flying spaghetti monster, "Nothing But Skin" will move you. If it doesn't, I guess you really were created by flying spaghetti because you are not human.

2000 Solid State Records
1. Vow of Silence 3:47
2. As You Walk 4:07
3. King of the Closet 4:03
4. My Mother's Only Son 5:43
5. Act 3:46
6. Silver Speak 3:27
7. Where Eye Meets Eye 3:46
8. Nära 4:44
9. In the Air of Truth 3:00
10. Across Waters 4:28
11. Nothing But Skin 17:10

Monday, December 12, 2011

Blindside -- Blindside


When many people talk about Blindside and say "The First One," they are referring to Silence, Blindside's major-label debut. What those people are missing out on is two fully-realized, excellent albums during Blindside's indie-label days. This self-titled album is actually Blindside's first.
Blindside is a bit of an anomaly in Blindside's discography, and in the music world in general. It has no genre. It's heavy, but it's not quite metal. Sure, vocalist, Christian Lindskog, screams sometimes, but he sings just as well, and he never sticks to a pattern of scream verse/sing chorus. He does whatever the emotion calls for at the moment. The music is certainly not nu-metal, but it's too heavy to simply be tossed off as hard-rock. It is a 44-minute blast of pure energy from start to finish.
Blindside is unpolished, especially compared to the band's major label work, harsh, but with a bit of atmosphere. The passion one would expect from a Blindside release is already intact here at the start, but if anything gets in the way of counting this among the band's best, it's the band's youth. While all of Blindside's releases show diversity, here it seems less from the band's collective talent and imagination, and more from not quite being sure what Blindside is yet.
Regardless, this is a solid release, a knockout debut, and not to be missed.
Check out "Empty Box" for a taste of the uncharacterizable chaos:

Hear Christian Lindskog sing like Kurt Cobain on the bridge of "Liberty"

And finally, for Blindside taking on a big, atmospheric sound, "Born"

1997 Solid State Records
1. Invert 3:06
2. Burn 3:28
3. Empty Box 4:05
4. Superman 2:43
5. Nerve 2:45
6. This Shoulder 3:15
7. Replay 2:46
8. One Mind 4:12
9. Liberty 3:13
10. Daughter 2:24
11. Teddy Bear 4:27
12. Never 4:26

Friday, December 09, 2011

Back to CD's and also, My Phone is Broken

I've bought two MP3 players in two years, and they've both bit the dust. I dropped the first one from a height of three or four inches, and that was enough to make its fragile little heart give out. I treated the second one with nothing but love and care, and it still failed me. Also, my phone is broken, but it didn't play MP3's anway. BTW, if you've tried to call or text me phone is broken.
Right now my car is full of ancient artifacts from a long lost civilization called the United States. The United States flourished for about 225 years but is now just a footnote in the history books, which are all in Mandarin (you must be reading this through translation software, and if so, be careful because Beijing doesn't take kindly to that). In the mid-1980's, the United States pioneered the use of a musical media device called the CD, which was prominent for about twenty years, until people suddenly realized that they could just get music for free, because really, who does that hurt? Bands don't need to eat because they are all rich and ride around in golden tour busses chaufered by supermodels. Anyway, thanks to our glorious overlords in Beijing, may they reign forever, we all make the same amount of money according to the jobs assigned to us, nation be praised.
What was I talking about?
CD's. My car is full of them. I am really enjoying being forced to make an actual effort to listen to music. Opening a case, pulling out the CD, putting it into the player. I feel like I have so much more at stake when I listen to music now. Basically, all that stuff I said two years ago. CD's are awesome. It's like I'm really having an experience and not just passing through.
Also, sorry CD's, for marginalizing you for the sake of electronic devices that let me down. You never did anything to let me down, and I shouldn't have forsaken you.
Also, thank you CPC for not shutting down my blog. May the waters of the Yangtze forever reflect your all knowing gaze into the depths of the heavens.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Blind Boys of Alabama -- Higher Ground


A bunch of really old, blind men singing gospel songs mixed with modern ones, backed by a very young Robert Randolph and his Family Band and sometimes Ben Harper. That is the best oversimplification I can give for Higher Ground. Admittedly, sometimes the Boys sound too old, and the secular crossovers feel a little too deliberate, but then sometimes the songs sound like this one, and if I was a Catholic I would listen to it every day and cry:

Seriously, that is one ridiculously powerful performance, and the album version is just as good. While none of the other songs reach those kind of heights, there are some pretty great standouts scattered throughout. These guys may not be anywhere close to boys anymore, but they still know how to move.
CONFESSION: Yes, I only found out about this album after hearing "I Shall Not Walk Alone" on "Confidence Man," one of my favorite episodes of the television series, Lost. Dang, that was a good show.

I mean, seriously, wasn't Sawyer an awesome character? Anytime someone from the South is portrayed as having a brain it's appreciated, but that was an especially good one.

2002 Real World Records
1. People Get Ready 3:22
2. Spirit in the Dark 3:15
3. Wade in the Water 3:34
4. Stand by Me 3:01
5. The Cross 2:47
6. Many Rivers to Cross 3:56
7. Higher Ground 6:14
8. Freedom Road 3:37
9. I May Not Can See 3:37
10. You and Your Folks/23rd Psalm 5:42
11. I Shall Not Walk Alone 5:26
12. Precious Lord 3:52

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Bleach -- Farewell Old Friends


Let's get topical. No one really breaks up anymore. Just this year we've seen veteran after veteran come back from the dead. Five Iron Frenzy. Further Seems Forever. Earlier this year I got to witness a band live that I thought I would never see because I missed out eleven years ago, and then they "broke up." Breaking up just doesn't serve a purpose anymore in the current musical landscape. Things aren't anything like ten years ago. Unless your key members DIE, you might as well just say you are going on indefinite hiatus. When you can make an album in your basement, completely funded by your fans, what's the point in permanently disbanding?
Bleach announced their imminent demise in 2003, performed a "final show" the next year, and released their "swan song," Farewell Old Friends, in 2005. Bleach sound exhausted and sentimental on Farewell, but if they could have seen they would be back barely half a decade later, maybe they would have had a bit more energy on this album.
I complained about Bleach not exploiting their more experimental tendencies on my review of their album previous to this, Astronomy. They rectify that here. They even take a shot at a ten-minute song, and it is pretty good, even re-fashioning elements from an older song to great effect. The songwriting is pretty good throughout, but the problem is that the rowdiness present on their previous two Tooth and Nail albums is largely missing. Most of the songs are unfortunately mid-tempo, and the attitude throughout is definitely that of a band sad about saying goodbye. Plenty of these songs are good, but the album is really bogged down in the middle by them. A few more uptempo tracks sprinkled in would have worked wonders for the pacing. The album's best track, and one of the best songs Bleach have recorded, period, is "Good As Gold."
Check it out for a taste of what Bleach could do by this point in their career:

"Good as Gold" is fun, faced paced, but still shows more maturity than any of the uptempo songs in their back catalogue. At the end, they had all the elements to put together a truly great album, but they seemed so focused on their own demise that they missed the opportunity. And matter! Everything old is new again, and Bleach is back. They have the tools, experience, and momentum to this time seize the opportunity and make their best album yet. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.

2005 Tooth & Nail
1. Write It Down 3:09
2. Clear the Air 4:09
3. Gonna Take Some Time 4:44
4. Took It by the Hand 3:36
5. Condition 3:37
6. To the Top 4:07
7. Sufficient 10:14
8. Weight of It All 2:50
9. Good as Gold 4:24
10. Farewell Old Friends 11:49

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bleach -- Astronomy


Bleach retain all the energy that materialized on their Tooth & Nail debut with their sophmore outing for the label, Astronomy. However, Astronomy is an entirely different creature from its predecessor. A certain weariness crops up that wasn't present before, but this works as a strength. While some of Astronomy's tracks are the rowdiest Bleach have ever done, these songs about patience and exhaustion balance things out nicely. In other words, this is still a fun Bleach album, and even though they sound like they've been through some things, they are still coming out on top. The band also do a little experimenting with their sound this time around, especially on "Patience," which sounds like Bleach's take on Pet Sounds. Even the spare live version doesn't sound like any of their other songs:

...which might actually highlight the weak spot on this album. When you see that Bleach can be versatile, it's kind of annoying that they don't do it more often. As long as they are pumping out excellent songs like "Tired Heart," that is okay, but a little more of this kind of mixing it up could go a long way in raising Bleach from the level of good band to great band.

2003 Tooth & Nail
1. Get Up 3:10
2. December 2:47
3. Plan to Pull Through 3:40
4. Jaded Now 4:40
5. Astronomy 2:55
6. Living 3:06
7. Nineteen 3:34
8. Patience 3:33
9. Breakthrough 4:21
10. Tired Heart 4:48
11. Moving On 3:13

Friday, December 02, 2011

Bleach -- Again, For the First Time


Arriving early on our one and only trip to the Cornerstone Rock and Roll Festival in the summer of 2002, my compadres and I attended the only set of shows on day one, aka, Tooth & Nail day. We were quite surprised to see the band Bleach performing on this day, as
1. We didn't even know they were still together, and
2. We didn't have any idea they had just signed to Tooth & Nail, a much more rough and tumble label than Forefront, their previous home.
We were also surprised at the passion and energy of Bleach's live show, and eagerly attended a second set they put on a few days later. That passion and energy is easily apparent on Again, For the First Time, their Tooth & Nail debut, but the even bigger surprise is Bleach's new found maturity.
Actually, this shouldn't be a surprise at all considering that the passing of time often brings maturity whether we want it or not, but somehow a lot of bands never find it. Bleach sounds older and wiser on Again, For the First Time, but somehow more fired up than on any of their previous releases. Whether this is from the label change or the injection of new blood by way of new members, it is quite welcome. Dave Baysinger's voice has matured, kept some of the britty Rivers Cuomo tones, but dropped any likeness to Billy Corgan. He sounds like a man now, singing about more sophisticated topics, bringing the newfound energy, edge, and passion to even the more balladesque tracks, like the powerful "Knocked Out"
Obviously, with the 90's finished, the more alternative leanings have morphed into a modern rock sound, but this actually favors the new lineup, and helps make Again, For the First Time Bleach's most solid album yet. The title couldn't be more apt.

2002 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Intro 0:17
2. Baseline 2:25
3. Celebrate 2:40
4. Broke in the Head 3:07
5. We Are Tomorrow 2:53
6. Fell Out 2:38
7. Weak at the Knees 2:48
8. Found You Out 3:05
9. Said a Lot 3:17
10. Almost Too Late 2:08
11. Andy's Doin' Time 3:39
12. Knocked Out 3:40
13. Jenn's Song 1:47

Bleach -- Static

Bleach -- Static

Bleach's Static is a solid alternative rock album from start to finish. At times they betray their Weezer influence, at others their Southern roots. The amount of J's per-minute is fairly high, but they sound like they mean it, so it isn't a detraction. Vocalist, Dave Baysinger (how could you not be a vocalist with a name like that), sounds like a cross between Billy Corgan and Rivers Cuomo on this album, but Static still sounds pretty timeless, a welcome shot of 90's nostalgia.

1998 Forefront
1. Static 3:17
2. Super Good Feeling 3:18
3. Rundown Town 4:53
4. Land Of The Lost 3:16
5. Hurricane 2:19
6. Warp Factor Five 3:51
7. Rock N Roll 3:47
8. Code Of The Road 3:42
9. Lonestar 3:59
10. Drive 2:48
11. Country Western Star 3:17
12. Waving Goodbye 3:39