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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Riding the Divine Wave

Sometimes I feel like Towelie got it right: I have no idea what is going on. Sometimes, though, everything makes sense. Man, clarity is nice. I'm feeling that right now. I sometimes wonder if it's possible to feel that all the time. When I started this blog I hoped family members and friends would read it to see opinions I felt I could only express in text. Then I realized if I couldn't say stuff out loud that I would say here, I was a coward. Then once I started getting thousands of hits a month, I felt some strange, global, huge feeling and forgot that anyone I see in person would actually read this. Then I stopped caring completely. Then I quit blogging. 'THEN' COUNT = FOUR I've been back at it for more than two years now (and shoot, I've been married for more than four--now more than half the time this blog has existed!). I almost hit 1000 readers last month, which was pretty exciting and made me feel justified in jettisoning the more personal aspects of The Nicsperiment, at least for now. That said, my wife and a bunch of my relatives took some kind of challenge to write a blog everyday, and they are pumping out all this really personal stuff and having all these deep conversations with each other. I think this is great, and also the opposite all of that Facebook stuff I used to rant about before I finally got out of that time-wasting, electronic hellhole. I haven't regretted that once, by the way. Anyway, I think it's great that they are getting to know each other better and stuff, but I don't feel like I can make myself that vulnerable anymore for some reason. Maybe it is because I am a man now, and men don't do that? Still, in the spirit of what they are doing, here are a bunch of random semi-personal thoughts:
1. I know I have been doing a bunch of music reviews lately that at once increases my global readership (though not nearly as much as 2005) and alienates people who might know me, but also might not care at all about any of the stuff I'm reviewing. That said, here is a personal thought about music: actually, it's just an excuse to use another colon: I think I am a pretty objective listener. I can usually tell if something is decent or not, despite personal tastes. That said (this entry is really just an excuse to use colons and type 'that said'), there are certain aspects and atmospheres music can find that especially please my ears. I've previously mentioned that I used to get high off steam in the bathroom when I was a kid. ADVICE TO KIDS: Don't do that. Anyway, any music that captures that feeling for me usually gets bonus points. Like this: (COLON!!!) These kids probably weren't even born when I was maxing out the heater and running the hot water, but they sure did a nice job! DON'T DO DRUGS, KIDS!!!
2. I feel like I just wanted to link to this video under the pretense of posting information about myself. That said, the feeling I like to recapture is comparable to walking through a desert in a humming haze under a blue midday sky sprinkled with a few clouds on the way to a green oasis. Maybe that is why I like the Joshua Tree so much or something.
3. I acted like I was going to post thoughts, but I'm still just talking about music. I wonder what that says about me.
4. I still can't believe I have been married for the last four years. That said, that was one of the best decisions of my life. Lately, I've been reading President George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points. I didn't want to put a comma after 'Lately' just now, but I felt pressure. Anyway, it's probably ironic that I'm reading this considering I lambasted the guy so much in 2005 (and got a huge following because of it). I'm starting to see that making snap judgments about people in power is maybe not the best thing to do. That said, as likable as the guy is, he still did a lot of stuff I didn't like, but I would still hang out with him, and I like how he says in his book that marrying his wife was the best decision he ever made. Every year I am starting to feel a little more like that, though if I said, "George, don't you think asking Jesus into your heart was really the best decision?" he would say, "Yeah, Nicky, that's a given. I just thought everyone would assume that. But you know what they say about assuming?" "Yes, George, I do. And I agree."
5. I'm tired, bye.
6. I think ending a post with "I'm tired, bye," is about as retro as this blog can get. That said, colon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bring Me the Horizon -- There is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It, There is a Heaven, Let's Keep it a Secret

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5/10
I hate when people say, "Hindsight is always 20/20." It isn't. Even though the cliche is intrinsic to the word's very definition, I can think of hundreds of events in my life, that while clearer now, still make little sense to me--more like 20/40 at best. Still, time and reflection usually do clear things up a bit. I don't like reviewing music unless I can find, at minimum, some translucency on what my opinion of that music is. Time and reflection are the best tools in this process. This album, which I will from here on refer to as TIAHBMISITIAHLKIAS--just kidding, I am only going to refer to it as "this album"--came out in October of last year, and I am now only realizing what I truly think of it, and why it is so divisive. How divisive? I am a big fan of the music news and review website, Decoy. One of the editors wrote a 5/5 review for this album and received a lot a flak. So much flak that another editor from the same website re-reviewed it and gave it a 1.5. On my first batch of listens, I gave it a 2/5. Why is it so divisive? Maybe because Bring Me the Horizon look like this:
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Maybe it is because the vocalist has been accused of performing the same illegal acts as a certain someone awesome enough to compose an entire R & B Opera about being trapped in a closet. Or maybe it is just because of the complete audacity of this album. First off, just look at the album cover. It is at the top of this entry. Go ahead, look at it. Look at it again. It is ridiculous. No one in their right mind can take an image like that seriously. At the same time, I can't think of any single image that can sum up what this album sounds like. Not one. Same goes for the title. It is an awesome mess, and by that I mean that any admiration I have for this album revolves around how big of a wreck it is.
The first track is titled "Crucify Me." People with Christ complexes are irritating. The speaker in this song seems to think he is pretty important. Everything about this song seems to think it is pretty important. It starts off with a pretty picked guitar which suddenly turns heavy (think of the two sides of the woman on the album cover). Then vocalist Oliver Sykes starts screaming. He doesn't really take a break, either. If you don't believe me, just google the lyrics for this song and cut and paste them into Microsoft Word. You will be looking at more than one page. This song changes gears about 50 times before it ends. A choir pops up. The choir gets attacked by digital effects. Sykes voice gets attacked. The drums sound like they get attacked. The digital victim of the choir becomes a key component to the song. The guitars get pretty again. They get heavy again. Canadian artist, Lights, comes in and lends her voice and keyboard. Everything comes in and out of the speakers a few times. Everything stops and only Lights' voice and an acoustic guitar carry the song out. "Crucify Me" is an entire album's worth of ideas in one song. Out of six minutes and nineteen seconds, three minutes and nine and a half seconds work.
The next track, "Anthem," introduces Sykes favorite word. He likes this word so much, he named the fourth track after it. The lyrics follow the same self-centered, "I'm a disaster and you are all somehow involved" line of thought, and the music heavily jumps around until the final minute, where it turns into a beautiful ambient passage. It's moments like this that make completely slamming this album impossible. For all the turdage in the song, the final minute is flawless, and leads directly into "It Never Ends." This track combines most of the disparate elements of the album into the best package it can present. The ambient passages are well-integrated, the sudden choir sounds nice, as do the keys and violin (I guess that's a violin), the screaming hook is good, and the cathartic outro is excellent. The only thing that knocks this song down a peg is the screamed "OH!" and chugga-chugga breakdowns tossed in throughout that can be found in 30 or 40 thousand other songs.
This song leads into (don't worry, this song by song breakdown is about to end) the track named after Syke's favorite word, which is all about its literal use. All the chaos of the previous songs can be found in this song, but as in the aforementioned songs, something comes along and saves it. In this case, it's a beautiful hook sung three-quarters of the way through by guest vocalist, John Franceschi, which continues until he is further backed up by Syke's scream and a piano. Of course, there's a piano. And then everything falls out and there is just a solo violin. Of course, there's a solo violin. The violin segues into power ballad, "Don't Go", which finds a screaming Sykes dueting with the return of Lights' beautiful voice...until she starts kind of half-rapping...and what? Then there is this awesome 80's metal bridge and then...okay, I give up. But then, so does Bring Me the Horizon.
After all of this ridiculous experimentation which produces almost as many fine moments as duds, BMTH settle into four songs of heavy sameness. Don't get me wrong, these songs are still just as chaotic as the first five tracks, but they don't have any of those tracks' saving graces. At first this is almost a breath of fresh air--the end of the bi-polar first half means things can move along more smoothly--then again, without all of the left-field surprises, nothing really sets most of the second half apart. The band don't really do anything distinctly different from their peers here, just the same chugging, ADD riff-switching, with a few sung parts tossed in and a quiet moment here or there. Adding insult to injury, the songs all linger on far too long--none come in under the four minute mark.
By the ninth track, "Blacklist," you may have blacked out, and when the light guitars of ambient instrumental tenth track, "Memorial" kick in, you may wake up and think you have died. Not only is this track a beautiful three minutes, it is also a welcome respite from Syke's constantly bellowing voice. We finally arrive at the last two tracks. The first, "Blessed With A Curse," sounds like it could have made a home in the first half, with enough gorgeous orchestration and ambient sections to set it apart, and a cathartic bridge that serves as one of the most powerful moments on the recording.
The album closer, "The Fox and the Wolf," serves as a lesson the band needed to heed more often. It follows the guidelines of most of the second half--fast, heavy, and more straightforward--but holds an important element that all those tracks lacked: brevity. Josh Scogin, a Nicsperiment favorite, cameos in a vocal duel with Sykes, the point gets made, and the track ends in a minute and forty-two seconds. If BMTH had kept the other less experimental tracks as brief and fun as this one, they could have given us a decent forty-minute album instead of one that approaches an hour.
But that sums up this whole bloated mess. It is just too much of everything. While skipping around to favorite moments is rewarding, listening to the entire album is a chore. While all of the experimentation is admirable, a little restraint and discernment could have made those moments more special. While Oliver Sykes vocals are undoubtably passionate, he could have screamed a little less and let the instrumentation lead the songs more. While the confessional lyrics can be intimate, their self-centered, profanity-leaning laziness distracts from any kind of revelation. Every positive to this album has a negative, just like that stupid dichotomic excuse for an album cover expresses. Six months after TIAHBMISITIAHLKIAS has been released, I am sure of at least that.

LAZY COMPARISON: Like Underoath, Poison, the Brodsky String Quartet, Lights, Anberlin, and Rise Against PLAYING AT THE SAME TIME.

2010 Epitaph Records
1. Crucify Me 6:19
2. Anthem 4:49
3. It Never Ends 4:34
4. Fuck 4:55
5. Don't Go 4:58
6. Home Sweet Hole 4:37
7. Alligator Blood 4:31
8. Visions 4:08
9. Blacklist 4:00
10. Memorial 3:09
11. Blessed With a Curse 5:08
12. The Fox and the Wolf 1:42

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eisley -- The Valley

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8/10
Every review of this album has somehow referenced the band members' recent personal turmoil. I don't think you should have to know the background behind an album to enjoy it, so I won't mention that stuff again. I won't talk about how those recent personal experiences make this the best album Eisley have released to date. I will simply say that because Eisley rallies around a single theme on The Valley, they find a cohesiveness not found in any of their previous releases. This consistency raises the songwriting stakes between sisters Sherri and Stacy Dupree. The two split songwriting and singing duties down the middle, but instead of a strict dichotomy, the album is united in the cycle of their voices.
All that to say, if you enjoy girl-fronted, sometimes piano-led rock, you need to listen to this.

LAZY COMPARISON: Not even the lazy comparison section of my blog is as lazy as all the reviewers that compare this band to Fleetwood Mac, but it is lazy enough to say that apparently a lot of reviewers compare this band to Fleetwood Mac.

2011 Equal Vision Records
1. The Valley 3:15
2. Smarter 3:17
3. Watch it Die 3:09
4. Sad 3:18
5. Oxygen Mask 3:22
6. Better Love 3:19
7. I Wish 3:54
8. Kind 3:03
9. Mr. Moon 3:53
10. Please 3:29
11. Ambulance 4:00

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seeing with New Eyes

Lately I've been feeling like there isn't as much beauty in the world as I remember. Flowers, trees, water, nothing's looked as good to me. Even Blu-rays, which shocked me with their clarity a few years ago, haven't really looked that special. Nothing's had an edge. I've been sort of depressed.
On top of that, I've had more headaches lately, which makes it tough to really enjoy anything.
A few weeks ago I made a late-night run to Taco Bell, which never loses its appeal. As usual, I wasn't sure what I wanted, but when I pulled up to the menu board, something crazy happened.
I couldn't read anything!
I had to just order from memory, which is tough to do at the hour of night when Grade F meat sounds delicious.
My wife suggested I may need glasses. Since I have been about four years old, I have had two major fears:
1. That I will need braces.
2. That I will need glasses.
Though billions of people around the world look normal wearing those two things, they terrify me. Glasses especially. I have always thought I would look so stupid wearing them, I would die on ocular contact.
I couldn't bring myself to make an appointment, so my wife finally did it for me.
I went to the doctor. My wife was correct. I am nearsighted.
So the moment of truth came. I figured if I had already paid for the eye exam, I might as well get the glasses the doctor prescribed me as well. My wife (and son) and I settled on some frames we all liked, and the next day I picked the finished glasses up around sunset. I walked back out to my car with the glasses in my hand, got in, and thought about throwing them out the window. I sat for a while and finally put them on my face. I suddenly felt the shocking sensation of putting clean goggles on under water. Leaves formed from bobbing verdant blobs. Clouds cut definite shapes through sharper blues than I could even remember. It was like I was in college again or something. Or as a friend and co-worker put it, it's like going from standard definition to HD.
Whatever the case, I sure am glad I got glasses. I wish I would have done this months ago. While I felt funny for about five minutes, I grew accustomed to my new appearance before I even went to bed that night. So my lesson for the day is (actually the last post kind of ended in a lesson, too, but anyway): if you think you may need glasses, go to Vision For Less. You won't spend much, and whatever you spend will be worth it.
You won't look stupid.

Why I'm Awesome

Today I took Fox out for some errands. I picked up DC Talk's 1999 album, Supernatural, for 40 cents. I usually just keep a few older CD's in my car because I often listen to the news during the short time it takes me to get to work every day. The CD was a hit with Fox because they say "Jesus" a lot, and I've already mentioned how much he likes that, but I cracked myself up when I put the CD case with the others in the middle department of my car and read the artists from left to right: DC TALK, NIN, MICHAEL W SMITH, ISIS.
That is why I'm awesome.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Drive-By Truckers -- Go-Go Boots

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10/10
There ain't many things better than sitting out on your front porch late in the day and keeping good company. If you don't got a front porch to sit on, you should probably just listen to this album. It's pretty much the aural equivalent.
I know I just used "ain't" and "don't got" in the same paragraph as "aural equivalent," but this contrast, part of what Drive-By Truckers have referred to in the past as the "duality of the Southern Thing," best sums up the band in a nutshell.
This entire album is a study in contrasts. While the music offers a far more laid-back rock and country sound than a lot of their previous work, some of the lyrical themes are the most intense the Truckers have ever touched upon. There are not one, but two songs featuring philandering, wife-murdering preachers, one with an open-ending, one ending on a note of divine justice. Songs also feature edgy ex-cops and war vets, but Go-Go Boots also features some of DBT's most beautiful tracks yet. The speaker in"The Thanksgiving Filter" has plenty of gratitude for family, but even more for distance from them. "Pulaski," the most country-flavored cut, tells the story of a small-town girl whose big dreams take her to California, but ends ambiguously--does the line of cars rumbling down main street in her home town represent a parade or a funeral? It doesn't matter--the beauty in the sadness of missing a home you took for granted is enough to carry the song.
Book-ending and bisecting these tales are the most celebratory tracks the Truckers have ever put to tape. "I Do Believe" praises time with a loved-one lost, "Everybody Needs Love", an Eddie Hinton cover, is explained in the title, and "Mercy Buckets" promises to help out a friend no matter the circumstance. This lyrical variety makes this the Truckers most well-rounded album to date.
I tried to avoid buzz-words in this review. I think this band just gets cursory praise from every major publication because a first listen shows they are good, but this album deserves to be dissected. Music has become more of a passing thing in the last few years, something you put on and force yourself to get through before you jump to the next. This is an album that sticks with you if you grab onto it, a late afternoon on the front porch you never want to end.

LAZY COMPARISON: Sounds like The Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd and all those bands reviewers lump Drive-By Truckers with instead of taking the time to realize they are dealing with an absolute original, absolutely on par with the two previously-mentioned bands.

2011 ATO
1. I Do Believe 3:31
2. Go-Go Boots 5:36
3. Dancin' Ricky 3:26
4. Cartoon Gold 3:13
5. Ray's Automatic Weapon 4:25
6. Everybody Needs Love 4:35
7. Assholes 4:39
8. The Weakest Man 3:19
9. Used to Be a Cop 7:03
10. The Fireplace Poker 8:14
11. Where's Eddie 3:01
12. The Thanksgiving Filter 5:34
13. Pulaski 4:24
14. Mercy Buckets 5:24

Get Out of My Ears, Ellie Goulding!

This is pretty darn lovely: