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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- Once More, With Feeling


I don't know what it is about these letter "C" albums lately and my sixteenth year of being, but when I was sixteen, I was pretty obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  During Buffy's landmark second season, I would think about the show every day of the week.  My crazy teen emotions found a great home in the epic roller-coaster of Buffy Summers' life. Whatever I got from that program during its seven year run, I think Buffy helped me learn to be a hero.  But whatever, it's just a dumb TV show, and it never made me sob uncontrollably, so let's fast-forward to the sixth season episode, "Once More, With Feeling."
"Once More, With Feeling" is the classic musical episode, a standout in Buffy's storied run.  All kinds of stuff happens, and there are all kinds of back-stories tied into it, but I am not reviewing "Once More, With Feeling" the episode, but Once More, With Feeling the album, composed by show creator Joss Whedon, and sung by the cast.  Does this soundtrack stand up on its own?
Heck if I know.  I love this episode, and try as I might when I listen, I don't think I can push it completely out of my mind.  However, I think on the listens I partook of for this review, I distanced myself decently far away enough to offer a fairly objective review.
Once More, With Feeling is a charming collection of songs. I'm confident that a listener who has never seen Buffy can at least put together the emotional story of the songs the cast is singing:
There's this monster-fighting girl who's just not feeling it anymore.  Now she is faced with a monster who kills with song, and everyone in town, including the girl, is forced to belt out their strongest emotions thanks to his influence.  The monster-fighting girl has all these friends with problems, too, but these friends are mostly ignoring those problems, much to their detriment.  The girl has a mentor who feels like he is holding her back, and thinks he should leave town.  She also has a lover that isn't a lover, and he is pissed off about it. Conflict ensues.
The cast has great chemistry, and even if they are never going to be on Broadway, they are good fun to hear singing together.  The songs cover plenty of genres, from pop and metal ballads, to feisty retro-numbers, and when things get serious, the entertainment value doesn't flag.  In fact, the serious stuff is probably the best, especially near the end when all of the character threads start to converge.

But let's get real. My compact disc library is not exactly inundated with musical soundtracks. Would I voluntarily listen to this if it wasn't Buffy?
Yeah, I might. It's really good, and the goofier songs are pretty funny. Not many songs from other albums boast the lyric "his penis got diseases from the Chumash tribe." Plus, there are three classical compositions composed by Christophe Beck from three other major episodes. These classical pieces sound like they should be attached to a major motion picture, not some UPN drama that definitely never made me cry so hard my sleeves had snot all over them and I had to change.

2002 Rounder
1 Medley 2:57
2 Medley 2:21
3 The Mustard 0:19
4 Under Your Spell 2:54
5 I'll Never Tell 4:01
6 The Parking Ticket 0:44
7 Rest in Peace 2:45
8 Dawn's Lament 1:18
9 Dawn's Ballet 1:12
10 What You Feel 3:01
11 Standing 2:10
12 Medley 1:34
13 Walk Through the Fire 3:43
14 Something to Sing About 4:40
15 What You Feel 0:45
16 Where Do We Go From Here? 1:52
17 Coda 0:41
18 End Credits 0:33
19 Main Title (originally composed by Nerf Herder) 0:26
20 Suite From "Restless"  5:04
21 Suite From "Hush"  6:56
22 Sacrifice From "The Gift" 2:57
23 Something to Sing About (Cole, Whedon demo) 4:27

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carl Orff -- Carmina Burana


In March of 1998, just as basketball season was ending, my 16-year old body did...some weird things.  No, not sex things, pervs!  It started with a random wrist injury (I thought I told you pervs to get out of here!).  I was shooting warm up free throws before a late-season game when my arm suddenly popped. I had the highest free-throw percentage in the district at that point--virtually 100% before that game (I went 100% in 1995), but fourteen years later, my arm still pops when I try to shoot a basketball. I've never been able to get my accuracy back, and I have no idea why that happened.
Then things really got strange.  A few nights later, in the season's final game, we played our hated rival, a match we were expected to lose. I remember starting the game, then looking up to see there were three minutes to go, we were down by four, and that the ball was being in-bounded to me under the basket.  I caught the pass, put up and made a lefty layup, ran down the court, played some tough D, then the clock expired and we lost.  I have no idea what happened during the game before those three minutes.  Somehow my brain lost the time.  I played almost an entire basketball game with my memory turned off.  I have no idea how the game was so close, how I played throughout, or how I handled the injury I was hiding.  I've never lost time again, but that was only the beginning of my mental troubles.
For the next month, I didn't sleep.  I'd get into my bed every night, stare at the ceiling, my alarm would go off, I would get out of bed and go to school.  No sleep.  No dreams.  No rest.  This started to take a physical toll.  After a couple of weeks, my eyes got so bloodshot, people at school started asking if I was using drugs.  Teachers started looking at me weird.  I found it impossible to stop daydreaming.  I couldn't concentrate on anything.  Then the sleep paralysis started.  My exhausted body would fall asleep, but my mind never would.  The hallucinations were absolutely terrifying-that skeletal lady ghost from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark sucking out my breath and all that great stuff.
Like most children, I listened to NPR exclusively from the age of 3 to about 14.  Our local station, WRKF played classical music, except for a couple hours in the morning and afternoon that were dedicated to news.  On Saturdays the station played jazz until late night, and then it played space music (my favorite).  I guess in high school I got too cool for this music, but after a month of not sleeping and having these terrible succubul visions, I was willing to try anything.  I turned on WRKF loudly as a last ditch solution.  The late pm program, Night Music, sounded comforting, but the song the DJ ended the show with every night worked magically.  The piece was called "Child," by New Age artist, Bill Douglas.  I could not pass through this pacifying aural tide without drifting off to sleep.  My insomnia was over.

Extremely grateful for the end of my insomnia and night terrors, I called the DJ one night to thank him for playing such wonderful music.
"What is that relaxing piece?" I asked.
"Why, that is Carmina Burana by Carl Orff," he said.
I forced my mother to drive me to the Sam Goody in Cortana Mall (still no car!), picked up Carmina Burana, told my mom to get ready for the most relaxing music she had ever heard, and popped the CD into the minivan player.
This came out of the speakers:

(Excalibur is such a sweet movie!!!)
So the dude told me the wrong composer. And the wrong album...and genre (new age ain't classical). Carmina Burana can illicit many states, but outside of a few stray minutes, relaxation is not one of them.   It took me another twelve years to actually find the correct Bill Douglas song (and finally hear the entire song in daylight without falling asleep), but in late '98, instead of relaxing, my now well-rested person was primed for events of an epic nature.
Carmina Burana is about as big as you can get.  There's a reason that movies, television shows, and commercials are all blasting it in the background, seventy-five years after it was written.  If this music doesn't make you want to march through a forest in ancient Germany, smashing bears, faeries, and gnomes in the face, then something is wrong with you.
The pacing of Carmina Burana threw me off a bit as a teenager, but appeals to me now. This cantata isn't all bombast.  There are some quiet passages as well, whether flute solos, or soft singing, though the singing lasts throughout, sometimes soft, medium, or even bear-smashing in volume.  The singing is mostly in Latin and has a choirish feel.  There are a few sections that sound like opera, but composer Carl Orff was only satirizing that genre of music.   But how can something be so epic, so soft at points, and humorous at others?
Orff's inspiration for Carmina Burana was an early medieval manuscript of the same name, featuring poetry, drama, and drawings about life, love, sex, death, and all that crap.  Central to these concepts is the Wheel of Fortune.

Wait, my bad.
Central to these concepts is the Fortuna Wheel

and the circular nature of the phrase "I shall reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without a realm." In modern English, this is the basic concept of wanting to be doing awesomely, doing awesomely, having done awesomely, living in an empty Frigidaire box under the Huey P Long Bridge. These feelings and concepts come across today just as genuinely as when these ancient poems were written, and Orff did an excellent job of contextualizing them in the world of sound. That the circle again reaches its beginning just as it reaches its end is a masterstroke.
The older I get, the more I realize Carmina Burana's perfection. Also, are there any other review blogs that weave the words "contextualizing," "awesomely," and "smashing bears" around stories of high school basketball games, sleep paralysis, and ancient poetry into their work? I highly doubt it, and that it is why I am, here and now, declaring The Nicsperiment to be the best blog that has ever, ever...occupied this URL.
NOTE: This review is based on the version I bought fourteen years ago, conducted by Jansug Kakhidze and performed by the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra. I think this is it, just repackaged.

1937 Carl Orff
1. Carmina Burana: I O Fortuna 2:35
2. Carmina Burana: II Fortunae plango vulnera (I Bewail The Wounds Of Fate) 2:32
3. Carmina Burana: III Veris leta facies (Spring Is Coming) 4:14
4. Carmina Burana: IV Omnia Sol temperat (All Is Warmed By The Sun) 1:57
5. Carmina Burana: V Ecce gratum (Behold The Good and Long-awaited Spring) 2:55
6. Carmina Burana: VI Tanz (Dance) 1:43
7. Carmina Burana: VII Floret silva (The Woods Are Clothed In Flowers and Leaves) 3:28
8. Carmina Burana: VIII Chramer, Gip Die Varwe Mir (Merchant, Give Me Paint To Make My Cheeks Rosy ?) 3:11
9. Carmina Burana: IX Reie (Round-dance) 4:34
10. Carmina Burana: X Were diu werlt alle min (If The Whole World Were Mine) 0:55
11. Carmina Burana: XI Estuans interius (In Great Anger and Turmoil) 2:10
12. Carmina Burana: XII Olum lacus colueram (Once I Lived On A Lake) 2:56
13. Carmina Burana: XIII Ego Sum Abbas (I Am The Abbot ?) 2:07
14. Carmina Burana: XIV In taberna quando sumus (When We Are In The Tavern ?) 3:04
15. Carmina Burana: XV Amor volat undique (Love Is Everywhere) 4:00
16. Carmina Burana: XVI Dies, nox et omnia (Day and Night Are Hateful To Me ?) 2:29
17. Carmina Burana: XVII Stetit Puella (There Stood A Girl) 2:27
18. Carmina Burana: XVIII Circa Mea Pectora (Your Beauty Draws My Sighs) 2:07
19. Carmina Burana: XIX Si puer cum puellula (If A Boy and A Girl ?) 1:04
20. Carmina Burana: XX Ceni, veni, venias (Come, Come ?) 0:53
21. Carmina Burana: XXI In trutina (On The Unsteady Scales Of My Heart) 2:06
22. Carmina Burana: Xxii (Tempus Est Iocundum (The Happy Hour Is Coming ?) 2:22
23. Carmina Burana: Xxiii Dulcissime (My Darling ?) 1:00
24. Carmina Burana: Xxiv Ave Formosissima (Hail, Thou Most Beautiful ?) 1:32
25. Carmina Burana: XXV O Fortuna 2:40

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Cardigans -- Super Extra Gravity


The Cardigans felt extremely inspired by their work on Long Gone Before Daylight.  In fact, they felt so inspired that they decided to continue on in the same vein as that album.  Unfortunately, if Long Gone Before Daylight is a batch of chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven and a fresh glass of cold milk, Super Extra Gravity is the rest of that batch of cookies and what was left of the milk a couple days later (a bit like this review).  It's got the blueprint of something great, yet it's a little stale and spoiled.  Super Extra Gravity's songs just don't work as well as Daylight's.  Their shorter lengths betray a leanness that comes not from just trimming fat, but muscle as well.  Then again, just the fact that the album has good genes gets it through to the good listen point, and while Super Extra Gravity is far from The Cardigans' best, the listener could do far worse.

NOTE: They must have burnt out around the release of's been seven years, and they are only now beginning to tour again. Come back, Cardigans!

2005 UMVD
1. Losing a Friend 3:49
2. Godspell 3:29
3. Drip Drop Teardrop 3:22
4. Overload 3:18
5. I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer 3:33
6. Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds) 3:36
7. Little Black Cloud 3:26
8. In the Round 4:16
9. Holy Love 4:07
10. Good Morning Joan 3:36
11. And Then You Kissed Me II 3:57

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Cardigans -- Long Gone Before Daylight


Gran Turismo hinted at emotional exhaustion, so it came as no surprise that The Cardigans took a five year break following their darkest album.  Five years offers a lot of chances for perspective, but what The Cardigans came up with after their half-decade off is still a bit shocking.
From 1st to 10th grade I had to ride the bus.  Around the fourth or fifth grade, the bus driver found the radio knob.  She liked country music.  She liked country music a whole, whole lot.  This meant I got to hear terrible songs like "Heads Carolina, Tails California" ad-nauseum, and it was so, so awesome. I loved this music so much, when I finally graduated to the last seat on the bus, I started sneaking my Walkman aboard and busting out cassettes. What sweet freedom I achieved...until one day I picked up the new, long-awaited release from my favorite Swedish band named after an article of clothing.
Long Gone Before Daylight is a country album.
I knew this going in, but purchased it anyway out of loyalty.  But within the first few notes of "Communication," I knew I had nothing to worry about, and on top of that, was in for something really special.

Long Gone Before Daylight makes me use cringe-worthy words like gorgeous or wince-worthy (is that a thing?) phrases like achingly beautiful. If all country music sounded like this, I would listen to country music all the time and wear a five-gallon hat to work.  Nina's voice sounds angelic, and the band sound like they are osmotically filtering dopamine into your head through your pillow.  Good grief this album is beautiful.  I loved it so much in 2004, I effusively elected it album of the year, and while it may not be perfect, I'd make the same choice today (If you aren't reading this today, then the date I wrote this is on top of the post.  That is a thing.  If wince-worthy is, as well, get back to me so Merriam-Webster can send me a check).  Dang it, I know you people (yes, YOU PEOPLE) just think this band is a gag because you've only heard "Lovefool," but go listen to this album.  Then you won't have to do drugs anymore, you dagburn junkies! GET OFF MY LAWN!
Sorry, what was I saying?

NOTE: Make sure you get the 2004 US release of this album. The 2003 Swedish release excludes the last three songs, which are all excellent, particularly "If There Is a Chance," which is one of those calm, reassuring, middle of the night songs to listen to when you can't sleep for worry.
2004 Stockholm Records
1 Communication 4:28
2 You're the Storm 3:53
3 A Good Horse 3:17
4 And Then You Kissed Me 6:03
5 Couldn't Care Less 5:32
6 Please Sister 4:37
7 For What It's Worth 4:18
8 Lead Me into the Night 4:32
9 Live and Learn 4:16
10 Feathers and Down 4:30
11 03:45: No Sleep 3:41
12 Hold Me [Mini Version] 0:33
13 If There Is a Chance 4:14
14 For the Boys 3:37

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Cardigans -- Gran Turismo


The Cardigans' Gran Turismo begins with the sound of someone whistling.  Usually for The Cardigan's this would be a prelude to something whimsical--not this time. The whistling runs into a brick wall of a beat which seems to say, "you cannot advance."  A byzantine guitar riff reminiscent of "House of the Rising Sun," rises up from nowhere only to collapse into an industrial-sounding scratch.  What band is this?
The Cardigans of Gran Turismo are a band who finally sound like the sentiments their vocalist is expressing.  Gran Turismo is irony free. The keyboard is far darker, more dance music in sound than fun-time sixties organ.  The drums are electric and sterile throughout.  Bass grooves are heavy.  This sounds more like Portishead than The Cardigans, and I mean that as a compliment, but also not as a detriment to the way The Cardigans normally sound. Through the lens of this new sound, the similarities between the lyrics of Portishead's Beth Gibbons and The Cardigans' Nina Persson are even more apparent.
The easiest way to describe the wordplay of both is "cynical."  Love hasn't been kind to them, or at least the "them" the two are projecting.  However, Gran Turismo contains another element of Portishead's that lends its darker impulses listenability: this album is great chill out music. While the opening track is a bit unnerving, the slow, heavy beats and relaxed, yet bleak futuristic lounge sound the majority of Gran Turismo inhabits is quite calming.

At this point I also need to mention the maturation of Nina Persson's voice. On the first few Cardigans' albums, Nina was new to singing publicly, but she sounds extremely confident here, and her voice is far more full and powerful. Gran Turismo contains a few rockers, and she holds her own quite well, even if her tattoos are painted on.

1998 Mercury
1.  Paralyzed 4:56
2.  Erase/Rewind 3:38
3.  Explode 4:04
4.  Starter 3:53
5.  Hanging Around 3:44
6.  Higher 4:32
7.  Marvel Hill 4:15
8.  My Favourite Game 3:40
9.  Do You Believe 3:22
10.  Junk of the Hearts 4:08
11.  Nil 2:17

Proof that you've made it:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Cardigans -- First Band on the Moon


On their breakout album, First Band On the Moon, the Cardigans do everything bigger.
The songs sound fuller, better produced, better mixed, better written, more expensive.  The disparity between the lyrics Nina Persson sings and the way she sings them also grows.  She gets dumped, beaten, cheated on, but she sings like she is provocatively licking a bush of cotton candy at the county fair.  It gets to the point that the band can only be making a statement about men who mistreat women.  If I had wronged this band's vocalist then heard her sweetly sing:
You'll break the foot that your standing on
I'll walk with the other one
Do what you want to do
Be what you want to be
Go ahead and step on me,
then later
Mama tells me I shouldn't bother
That I ought to stick to another man
A man that surely deserves me
But I think you do!
I think I would sit in the fetal position in the corner of my bathroom sobbing and feeling like the worst human being alive.  The latter lyrics come from the band's biggest, most well-known song (thanks Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack), "Lovefool."

The first time I heard "Lovefool" (and the Cardigans), I was in a minivan with my family on top of a Colorado mountain in the dead of winter.  I thought "Lovefool" was a fun song, but fifteen years later, reading the lyrics for it and all the other songs on this album, there are some seriously messed up things going on. The chill-out cover of "Iron Man" enhances this feeling.  So while First Band on the Moon's music doesn't seem to have much depth, just like a lake with a placid surface, it was actually formed by an ancient glacier and goes 1000 disturbing feet down. Also, it's fun to listen to and gets really pretty and self-aware near the end.

1996 Stockholm
1.  Your New Cuckoo 3:55
2.  Been It 4:04
3.  Heartbreaker 3:42
4.  Happy Meal II 2:36
5.  Never Recover 3:20
6.  Step on Me 3:53
7.  Lovefool 3:13
8.  Losers 3:17
9.  Iron Man (Black Sabbath Cover) 4:19
10.  Great Divide 3:16
11.  Choke 3:32

Brain Matter Mixing With Stars, or Guy Walks Into a Bar

Who knew France made this kind of music. Also, Photobucket Geez, why do you not watch this show? What's wrong with you? What more does it have to do? This is definitely the best season of Justified yet, and that's saying a whole lot. There were at least three scenes this episode that were so emotionally intense, I almost could not watch because I did not feel worthy. How do they get such good actors, how do they create such good characters for them to play, and how do they make you believe that the two people in that picture want to kill each other so badly the screen is going to explode? A quick note on this episode, "Guy Walks Into a Bar": I love that after Quarles's revelation about his father, he still doesn't understand Raylan's antipathy toward his own. Now that is a well-written psychopath.
Anyway, I shall again make the point that if you are not currently pleased with your life, you should just take the Partridge Family's advice. I mean, it worked for them, right?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Underoath Ruined the World

During my last semester of college (the ninth one), certain ideas welled deep within me. Something about the incoming class of freshman and their music bothered me.  It didn't take long for me to figure out what the bother was, and over the last nearly eight years I've watched it come to fruition.  So without further ado, here is a blog about how the band Underoath has ruined the entire world in easy to read, list form.
1.  They made heavy music a fad:  I remember when I first realized that angry screaming people music was for me. I wasn't hanging out with a group of friends.  Someone "cooler than me" didn't show it to me and make me feel like I should be listening to it. I was sitting in my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot on my dinner break, listening to the college station (I would one day work for) when Chino Moreno suddenly starting screaming at a cloud to come shove the sun aside. I immediately knew my ears had finally reached their prime destination and have filled the years since with Burton C Bell screaming about robots taking over, Andrew Schwab screaming at himself in a mirror, and Josh Scogin screaming about Atlanta.  I like that kind of music now just as I much as I did well over a decade ago.
All of the incoming freshman at LSU in 2004 featured a common denominator. They owned the Underoath album They're Only Chasing Safety. It was at this time that Underoath burst to prominence on the back of this gold-selling album.  All of a sudden, all of these kids "liked" heavy music.  AP magazine blew up.  "The scene" blew up, or maybe just came into existence. You could hear screaming coming out of every trust fund kid's car.  Then something equally annoying happened: these kids got sick of that album and started listening to whatever new hipster crap was popular.  This devalued the worth and integrity of heavy music. Never mind the fact that They're Only Chasing Safety is just cheesy pop music with screaming in the verses (admittedly, Underoath remedied this in their excellent follow up, Define the Great Line). If all those kids "liked" heavy music and suddenly didn't like it anymore, it must have just been a stupid fad.  Not just Underoath, but all heavy music.  Never mind that heavy music has been around since the late sixties.  It was popular, then it wasn't, but in it's wake:
2. Every person who made skin contact with a guitar started a screamo band: When I was teenager there were a good many bands.  However, if your band wasn't the cream of the crop, you had a lot of trouble getting to the top.  You couldn't just record your songs, put them on Myspace (Facebook now), and get famous.  You had to get down a decent live show, record something good that a label would notice, get signed, and sell albums.  Jump to the next decade, and kids could find success with the former option.  Since they were already jamming on the hot new Underoath music, and that music was extremely easy to learn and play, logically, those kids all started screamo bands.  Being good didn't matter.  If you could copy and paste that sound, girls would be at your shows, thus boys would be at your shows.  Not too long ago, every decent-sized neighborhood had a local band.  Now every street has five.  It's quantity over quality on a major scale, and most of those bands had(ve) about as much substance as a Cars II Party Balloon.  When They're Only Chasing Safety got old, these crap bands either broke up or moved onto whatever new Myspace music was popular...let's just say "indie folk."  Vapid "indie folk." Speaking of lack of substance:
3. They made religion a fad: I've never been one to assume that anyone with a musical talent has any idea what they are talking about with anything other than the technical aspects that go along with their ability.  I certainly don't look to bands for spiritual guidance.  In regard(s) to myself, I follow the Christian faith, and have for more than two decades.  Because of this, I know just how difficult it is to pursue an honest Christian life. It's nearly hard as hell, and nothing to take lightly.  Jesus said some difficult things.  "No one comes to the Father except through me" doesn't exactly leave a lot of room for discussion.  "Turn the other cheek" is the most difficult religious tenet ever commanded.  It's really, really tough.  Joel Osteen will not come down to your house on angel wings with a sack of money when you convert to Christianity.  When you convert, you are about to enter a world of hurt.  It isn't just serious substance.  It is substance.  Knowing this for over two decades, hearing people intone "did you hear Underoath is a Christian band?  I think I'm a Christian, too" was pretty frustrating.  Suddenly everyone was a "Christian" with their hands up in the air.  If you went to a show, you assumed the screamo band was "Christian" and that everyone attending the show was "Christian" or was "sort of one" or "close."  Only, as I'll get to in a moment--there is no "close."  Anyway, just as with musical style, when They're Only Chasing Safety went out of style, suddenly there weren't a lot of Christians again.  I'm not exaggerating the fadness of this "scene Christianity" either. The band These Arms Are Snakes (who weren't Christian) wrote an entire album in response to it, sarcastically titled Easter (which is kind of hit and miss.  I'll get to it in my Every Album I Own series in about seven or eight years, if my progress doesn't get any better).  The lameness of these mosquito lifespan "Christians" was bad enough, but some "Christians" who were more long term fell out around this time, too, and that leads me to what I find to be Underoath's most egregious offense:
4. They made Christianity relative:
Underoath once talked about Christ from the stage.  Now many members, including the vocalist, say Christianity is good, but whatever works for you is fine.  The thing is, Jesus said that whole "no other way" thing.  Obviously, if you aren't a Christian, you don't agree with Jesus, so that statement means nothing to you, and that is one thing.  It's another to say "I'm a Christian, but if you find something that works better for you, go with that." If you don't believe Jesus is the only way to God, you aren't a Christian and you should not say that you are.  C.S. Lewis famous analogy from Mere Christianity is apt:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Anyway, certain members of Underoath have said many such relative things lately.  Kids who came to Christ because of Underoath might think again. Then again, these kids, and perhaps these certain band members were never real or mature Christians in the first place.  If that's the case, they should have never preached Jesus from the stage from--
Hey, you Nicsperiment jerk! All this stuff isn't Underoath's fault.  I demand that you play devil's advocate with yourself, thus achieving some sort of fairness in this obviously partisan treatise!
Alright, fine.  Here we go:
1. It's not Underoath's fault their genre became popular: Unless some executive decreed their sound, it's more likely Underoath thought, "We have a dude who can scream.  We have a dude that sings really poppy. Let's combine those two things." While I dislike pop music, Underoath didn't force 500,000 kids to purchase their CD.  Underoath even came to loathe that sound as well, and have since created three albums that I think are really, really good (and also far less commercially successful than their poppy work).  I own all three of them and play them frequently. Those kids who jumped ship were flaky annoying people, and flaky annoying people will always be flaky annoying people.Underoath were just the latest in a long line of trendsetters.  The trend was just a little unfortunate in its musical fallout because again:
2. Underoath didn't force all those kids to start bands: In fact, I am sure they are bothered by the fact that they have to wade in a sea of competitive doppelgangers, especially considering that, frankly, Underoath are the best at what they do.  I'm sure the money and fans Underoath lose out on to less talented bands bums them out. I mean, it bums me out.
3. Underoath can't force anyone to believe or disbelieve anything: If people thought Jesus was cool for a few weeks because of Underoath, it's not exactly Underoath's fault.  We're all responsible for our own choices and beliefs, plus
4. Someone should have stopped them: What do I mean here? I have some pretty close personal references.  Thanks to misguided, ignorant authority figures putting freshly minted immature Christians in positions of authority over youth in one of the churches I was raised in, half of my family and a lot of kids I grew up with are severely messed up. I can't directly blame these youth leaders, though.  After all, they weren't the ones who put themselves in positions of power.  Those over them should have known better. Surely people close to Underoath knew that certain members either didn't know what they were talking about, or shouldn't have been in positions where kids could take their ill-formed religious statements seriously. It's not Underoath's fault that kids put them up on a pedestal and took their words as those from the mouth of God.  Our society's top-rated program is called "American Idol" for a reason. Star-making talent is viewed as some kind of God-given authority, and not just God-given talent. People who have no qualification to speak as a wise person are often the ones everyone listens to.  This is a flaw of the system and, I guess, the human race in general. You often hear certain Christians say things like, "If so-and-so got saved, just imagine the people that would listen to them and convert!" Whatever. I would rather listen to someone who has had years of biblical study and living instead of a rock star with an IQ barely over a hundred who doesn't even comprehend John 3:16.  I'm not saying anyone in Underoath is stupid, just that someone in the band members' churches or social groups could have steered the band from making religious statements or even being in a position of being called "a Christian band." The system isn't Underoath's fault, though.  I am sure that most of the band only wanted to play music (the vocalist admits as much now), and never wanted anyone to look at them for the answers for how they should live their lives. Unfortunately, though, if you are up on a stage, kids think you have something to tell them.  Lest I am accused of just being old and grumpy, there is a difference between "despising someone's youth" and taking "Christian" advice from someone who doesn't even understand what they supposedly believe.  I doubt that anyone in Underoath would disagree with me on this at this point.
So there you go, imaginary person who speaks in red text.  Underoath didn't really ruin the world.  They are just a part of a severely flawed system.  I would prefer it if they just said from now on, "Our religious beliefs are personal, and it was a mistake to allow them into the discussion when we didn't even understand what we were talking about in the first place." That would be nice.  The things I blame them for here aren't really their fault, but that doesn't make them any less annoying.  (Not) Sorry for ranting.
Jamming to Disambiguation right now, by the way.  That album is awesome.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cardigans -- Emmerdale


From one band who conjures the past to another. Like Cake, The Cardigans bring to mind images of previous decades.  In the case of Emmerdale, The Cardigans' debut, the songs sound like the soundtrack for some type of timeless 20th Century Picnic. Ssss.  Nina Persson's vocals and the band's arrangements are light and airy.  Flutes and flugelhorns pop up often enough to give Emmerdale the feel of a 1950's television commercial.  This functions as both a blessing and a curse--this music is pleasant and enjoyable, but tough to focus on too diligently.  What separates Emmerdale from a Cold War candy commercial, though, are guitarist Peter Svensson's bleak lyrics, and Persson's sweet inflection as she sings them.
"Black Letter Day" is a great example:

I drank all that I could, much more than I should, in simple despair
I drank all that I could, much more than I should, to find someone there
All my strength is dead and gone
She sings these lines like she is running down to the mall to pick up some shoes.  That bizarre juxtaposition adds some humor and dare I say, psychology, to the proceedings and sets Emmerdale apart.

1 Sick and Tired 3:25
2 Black Letter Day 4:31
 3 In the Afternoon 4:10
4 Over the Water 2:16
5 After All... 2:56
6 Cloudy Sky 4:07
 7 Our Space 3:31
 8 Rise and Shine 3:31
9 Celia Inside 3:36
10 Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Black Sabbath Cover) 4:32
11 Seems Hard 3:57
12 Last Song 3:21

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cake -- Fashion Nugget


Warning: There are two stories before I even get to this review.
The first is this:
Coming of age at the end of the nineties was awesome.  Not only was it the end of a century, but the end of a millennium. As such, a bit of reflection tended to seep into everything.  People most likely started making more lists.  But usefully, that reflection burrowed its way into some of the music being made at that time, as well. Portishead managed to somehow fuse good vibes with a nightmare mash of history.  Moby injected ancient gospel songs into his ethereal dance music. Cake also put their own spin on musical curation--but I'll get to that in a second.
I didn't get a car until the end of 1998, so as a sixteen year old in late 1997, I had to catch rides with a friend to and from basketball practice.  This friend's mom was kind enough to let me hang out at their house for the two hour period between class and basketball. More importantly to today, that friend was kind enough to play Cake's Fashion Nugget every day in his beat up bronco that sometimes randomly stalled during the twenty minute drive to his house (the hour or so at his house was just long enough for us to watch our own edit of Braveheart, aka Braveheart: The Awesome Version aka Braveheart: People Getting Hit In the Helmet with a Battle Hammer for an Hour).
The first organ note Fashion Nugget's opening track, "Frank Sinatra," hints at the retro awesomeness to come. The big drum beat comes next, then old Nancy Sinatra-style spy guitar, and finally the most important pieces to the sound of the entire album: the trumpet and John McCrea's conversational singing.
We know of an ancient radiation
That haunts dismembered constellations 
A faintly glimmering radio station 
While Frank Sinatra sings stormy weather 
The flies and spiders get along together 
Cobwebs fall on an old skipping record
There's also a room filled with old Chinese lamps and an old man collecting stamps who doesn't care at all about progress. The feeling of the past being inescapable, things that happened sixty years ago floating infinitely on through the depths of space is about as cool as possible. The music video is fittingly awesome:

The best tracks on Fashion Nugget all have this timeless feeling (which ironically could only have been conceived at the end of time, aka the 1990's).  They are so cool that you almost don't want not cool people to know about them.  My buddy's love affair with this album ended after we had to give another kid a ride.  My friend thought this kid was really lame, so when the poor not hip freshman said, "This is really good," and started singing along to our Cake album, my friend promptly ejected the CD, put it back in its case, and never played it again.
When I eventually got Fashion Nugget for myself, I realized that my friend had been skipping tracks.  The whole album just has a little too much padding. Fashion Nugget starts to wear out its welcome a bit by track nine, "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps"...but it has fourteen tracks.  While there are good songs after track nine, and the whole thing is a solid, highly enjoyable eight out of ten, my buddy's leaner version worked better.
In fact, his track listing would have made for a near perfect album. In honor of him introducing me to Cake, here is his track listing, followed by that of the actual album.

Fashion Nugget (Aaron Crousillac Edit*)
 1. Frank Sinatra
2. The Distance
3. Friend Is a Four Letter Word
4. Open Book
5. Daria
6. Race Car Ya-Yas
7. I Will Survive (Yes, it's a cover, and it's better than the original)
8. Nugget
9. Italian Leather Sofa

Fashion Nugget, Official Version
1996 Volcano Records
1.  Frank Sinatra 4:01
2.  The Distance 3:00
3.  Friend Is a Four Letter Word 3:22
4.  Open Book 3:44
5.  Daria 3:44
6.  Race Car Ya-Yas 1:21
7.  I Will Survive 5:10
8.  Stickshifts and Safetybelts 2:09
9.  Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps 2:24
10.  It's Coming Down 3:44
11.  Nugget 3:58
12.  She'll Come Back to Me 2:24
13.  Italian Leather Sofa 5:52
14.  Sad Songs and Waltzes 3:15

*Dude, we need to hang out!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Caedmon's Call -- Overdressed


When I heard Caedmon's Call's third album, Long Line of Leavers, was going to go even further down the poppier CCMier route of 40 Acres, I ignored it and largely forgot that the band was still working...for almost a decade. One day in the late 00's, I heard a freshly released Caedmon's Call song on the radio and decided to give the band's new stuff, an album called Overdressed, a try.
After first listen, I was confused.  I knew Derek Webb had been gone during most of the time I had neglected listening to Caedmon's Call, but one of the reasons I checked out Overdressed was his reappearance. While Webb is back to some degree, I was surprised to hear a different voice belonging to one, Andrew Osenga, someone who wasn't in the band during the first two albums, saturating the album.  Not only did Osenga seem to dominate vocally, but a leaf through the CD book made clear that of the twelve tracks, Osenga wrote nine.  That's kind of nuts, and it makes Overdressed seem less a Caedmon's Call album, and more a round of Andrew Osenga and friends.  Nothing against Osenga--he is a talented songwriter and artist, but he doesn't provide what I expected from this disc. First, his style is more of a straight ahead, CCM style.  Secondly, his lyrics really seem geared toward Christians and Christians only.  He's got songs here about raising a Christian family, accountability partners, church disappointment, mission trips to Africa.  Sure there are also more general songs about the struggles of life, but I've spent most of mine in church and even I felt a bit alienated.  I think Osenga's work just needs more balance. "Sacred" and "Love Grows Love" are just a little too bubbly about the joys of parenthood.  Meanwhile, "Hold the Light" is too deadly serious in its recollections of the narrator's relationship with a friend who has helped through tough spiritual times.  With the former, I wish he'd be a little more real, and with the latter, I wish he'd lighten up.
Osenga does have some real winners here, though.  "Expectations" is a brilliant summation of the life one thinks they are getting into with a conversion to Christianity versus what can really happen.  Things aren't all sunshine and roses all the time, and the honesty and elegant harmonies Osenga sings with longtime female vocalist Danielle Young serve the song well.  "There Is a Reason" is another great track in a similar vein.
Meanwhile, Webb sings lead on three tracks, one his own creation, and two written by his wife.  My issue with certain elements of his songs here are the same with some of his solo work from this same period: just because you are white does not mean you have to feel guilty.  "Don't blame your brother for the color of his skin" he sings, but he needs to include himself in the equation. He can't help being born white and middle class anymore than those who are born poor and black in Africa.  You can't blame yourself for fate, you can only use what you've been given in life to better the lives of those with less. Many people actually do do this, and I don't really feel like listening to someone make me feel guilty for things out of my control.  Maybe I'm crazy, but if I say I'm not a racist or "I don't see skin color," I have to be referring to my own skin as well (The next line in the song, "Don't blame your neighbor for the house he lives in" rubs me wrong, too. What if that house was purchased through ill-gotten means? Should I not be outraged? Actually, Webb's wife wrote this track, and I've enjoyed a lot of her solo work.  Heck, I've enjoyed a lot of Webb's solo work, too, and even their work together. Not to bag on him in this review, but his work on this particular album is not his best, in my opinion. I like some of his other stuff plenty.).  Anyway...
This album is still solid work, though it doesn't touch the passionate, grittier work the band did in the 90's.  Then again, I guess I shouldn't be blaming people for getting older.  I'm just as big a hypocrite as anyone.

2007 INO Records
1.  Trouble 3:36
2.  Need Your Love 3:09
3.  Sacred 3:25
4.  Expectations 3:21
5.  There Is a Reason 3:46
6.  Share in the Blame 3:40
7.  Hold the Light 6:00
8.  Two Weeks in Africa 3:44
9.  Love Grows Love 3:59
10.  All Across the Western World 3:00
11.  Always Been There 2:37
12.  Start Again 3:55

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Caedmon's Call -- 40 Acres


In a way, 40 Acres is Caedmon's Call's previous album with more of a pop sheen and a little tinge of country. It definitely has less grit than its predecessor. Then again, the songwriting is still remarkably strong, maybe even more so, and the utilization of the three vocalists is still a great asset. These factors make 40 Acres an enjoyable album, though the gloss and polish make it a little harder to love than the self-titled one. Then again again, 40 Acres features their best song by far, which also happens to be the title track. It's a lovely harmonied song that makes you feel like as long as you are alive, things can always get better, no matter where you are--even after you start sentences with the phrase "Then again again."

1999 Essential Records
1.There You Go 3:20
2.  Thankful 4:20
3.  Shifting Sand 3:49
4.  Faith My Eyes 4:41
5.  Where I Began 3:42
6.  Table for Two 3:34
7.  Climb On (A Back That's Strong) 3:51
8.  Petrified Heart 4:41
9.  Somewhere North 5:31
10.  Daring Daylight Escape 3:39
11.  40 Acres 3:35

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Drive Is Far Overrated

** out of ****

Drive might as well be titled "Ryan Gosling stares moonily." That action takes up 85% of the film. Gosling plays a no-name character with no personality. He could be a modern day stand-in for Travis Bickle, except for the fact that the movie is absolutely in love with him. While Taxi Driver realized the irony of its pro-antagonist's glorification, Drive unabashedly glorifies its own.
 Gosling plays a stunt-driver by day, criminal driver by night because...
He decides to help out a Plain Jane housewife because...
There is really no reason for anything that happens in this movie, and everything that does has already happened in better films. There are only two "car chases" to speak of, and they are both over before you can blink--one car is wrecked. Gosling kicks a bunch of nameless gangsters faces in. Maybe this movie should just be called Beat. Even on the most basic levels, not much in the film makes sense:
 Gosling's jacket is ridiculous, and anyone who saw him on the street would undoubtedly give him a hard time about it, or at the least, easily be able to identify him in a lineup as "that guy with the goofy jacket."  Carey Mulligan's Pentecostal skirt-wearer would never be caught between the two glamorously shady central-male characters, or so my wife says, and since she is one of the few women to have undergone this tedious cinematic experience, I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Oh, did I just say tedious? You know what you can do if there isn't much to your movie? Hold out shots of your characters faces for minutes at a time where nothing happens. Not only do real life people generally not just stare at each other, but people staring at each other is generally not very exciting to watch. Don't paint my accusations as being those of taste. Antonioni's The Passenger is one of my favorite films, and no one neglected to cut film more than that guy. His long takes actually meant something, though. The ones in Drive are just there to kill time, and to create a faux atmosphere of artistry.
 Well guess what? "Faux" might as well be "real" in this day and age because this film appeared on dozens of well-regarded critic's recently-released top ten of 2011 lists. All of them are absolutely wrong. Style over substance is one thing, recycled style is another. Don't waste your time.

2011 Bold Films
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan
Screenplay: Hossein Amini
Based on the novel Drive by James Sallis

Monday, March 12, 2012

Caedmon's Call -- Caedmon's Call


Like most folks, I've found some things for myself, and some things have been passed down to me.  I am the oldest cousin on the younger of two tiers of cousins, thus I've had stuff passed down to me from the older tier.  The older tier was also a great resource in answering my mother's age-old question, "What should I get my teenage son for Christmas?" Well, in the good old Christmas of 1998, the answer to that question was, "Get him this Caedmon's Call CD."
That was a good move.  Caedmon's Call's (haha, double possessives look funny!) intellectual, highly spiritual folk-rock sound mirrored the music all these older cousin's friends' bands were making, bands these cousins were taking me to see play.  I was primed for it.  This was also a good move because I come from exquisite genetics and everyone in my family has good taste.
And finally, we all had a good laugh that the album cover reminded us of this one:
From another great band that sounds nothing like Caedmon's Call.
So anyway, I guess I'm supposed to be writing a review or something.
This is artfully written, enjoyably performed as I said above..."folk rock." I guess the fact that it has drums, a few patches of electric guitar, and an actual pulse is the "rock" aspect.  The lyrics are the thoughtful college kid variety--that's who this band spent their early years playing to (hey, it's like they WERE my older cousins).  This band was Derek Webb's gig before he got all solo, and he does great work with his songwriting here, composing half of the tracks, and many of the best ones. Actually, almost everyone of these songs is a "best" one.
The best thing about this debut album is that it sounds like the work of seasoned veterans.  Every guitar lick and organ line seems to come from a place of wisdom.  The triple-vocal threat (one of which is a woman) also adds to the album's diversity of sound, and a butt-kicking Rich Mullins cover in the middle proves that this band isn't afraid to take chances and mix things up a bit.
So while you do get a few of your basic, "I'm in a coffee house thinking" songs, the prevailing sentiment of this album flows against that to the point that there is an actual song titled "I Just Don't Want Coffee." This is an album of many autumnal colors that would just as soon rock out as meditate, and songs like "Not the Land" are toe-tappers that prove Derek Webb could have possibly had a career in punk music.

I'm proud to still spin this album to the point that the plastic's falling off. Thanks, cousins!

1997 Warner Alliance
1 Lead of Love 3:57
2 Close of Autumn 4:56
3 Not the Land 5:04
4 This World 3:45
5 Bus Driver 4:57
6 Standing up for Nothing 4:56
7 Hope to Carry On 2:48
8 Stupid Kid 4:01
9 I Just Don't Want Coffee  5:59
10 Not Enough 3:40
11 Center Aisle 5:46
12 Coming Home 4:21

It's One of Those Days

Really bad case of the Mondays.
Wish when people made Cowboy Bebop references in songs, would get transported to Cowboy Bebop world.
Enjoy sentences without personal pronouns.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Travelogue: Driskill Mountain and the Psychadelic Wanderings of a Weirdo

Do you know how many out of seven billion Earth citizens awoke Tuesday morning and thought, you know what, I am going to drive to the highest point in Louisiana and climb right to the top of it?
3/6/12 was a special day for me, and not just because of its mathematical enjoyability. On that day, I was the only Earthling to climb Driskill Mountain. How do I know this? Three easy reasons: I saw zero other people. I signed a guest book on a page that contained only my name. You weren't there, so you have no choice but to believe what I say, and also that I saw a brontosaurus. I usually don't do Travelogues for just one day, but considering the amount of sheer miles I covered, here you go.
The sun rose beautifully over Glynn's mysterious Arbroth forest.
 photo IMG_1758-2.jpg
Well, not that mysterious anymore.  People, stop moving here! The more woods you cut down to build your houses, the closer the world becomes to one giant, fugly suburb.  Thanks a lot, human race! I HATE YOU! YOU ARE A STAIN OF RAVISHING DISEASE ON THE EARTH!!!  BURN IN THE FIRES OF
You know that thing where you think you want to eat at McDonald's, but after you do you feel like you just ingested ten pounds of dirty aquarium gravel? Well, I do. I gave a brief thought to visiting New Roads very own McDonald's, but then I remembered I am really awesome and went to the LA Express in Batchelor, Louisiana, where a nice old lady cooks breakfast every morning.  Also, I didn't misspell "Batchelor." That's the way they spell the name of their town, and they have breakfast, so.  The fryer the old lady borrows cooks Krispy Krunch Fried Chicken during the day, so the bacon on my biscuit kind of tasted like fried chicken, and that was awesome.  Also, I did misspell Krispy Krunch. Sorry.  Actually, the correct spelling is Chrispee Chrunch.  My bad.
I'm hungry all the time, though, so a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit isn't enough, and I got some other things, too.
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What's more important? That this picture is off center, that I am making my O face, that that biscuit is larger than an obese Pomeranian, that cheese grits is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, or that apparently Frito-Lay did special edition Grandma Cookies for Christmas and in March the LA Express in Batchelor is still carrying them? Their importance differs, but these cookies were so delicious and awesome that I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really need to find out a way to get more of them.
The Ginger & White Chocolate Chip was particularly incredible, and I actually stopped at another gas station down the road so that I could get some milk to drink with them. And actually get some gas. With all of these food stops out of the way, I re-convened my four hour drive. How come both "four" and "hour" don't sound the same? "Flour" and "hour" sound the same. Is it the "l" that makes the difference? But we don't say "hlour." Why, English, why?
I knew beforehand I was going to be in for quite a trek, so a few days before 3/6/12, I hit the clearance bin at FYE and bought some random CD's I had never heard. I bought this album called "Dancing Echoes/Dead Sounds" by some band called Codeseven which was released by Equal Vision records. Equal Vision used to be a metal label, so that's what I thought I was purchasing. After a few seconds, it was clear that wasn't it at all, and that it was something entirely different and during its second track I realized it was pretty good stuff and that its singer sounded kind of like that dude from the Juliana Theory and I listened to it like four million times and I really like the second track and it has a music video with a guy in a bunny suit and but it doesn't allow you to embed it so here is a link to it it it it it it it it it it it it it it it it
The car ride was a good jamming time, and I drove through the majestically monotonous Kisatchie National Forest, which is loaded with a large variety of trees: pine trees, tall pine trees, short pine trees. Still, pine trees are better than no trees. I arrived in the middle of God's nowhere around eleven, seeing zero humans in any kind of proximity. Driskill Mountain is fronted by an old abandoned church and cemetery, but there are fences everywhere, so I didn't even try to take a picture, so leave me alone about it already.
 photo IMG_1773-1.jpg
If you look close down the trail, there is a locked gate with barbed wire atop it blocking the path.  For some reason, they really don't want you to hike up this mountain.  Thankfully, you can just walk around the gate, which I did, and it was awesome.  There are a few of these gates in the early going, just in case you airlifted a car after the first one.  Then you'd find yourself stuck and looking silly, even though you are extravagantly wealthy enough to airlift a car up on top of a mountain.
What mountain, you dummy? you might be thinking. I don't see any mountain in your dumb pictures.
Well, you might be right.  Driskill Mountain is not a true mountain, but a 535 foot tall hill.  Then again, when your state's average ground level is about seventeen feet below sea level, (if I was an uncreative, wannabe clever person here, I would finish the sentence with "Driskill Mountain is like the f***ing Himalayas," but since I AM a creative and clever person) Driskill Mountain is like the fricking Himalayas.
The climb up this tall hill is actually pretty gradual.  There are a few places where you actually have to go downhill for awhile, but then your ascent finally grows steeper.  The hike to the top only took about twenty minutes or so.  However, my extremely eloquent description of Driskill Mountain's elevation in the above paragraph is quite apt.  The view is absolutely excellent.
 photo IMG_1792-1.jpg
 photo IMG_1793-1.jpg
 photo IMG_1818-1.jpg
I hung around in this spot for a long time, climbed a tree until I realized if I fell, no one would ever find my body, and climbed down.  The top of Driskill Mountain is entirely peaceful, and looks upon another tall hill called Jordan Mountain, which as far as I know is inaccessible, unless you want to trespass across a whole lot of land.  Fortunately for the landowners of Bienville Parish, I only wanted to trespass a reasonable amount, and hey, there weren't any private property signs.  I promptly climbed down.
 photo IMG_1823-1.jpg
Dang, it was steep. My legs are still sore.
When I started to get closer to the forest floor, I started seeing pretty things, though.
 photo IMG_1837-1.jpg
After wandering around these mysterious, thick pine woods for a couple of hours, I started coming upon signs of humans. I found a deer shooting station, and then an automated machine gun. I pulled my knife on the machine gun, which frightened it into a non-shooting mode, as I slowly backed away.
 photo IMG_1873-1.jpg
 photo IMG_1869-1.jpg
After this, I came upon a turkey tent and a bag of urine, and started hearing low rumbling noise that could only be a black bear or a big dog in the middle of the woods, and a big dog in the middle of the woods is probably a big mean dog in the middle of the woods.  I decided it was time to wander back to the mountain and make the arduous trek upward.  It wasn't quite as fun as going down, but whatever, it felt good to do some work.  That sentence was perverted, y'all, I'm sorry.
I made it back to the top and hiked back down to the cemetery and my car. Immediately, my stomach made the executive decision to head into the ten-mile away metropolis of Arcadia.  The ancient Greeks thought of Arcadia as something like this,
 photo 800px-Friedrich_August_von_Kaulbach_-_In_Arcadia.jpg
but really it looked like this.
 photo 800px-Downtown_Arcadia_LA_IMG_0807-1.jpg
Apparently, Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down here 78 years ago, so good job, Arcadia.
I ate at some quaint Italian place called Luigi's, where there were so many other customers that I had the choice of any seat in the entire restaurant.  I enjoyed my spaghetti and meatball lunch, reading my copy of Updike's Rabbit is Rich while an intense episode of Law and Order: SVU blared overhead on the television.  It was one of those episodes where Benson yells at a rapist for being disgusting.  I think I had seen it before.
Well, the day couldn't end in Arcadia. I had wandering in my blood, and I had to honor it.
So I did what anyone would do.  I hit I-20 and drove to Ruston.  There was nothing in Ruston but hipsters, tattoo shops and hair salons, but I wanted peaches and milkshakes.  Ruston, I thought you would be cool.  I thought you would have peaches and milkshakes.  But you had neither peaches nor milkshakes.  Ruston, you were not cool, and you need to work on it.
Then I drove through the incredibly futuristic panopticon of Monroe, LA, surrounded on all sides by a barren desert of bleached bones.  It was terrifying, and I barely made it out alive.  At this point, I decided to go where no man had gone before: Sandy Bayou, Lousiana.  This is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  It was like the product of someone locking a rutting Louisiana into a pen with a Tennessee in heat.  Sorry to be vulgar, but what do you want me to say? "It's like Louisiana and Tennessee had a baby?" That doesn't make any sense.
Huge mossy cypress trees lined wide, steep-sided bayous amid thick hardwood forests and tall hills.  I don't know how this region came to be in Louisiana, or how there are virtually no people here, but I think it is gorgeous.  I didn't get any pictures because I was too busy driving and gawking, and trying not to run off the road.  This is a very remote area, but well worth visiting if you have a full tank of gas.
Eventually the road ended, and I had to cross a river on a two car ferry. Awesome. I hadn't seen people in hours, so a two car ferry was just what I needed to feel safe.
 photo IMG_1910-1.jpg
The ferry actually had to come from the other side of the river or bayou or whatever it was to get me.
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Man, it was beautiful.
I drove through hill and dale, river and valley, until darkness came and I finally reached the mythical Highway 15, which sits directly atop the Mississippi levee. The moon rose full and ripe over the slow pulsations of the river, and I had to pull over to attempt to capture it with a cheap digital photograph. Almost.
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As I drove leisurely around the high curves above the valley below, gazing at the stars, I clicked on the 98.1 broadcast of the LSU baseball game versus Tulane and let Jim Hawthorne take me home. 5-0 Tigers, and home by nine.  What a day.
Here is a map of my 3/6/12 travels, my trip highlighted in red...roughly.  I used only a Louisiana map for my trek.  GPS is for sissies and takes all the mystery out of the journey.  How come nobody wants any mystery anymore? Mystery is the thing that makes life beautiful, and life is beautiful.  Be happy and do stuff you like.  People aren't going to do the stuff you like for you, so you have to do it yourself, and if you have the resources at your disposal, you don't really have an excuse to be unhappy. I mean, this is a universe in which Thin Mints exist. It's easy to dwell on the stuff you don't have, but that's just lame, guys.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Burkhard Dallwitz (with Philip Glass) -- The Truman Show (Music from the Motion Picture)


The Truman Show is a strangely prophetic film. Predating the CBS program Survivor, and thus the still-going US "reality" TV craze by two years, The Truman Show features a protagonist trapped in a pre-scripted television program he doesn't even know exists.  It is a wonderful example of excellent late 90's cinema, but I'm not here to review the film.
The Truman Show soundtrack is a pretty brilliant pairing of film composer, Burkhard Dallwitz, and legendary classical composer, Philip Glass.  While Dallwitz's name is on the CD spine, Glass wrote 1/3 of the material.  The two were nominated and received several awards for this score, all well-deserved.
This soundtrack definitely puts the "original" in score. The composers not only had to create music in the vein of a television show that could score a television show, they had to make the music a bit maudlin while still being genuinely moving.  If that sounds confusing, it is. To put it another way, the inner frame of the soundtrack is the television show of the film, and the outer frame is the actual film.  The music has to miraculously fit both at the same time, and it does.

That piece leads directly into Glass's "Raising the Sail," one of the film's most beautiful moments.

1998 Milan
1 Trutalk (Dallwitz) 1:19
2 It's A Life (Dallwitz) 1:29
3 Aquaphobia (Dallwitz) 0:39
4 Dreaming of Fiji (Glass) 1:54
5 Flashback (Dallwitz) 1:20
6 Anthem (Part 2) (Glass) 3:51
7 The Beginning (Glass) 4:11
8 Romance - Larghetto [Second Movement from Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Min] (Chopin) 10:45
9 Drive (Dallwitz) 3:36
10 Underground (Dallwitz) 0:57
11 Do Something! (Dallwitz) 0:45
12 Living Waters (Glass) 3:48
13 Reunion (Dallwitz) 2:26
14 Truman Sleeps (Glass) 1:51
15 Truman Sets Sail (Dallwitz)1:57
16 Underground / Storm (Dallwitz) 3:37
17 Raising the Sail (Glass) 2:15
18 Father Kolbe's Preaching (Kilar) 2:26
19 Opening (Glass) 2:16
20 A New Life (Dallwitz) 2:01
21 Twentieth Century Boy (Bolan) 3:07

Monday, March 05, 2012

Six Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying

Photobucket is always good for a few (or plenty of) laughs. Sometimes, though, it mixes an element of social justice and anger that is almost too good to be true. Today's article by David Wong is one of those wonderful instances. Also, it includes the line, "if none of that stuff existed, there would be nothing stopping Jay-Z from taking your farm."
You can check out the article here.

The Walking Dead Sucks (And I'll Keep Watching It)

Last night, The Walking Dead made me do something I don't do all that often: root for the death of a ten-year old boy.  I have a son, myself, and usually any threat of harm to children gets a rise in my nerves, but The Walking Dead hit such a low point last night, I actually wanted the child character to meet his fate and go away.  It's not really anything personal against him.  I want almost every character on The Walking Dead to meet their fate and go away.  The Walking Dead is not a good show.
The reason The Walking Dead is not a good show is simple:
There are no real characters on The Walking Dead.  Someone got a checklist of tropes: hero, loose cannon, black guy, asian guy, old guy, loyal woman, angry woman, child, and put them into a plot.  Instead of the characters driving the plot, the characters just do whatever the plot needs.  They have no identifiable traits or solid sources of reasoning.  If The Walking Dead was just a show full of wall-to-wall action, this would be fine.  It isn't, though.  The Walking Dead might as well be called The Talking Dead because that is all the "characters" do.  Talk, talk, talk, talk, but they have no personalities, so nothing they say has any bearing. Someone might argue for one thing one episode, then have a completely different opinion next week if the plot needs it. This makes for a pretty miserable viewing experience, but I can't stop watching for one key reason: check out the picture at the top of this post.
The makeup work on The Walking Dead is fantastic. The zombies look incredibly disgusting, and any scene involving them is excellent.  Watching the "characters" fight against them is always thrilling. Unfortunately, those scenes are few and far between, but there have been enough to make me keep watching.
The show is already running a contest where the victor wins a trip to next year's (or late this year's) Season Three Premiere. The Walking Dead has already been renewed.  That means the producers have no excuse if the next season is as bad as this one.  I am certainly not the only person complaining.  Fix what's wrong with the show during your time off the air and come back better.  You already know I am going to watch, but wouldn't you rather me write posts titled "The Walking Dead is Awesome?" There won't be a question mark, that was just so that sentence would be proper.  It would actually look like this:
Or something like that, you get the drift.

Friday, March 02, 2012

So Now What Do You Think About Bruce Springsteen? Well, I'll Tell You! Reflections on Devoting an Entire Month to One Artist and Alienating my Entire Reading Base.

Unlike my experience with The Beatles last October I already knew going into this Bruceathon that I liked Bruce Springsteen's music. It was interesting, to me at least, so just as I did after a month of listening to almost nothing but The Beatles, here is an interview with myself about my month of nothing but Springsteen.

Well, we hope that was enjoyable for you. A whole month of Springsteen? What's next, a whole month of Manilow? 
I have to review every album I own, even if it's seventeen albums from the same artist. The good thing about Springsteen is that so many of his albums sound differently, and he plays with so many people, it's like reviewing more than one artist. He even sings differently on certain albums. Out of seventeen there has got to be one you like! Alright, maybe not, but still, it's over, and there isn't one other artist I like with as big a body of work. In about ten years, when I finally get to U2, you'll see even they barely have over half this many albums.

Okay, you barely even mentioned Justin Bieber in these reviews.  What gives?
Yeah, I'm real broken up about that one, too.

Well, you just reviewed SEVENTEEN albums! What Springsteen album is your favorite?
Nebraska. Not trying to be cool or cliche or anything, but I still like that one the best by far.  It's magical.

DId any particular albums rise or fall in your estimation?
I used to jam out to Born to Run on vinyl, so I was kind of surprised it didn't connect as well when I listened to it in sequence with the other albums.  I would have never thought I'd have given it a LOWER score than the first two Springsteen albums, but it happened.  It's just too Broadway for me, I guess.  I'll take the grittier  Springsteen any day.  Speaking of which, I thought I'd give Darkness on the Edge of Town a high score, but I was almost surprised at how perfect it is.  That was another one I had only listened to on vinyl before, but in sequence, it worked even better.  Devils & Dust also shot up in my estimation, perhaps because I had never before immersed myself in it.  That one definitely rewards repeat listens and concentration. Same goes for Magic.

Jeez, stop talking about Springsteen.  You already made us read about him for a month!  What's next?
One more letter "B" review of a fairly obscure release I doubt many people will care about. Then I finally get to the letter "C," which will be a diverse cavalcade of music.  The Cardigans, The Chariot, Creedence...Coldplay.  Coldplay is like a band full of Justin Bieber's, right?  Anyway, it should be very interesting.  I thought I was going to get to Nick Cave, then I realized that according to the way I am doing this, I have to get to the letter "N" to do that. Wonder when that will be?  Also, when are they going to open a Five Guys in New Roads?

Stop trying to weasel your way out of the difficult questions, Nicsperiment guy. Who is better?  The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen?
Springsteen.  The Beatles pioneered modern music in a way, but then they just broke up.  Almost immediately after, Springsteen started refining what they did.  He's got several perfect albums to his name, while the Beatles may have one (I kind of gave Abbey Road a mulligan with "Octopus's Garden" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"). But one thing puts Bruce Springsteen head and shoulders above The Beatles, and above just about everybody else:  his lyrics.  The Beatles may have "and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."  Bruce has every O'Henry worthy song on his solo "folk" albums.  I'll take those any day. All the rest of his work could be lagniappe and he still wins. Also, more people read these than the Beatles reviews, believe it or not.

You jerk!
Yeah, yeah. Look, there's Justin Bieber!

Haha.  I can't believe you Beliebed me.

I guess I'm just gullible.
Well, check this out.  Bob Dylan once saw Barry Manilow, " a party, hugged him and said, "Don't stop what you're doing, man. We're all inspired by you." Unlike my Be-lies, this is actually true.  Someone will probably tell this to Bieber soon.  So, have a good weekend, peops. Wait, that doesn't work.  But people shortened is peops.  Why is it supposed to be peeps, then?  Peeps is a candy shaped like chicken babies.  WHY IS LIFE SO CONFUSING?!?!?!?!?!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Bruce Springsteen -- The Promise


For the 20th anniversary of his seminal album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen uncovered trunk loads of songs he recorded during the same sessions.  This being Springsteen, instead of releasing them as is, he took two years to tweak them and sequence them.  The result is The Promise.
Despite it's sprawling length, The Promise is a simple set of teenage love songs, 70's-rock style with shades of the 50's, shrouded in night.  The second track, "Gotta Get That Feeling" throws a divisive curveball, though.  Springsteen doesn't sound thirty, but sixty.  It turns out that Springsteen went back and recorded new vocal takes (and some instrumental ones) for some of the tracks. Sometimes the new takes appear right beside the old ones.  While some completists might find this offputting, I actually like it.  Having the older Springsteen's voice along for the ride adds a wisdom and sentimental timelessness that detracts from the an otherwised present naivete.  In simpler terms, it gives the songs more substance.  My favorite instance of this occurs on "Because the Night," famously recorded by Patti Smith, but written by Springsteen and finally released by him here. A younger voice would have perhaps enhanced the urgency of the track, but Springsteen's more aged, grizzled vocals give the song haunting, substantial experience.  This old dude knows what he is talking about.

The only detraction I can give The Promise is it's length.  This is definitely a summer romance, and by that, I mean it seems to go on for an entire summer.  Then again, I wouldn't really want any of these songs to be sacrificed, so I get the overflow of music.  It's all good stuff.

2010 Sony Music Entertainment
Disc 1
1 Racing in the Street 6:50
2 Gotta Get That Feeling 3:19
3 Outside Looking In 2:18
4 Someday (We'll Be Together) 5:38
5 One Way Street 4:20
6 Because the Night 3:25
7 Wrong Side of the Street 3:36
8 The Brokenhearted 5:19
9 Rendezvous 2:39
10 Candy's Boy 4:39

Disc 2 
1 Save My Love 2:38
2 Ain't Good Enough for You 4:03
3 Fire 4:09
4 Spanish Eyes 3:50
5 It's a Shame 3:16
6 Come On (Let's Go Tonight) 2:20
7 Talk To Me 4:21
8 The Little Things (My Baby Does) 3:18
9 Breakaway 5:32
10 The Promise 5:54
11 City of Night 7:07

Apparently, February was Bruce History Month

For anyone who can't stand Bruce Springsteen, sorry that he occupied the entire month of February on The Nicsperiment. That was not intentional. Honestly, I wish he would have come up later this month so I could have covered his new album, Wrecking Ball. There is one final Springsteen review coming today at lunch, followed by a retrospective, one final surprise "B" review (that few people at all will care about), and then finally good old "C," the average grade of people everywhere, will arive. Thanks for bearing with us and giving The Nicsperiment its first period of continuous four-digit viewership since the revival of the site three years ago. Also, I'm almost out of Cookies and Cream Drops. Someone get me some more, stat!