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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dan Auerbach -- Keep it Hid


After working within such tight parameters with his main gig, The Black Keys, front man, Dan Auerbach, opens things up a bit with his solo debut, Keep It Hid.
Jeez, that was a lot of commas.  The confining laws of grammar can easily be compared to the strict musical guidelines The Black Keys seem to follow.  One guitar, drums, and vocals  (I don't know what it is about bands with colors in their names restricting themselves. I'm looking at you, White Stripes...oh, wait...nevermind).  On top of that, The Black Keys often run one riff into the ground for four minutes and call it a song.
Confession:  I've never made it all the way through one song.  I mean, never made it through a Black Keys song, not a song song.  I've made it through plenty of those...otherwise, these reviews would require a lot more imagination...Yes, that was a self-deprecating dig.  Yes, I guess I'll dive straight back into this review now.
On February 3rd, 2010, I was watching a rather emotional episode of the television program, Friday Night Lights, when a comforting song suddenly buffeted a very trying scene (Seriously, "Laboring" was a great episode, and the second half of that fourth season is just brutal).  I liked the song and filed it away in my brain.
On January 25th, 2011, I was watching the underrated and sadly cancelled program, Lights Out, when up popped the same song.  I finally decided to seek out this piece of music and found it was "When the Night Comes," by some dude named Dan Auerbach.

I looked the guy up, and what do you know, it's the dude from The Black Keys, that self-constricting, self-restricting band I didn't like. Self-constricting because their songs wrap around themselves like a python until there isn't any air left. Self-restricting because their songs all sound the same.
Thankfully, Keep It Hid explores a lot more musical territory than your typical Black Keys album.  Auerbach really explores his love for late 60's and early 70's rock music on this album to a degree his work with The Black Keys only hints. To be completely honest, if not for the drum machine that kicks off "Real Desire," one could easily fool someone into thinking Keep It Hid was forty years old.  For all I know, that drum machine might actually be that ancient.
Auerbach also explores his love for Southern Music.  The song mentioned above could easily have soundtracked Morganza High School's 1968 Senior Prom.
In case I haven't made it clear yet, this album is nostalgia-tinged. Perhaps Auerbach's love for this type of music really inspired him to push himself.  All of these songs are good, and while his trademarked dirty-toned, repetitive guitar playing can be trying at spare moments, Keep it Hid easily features more varied and dynamic song structures than anything Auerbach has ever recorded.  Also, taking a page from the kudzu vines that crawl over every mile of the region Auerbach worships here, Keep It Hid's song are absolutely infectious, and unbeholden to any rules.

2009 Nonesuch
1. Trouble Weighs a Ton 2:19
2. I Want Some More 3:49
3. Heartbroken, In Disrepair 3:21
4. Because I Should 0:53
5. Whispered Words (Pretty Lies) 4:06
6. Real Desire 4:25
7. When the Night Comes 4:11
8. Mean Monsoon 3:47
9. The Prowl 3:17
10. Keep It Hid 3:41
11. My Last Mistake 3:14
12. When I Left the Room 4:01
13. Street Walkin' 4:39
14. Goin' Home 4:56

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Star Wars: Dark Times -- Out of the Wilderness # 5

Randy Stradley ends Dark Times' "Out of the Wilderness" in grand fashion.  Continuing the strong character work of past issues, Stradley wisely goes for emotional payoffs over action in this final issue of the arc (thankfully, not the series).
Neil Gaiman's "Sunday Mourning" from the Sandman series was the only comic to make me weep openly in the first thirty years of my life.  This issue of Dark Times earned my tears not once, but twice.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for a Book of Hosea-style storyline, and it's pulled off perfectly here.  Stradley himself has insisted that the outcome of this comic did not follow his original outline but occurred organically, and indeed the emotional beats of this issue are true to the hearts of the characters, inevitable. Douglas Wheatley's art conveys these emotions so fluidly it's impossible not to get caught in the flood.  His epic landscapes again provide an incredible stage for these cosmic events, and Dan Jackson's colors are as envelopingly gorgeous as always.  Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me toss this out there:
Star Wars as a brand has sometimes been maligned, often fairly.  If a Star Wars comic is decent, it is often stated as, "good...for Star Wars."  Dark Times is simply not just "good for Star Wars."  It is truly a great work of art.  It stands completely apart from everything else in the Star Wars franchise.  One needs to know nothing of Star Wars' history, plots, or details to enjoy this series.
At the top of this review's second paragraph, I compared Dark Times to one of the greatest illustrated works of all time. I think that Dark Times can stand in that company with its head held high.  It is not even just "good for a comic book."  It is transcendent.

Buy it for $3.15!
Dark Horse Comics
Publication Date:April 25, 2012
Format:FC, 32 pages
UPC:7 61568 18817 2 00511

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

So Much For C

Pictured: The Letter "C"

Well, that was emotionally fulfilling on a near shocking level. When I began my letter "C" reviews, I did not realize I would be covering music to which I had such a personal attachment. The "C" batch of reviews may be my favorite, yet.
I will began the letter "D" on Wednesday (tomorrow, I will be publishing another comic review). A lot of my favorite bands begin with "D"--Deftones, The Dismemberment Plan, Drive-By Truckers--so this should be interesting...or it should be something.  As always, thank you for reading!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cursive -- The Ugly Organ


I've come to realize that this Every Album I Own series is sometimes just an excuse to explore my own life and history. I know this might alienate some readers, but I prefer to let people know where I am coming from when they get my opinion (though, on a selfish note, these collective reviews may be as close to an autobiography as I get).
I've mentioned the arduous arc of my twenty-fourth year multiple times here.  I look back on the journey of 2005 quite fondly now, but there were several times throughout that I literally thought I would die. Without a doubt, the darkest time was the first half of the summer.  Between mid-May to early mid-August, (after blogging at least every three days) this kicked off my only post:
Yes, I took this picture at 3 a.m.  I quit sleeping, I wasn't eating much, I had no money, no job, essentially no friends, and no known future. I felt like I had let others around me, and more importantly, myself, down.
Like many people along the lower west banks of the Mississippi, I live in a small farming village. That year, lacking any other options, I lived in my parents' house, and I was blood-related to every neighbor I had.
Everyone got out of town that summer--they all left my little patch of earth and swamp for month-long vacations.  This left me staring at the moon rising slowly through moss-hung oaks over Old Man River, and doing this alone for too long can make any man go crazy. My aunt, perhaps taking pity on my financial situation, tasked me with re-painting and working on the empty rent-house next door to mine, while everyone was away.  My only friend in that old house in that abandoned town was a left-behind radio.  I listened to the college station I'd DJ'd at only a year before, though, and that just made me miss my more predictable, fulfilling college life, especially when they played songs released during my time there like Cursive's "Art is Hard," or even more fitting to my situation, "The Recluse."

(BTW, I've always thought "The Recluse" sounded like a more pessimistic update of Camper Van Beethoven's "One of These Days." That's definitely a compliment)

"Art is Hard" and "The Recluse" come from Cursive's The Ugly Organ, a beautiful album filled with self-loathing, fear, and hope.  I'd be lying if I said my situation at the time I've just mentioned doesn't affect my affection for this record.  "The Recluse" doubles in meaning as a solitary person and a poisonous spider, just as The Ugly Organ itself holds multiple meanings.  It's a musical instrument, it's frontman Tim Kasher's penis, it's a metaphor for the songs Kasher writes about misery.  The scope of the album revolves around Kasher complaining that people only want to hear him sing about sadness and how that makes him feel like a fake--yet the irony is that he really is bitterly depressed to the point of self-destruction.
Kasher is freshly divorced here, and while Cursive's previous album, Domestica, explored that more in the depth, the aftereffects are apparent throughout The Ugly Organ. Kasher sounds extremely unhappy about and alienated by the life he is living, and he can't help but fantasize about a life he didn't live, even going so far as to imagine one where he has a daughter being tucked in bed by a man who has taken up with his ex-wife ("Sierra"). Man, I could identify with this stuff.  My now wife (who also DJ'd with me in college) was still at LSU, except with her stupid boyfriend at the time, and not with me.
Ultimate emotional drama!
I was feeling it, and the discordant, violin-tinged rock music of The Ugly Organ struck home in my head.  Kasher, yelping, shouting, and singing pretty, also scatters some pretty beautiful parts into the album just when they're needed.  "The Recluse" is one, and "Driftwood : A Fairy Tale" is another, detailing Kasher's sad depersonalization into a wooden puppet, before drifting into scary whispering, dissonant piano, and white noise--basically every night of my summer that year.
The most beautiful element of The Ugly Organ is its overwhelming hope. This is first found near the end of the otherwise distressing "A Gentleman Caller," where the singer details an escalating series of ugly one-night stands before feeling guilt, and telling his conquest:

Whatever I said to make you think
that love's the religion of the weak.
This morning we love like weaklings.
The worst is over.

In the final track, in a moment only non-humans will find non-affecting, Kasher belts out that he's "staying alive."  Thankfully, this sounds nothing like the Bee Gees (RIP Robin Gibb).  It's an extremely powerful moment. The phrase "the worst is over" is reprised from "A Gentleman Caller" by a choir of voices at the very end of the song, and it lends an air of beautiful finality over The Ugly Organ.  And a year later, I was getting married, working a good job, and living in my own place.

2003 Saddle Creek
1. The Ugly Organist 0:53
2. Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand 1:53
3. Art Is Hard 2:46
4. The Recluse 3:04
5. Herald! Frankenstein 0:47
6. Butcher the Song 3:31
7. Driftwood: A Fairy Tale 4:41
8. A Gentleman Caller 3:19
9. Harold Weathervein 2:59
10. Bloody Murderer 2:52
11. Sierra 3:25
12. Staying Alive 10:06

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Chronicle, Vol. 1


Listening to twenty straight songs by any band can be a chore.  Creedence Clearwater Revival are one of the few acts to lend the phrase "marathon listen" positive connotations.

It is awe-inspiring that in only four years, Creedence put out this many great songs.  While it is true that they released dozens of excellent tracks that aren't here on Chronicle, it is tough to argue with the inclusion of each of these twenty.  The band's jammy, swampy, traditional, and poppy sides over their 1/25 of a century  existence are all explored. No one working today shows this much talent at such a prolific level.
Chronicle is proof positive that CCR was one of the best bands to bring sound upon the Earth.

1976 Fantasy
1. Susie-Q 4:36
2. I Put a Spell on You 4:30
3. Proud Mary 3:07
4. Bad Moon Rising 2:18
5. Lodi 3:09
6. Green River 2:32
7. Commotion 2:41
8. Down on the Corner 2:43
9. Fortunate Son 2:18
10. Travelin' Band 2:07 .
11. Who'll Stop the Rain. 2:27
12. Up Around the Bend 2:41
13. Run Through the Jungle 3:05
14. Lookin' Out My Back Door 2:31
15. Long as I Can See the Light 3:32
16. I Heard It Through the Grapevine 11:04
17. Have You Ever Seen the Rain? 2:38
18. Hey Tonight 2:41
19. Sweet Hitch-Hiker 2:55
20. Someday Never Comes 3:59

Star Wars: Dark Times -- Out of the Wilderness # 4

For the fourth part of his fourth Dark Times Arc, writer, Randy Stradley, amps up the tension.  Nothing huge happens in terms of story, outside of a metaphorical rope wrapping around the proceedings and unceasingly tightening around the characters.  Dialogue is as crackling good as always, and Douglas Wheatley's artwork continues to have to be seen to be believed.  Wheatley's framing is so fresh, and yet so archetypally ancient, one can't help but feel like they are gazing upon a piece of history.  Dan Jackson's coloring brings Wheatley's work to incredible life--every page pops.  Dark Times continues to be not only the best piece of media Star Wars currently offers, but one of, if not the best comic on the market.

Buy it for $2.69!
Dark Horse Comics
Publication Date:February 22, 2012
Format:FC, 32 pages
UPC:7 61568 18817 2 00411

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Willy and the Poor Boys


Willy and the Poor Boys is the third full-length album Creedence Clearwater Revival released in 1969.  Plenty of bands are lucky to get out three albums in a decade, but Creedence put out three very good ones in eleven months.  Willy and the Poor Boys is the sliest and best of the trio.
The album softens the listener up from the get go with, "Down on the Corner," a nostalgic number about an old street band, but Willy and the Poor Boys has far darker intentions in store. The next song is a fun story about a farmer who has something from space land in his field.  The subversive lyrics coyly hint that every type of power that be will do anything to take it from him. This is followed by the breezy Lead Belly cover "Cotton Fields," though the third chorus is:
Oh, when them cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton,
In them old cotton fields back home.
Side two kicks off with the ubiquitous, hard-rocking "Fortunate Son," which brings the lurking subtext of societal rot to the surface.  It's usually taken as an anti-war song, but on a deeper level, it's really a song for all of the downtrodden and oppressed who find themselves under the powerful's thumb.
"Don't Look Now," returns to the more laid-back sound of the majority of the album, but its lyrics take the seething ideas of "Fortunate Son" to a whole new level.
Don't look now, someone's done your starvin' 
Don't look now, someone's done your prayin' too 
Who will make the shoes for your feet? 
Who will make the clothes that you wear? 
Who'll take the promise that you don't have to keep? 
Don't look now, it ain't you or me
A second Lead Belly cover, "The Midnight Special" furthers the same themes
Well, you wake up in the mornin', you hear the work bell ring
And they march you to the table to see the same old thing
Ain't no food upon the table, and no pork up in the pan
But you better not complain, boy, you get in trouble with the man
Of course, if you aren't listening to the lyrics, you think you are just getting a good, old-fashioned rock song. "Side O' the Road" follows, and it is a great late-60's rock instrumental.
"Side O' the Road" leads the way to the final track, "Effigy," and its lyrics and emotions match its music, "Effigy" throws any pretense of going easy on the listener out the window.

I love "Effigy," and no one ever talks about it, so I will end this review with a breakdown of the song.
"Effigy" begins with a haunting lead guitar line, then the rhythm guitar, bass, and drums come in with a slow, steady, hard-bottomed groove.
Last night I saw a fire burning on 
The palace lawn 
O'er the land 
The humble subjects watched in mixed 
Who is burnin'? 
Who is burnin'? 
Someone has finally had enough and taken things to the powers that be.  Maybe.  Maybe that person is the one burning on the palace lawn.  Tom Fogerty's usually comforting voice sounds more ominous than ever.
Last night
I saw the fire spreadin' to
The palace door
Silent majority
Weren't keepin' quiet
Who is burnin' 
Who is burnin' 
Obviously, the people are angry to the point that they are taking it to their "masters."  Chaos ensues.  The band follows this verse and chorus by seriously rocking out.
Last night I saw the fire spreadin' to 
The country side 
In the mornin' 
Few were left to watch 
The ashes die 
Who is burnin'? 
Who is burnin'? 
The powers that be put those who would stand against them back in their place as brutally as possible. The common people, who live in the countryside, are the ones who pay the heaviest price.
It all ends up being senseless.  Almost everyone ends up burning, even though some other type of resolution had to have been possible.  The band now rocks out as hard as possible.  Such a rocking out can never truly end, thus the song slowly fades into aural darkness.  End of a great song.  End of a great album.

1969 Fantasy
1. Down on the Corner 2:47
2. It Came Out of the Sky 2:56
3. Cotton Fields 2:54
4. Poorboy Shuffle 2:27
5. Feelin' Blue 5:05
6. Fortunate Son 2:21
7. Don't Look Now 2:12
8. The Midnight Special 4:14
9. Side O' the Road 3:26
10. Effigy 6:31

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Green River


Feelgood downer music.  John Fogerty can sing "Everywhere you look, there's a frown" on "Commotion," but it doesn't make the song any less fun. Likewise, "Wrote a Song for Everyone" puts the singer through the ringer, but one can't help but feel a load off after listening to the song.

Clocking at just under five minutes, "Wrote a Song for Everyone" is the longest song on Green River.  This album is less jammy and less laid back than its predecessor, Bayou Country, but it's a little more cohesive.  I'd put them at a dead heat, quality wise.  Both are a good time, and not all of Green River's tracks have melancholy undertones.  Even when they do, though, the songs are still a blast. "Bad Moon Rising," about earthquakes, lightning, hurricanes, flooding, rage AND ruin more than proves my point.

1969 Fantasy
1. Green River 2:36
2. Commotion 2:44
3. Tombstone Shadow 3:39
4. Wrote a Song for Everyone 4:57
5. Bad Moon Rising 2:21
6. Lodi 3:13
7. Cross-Tie Walker 3:20
8. Sinister Purpose 3:22
9. The Night Time Is the Right Time 3:08

Monday, May 21, 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Bayou Country


A pretty laid-back (even when it's rocking), mostly jammy entry into Creedence's catalog.  It's got that song you've heard a million times, "Proud Mary." "Proud Mary" has been so ubiquitous over the last 43 years because it's a great song, but "Bayou Country" has others.  My personal favorite is "Graveyard Train," about as good an evocation of a creepy Southern night as you're gonna get (and I say this from the heart of Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana).
In the midnight, hear me cryin out her name.
In the midnight, hear me cryin out her name.
Im standin on the railroad, waitin for the graveyard train.

1969 Fantasy
1. Born on the Bayou 5:16
2. Bootleg 3:02
3. Graveyard Train 8:37
4. Good Golly Miss Molly 2:44
5. Penthouse Pauper 3:39
6. Proud Mary 3:08
7. Keep on Chooglin' 7:41

If It's Alright for Peter Gabriel

Do you think my wife will mind if I had a crush on Sinead O'Connor 18 years ago? Hey, Peter Gabriel did, too!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Creed -- Human Clay


Don't act like you didn't own this.  Unlike you, I don't throw stuff away, so miraculously, though gaining dust, I still own Creed's Human Clay.  But why did a seventeen-year old, late 90's, loner kid whose musical interests lay (lie? Why is English impossible? You get a degree in it, and it still doesn't make any sense) in Portishead, Deftones, The Dismemberment Plan, U2, and Echo and the Bunnymen spend the "personal money" part of his paycheck on a Creed CD at the very Wal-Mart at which he disgruntledly worked? How could he do it with a straight face and not even hide the compact disc case as it sat atop his Discman? public!  You have to understand, 1999 was a very different time.  Someone could like weird things, but un-ironically purchase a popular rock album and enjoy it. This probably ended somewhere around Linkin Park's first album, P.O.D.'s Satellite, and 9/11.  Creed wasn't hugely popular coming into 1999, anyway. They actually started off as an underground act who only grew due to word of mouth. I didn't like their first album because all the kids at my school that I didn't like listened to it.  People I did like listened to it, too, but it was too mopey, angsty, and goofily guilt-ridden for me.  It wasn't until KLSU, the local college station (and my future place of employment) started blasting Creed's "Higher" from the then upcoming Human Clay that I got interested.  That station only played cool stuff that other stations didn't, so that was enough cred for me.  With a paycheck burning a whole in my pocket (or with the tiny allowance for entertainment I derived from my paycheck burning a whole in my pocket), and the now newly released Human Clay sitting in my face all day (I worked in the electronics department), that was enough for me.  It wasn't until a year later that KLSU suddenly became too cool for Creed, even creating a station I.D. that essentially said, "KLSU.  No Creed allowed."  This was after the over-saturation of "Arms Wide Open." But I haven't even gotten to this album's content yet, so why not do that (Because I like rambling on and on about myself, actually.  That would be the reason. That would definitely be the reason.)?
It takes a certain amount of either earnestness or pomposity to name the first song on your album "Are You Ready?". There's a period at the end of that sentence because that question mark is part of the song title.  The song starts off with a guitar playing an interesting middle-eastern scale.  Suddenly the band bangs in, and then it happens--the reason people say Creed suck.  The first twenty-seconds of this song are okay.  The guitar intro is cool, and when the whole band comes in and things get heavy, it's still not bad.  If the song were only an instrumental, surely the bridge should also receive note. The un-distorted guitar playing another light middle-eastern scale with the band playing softly along is quite enjoyable.  These guys can actually play their instruments.  If you compare this stuff to what it spawned--Nickleback, Hinder, all other post-grunge acolytes, Creed instrumentally sound like masters of their craft, at least on this one album by them that I own.  They might hit one too many mid-tempo grooves, but at least the rhythm keeps your head-nodding.  The whole point of this ramble is: while Creed don't do anything much original or particularly noteworthy instrumentally, they are solid enough, and they throw in just enough curve-balls to keep things interesting.  They don't make the kind of music that can spawn hate...but their singer does!
27-seconds into "Are You Ready?," Scott Stapp ham-sandwiches his first note, just like he ham-sandwiches every single note he sings after it.  This is something you can get used to after a while.  He isn't singing off key or anything, he just sounds really, really serious.  Kind of like a post-grunge Michael Bolton.  The difference is, Michael Bolton has done this, which proves he has a sense of humor about himself.  Stapp just sounds really, really into what he is singing, and really, really into the person singing it.
Unfortunately, Stapp is that guy who always tries to use big words to sound smart, but picks the wrong one. For instance, his misuse of "decadence" in "Wash Away Those Years" unwittedly turns a rape victim into something else. He sounds like he read the Bible when he was a kid, and he wants to quote it, but he can't quite remember what it says, so he just throws some random lines out.  With the combination of his over-the-top delivery and his sensitive but dumb-jock poetry, he just comes off as extremely self-involved, even though the gist of his lyrics aren't selfish.  He's that kid in the locker room who always blows up, then forces everyone to listen to his apology later, somehow making everyone's time center around him, even when he's not being a jerk.  I once told a guy who turned out to be a classical narcissist (and far less intelligent than I was giving him credit for) that I thought Scott Stapp had a Messiah Complex.  "I think he's very close to him," the guy said.
Still, there is something to be said for a guy like Stapp, and when you are a teenager, even a rebellious one, a guy on a stage belting truisms can be like a beacon.  He stands for some strange thing that everyone in their life needs for a moment: a sure person.  However oversung and misstated Stapp's lyrics are, everything he says is actually fine: prepare for the future, watch what you say, look past appearances, stay young at heart, look toward the future with optimism, be a friend of peace.  I don't see what's wrong with that, and if you compare this to the lyrics of the bands in Creeds wake, Creed DO look like saints.  There's nothing about taking pleasure in cheating on your girlfriend with someone with the lips of an angel or being a a big rock star with a drug-dealer on speed dial.  So while Creed are kind of like the self-obsessed, dumb jocks (and since I played every sport but baseball, I am just going to consider myself a smart jock(also, sorry for all the similes, but I don't know any other fitting way to praise with faint damming (yes, that phrasing was intentional (ERROR YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR MAX ALLOTMENT FOR PARENTHETICALS))) at your school who started a band, they are at least the dumb jocks who were nice to you when you ended up having to have any kind of interaction with them.
So while you'd rather hang out with your friends, hanging out with these guys isn't the worst thing on Earth...until you have to hear the radio-version of "Arms Wide Open" for the 5,000th time.
I am convinced that Creed would have simply gone down as the Coldplay to Pearl Jam's Radiohead (and I in no way think Pearl Jam is as good a band as Radiohead), were it not for the ubiquitous nature of Creed's breakout song.  Stapp wrote the lyrics to "Arms Wide Open" after he received the news of his first child's conception.  On Human Clay, it's completely harmless, a softer, optimistic song to bridge the darkness of "Never Die" (Nice weird ambient sounds on that song, by the way, Creed. I mean that) with the riffy-euphoria of "Higher."  Human Clay's version of "Arms Wide Open" contains none of the syrupy string arrangements of the later mixed radio-cut that might as well have had its own radio-station dedicated to it during the latter half of 2000.  I got so sick of that song that I've only listened to Human Clay four or five times since, including the three listens for this review.  Maybe I should rephrase that:
I've only listened to Creed four or five times since, including the three listens for this review.  The band and Stapp gave me just what I needed during a few short weeks near the end of a century.  I don't hate them, and I don't think they are the worst band ever--I just don't really care to listen to them.
Jeez, it's sounds like I had an affair or something.

 1999 Wind-Up
1.  Are You Ready? 4:45
2.  What If 5:18
3.  Beautiful 4:19
4.  Say I 5:15
5.  Wrong Way 4:19
6.  Faceless Man 5:58
7.  Never Die 4:51
8.  With Arms Wide Open 4:34
9.  Higher 5:16
10. Wash Away Those Years 6:04
11. Inside Us All 5:39

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Craig's Brother -- The Insidious Lie


Now that I've had an entire year to listen to Craig's Brother's The Insidious Lie, I find I enjoy it even more than when it was first released. It is not absolutely perfect (not many things are), and I can and will articulate its minuscule flaws, but overall, it is a record of considerable depth. Also, literally, it is a record now (and a CD and a download).
Since I have already once reviewed The Insidious Lie, and to also put it in a place of honor with its older brother, Lost at Sea, I will now give the album a track-by-track review.
1. Freedom: If there are doubts that Craig's Brother are back, "Freedom" quashes them.  It's a fun, fast punk song that combines all their work to this point into something fresh and new. Ted's wife sings backup and the band sounds better than ever.  The guitar leads are especially nice.  "Freedom" is also one of the most spiritually bold songs Craig's Brother have recorded, detailing a dying person's joy at entering into the next life.  "This body is done.  I'm primed for a new one," Ted Bond sings, also reminding listeners that "life is a puff of smoke.  One fleeting moment, and it's done."
2. Crutch (This song is only on the physical versions of the album.  You should always get physical): I like that the most spiritual song Craig's Brother have released is immediately followed by one of the saltiest.  "The chemical reaction for an instant asshole: just add alcohol," Ted sings in a portrait of someone with a completely empty life.  The themes of the album can be tied in to every track.  The first and last songs detail the truth (and the final one details the difficulty with it...get to that later), while the ten in the middle discuss deceptions.  The deception central to "Crutch" is that using alcohol as one is no real way to live.  About half of the songs on The Insidious Lie take the fast, punk tempopath, but "Crutch" and several others are just great rock songs.  Some songs are perfect hybrids of both styles.
3. Mistake of Caring: "Mistake of Caring" fits the last sentence of the previous paragraph.  Some nice guitar solos segue the more straight-up rock verses and choruses with a blazing, fast-paced bridge.  The lyrics revolve around a deceptive friend who turns out to be no friend at all, but "Mistake of Caring" is still a pretty feel-good song.  Maybe because the false friend gets ditched at the end.  Sorry to ruin the surprise.  Forget about that sentence.
4. Thousand Yard Stare:  This is one of the most aggressive songs on the album.  "Thousand Yard Stare" is a fast, angry, and compassionate track about the deceptions that lead to wars, and the cost to the men who  fight them, even after they make it home "safely." The bridge, particularly, is one of Craig's Brother's most powerful moments. Ted's wife sings backup on this one, too (she actually appears on close to half of The Insidious Lie's tracks).  You don't hear a lot of guy/girl harmonies in punk music, but after listening to this album, I'd definitely like to hear them more often.
5. Klamath Falls: I love this song.  It's almost like someone tasked a brutally honest punk band to compose a song in the style of Jimmy Buffet.  The deception here is autobiographical in nature.  In "pursuit of the dream," Ted Bond dropped out of college to embark upon the life of a touring musician.  He soon found himself broke and without any prospects, stuck in the middle of nowhere with "a bunch of drunks I can't stand." Unfortunately, these people he can't stand are his best friends...and also his bandmates. I know a lot of people thought this song was too blunt, but I think it is an album standout.
6. The Insidious Lie: The title track breaks down the lie in the "happiness' we can find in our mass consumer culture.  It rages against the fact that we allow this culture to decide upon the things we should want and "need," instead of deciding those things for ourselves. Punk on every level.  Bassist, Scott Hrapoff really jams out here: he owns this song.  Drummer, Heath Konkel, also displays some excellent work, and Glade Wilson, Ted Bond, and everyone else playing guitar on this track, really showcase Craig's Brother's increase in musical skill over the last decade.
7. Party Girl: While not bad, I think this is one of The Insidious Lie's weaker tracks.  It is similar to "Crutch" in theme, though the person here uses not just alcohol as a crutch, but partying in general.  I laughed out loud the first time I heard Ted sing the line, "Let's explore something more than just our pants," but it became grating on successive lessons. The only lyric I don't like on the album.
8. Closure: I think "Party Girl" and "Closure" signify The Insidious Lie's one weak stretch.  I actually enjoy the song, a recording of an old Craig's Brother track, but I don't think it really fits here, except in the idea that the speaker is better off getting closure from the person hindering them.  Though the performances are as top notch as the rest of the album, "Closure" just can't quite escape it's more classic (which doesn't mean better here) Craig's Brother roots.
9. Fallen: The line "When an argument's unfriendly, it's a fight," almost makes me forget the above "pants" line.  This may be the fastest song on the album.  It is certainly one of the deepest, as it discusses the complexities of battling worldviews when they are held by a planet-full of organisms who are flawed to the core.
10. Adaline: Craig's Brother plays a ballad.  The song, which explores the deceptions we wrap ourselves in when we feel lonely or depressed, toes the cheese line.  I think it just comes out on top, thanks to a rocking ending, and a lighthearted piano run that ends the song, and deflates any over-serious feelings.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being serious, and the final two songs have that in spades.
11. The Problem of Evil: I'm glad Craig's Brother included so many fun tracks on this album to balance out songs like these final two.  The penultimate and final songs are my favorites on the album, but they wouldn't work as well without the lighter moments of "Mistake of Caring" or "Klamath Falls."  "The Problem of Evil" discusses the difficulty of the concept itself, and how being tainted by it makes it even more impossible to solve. It's themes interlock with those of "Fallen," though "The Problem of Evil" takes it to a more epic level, perfectly setting the stage for,
12. The Aaronic Blessing (Peace on Earth): This song is a cry out to God over just about every problem the album has laid out and more.  The Insidious Lie's first song, "Freedom" is kind of like the answer to "The Aaronic Blessing," and provides a cool, circular closure, but I already talked about that one.  This one is quite desperate, but also the most beautiful song Craig's Brother have ever recorded.

By beginning the song with an old rabbi reciting the actual Aaronic Blessing in both Hebrew and English, the song gains a layer of hope that is brutally battered as Ted sings, "Haven't You forgotten Your promises, or at least where the Jordan flows?" (Yeah, that whole verse makes me cry. Thanks, Ted! It's really relate-able stuff.), though God's story is "burned" on his heart. Faith and doubt go back and forth, until the line "How will they see you, if they won't choose to open their eyes," seems to indicate that mankind, purposely blinding himself to the Divine, even as he proposes to fight on the Divine's behalf, has only himself to blame for his problems.  It's a modern Psalm in that it says:
God, you sure have done some awesome stuff for me.  Where are you right now, though?  Everything is terrible.  My enemies are victorious, and you don't seem to be anywhere.  Why have you left me?  Come back and make this right because only You can do it.
Craig's Brother might not have a shot at creating world piece, but they sure can make a great album.

2011 Self-Released
1. Freedom 2:12
2. Crutch 3:04
3. Mistake Of Caring 3:51
4. Thousand Yard Stare 4:03
5. Klamath Falls 3:38
6. Insidious Lie 3:31
7. Party Girl 3:14
8. Closure 3:14
9. Fallen 3:13
10. Adeline 3:29
11. The Problem Of Evil 3:41
12. The Aaronic Blessing (Peace on Earth) 5:15

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Craig's Brother -- E.P.idemic


After the debacle following the release of Lost at Sea, I was terrified Craig's Brother were done for.  Label droppage, member shuffling, vans breaking--nothing but bad news.  It didn't seem fair.  Considering the quality of Craig's Brother's output, the band should have been exploding (in popularity), not their van!  Yes, that awful sentence just happened.
Somehow, following all this turmoil, Craig's Brother managed to put out some new music.  Despite my faith in the band, I was filled with trepidation.  Five song E.P.'s are almost always disappointing.  Even if they are decent, they're almost never satisfying, giving you a taste of what you want, then leaving you hungry.
E.P.idemic (title created through a fan contest) begins with "10,000 Miles," a great rock song.

Around this time, people were beginning to compare Ted Bond's voice to R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.  Craig's Brother's incredible, unreleased cover of "Losing My Religion" certainly furthered the comparisons.
While I admit that the Stipe references are apt, especially on this E.P., I think the conviction in their voices is their greatest similarity.

"10,000 Miles" details a struggling relationship between two people with differing ideals, and is naturally followed by "Bad Marriage."  This song could well be about the same two folks in "10,000 Miles." "Bad Marriage" almost works as the antithesis of Lost at Sea's "Divorce." Instead of storming out, the speaker here seems determined to resolve things, finding the solution in "Words in a dusty volume, strange beyond comprehension," and in, "How they're rectifying me, filling the spaces in my life."  Ted's wife Erin lends backup vocals to this track, and they are a nice touch--instead of overpowering or drawing unnecessary attention (hereby know as "Aguilering"), they add to the song.
"Long Way" is next and continues the same themes.  I've been married for a decent while, sometimes happily, and all of these songs hit close to home.  After "Long Way," comes arguably E.P.demic's only misstep. "E.P.issdumbology" is a very good song, but it doesn't really thematically fit with the other tracks.  Then again, who outside of me and maybe five other people actually care about that?  It's still a great critique of the ridiculousness of our mass-media-led and deceived culture (and also paves the way for future Craig's Brother music), and it is a highly enjoyable song.  Steven Neufield of the band, HeyMike!, follows in the line of Ted Bond collaborators, and the two work well and sound great together on this song.
"Flag Down" closes the E.P., picking up the thematic strands of the first three songs, though this one seems to be about a follower and an ailing leader.  With its talk of "conformist cattle," it sort of references "E.P.issdumbology," and may just tie the entire E.P. together, reflecting on how our culture can affect our relationships.  Maybe this E.P. is even more brilliant than I am giving it credit for.
Whatever the case, there's no arguing the fact that Craig's Brother make the most out of E.P.demic's seventeen minutes.  It's the rare E.P. that doesn't find itself forgotten on the shelf.  Eight years later, I'm still actively pulling it down, throwing it on (wait, you guys don't throw your CD's onto your players?...wait, you guys don't listen to CD's?...), and enjoying it.

2004 Takeover Records
1. 10, 000 Miles 2:54
2. Bad Marriage 3:43
3. Long Way 3:08
4. E.P.issdumbology 4:23
5. Flag Down 3:23

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Craig's Brother -- Lost at Sea


When you've already written a tribute to something, it seems redundant to review it. I've already made it clear that I believe Craig's Brother's Lost at Sea is one of the finest albums of the last twenty years. I've already detailed my personal relationship with the record.  So instead of going on for thousands of emotionally charged words, how about I quickly break down each song? I think this will reveal another side of Lost at Sea's greatness.
1. Glory: After some fun helicopter sound effects, Craig's Brother quickly remind the listener who they are, blazing through a nice intro into a full-speed punk song. Some of the main themes of the album are highlighted immediately in Ted Bond's excellent lyrics: the world is crazy, it doesn't make much sense, it can make one feel lost, and in our confusion, we fight against each other.  A little under three minutes in, Craig's Brother reveal their musical intentions, as well.  The blazing chorus fades into a quiet, reflective moment, the distant sounds of war are heard, the drums come back martially, and here comes a choir. It's a pretty stunning sequence--stuff like this can feel tacked on, but Craig's Brother appropriately build to it to the point that it's the only reasonable thing that can happen.  The message is clear: this is not going to be any ordinary punk album.
2. Lullaby: And with the pleasantries out of the way, Craig's Brother are ready to bend your mind. On Craig's Brother's debut, Adam Nigh and Andy Snyder's team of guitars and backup vocals were a pretty good match for Ted Bond's lead vocals.  On Lost at Sea, Adam and Andy are replaced by Dan McClintock, and for this one album that the two worked together, Ted and Dan are a match made in heaven.  Dan's vocal harmonies with Ted are excellent and absolutely one of a kind throughout, and his guitar work is also the perfect compliment to Ted's voice. Dan's ebow usage on "Lullaby" has been oft-discussed by fans of the band, but the truth is, when something is perfect, you want to talk about it.  The slowed down-tempo is also brilliant.  Craig's Brother could have worried about their punk-rock cred and played a breakneck version instead, but that wouldn't have served the song. Though only having one album under their belt at this point, Craig's Brother have already perfected that art.
3. Masonic: Considering his considerable (see what I did there?) efforts on Lost at Sea, Dan McClintock definitely deserved a song to sing lead.  Though "Masonic" exists on a smaller scale than the rest of Lost at Sea--it's about a guy using a cinema metaphor for losing a girl--it still works perfectly within the framework.  Dan and Ted's harmonies are blissful, and the song actually works to give the larger topics of Lost at Sea a more personal touch. Also, the loping tempo is about as far from speed punk as one can get...outside of silence, I guess.  Or country music. Or rap.  Or disco.  Polka.  Waltz...
4. Divorce: I love that this very intense song of marital strife immediately follows the optimistic melancholy of "Masonic." It's the fastest, possibly angriest song on the album, and it ends with a metaphorical door slamming.  Perhaps the greatest element of "Divorce" is that, 2:25 in, the tempo breaks down into indignant, righteous anger just like the marriage in the song does. "Tired of trying to talk/nothing left to say/tired of going off/so I'm going away." Ouch.
5. Head in a Cloud: After the grief of the previous track, Craig's Brother really needed to place their most optimistic song here. "Head in a Cloud" might be Craig's Brother's best work ever.

On the simplest level, it is about failing miserably, but determining afterword not to give up. On a more complex level, it's about losing that childhood confidence that one can do anything, yet still carrying on with life anyway. This song features Ted and Dan's best harmonies by far (and every song on Lost at Sea features great ones).  I love that, to contrast with it's predecessor, "Head in a Cloud" actually picks up the pace at the same point in the song that "Divorce" falls apart.
6. Back and Forth: This song is famous not only for it's tough topic of Church hypocrisy, but also for Sean Mackin's violin playing in the final section.  The fact of the matter, though, is that "Back and Forth" has a secret weapon: Craig's Brother's bassist, Scott Hrapoff.  Though the band is technically named after him, Scott deserves far more credit from fans than he gets.  His solo, linking the two halves of the song, truly makes the final section work. The classical fills he plays actually justify the violin's existence.  He builds up "Back and Forth"'s clash of stodgy, old-fashioned, hypocritical church versus the real, actual world so well, when the two smash together later in the song, it seems there could have been no alternative.
7. Falling Out: Things falling apart, whether ideologies or relationships, are a constant theme on Lost at Sea. Here it's the dissolution of the link between someone who's had to unfairly carry someone else.  It's the least noteworthy song on the album, yet it's perfect.
8. Set Free: And here is the mackdaddy of breakup songs.  "Set Free" comes from the perspective of someone who knows that to better both parties, he needs to let go of the relationship.  It starts out as an acoustic track, but this album's too great to ever be ordinary.  It builds up to the whole band playing, which in turn builds up to as close to screaming as Ted Bond gets on a Craig's Brother album. The song ends bouncing between two electric guitar chords over a lead line, giving a feeling that the end is coming soon.  A perfect segue into:
9. Prince of America: The last fast song on the album sums up everything.  On one hand, the song is simply about American overindulgence and ignorance of the pain of most of the rest of the world.  On a deeper level, it's a critique of the unsatisfied perspective Ted himself has had throughout the album. "Not satisfied," even though most of the rest of the world doesn't even have the wherewithal or time to contemplate his type of existential quandaries. It's the perfect penultimate track.  Also, a shout out should be given to Heath Konkel and his drum playing abilities here, and throughout the album. To truly make "Prince of America" work, the drums needed a "Wipeout" feel, and Heath nails it perfectly.
10. Lost at Sea: There's nothing worse than a three-minute closing track that doesn't sound any different from all the other songs on the album. Actually, as the lyrics from the previous song laid out, there are a lot of things worse than that.  Still, it's pretty irritating, and thankfully Lost at Sea doesn't go that route. In fact, with all of the previous songs sounding so differently from each other, how could it? "Lost at Sea," the song, is a fitting conclusion for Lost at Sea, the album.  It reflects on the relationships the album has already discussed.  Someone is lost, confused, and isolated, and someone else is calling out to and searching for them, but from where they are, the lost person cannot hear the calls.  The song epically travels through several tempos and chord progressions before finally dissolving into the sounds of distant rain, seagulls, thunder, and waves.

2001 Tooth & Nail
1. Glory 4:53
2. Lullaby 3:10
3. Masonic 3:53
4. Divorce 3:13
5. Head in a Cloud 3:20
6. Back and Forth 4:19
7. Falling Out 3:29
8. Set Free 2:55
9. Prince of America 3:04
10. Lost at Sea 7:09

Monday, May 14, 2012

Craig's Brother -- Homecoming


I wish I could remember how I first heard of Craig's Brother, but I definitely first heard Craig's Brother on Shawn Fanning's incredible creation, Napster.  The song was "Lonely Girl," and it immediately set itself apart from the "similar results."

It's a punk song, it's upbeat, it's fast, it has some pop-tendencies, but it is, under no circumstances, pop-punk. The singer, Ted, had an incredibly unique voice. The guitarists, Adam and Andy, had the names and telepathic bond of twins. Scott, the bassist and brother of Craig, did not play bass in the stereotypical punk mold.  Likewise, drummer, Heath, didn't play in the same old Fat Wreck style. He says it's because he couldn't, but it doesn't really matter--it sounded different, and that's what counted.  Together, Craig's Brother quickly forged a name for themselves among fans of non-conforming sounds. "Lonely Girl" comes from Homecoming, their debut album.
As I glance at the above paragraph, though I only discussed one song, I see I have already sort of reviewed this entire album.  The only thing left to talk about Homecoming, really, are the topics Craig's Brother tackled.  From start to finish, you have Christian hypocrisy, masturbation, death, alcoholism, alienation, unwanted pregnancy, identity crisis, fighting, mid-life crisis, relationship problems, and regret.  Yeah, this definitely isn't a pop-punk album.  While there are moments of wordplay that briefly betray the fact that Craig's Brother were fresh out of high school, the majority of the lyrics are shockingly honest and thought-provoking.  This latter factor became Craig's Brother's trademark, one they still bear today.  Fourteen years ago, though, Craig's Brother were already rocking a well-earned reputation with fans and critics alike.

1998 Tooth & Nail
1. Insult to Injury 3:23
2. Going Blind 2:45
3. In Memory Of 2:42
4. Homecoming 2:57
5. Nobody 3:27
6. Lonely Girl 3:08
7. Who Am I? 3:09
8. Sorry 3:21
9. Dear Charlotte 2:23
10. My Anne 3:04
11. One 3:58
12. Potential 3:15

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Cootees -- Let's Play House!


Completely throwaway pop-punk music featuring Mike and Tom of MxPx, Dale from Ninety Pound Wuss, and their buddy, Jiles.  It's not as good as even the average material from either parent band, but for what it is, it is okay. Just a bunch of DIY-pop songs with a snotty attitude, sometimes set to fast tempos. If you are tired of the basic prattle, be prepared for less-common prattle, like songs entirely dedicated to the consumption of Coca-Cola, writing a song about writing a song, jocks not liking punks (never got that...I liked punk music, and I played sports...why we gotta be one thing or another?), having a party on the beach, how the beach sucks and now we shouldn't have a party there because it's all jocks and Diet Coca-Cola (where's the regular Coca-Cola!?), and so on.  As one can see from the album artwork, like much of the pop-punk recorded in the mid-90's, Let's Play House owes a bit to the music of the 1950's, especially its carefree attitude (well, except about jocks and the lack of Coca Cola) and disposable nature.

1997 Tooth & Nail Records
1. (Blank) 2:14
2. Shut Up 2:24
3. Mike's Waiting 2:57
4. Roses Are Red 0:59
5. School Girl Fantasy 1:43
6. D.D.F. 1:24
7. No Cure 4 the Cootees 1:22
8. What You Hate 1:43
9. Dirty Punk 2:25
10. Lisa's Clean 1:54
11. Coke Song 1:13
12. I'm OK, You're OK 3:06
13. Jocks Don't Like Us 2:33
14. I Want the World 1:55
15. Deadbeat 2:35
16. Beach Party 1:20
17. Now the Beach Sucks 1:43
18. They Don't Know 2:11
19. [Untitled Instrumental Track] 0:33

Craig's Brother Week!

Next week is Craig's Brother Week at The Nicsperiment.  I am very excited that Every Album I Own reviews worked out this way, and I hope to give one of my favorite underrated bands their due.  That should take up Monday through Thursday. Friday will likely feature a review of an album that possibly more people pretend they've never owned than any other.  Should be exciting...
Until then, here is a Cootee's review (well, "here" as in, at lunch today).  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cool Hand Luke -- Wake Up, O Sleeper


Man, I feel bad for this album. Wake Up, O Sleeper came out at a time I was still high as a kite on Sigur Rós's () album. I wanted weird, and Wake Up, O Sleeper isn't.
What's worse, I still felt burned by that dadgum Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay album. Sorry to bring Coldplay back into this just when you thought you'd escaped, but the fellow DJ's who showed me the light of Sigur Rós also introduced me to Coldplay and Cool Hand Luke. After being bored nearly to tears by A Rush of Blood to the Head, I was set up to be equally disappointed by Wake Up, O Sleeper. Unfortunately, this meant that I gave Cool Hand Luke's Floodgate Records debut a couple of listens, threw it back on the shelf, and slipped back into my sweet Sigur Rós coma.  I found my Wake Up, O Sleeper disc specifically for this review project, and I'm glad I did.  I'm really enjoying it.
Wake Up, Oh Sleeper is far livelier than A Rush of Blood to Head, even though it features similar instrumentation.  The songs are just more exciting.  Cool Hand Luke have an indie-sounding edge that always keeps the proceeds interesting.  The bass and drums are placed just a little more prominently in the mix than the guitar and vocals, reminiscent of the late, great Elliott (I'll get to them later).  This gives Wake Up, O Sleeper a different sound from it's peers. Another edge are Mark Nicks' passionate vocals.  He may not be the best singer on the planet, but the listener can feel every word.  The fact that he doubles as the band's drummer is no small feat.  He is obviously a talented guy.
Of course, if someone is singing passionately, they must have something to be passionate about.  As Wake Up, Oh Sleeper is such an independent-sounding release, I at first found the spiritual frankness of Nicks' lyrics a little off-putting.  As I listen now, though, I find myself really enjoying the earnest, honest Christianity Nicks displays.  When he punctuates the Christ's-sacrifice centered "This Is Love" with a song-ending shout of "And I'd die for this!" there is no doubt he means it--that one yell has more power than a day of K-Love can muster.

Cool Hand Luke aren't afraid to experiment, either. I can imagine a straightforward Coldplay version of Cool Hand Luke's "Two Pianos," but the freedom of Cool Hand Luke's more idiosyncratic arrangement would always trump it.

Wake Up, O Sleeper is not only a solid album, it's an anomaly in today's musical landscape. There are very few bands today that are not only talented and artistically adventurous, but open and real about their faith. Cool Hand Luke had all of these attributes in 2003, but in 2012, I can count every band that fits this criteria on one hand. Thank God good music is timeless.

2003 Floodgate Records
1. Heroes Will Be Heroes 5:36
2. One Time 4:49
3. This Is Love 5:00
4. Nobody Hugs a Rose 6:10
5. So Shall It Be 4:04
6. Dreams for Sale 7:26
7. Two Pianos 5:28
8. Like a Bell Tolling from Anothre World 4:59
9. For You 5:59
10. O Shachah 6:52

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Contortionist -- Exoplanet


After all that Coldplay, it sure is nice to get back to something heavy.  The Contortionist are a five-piece band from Indiana. Exoplanet is their debut album. Some people would label this music "deathcore" or "djent," but those terms aren't very apt.  Even "heavy" isn't quite apt for Exoplanet.  It is heavy, but for every moment of brutal intensity is a moment of beauty.  Sometimes these moments occur at the same time.
The six-minute "Flourish" is a great example of this--a microcosm of the entire album.

The song opens with some shredding leads and riffing and a rising but subtle keyboard, breaks down into heavy chugging and screaming, then explodes into a series of blastbeats. One minute down.  Then, set up by the sounds of computers and gears breaking down, another series of breakdowns occur, setting up a suddenly beautiful section featuring lovely, almost computerized vocals.  I never thought I would be okay with the use of a vocoder, but it's perfect any time it's employed on Exoplanet. The album is about the failed creation and attempt to populate a new planet, sometimes told from the perspective of the machines at work.  The mechanized, robotic lyrics actually enhance the emotion of the music, especially when tied into the more emotional, human ones.  The sung lyrics of "Flourish," "Endless motion/now the experience is long gone" come across quite well, and lead into an epically beautiful instrumental section that at the 4:09 point, turns brain-crushingly heavy.  That The Contortionist can blend such disparate elements together so well on only their first album bodes well for their future.
The incredible thing is, "Flourish" isn't even Exoplanet's most beautiful song.  For my money, "Oscillator" fits that bill most aptly.  If someone showed me the lyrics for "Oscillator" before I'd heard it and told me they were to an extremely powerful song, I would slap that person in the face with my foot.
A warning to conducting officers of the machine:
You are exposed to the diatomic focused gravity.
Stray cosmic rays are threatening our generational biosphere.
Celestial missiles envelop nearby space climate zones in the void.
Prolonged exposure to trace amounts of dark matter produces an exponential decomposition.
I have no idea how The Contortionist make these lyrics and this concept work so well, but the ecstatic instrumental blowout to the mostly keyboard-led, 90-second buildup near the end of "Oscillator" makes such questions mute.

The following final interconnected "Exoplanet" suite of songs are the turtle shell on the sundae.
This is an excellent album.  There are a few slightly draggy heavy moments, but these are few and far between, and with so many finely detailed moments, they hardly matter.
I hope the Contortionist are as excited about their upcoming sophomore album as I am.

2010 Good Fight
1. Primal Directive 4:01
2. Flourish 6:21
3. Expire 3:45
4. Contact 4:59
5. Advent 3:17
6. Vessel 4:57
7. Oscillator 5:00
8. Axiom 2:24
9. Exoplanet I: Egress 4:11
10. Exoplanet II: Void 3:32
11. Exoplanet III: Light 5:46

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Coldplay -- Mylo Xyloto


I've been looking for the words to describe Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto since they released it last October.  After seven months of forced attempts at listening, I think I've found it can easily be described with only one: misfire. The strangest thing about Mylo Xyloto is that it is not only Coldplay's most overblown album, but also their poppiest album to date.
The big stadium sound of X&Y: gone.  The heady artiness of Viva la Vida: gone.  Focused, overly-general, yet adult-oriented lyrics: gone.  For sound, Coldplay melted all the crayons in the box together until they gooped into a glittery, brown syrup.  Modern trends, something that I'm not sure ever influenced this band before, are prominent: synthesizer over guitar, dance beats over drums (Sorry, I've decided this shall be a colon heavy review. And I shall say shall). The lyrics are supposed to be about some kind of dystopian romance or something, but who can tell. "Oh" and "ooh" are probably the most repeated lyrics.  It's like Sesame Street's vowel-coalition co-produced the album.
Unfortunately, things start out almost promisingly.  "Hurts Like Heaven" is a quirky opener, a fun spin on the sounds Coldplay have investigated so far.  "Paradise" follows, and while week for a single, still works.  "Charlie Brown" is the easy album standout, a natural progression of the sound of Viva la Vida, a good mash of the acoustic and electric sounds Coldplay were said to be exploring, and also one of the best jobs they've done juxtaposing soft and loud dynamics.

Also, kudos to the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" piano line played as the outro.
"Us Against the World" is a dreary acoustic track whose four minutes seem to stretch into eternity.
"Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" is another disappointing single, an overly-noisy dance club song that quickly tires. It's followed by "Major Minus," album standout runner-up, a darker, more menacing song than Coldplay usually attempt, and another good-example of the acoustic meets electric sound Mylo Xyloto should have run with.

The following acoustic track "U.F.O." isn't bad, and is in fact a good counterpoint to its predecessor.  Unfortunately, it's followed by Mylo Xyloto's weakest stretch, a couple of songs most guilty of the album's greatest crimes.  "Princess of China" sounds like an overproduced dance-song from a Rihanna album. What's worse, it features Rihanna.  What's even worse, Rihanna sings so much, Chris Martin seems like the guest-star.
It's followed by the hip-hop electronic beat of "Up in Flames." It doesn't work.  Coldplay just can't pull off this sound.  The title of the track is apt, and it almost feels like the band know they are in over their head.
"Don't Let it Break Your Heart" follows victoriously, but there isn't much to celebrate.  "Up with the Birds" is so barely there, I'm not sure why Coldplay included it.
So there, I've shredded Mylo Xyloto.  But like Coldplay's debut, I must admit there is something there.  Coldplay are a pretty good band, and even buried under all this dayglo garbage, that sense still somehow shines through, brimming from the good songs I've pointed out, peeking at solitary moments during the songs I've trashed.  Maybe Coldplay are just suffering from a mid-life crisis, and have exerted too much energy on Mylo Xyloto attempting to sound hip.  They shall be better served to sound like: Coldplay.

 2011 Capitol
1. Mylo Xyloto 0:43
2. Hurts Like Heaven 4:02
3. Paradise 4:37
4. Charlie Brown 4:45
5. Us Against the World 3:59
6. M.M.I.X. 0:48
7. Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall 4:00
8. Major Minus 3:30
9. U.F.O. 2:17
10. Princess of China 3:59
11. Up in Flames 3:13
12. A Hopeful Transmission 0:33
13. Don't Let It Break Your Heart 3:53
14. Up with the Birds 3:47

Matthew 5:44-45

"44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (NIV)
This scripture was something good to remember last night as I watched torrential rain and wind pound my vegetable garden into the mud.  Christian or non, at some point you're gonna get it.  This is a good thing to remember when things go wrong.  We shouldn't be shocked and suddenly start doubting our faith.  The Bible tells us God is going to send rain whether we worship him or not.  The important thing to focus on when things seem dark is:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Coldplay -- LeftRightLeftRightLeft


It's genuinely assumed that the members of Coldplay are nice guys.  Too nice in fact, and that is probably a sentiment their record company felt when Coldplay announced they would be giving away a free live album to every attendee of the second leg of their Viva la Vida tour.  Not only that, but the band made the album a free online download for anyone not lucky enough to attend one of their shows.
I was an attendee, but I didn't quite feel lucky.  Coldplay put on a solid, enjoyable show, full of energy, life, and spectacle, but I realized something a little heartbreaking about the band, and about myself as I sat in my New Orleans Arena seat.  Coldplay are just too normal for me.  Which, I guess means, I am not normal.  The packed crowd, including my wife, went suitably nuts throughout the show, and Coldplay did a great job of riling everyone up more and more as the show went on.  Unfortunately, at some point, I started feeling this weird nagging alienation, and once it hit me, it stuck to the end.  I felt a strange validation a few months later, at a U2 show in Houston.  I didn't feel alienated at all and found myself getting much more into the show, most likely because I could make a more personal connection to Bono's more polarizing, thought-provoking lyrics. It makes sense then, that the one time I really felt a strong personal connection to a Coldplay album, I felt more depersonalized than I ever have in my life.
Yes, break down the arrogance of what I just said:
Essentially, I just said that all you huge Coldplay fans and people who really get into Coldplay shows lack a distinct and strong personality, and tend to fall into group think and action more often than not, while I, editor of The Nicsperiment, am the owner of a strong and steadfast personality, never wavering, always holding my own above the waves of the faceless masses--you.
Er, sorry about that.
So, how is this live album?
It's pretty good stuff.  Maybe a few too many of those Chris Martin piano recitals I always complain about, but the band and the audience's sheer exhuberance make this a solid entry into the Coldplay cannon.  Coldplay pull from their last three records here, along with the standout track from their Prospekt's March EP, and one new track featuring lead vocals of drummer, Will Champion. It won't set the world on fire, or at least me, but it's a decent way to spend forty minutes.

2009 Capitol
1. Glass of Water 4:44
2. 42 4:52
3. Clocks 4:40
4. Strawberry Swing 4:16
5. The Hardest Part/Postcards from Far Away 4:15
6. Viva la Vida 5:24
7. Death Will Never Conquer (Will Champion, lead vocals) 1:39
8. Fix You 5:38
9. Death and All His Friends 4:24

Friday, May 04, 2012

Coldplay -- Prospekt's March EP


Coldplay released the Prospekt's March EP shortly after Viva la Vida.  It includes slight re-workings of three Viva la Vida songs and five originals that didn't make the cut.  Unfortunately, it's clear that, outside of one track, these didn't make Viva la Vida because they simply weren't good enough.
Prospekt's March begins with the same exact track it's parent album did, only this time it has words. It's nice, but it feels like a retread.  "Postcards from Far Away", a beautiful classical piano piece by Chris Martin, is a nice segue from "Life in Technicolor II", but at forty-eight seconds, it is just a segue.
"Glass of Water" is "Prospekt's March"'s one standout track. It is clear that unlike the other un-released tracks, this wasn't on Viva la Vida not because of a lack of quality, but because it simply didn't fit.  It features one of the best, biggest sounding choruses Coldplay have ever recorded, far too bombastic to fit anywhere on the full length.

It's as good as anything on the stellar Viva la Vida, but it's unfortunately stuck on this EP with a bunch of inferior it's following track, "Rainy Day," another lackluster B-Side.  "Lost+" is the exact same song as "Lost" from Viva la Vida...except Jay-Z raps over the bridge.  If you thought "Lost" would have been better served with more "yeah"'s and "un-huh"'s, then you are in luck.  This is followed by "Lovers in Japan," an excellent song...that was on Viva la Vida in the exact same form.  I don't know what an "Osaka Sun Remix" is, but it definitely doesn't change the song at all.  "Now My Feet Won't Touch the Ground" is a pretty little piece of nothing that ends just as soon as it begins, and the EP is over.
This EP isn't that easy to get these days.  Unless you're a diehard fan, I suggest (legally) downloading "Glass of Water," then pretending that the rest of Prospekt's March never happened.

2008 Capitol
1 Life in Technicolor II 4:05
2 Postcards from Far Away 0:48
3 Glass of Water 4:44
4 Rainy Day 3:26
5 Prospekt's March/Poppyfields 3:39
6 Lost+ [With Jay-Z] 4:16
7 Lovers in Japan [Osaka Sun Remix] 3:58
8 Now My Feet Won't Touch the Ground 2:27

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Coldplay -- Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends


In a way, Coldplay's Viva la Vida picks up right where their previous album, X&Y, left off. In a way, however, the Coldplay of Viva la Vida sound like an entirely different band. The "we want to be the biggest band in the world" ambition from X&Y is intact, but the primary colors of that album have blazed to neon. Actually, at the risk of sounding like I am inappropriately speaking of something else entirely, I think the best word to describe Viva la Vida is "colored."
Each track feels completely different from the last, a command from visionary producer Brian Eno that the band followed. This diversity of sound seems to open up vocalist/lyricist Chris Martin to greater possibilities. He seems past pondering mysteries. Now he seems to have actually lived. He *gasp* uses the word "love," seems to have a sex drive, has ideals, wants to fight for things, and most importantly, sounds like he means it. When he breaks into the first of only two piano recitals on the album, the surprise ending to "Lovers in Japan," it is almost shockingly moving. I inexplicably cried the first time I heard it because I genuinely didn't expect it. Coldplay went from overusing the sound of Martin alone at his piano, to making it an asset.
"Violet Hill" features, again for Coldplay, shockingingly political lyrics. In fact, just about everything that happens on this album is a reversal of expectations, but the dividends don't drop on repeated listens when the surprises have worn off. Underneath all of the new ornamentation and international flavor, Coldplay have written some genuinely wonderful songs. After detailing the existence of love and life amid war (even the whimsical "Strawberry Swing" contains the line "Everybody was for fighting/wouldn't want to waste a thing") throughout the album, Martin uses the closing track "Death and All of His Friends" to drop his most definitive statement ever over the band's most triumphant sounding moment yet:
No, I don't want to battle from beginning to end 
I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge 
I don't want to follow Death and all of his friends

I think this is unarguably the most powerful moment of Coldplay's catalog, and perhaps the most beautiful. You can hear so much life and desire in Martin's voice, it is almost impossible to believe this is the same guy who whimpered "and they were all yellow" eight years before.  He and has band have gotten better with age.

2008 Capitol
1 Life in Technicolor 2:29
2 Cemeteries of London 3:21
3 Lost! 3:55
4 42 3:57
5 Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love 6:51
6 Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant 7:06
7 Viva La Vida 4:01
8 Violet Hill 3:42
9 Strawberry Swing 4:09
10 Death and All His Friends 6:18

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Coldplay -- X&Y


Typically my reviews in the Every Album I Own series fall into three categories:
1. Concise opinions of albums I do not have strong opinions on.
2. The normal Nicsperiment review that attempts to combine in-depth analysis with some personal experience.
3. My entire life story.
This review falls into the third category.
When I graduated college 7.5 years ago, I had the same picture of the future as most graduates: empty. Nevertheless, I thought Alright world, what do you have in store for me? Like plenty of people entering adulthood, the world had a pretty brutal answer. Despite this, I look at that year more fondly than any outside of my 17th one.  I started out working full time in my father's crawfish ponds, lived with my parents, grew a beard and an afro, traveled the nation of Germany for two weeks, lost my best friend, watched crawfishing season end only to realize I had no other options, fished the Gulf of Mexico for a few weeks, re-modeled the house next door during a summer literally (literally) every person in my town went on vacation but me, leaving me in complete isolation in the middle of a swamp, couldn't afford gas to drive, beat Resident Evil Four three times, ate all the food in my parents fridge, quit sleeping, played drums, watched more late night television than ever, hiked around False River, received major surgery, hiked from my parents house all the way to Baton Rouge, got a perfect score on the Professional Entry Test, applied for jobs, borrowed twenty-bucks from my father to drive all the way up to Monroe to live with my cousin for a few days, came home, got Katrina'd (like a lot of people in the South, Hurricane Katrina changed my life. I didn't lose any family members, and my parents house made it fine (our trailer in Grand Isle did not), but my direction altered), took a disaster relief job with the Louisiana Office of Family Support, sat in an interviewer's chair and listened to people tell me the most heartbreaking messed up things I hope I will have ever hear for 12 hours a day, seven nights a week, started to feel a whole lot better about that whole "at least you have your life thing, served out my disaster-relief term, used my money to go to Texas (to visit friends I had stayed with throughout the year), came home, quit my church of fifteen years to my pastor's protests that I would now become "the next Charles Manson" and "surely marry the wrong person and end up divorced" (Thanks Uncle. Don't know why I left), my dog died, my cat died, found a church that didn't promise that my impending departure would result in the life of a serial-killer, decided to go back to school, got a random call from the library for a job application I forgot I filled out, took a library job that would start immediately the next year, visited Atlanta, saw stone mountain from the top of a ridiculously tall restaurant, watched Matt Flynn (future National Champion and Green Bay Packer record holder) turn the Miami defense to Baby Swiss, got home in time for New Year's Eve, celebrated with one friend.
Less than a year later, I was married, living with my wife in our own place, and working full time. Things change, and they change fast, but when they aren't changing, life can flow like molasses through tall grass.
During my molasses through tall grass year, music was one of my only friends.  I still have my four 2005 music playlists.  Since this is such a detailed review, here is the list starting at my disaster relief employment in September and ending at New Years Eve.
The title of this playlist, visible on the right, was "On the Precipice," and that phrase described my state of mind about as aptly as possible. I had pretty much reached the "get busy living or get busy dying" moment from The Shawshank Redemption.  I achieved that point where I was not scared in the least to die, but while I was alive, I was certainly going to live. I'm sure this mental state has a technical term, but the English Major  I earned in 2004 never taught me about that.  How about, "I might fall, but at least I'll die from climbing, not by hanging out on the ground." If that doesn't make any sense, here is a picture from Wikipedia illustrating what a "precipice" is:
Anyway, when you are continuously interviewing people whose family members have just been killed, or who have just lost everything and are leaving for some place else, you get the feeling that you are a part of something a lot bigger than yourself (I could work Rescue Me into this review like the last few, because I was VHS taping and later watching episodes from its landmark second season, but Coldplay didn't end up in that season, and eventually, I promise, this review will be about Coldplay. In fact, how about now?). If there is a dominant feeling in Coldplay's third full-length album, X&Y, it is the feeling that you are apart of something so big you can't even fathom, and maybe that is why I like it so much.
Yes, you just read an 870-word disclaimer.  Congratulations.
So with that out of the way, and with the first words of X&Y being:
You're in control, is there anywhere you wanna go?
You're in control, is there anything you wanna know?
The future's for discovering
The space in which we're traveling
You can see why I'd be a sucker for this album when it hit. It helps even more that the 70's Sci-Fi tinge that was so unnoticeable on the last album I didn't even deign to mention it is on display from the first second of X&Y, displayed by ethereal, mysterious keyboards. No piano recital here. Martin's voice comes in singing the above lyric, and he is truly in top form. A head-nod forcing beat pops up, then the guitar and bass, dare I say it, come in rocking. Coldplay actually sound dangerous! And they keep it up throughout the album.

On X&Y, Coldplay finally embrace the worldwide stage they've been afforded. I get why Coldplay will never reach the levels of relevance U2 and few others have achieved. Chris Martin's lyrics are just too general. But here they truly hit the universal sweet-spot. His lyrics and the band's music on X&Y conjure up countless mysteries and riddles, glistening caves, infinite, otherworldly cathedrals, towering jungles, the depths of space, taking risks. Jacob might not come anywhere close to overcoming the angel here, but at least Coldplay finally sound like adults, instead of the guy in the co-ed dorm that is "just friends" with all the girls. If that sounds like a diss, it's not. I'm not sure anyone will again be able to combine political aspects with their music the way U2 did. Coldplay are not doing anything close to that, but they are at least pointing at things and saying "that's neat" instead of just agreeing when somebody else says it. When you are really talented at that, you may not be capable of a 10/10, but if you do it perfectly, you can sure get a nine, and Coldplay do that with X&Y.
Even the more tender, personal relationship songs that should be gooey throwaways are epics here. "Fix You" is a beautiful song with a transcendent payoff so big, it scored an advertisement for Peter Jackson's King Kong, an emotional juggernaut of a film that is so incredible, it doesn't even have to defy you if you say it is not. Plus Roget Ebert gave King Kong a four star review in which he calls it "surprisingly emotional and involving" He is right, and upon viewing the film, I was shocked at how much I identified with Kong. We both ended up taken from our comfortable lives to a strange place that didn't seem to care about or understand us. The only difference is, he died. Maybe a little emo, but that film did such a good job of making the ape relate-able. My now wife cried real tears upon seeing the Coldplay backed commercial, and she has to this day never even seen the film.

Aw, crabcakes, it just made me cry, too. Or maybe that's just the power of the song. I can't imagine anything on a previous Coldplay album powerful enough to elicit that sort of emotional response. X&Y is just that good. I gave it album of the year in 2005, and truth be told, I might do it again today. Sufjan Stevens' Illinois is the better album from the year, a sure ten, and yet as I stated in my review and in a follow up piece, there is just something about the universality of X&Y that gives it an edge (EDIT: Blindside's The Great Depression may be better than both these albums).  Everyone feels these things. Also, I said in my original review on the best of list that "I don't know if any song off of X&Y will ever make me cry," and nearly seven years later and twenty seconds ago, I just got proven wrong. Maybe it's just the power of Kong, maybe it's just the nostalgia, or maybe I'm just on my man-period. Whatever the case, X&Y definitely still holds up. It signifies that moment Coldplay went from a serviceable band to a very good one ready to take on the world. It also marks a milestone in my own life. I'm glad to have had it then, and I'm glad to have it now. Thanks for reading.

2005 Capitol
1 Square One 4:47
2 What If 4:57
3 White Shadows 5:28
4 Fix You 4:54
5 Talk 5:11
6 X&Y 4:34
7 Speed of Sound 4:48
8 A Message 4:45
9 Low 5:32
10 The Hardest Part 4:25
11 Swallowed in the Sea 3:58
12 Twisted Logic 5:01
13 Til Kingdom Come [Hidden Track] 4:10