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Friday, June 29, 2012

Deftones -- Saturday Night Wrist

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9/10

In setting up this review, I've described Saturday Night Wrist as being recorded (to quote one of the funniest movies of all time) direct from hell. Very shortly after this album was released, I got married. I think my wife will agree, the first three or four months of our marriage was the worst time in both of our respective lives. I don't know if it was genetics, parenting, or unrealistic expectations, but neither one of us were even remotely ready for what being married entailed. That, combined with some unresolved past issues that absolutely had to be dealt with led to some quite unpleasant times. I listened to Saturday Night Wrist quite a bit then, and maybe that has colored my opinion of the album. Then again, at the same time I was going through my issues, Deftones were in the middle of hating each other so badly, their band was an inch from breaking up, ongoing messy divorces, and Chino Moreno's rock-bottom drug addictions. In my current sunnier times (bout to hit six years, woo, babe!), I hear this album as very dark and resigned, but one with at least a few touches of hope, and at the least, a stubborn notion to stay alive.
Saturday Night Wrist begins in an upbeat direction...musically. The band crafts a nice, optimistic jam, though DJ Frank Delgado's melancholy sounds underline Chino's vocals "Can you explain to me now, how you're so evil?" he sings. "It's too late for me now. There's a hole in the Earth. I'm out." Maybe I wasn't so off base about that whole "hell" thing.
The relatively subdued "Hole in the Earth" leads to the spitting aggression of "Rapture," the music catching up to Moreno's sentiments as he barks curses at someone who "twist(s) everything else around," though he and this person are, "two different sides, the same kind of thread."
"Beware" is a warning against taking part in the life Chino has chosen, "Do you like the way the water tastes? Like gunfire. You knew, but it was never safe. Take one more, because its coming round." The song is slow, steady, and relentless, until a sudden dirty, sludgy rockout at the end. Special credit again needs to go to DJ Frank Delgado's freaky noises throughout this song and album. He lends the Deftones a bit of a 1970's sci-fi/ horror feeling, indisposable to their sound.
Delgado's distant, dangerous ship call-like sounds begin "Cherry Waves," as the darkness of Saturday Night Wrist deepens. Drummer, Abe Cunningham, and bassist, Chi Cheng, come up with a suitably rolling rhythm, and Chino and guitarist, Steph Carpenter, lend minimal, yet ominous guitar touches until the soaring, self-destructive chorus. "The waves suck you in, and you drown. If you’d just stay down with me, I’ll swim way down with you. Is that what you want?"

Moreno's misery becomes cosmic on the next track, "Mein." He sings about alienation over the band's quick, otherworldly groove before guest-vocalist/shaman, Serj Tankian, slowly recites the line, "The universe, breaking us down." Yeah, dark.
After a moody, melancholy instrumental, Chino begins the chill "Xerces" with the line, "The universe surrounds you, when you're ready, it waits for us to leave this Earth," a nice bit of continuity. Chino also resignedly sings, "Goodbye, safe heaven, I'll be waving..." a feeling I felt strongly upon leaving my single life for the unknown. Chino seems fed up with his life and ready to die, even as the song ends on a victorious outro.
"Rats!Rats!Rats!" may be Saturday Night Wrist's heaviest track, as Chino Moreno spews vitriol at someone trying to convince him that "Everything is fine." The bridge takes a page from Project 86's "A Toast to My Former Self." The song leads to easily the most divisive track on Saturday Night Wrist, "Pink Cellphone," a duet with Giant Drag's Annie Hardy. Though "Pink Cellphone"'s music and beat are completely electronic, it does fit with the album's dark atmosphere. On the surface, the song seems anti-religion, but underneath, it's clear it's actually anti-person, a screed against an enemy who believes their deeds are justifiable. The end of the song features a disgusting ad-lib by Hardy that seems quite out of place, but gives the album an even more hellish atmosphere.
"Combat" begins quietly with odd sounds and television voices, almost as if the album needs to recover from what just happened, then erupts into a heavy verse. Chino is more confrontational than ever as he confusedly screams, "Whose side are you on?" "Kimdracula" continues the fighting and confusion, leaving Chino in a state of exhaustion.
Saturday Night Wrist ends on a very earned positive note with "Rivière," one of the most subdued songs Deftones have ever recorded. The majority of the song is simply one guitar and Chino, though the band do make an appearance 3/4 of the way through for one final, quick outburst, before Chino and the guitar finish the song. Chino says "Rivière" was inspired by a story he wrote about a witch, but the true message of the song is clear. You can dwell on your problems and let them consume you, or you can leave them behind. When Moreno closes the album with the line, "She haunts the road, she waits for a new face," it's clear he's moved on.

2006 Maverick
1. Hole in the Earth 4:09
2. Rapture 3:25
3. Beware 6:00
4. Cherry Waves 5:17
5. Mein" (feat. Serj Tankian) 3:59
6. U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start (Instrumental) 4:12
7. Xerces 3:42
8. Rats!Rats!Rats! 4:00
9. Pink Cellphone (feat. Annie Hardy) 5:04
10. Combat 4:46
11. Kimdracula 3:15
12. Rivière 3:45

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Deftones -- B-Sides and Rarities

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10/10

After some unfortunately severe complications stalled the recording of their fifth album, Deftones decided to compile most of their rare and unreleased tracks into one collection. In related news, a collection of unreleased songs by the Deftones is better than an album of new material from almost anyone.
During my college DJ years, I often got off work late. To me, a quiet radio studio at night is one of the most relaxing environments on Earth. Most of the time (unless I had a test or something to study for), I didn't mind if my relief came in late. I would just tell my listeners farewell, turn off my mic, leave on my headphones, slouch deep into my chair, and play whatever music I wanted. I don't even know if radio stations still receive "singles" anymore, but at the turn of the century, KLSU did, and most of those singles contained "B-Sides." Of course, as CD's don't have a side A and B like a record, the B-Songs were often just a couple of additional, unreleased tracks to sweeten the pot. At the end of their album sessions, Deftones often graciously record a few covers or alternate versions of songs to serve as single B-Sides. Consequently, our radio station had a nice cache of rare Deftones songs. Even if my relief came on time, I could always request that they play something for me.
Nothing like crossing the Mississippi at midnight, alone and driving 35, low in my seat, staring at the lights, listening to this.

Maybe it's bias, but this collection of songs is perfect. The flow is perfect, every song is a ten. Even the pitch-black (That's not a racist pun. It's a really dark song.), rap-heavy Cypress Hill collaboration "Black Moon" works as an excellent lead in for the dreamy, woozy live Cure-cover, "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep." For a Deftones fan, this album is as comforting as it gets. For a non-Deftones fan, there is so much here to like, and so much variety, you'll forget who you're listening to. This isn't "nu-metal" or hard rock, or any other genre. It's just lush, sensual, atmospheric music that's light sometimes and dark at others.
In fact, if you don't like this cover of Sade's "No Ordinary Love," you also probably equate having sexual intercourse to taking a nail shower, eating a delicious meal to sticking your fist into your mouth and chewing, and simply relaxing to kneeling down on the center strip of the interstate with your arms out.

In other words, if you dislike positive sensations, you just absolutely hated that song, and you will without a doubt hate this album.

2005 Rhino Entertainment/Maverick
1. Savory (Jawbox cover featuring Jonah Matranga, Shaun Lopez and Chris Robyn of Far) 4:35
2. Wax and Wane (Cocteau Twins cover) 4:09
3. Change (In the House of Flies) (acoustic, alt. take) 5:16
4. Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover) 6:19
5. Sinatra (2005 mix, Helmet cover) 4:43
6. No Ordinary Love (Sade cover, featuring Jonah Matranga of Far) 5:34
7. Teenager (Idiot version, featuring Michael Harris and Daniel Anderson of Idiot Pilot) 3:45
8. Crenshaw Punch / I'll Throw Rocks at You 4:48
9. Black Moon (featuring B-Real of Cypress Hill) 3:18
10. If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (live, The Cure cover) 5:07
11. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (2005 mix, The Smiths cover) 2:01
12. Digital Bath (live acoustic) 4:48
13. The Chauffeur (Duran Duran cover) 5:21
14. Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) (acoustic remix, additional vocals by Jonah Matranga of Far) 4:30

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deftones -- Deftones

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8/10

Deftones is a good album from a great band.  This means it's better than a whole lot of music. But this also means it's a disappointment.
Deftones found greatness in their third album, White Pony. They fully fleshed out their sound with an experimental, unpredictable edge, and created an entirely new world of sound. Maybe they can't be blamed for stepping back a bit, but the result is still an album that feels like it could have been so much better.
"Hexagram" kicks things off in an extremely heavy fashion. It almost immediately displays Deftones' greatest strength: Abe Cunningham's excellent drumming has been pushed to the absolute forefront of the mix. On this album, Cunningham's kick drum sounds like a depth charge going off in the ocean of your mind, and it pummels throughout Deftones heavier moments.  "Needles and Pins" is a mid-tempo fistfight, and "Minerva" is a very dreamy rock song, but by track four, "Good Morning Beautiful," it becomes obvious that Deftones isn't going to do anything to break the hard-rock mold.  Then, in true Deftones fashion, expectations are exceeded.
The middle section of the album is by far its strongest. "Deathblow" is a return to moody, atmospheric rock, with Frank Delgado's odd sounding harmonica sample and sudden crackles of distortion taking the song up to a timeless level. Delgado's contributions seem quite muted on this album, mostly consisting of keyboard playing that simply serves to amplify the guitar chords, but not on this track or the following. "When Girls Telephone Boys" might be the heaviest song Deftones have recorded, but Delgado's creepy noises throughout make the song even more interesting.  "Battle Axe" is a slow-charging monster, about as straightforward as a song can get, but awesome in its power.  It may be Deftones greatest track.

The progress gained in Deftones' middle section grinds to a halt at track eight, "Lucky You." It is actually an okay song, but it is completely electronic and doesn't fit the mood of the rest of the album.  It tries to function as "Teenager" did on White Pony, but that song's quiet simplicity acted as a counterpoint that enhanced the rest of the album. "Lucky You" sticks out like a sore thumb at a point where the album should be increasing momentum.
It is followed by "Bloody Cape," a fun, snappy song with a crushing ending.  Ex-MTV personality Carson Daly secretly has much better musical taste than his old TRL-hosting gig would imply. Daly invited Deftones to perform "Bloody Cape" near the end of Deftones' year of release (2003). Check out the creepy sampling Delgado does of vocalist Chino Moreno's voice. Also, check out a bunch of people getting whiplash.

Chino's mic drop is a great period to that musical sentence.  The performance also shows that this isn't necessarily a bad time musically for the band--this album just needed some tinkering.
"Bloody Cape" is followed by "Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event" a beautiful, glacially paced funeral song that actually fills the sounds-different-from-everything-else mold quite well.  Then "Moana" happens, and the album is over.
In conclusion, plenty of moments from Deftones shine, and the rest is still pretty good stuff.  It is just not as good as its predecessor, White Pony, and while that probably isn't a fair mark against it, it's one that sticks.  As it is, Deftones captures a band who's already at the mountaintop, but growing dissatisfied, and the cracks in their lives are showing in this music. These cracks will soon widen, marriages will break, addictions will deepen, and Deftones will be swallowed down to hell. Tomorrow's review: Saturday Night Wrist. Wait, crap, I forgot about the B-Sides album.
"ALBUM NOTE: Deftones was originally going to be called Lovers, but when the titled leaked, Chino Moreno changed it, feeling it had lost its mystery.  If the album had kept that title and followed the romantic unrest direction of its midsection and "Needles and Pins" and "Bloody Cape" more closely, I can't but wonder if it wouldn't be spoken of with the same reverence as White Pony.  The elements are there to make Deftones a classic.  Then again, even a weaker Deftones album is a classic.  Check out more of what might of been by listening to the original title track, later removed when the album title was changed.


2003 Maverick
1. Hexagram 4:09
2. Needles and Pins 3:23
3. Minerva 4:18
4. Good Morning Beautiful 3:28
5. Deathblow 5:28
6. When Girls Telephone Boys 4:36
7. Battle-Axe 5:01
8. Lucky You (feat. Reyka Osburn) Deftones and DJ Crook 4:10
9. Bloody Cape 3:37
10. Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event 3:57
11. Moana 5:02

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nevermind, I Guess Lebron is Okay

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When I was a kid, I hated Michael Jordan. The New York Knicks were my favorite NBA team for obvious reasons, and every summer, in the Eastern Conference Championships, Jordan would lead his Bulls to victory against them. This drove me nuts. When Jordan came out of retirement, after already winning three championships with the Bulls and leaving no questions as to his dominance, he then tormented the Utah Jazz. I loved the Jazz because of their Louisiana native power forward, Karl Malone, and because of Malone's on-the-court chemistry with point guard, John Stockton. For his second set of three championships, Jordan sent quite a bit of pain Utah's way, as well. After making shot after clinching shot, it almost felt like Jordan was digging his finger into my eye. Finally, I just gave up.
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, and I wish I would have spent more of my own enjoying Jordan's mastery of the game instead of pulling against him.
Twenty-six points, eleven rebounds, and fourteen assists.  Those stats show a complete mastery over the sport of basketball.  That's what Lebron James did in Miami's game five route of Oklahoma City.  His stats in the other four games were pretty similar.  When he needed to score, he scored.  When his teammates needed to score, he got them to ball.  When he needed to make shots, he made them.  When shots were missed, he pulled the ball back down.  What more can you ask for? All the while, despite The Chosen One tattoo on his back, James played and acted humbly.  He accepted his well-earned championship with infectious joy.  On top of that, because he took a nearly identical team to the Finals and failed last year, he's proven that he's grown as a player this year in order to succeed.  Nine seasons have given him experience that has tempered his skills.  With age and wisdom, Lebron has become a better player, regardless of who else is on his team.  He earned this championship.
Why would I root against such a person, when I can simply enjoy watching him play? From now on, I will go with the latter.
Except when he plays the Hornets.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Deftones -- White Pony

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10/10

A dim light flickering in the trunk of a car speeding along the highway. Electrical currents flowing through a bathtub in the middle of the night. Someone so full of themselves, they are literally leaking out. Violent lunar romance. Deftones add DJ Frank Delgado to their lineup on White Pony, and go from a very good band to one of the best bands on the planet. Delgado's soundscapes take White Pony to other worlds that vocalist, Chino Moreno, populates with dark, seductive stories, his lyrics finally matching the extraterrestrial voice that gives them life. Drummer Abe Cunningham's beats are tribal, irresistible--it's impossible not to get trapped in their flow. Guitarist, Stephen Carpenter, trades off huge riffs with a now guitar-equipped Moreno, who adds a quiet, delicate touch, especially on the gentle burble of "Teenager," a song with no landmark to Deftones' previous work.
This is still a heavy album, though, even if  it's not full of shredding and screaming.  "Rx Queen" features a creepy spaghetti western guitar lick, but the industrial sounds that sync with the drums give it a pounding edge. It, like the majority of the album, is heavy more on a metaphysical level than a physical one. There really is no landmark for this music altogether, though, nor genre. Art-metal, maybe.
What is certain is the thickness of the atmosphere and transportive power of each one of these songs.
The metaphorical, gothic horror of "Change (In The House Of Flies)," led by Chi Cheng's hypnotic bass line, is conveyed quite well in this post-apocalyptic party of a video, but the song on its own conjures enough imagery to stimulate a vivid imagination.

Likewise, the sensual, violent "Digital Bath" is a gorgeous song, the kind of track one can get lost in for months.  "You breathed, then you stop.  I breathe, and dry you off." Who knew a song about electrocuting someone in a bathtub could be sexy? And who knew that a band who began their career with comparisons to Korn could make it that way? Of course the electrocution is also a metaphor for sex, just like the album title and half of the songs are...but hey, we're all adults here, right?
White Pony originally received a three star out of five review from aging baby-boomer collective, Rolling Stone magazine. The same magazine that gives Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon a retrospective every single year, harping on and on about how groundbreaking Clare Torry's vocal work was on "The Great Gig in the Sky," failed to notice an equal greatness and importance in the otherworldly Rodleen Getsic vocal track that blows into "Knife Prty," or in Maynard James Keenan's monumental guest spot on the hallucinatory "Passenger."  That's right you Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance-loving fogies, I just said Deftones' White Pony is as good and as important to rock music as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

2000 Maverick
1. Feiticeira 3:09
2. Digital Bath 4:15
3. Elite 4:01
4. Rx Queen (feat. Scott Weiland) 4:27
5. Street Carp 2:41
6. Teenager 3:20
7. Knife Prty (feat. Rodleen Getsic) 4:49
8. Korea 3:23
9. Passenger (feat. Maynard James Keenan) 6:07
10. Change (In the House of Flies) 5:00
11. Pink Maggit 7:32

Friday, June 22, 2012

Deftones -- Around the Fur

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9/10

From Around the Fur's album-opening drum-fill, Deftones suddenly launch from decent band to very, very good band. Around the Fur is an alt-metal album(or hard rock, whatever you want to call it) not that far out of the box, and yet it feel light years ahead of everything else around it, like a star burning in its own private galaxy.
"My Own Summer (Shove It) is an album-opening statement of purpose.

Off the bat vocalist, Chino Moreno, shows incredible growth. There is nothing resembling rapping in his voice as he bounces from menacing whispers, to singing, to unearthly shrieks, to more orthodox shouting. The song's guitar riff is catchier and heavier than anything on Deftones' debut. It signifies the start of the band's trademark ornately-distorted, dungeon-like sound they would often feature from here on out (did that not make any sense? Sorry, tough to describe stuff that doesn't really have a landmark). Meanwhile, Chi Cheng comes up with another excellent, flowing bassline, and Abe Cunningham's drumming simply can't be topped in the genre--his rhythm is like a disease...that is easily transmitted, and enjoyable....Cunningham could make a corpse nod its head. Also, DJ Frank Delgado adds texture and atmosphere to the song.  He pops up on several tracks and does excellent work.  Plenty of heavier bands added DJ's in the late 90's to try to tap into the rap-rock market, but Deftones went the opposite route, using a DJ to add subtlety and sophistication to their sound.
Unlike Deftones' debut, Around the Fur isn't all downhill after the opening track. The album has an excellent flow, steadily rocking from song to song, every song setting itself apart. Most of the tracks feature Deftones reaching new songwriting heights, particularly the majestically soaring, "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," a song most of the band's peers not only wish they had written, but have been ripping off for fifteen solid years.

The triumphant, endless guitar-riff, the victoriously crushing breakdown/fake-ending, the vocalist who sounds like an alien from another planet (as opposed to an illegal one, I guess?), singing mysterious lines like, "I dressed you in her clothes/to drive me far away." Fifteen years and the song hasn't aged a day. And it's sexy.  The entire album is.  Which one of their peers is sexy?  Do they even have any peers?
Lyrically, Chino continues to say things in an unorthodox manner, which is great for those who prefer to have to think a bit. Also, his ability to convey emotion is excellent. "Lotion" is particularly effective, as Chino starts off pissed and by the start of the final verse, is so vitriolic he can barely complete a sentence. It's as great an explosion of anger as has been recorded, and that the Deftones can go from the wistful longing of "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" to "Lotion" in one track, and make it feel natural, is a testament to their talent.

In just two albums, Deftones have gone from promising, to a force to be reckoned with.

FINAL NOTE: I have an affection for "Y2K is going to be the apocalypse" type stuff (RIP Y2K...12 years gone now). The dark love-song, "Mascara," is about as great a conjurer and harbinger of that brand of now extinct dread (the new dread we have now isn't nearly as fun) as one can get.

1997 Maverick
1. My Own Summer (Shove It) 3:35
2. Lhabia 4:11
3. Mascara 3:45
4. Around the Fur 3:31
5. Rickets 2:42
6. Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) 5:08
7. Lotion 3:57
8. Dai the Flu 4:36
9. Headup (featuring Max Cavalera) 5:12
10. MX 37:18

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Deftones -- Adrenaline

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6/10

Deftones are one of the most exciting bands of the last twenty years, but their debut, Adrenaline, shows few signs of their coming greatness. Vocalist, Chino Moreno, is still finding his voice, and the near-rapping rhythms he settles for grow tiresome after a while. Likewise, guitarist Steph Carpenter plays some pretty cool riffs, but it seems like he plays the same ones over and over and over again. Abe Cunningham shows some spark on the drums, but Chi Cheng's bass playing carries most of the songs. There are some good ones, too. "Bored" shows the most potential, a definitive statement that stands head and shoulders over many of the blur-together tracks that follow.

"Bored" features Adrenaline's most vocal diversity from Moreno, best riff from Carpenter, and most ferocious drumming from Cunningham. The dynamics of this song foretell Deftones greatness to come.

1995 Maverick
1. Bored 4:06
2. Minus Blindfold 4:04
3. One Weak 4:29
4. Nosebleed 4:26
5. Lifter 4:43
6. Root 3:41
7. 7 Words 3:43
8. Birthmark 4:18
9. Engine No. 9 3:25
10. Fireal 6:36
11. Fist (unlisted track) 3:35

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Deep Forest -- Deep Forest

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7/10

Deep Forest had a decent idea for their debut album: combine field recordings of tribal chants and songs with early 90's dance music.  The execution was also decent.  Deep Forest isn't outstanding, but it gets the job done. It has one transcendent song, however, that spawned something incredible:

"Sweet Lullaby" is one of the greatest music videos ever. I remember watching it on the Mor Music channel shortly after Christmas break in early 1993, sick with a really high fever, not sure if I was dreaming. I later achieved the same effect locking the bathroom door, turning the hot water on the shower all the way up, turning on the heater, and lying on the floor. Oh yeah, kids, don't do that...
During that time, I also watched these great videos on that same channel.



I was most certainly the coolest steam-tripping twelve year old in Pointe Coupee Parish. Again, kids, don't do that. Just watch these videos and eat pixy stix, or whatever.

1992 550 Records
1. Deep Forest 5:34
2. Sweet Lullaby 3:53
3. Hunting 3:27
4. Night Bird 4:18
5. The First Twilight 3:18
6. Savana Dance 4:25
7. Desert Walk 5:14
8. White Whisper 5:45
9. The Second Twilight 1:24
10. Sweet Lullaby 3:41
11. Forest Hymn 5:50

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Death Cab for Cutie -- Plans

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5/10

I can't think of a more exciting time in my life than the first three months of 2006. For once I had unlimited options, nothing standing in my way, an almost unlimited pool of optimism, and a mysterious but wonderful sense of anticipation. I felt like I was floating freely in an alien sea under an open and unfamiliar view of space, and it was beautiful. So I figured, what the heck? Death Cab for Cutie, I'll give you another chance. Death Cab's first chance occurred about six years earlier. I had heard of them from their fellow DC band, The Dismemberment Plan, a band I did and still love. The Plan had posted on their website that they were about to embark upon The Death and Dismemberment Tour with their capitol city brethren. That joke is still funny to me.
Anyway, this piqued my interest, so I checked out Death Cab, and quickly fell asleep. They weren't anywhere close to anything I enjoyed, and I found them so boring, I couldn't help but immediately forget about them.
Well, fast forward to 2006, and Death Cab had a video on the Fuse channel for a song I actually found myself enjoying. A girl I was close to (and would become engaged to in a few months...and married to in a few more...and having a kid with three years later...and still hanging around with now) liked it a lot, as did several friends, so one night after work (at the glorious Zachary Library, which was at the time in the middle of nowhere...now probably in the middle of a suburb), I stopped by the Baker Wal-Mart and picked up some Plans. My disappointment was immediate.
The vocalist, Ben Gibbard, still has that voice you have the last two or three seconds into one of those bets to see how long you can hold out a note. Also, he sounds as if either his lips and throat were stuck in a full-cheeked smile, or he simply struggled to open his mouth when he sang. Also, he sounds really wimpy. Alright, I realize this is probably the meanest paragraph I'll write in these reviews. Maybe Gibbard is a nice guy. But that kind of singing...I just don't like it. It's not for me. Sorry I was mean.
Anyway, I could get over Gibbard's singing if I liked his lyrics, but let's just say they fit his vocals perfectly.
The music is almost as boring. Almost anytime Death Cab for Cutie have a chance to do something interesting, they go the opposite way. This album puts the "soft" in "soft rock," and it is intolerable.
I am going to invoke the mercy rule and stop this review now(yes, this sentence is meant to be self-deprecating).  This music makes me feel too subjective. Almost everything Death Cab for Cutie do on Plans just rubs me the wrong way.
Even the song I like a lot is kind of annoying.  If my wife didn't have brown eyes, I'd probably hate it.

I guess discussing how dumb the band's name is would be piling on?
Plans has a couple of positives, though.  No matter how much I dislike the album, it reminds me of a great time in my life (see, subjective). Also, Plans has a cohesive theme that most of the tracks touch upon: Plans are really just wishes, and we have no idea what we are really going to get, even when we plot things out meticulously. My own life exemplifies this very statement. At the start of 2006, I thought I would get into a creative writing masters program and move away. Here I am, six years later, married to a beautiful woman, father to a wonderful child...and living across the highway from where I lived back then, in the middle of a swamp, commuting forty minutes to a city desk job that has absolutely nothing to do with writing fiction.
So I guess I can make fun of your voice all I want, Ben Gibbard, but you were right, and your CD is still sitting on my shelf. I hope that is as good as an apology.

2005 Atlantic
1. Marching Bands of Manhattan 4:12
2. Soul Meets Body 3:50
3. Summer Skin 3:14
4. Different Names For The Same Thing 5:08
5. I Will Follow You Into The Dark 3:09
6. Your Heart Is An Empty Room 3:39
7. Someday You Will Be Loved 3:11
8. Crooked Teeth 3:23
9. What Sarah Said 6:20
10. Brothers On a Hotel Bed 4:31
11. Stable Song 3:42

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dead Poetic -- Vices

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9/10

I feel sorry for Dead Poetic's swansong, Vices.  My own first experience with it is a pretty good representation of what happened to the album after it was released.  The fall of 2006 had me in a situation where I felt more out of sorts than any time in my life.  I got engaged, moved to a city apartment, and was planning a December wedding.  I wasn't ready for any of those things (but they had to happen, and I'm glad they did), and life was just kind of like a sugar rush I couldn't control.  Vices came out on Halloween of that year, and I scooped it up for myself and my fiancee a few weeks later.  We listened to it a few times, and we both enjoyed it, but in all the chaos, it got lost.
Literally, we lost and forgot about the CD.
At the same time, Dead Poetic vocalist, Brandon Rike, was quitting the band.  He too had a new family on which to focus, and he wasn't interested in keeping the band going. Tooth & Nail records put a lot into Vices production, but when they saw the band wasn't going to be able to promote it, they figured they might as well not worry about promoting it either.  On top of that, all the college freshman of the mid-decade were moving on from their Underoath-induced heavy music phases, and weren't interested in whatever Dead Poetic was selling...too much going on, and Vices vanished...FOREVER...
Nope.  Something I realize when I get older is how much ephemeral stuff is actually not as ephemeral as we think.  CD's you spent $18 on once, and were scared to death to scratch, can be purchased used on sites like Amazon for far, far, far less than that (yes, three fars at the least!).  Around five years after its release, some songs from Vices materialized in my head and got stuck, so I decided I would pick it up again.  I'm glad I did.
Vices is, without a doubt, Dead Poetic's finest album.  Just like their second album, New Medicines, was a step above their debut, Vices is a step above New Medicines. Gone are Brandon Rikes screams.  Gone are any hardcore impulses.  In their place is an atmospheric, thought-out rock album with complex themes, and great songs.  No one has to bicker about genre here.
The album's theme is literal.  Brandon Rike sings about vices, but as the album goes on, he points the finger more and more at himself until everything literally comes "Crashing Down" on track twelve.  The band do a brilliant job of portraying a slow-acting numbness throughout Vices.  The album starts out very high-energy and straightforward, but gets darker as it goes along. Track three, "Self-Destruct & Die" details the strain Rike is under, attempting to put out the image that he has it together for the band's fans.
The album starts to evolve during track five,, "In Coma," a beautiful song detailing the benefits of falling into that state ("It's the only defense we have left").

This is the moment that the album's atmosphere really begins to thicken, and by track ten, the revealing "Paralytic," it is here to stay.  "Paralytic" was produced by Deftones' Chino Moreno (who was going through a pitch black personal period at this time), and Chino also offers the pre-chorus vocal.  During the chorus, Rike truly leaves himself bare with the line, "All we are is paralyzed from the face down/We're still alive with our fake smiles/When the camera's away."  It's a very chilling song, and reveals the true and personal nature of the album:
In Rike's opinion, the person with the worst Vices is the one who is more flawed than nearly all others, yet is "addicted to being something they will look up to." In other words, Brandon Rike.

The final four songs are a coma of sound musically reminiscent of A Perfect Circle's Thirteenth Step--a compliment I give with the highest regard. These songs are Rike finally coming to terms with the fact that if anyone really knew him, they would be disgusted by him.
In the end, there is only one place Rike can find solace.  The violin-led denouement of the album-closing title-track is completely isolated from the rock music of the previous 50 minutes, but it strands Rike in the only truly safe place he can reach.

If you're going to break up, this is the way to do it.  I hope one day Vices gets the recognition it deserves.

2006 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Cannibal vs. Cunning 3:28
2. Lioness 3:27
3. Self-Destruct & Die 3:36
4. Narcotic 3:00
5. In Coma 4.00
6. Long Forgotten 3:20
7. Pretty Pretty 2:54
8. Sinless City 4:13
9. The Victim 4:01
10. Paralytic 4:23
11. Animals 2:40
12. Crashing Down 3:33
13. Copy of a Copy 2:45
14. Vices 5:35

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dead Poetic -- New Medicines

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8/10

Dead Poetic's sophomore album, New Medicines, is a step up from their debut in every way. It's clear by simply listening to the opening trio of songs just how much Dead Poetic have grown in two years.
The hard-rocking "Taste the Red Hands" kicks off New Medicines with an energy and attitude completely absent from their previous work.  The chorus is catchier, the production is more full, and the tempo, snappier. "The Dream Club Murders" adds a little atmosphere to the album.  As Brandon Rike sings, "So sleep child, no one can touch you now, no one can hurt you now, not here, anymore...", a lead guitar with a distorted chorus effect comes in to outro the song--probably the most comforting sound someone born in the 80's can hear.  The title track follows, a big, anthemic, stop-start rhythmed track that is infectiously enjoyable.
From here, the album flows rather nicely to the seventh track, "Glass in the Trees." It is at this point that Dead Poetic really show what they can do.

"Glass in the Trees" is a brooding, building song.  The verses are great, and the chorus is great, but after it gives the listener both, twice, it has really only started.  As the music pulls back, Rike belts out "Slow down" and the song turns into a moving passage that seems to be simply building back to the chorus.  It isn't. As Rike sings, "We'll wait for you to come back home," the song breaks into a more intense, more high energy passage, until Rike sings "I'm just reading the lines they gave me from the pulpit," after which the song completely erupts into passionate screams and crashing drums.  It's a pretty stunning piece of work.
Speaking of screaming, Rike certainly doesn't do it as much here as on the debut album. When Rike does scream, it is often the natural thing to do at that particular moment in a song.  However, there are a few times screaming is clearly the last thing Rike wants to do--it seems he is only screaming at those moments to please Dead Poetic's fan-base.  As I said, it only happens a few times, but it is fairly noticeable.  It's only a small mark against a very good album.
I see that at the end of 2004, I gave this album an okay write-up on The Nicsperiment but complained about the lyrics.  I must have had some sort of ax to grind then that I can't remember now.  The lyrics aren't Leonard Cohen, and what Brandon Rike is trying to say isn't always clear, but they certainly aren't bad. They are far better and more thoughtful than what one often gets in this genre.
Speaking of genre, I feel like I really undervalued this band when they were active.  As I see the direction popular heavy music has taken (i.e. over polished, cookie-cutter, breakdown-centric crap), I now realize that Dead Poetic was actually quite a treasure. I do remember comparing Dead Poetic to Underoath (who at the time had just released They're Only Chasing Safety) in 2004, and saying that Dead Poetic was more grown-up, natural music, while Underoath was poppier, and trendier.  I was probably right at the time, but two years later, both bands would be releasing their magnum opuses and making anything I said about them in the year of W's re-election a mute point

2004 SolidState Records/Tooth & Nail Records
1. Taste the Red Hands 2:58
2. The Dream Club Murders 3:49
3. New Medicines 4:01
4. Vanus Empty 3:55
5. Bury the Difference 3:33
6. Molotov 3:46
7. Glass in the Trees 5:01
8. Dimmer Light 4:06
9. Hostages 3:22
10. Modern Morbid Prophecies 3:52
11. A Hoax to Live For 10:08

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dead Poetic -- Four Wall Blackmail

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7/10

In the summer of 2002, I was settling into my college DJ gig well. The best part, of course (beside forcing thousands of people to listen to the sound of my voice): all the free music I received ahead of release dates. One day, we got two bands debut albums in the mail. The first was Dead Poetic's Four Wall Blackmail. The second was mewithoutYou's (A->B)Life.
I listened to the Dead Poetic first and enjoyed the singing/screaming dynamic, which wasn't anywhere near played-out yet ten years ago. Next, I listened to mewithoutYou's album, and thought it was weird. Then I gave the Dead Poetic album another listen. For some reason, I couldn't focus on it. I kept thinking about that weird mewithoutYou album. Over the next week, Dead Poetic went back to the radio station, while mewithoutYou stayed in my car (though I pulled it out to play during air-time). A few weeks later, I went to Cornerstone Festival, watched mewithoutYou play two absolutely insane shows, and forgot about Dead Poetic completely (I saw them at Cornerstone, too, but they played before mewithoutYou, so that memory kind of got steamrolled).
So my memory of Four Wall Blackmail is that is wasn't anything special. But as I listen to it now, I hear that I was wrong. Dead Poetic don't break any new ground with their debut album, but they play their mid-tempo, sing/scream hardcore quite well. Most of these songs are pretty well-written, but what surprises me more than anything on Four Wall Blackmail is how well-developed Dead Poetic's sense of dynamic is. The quiet and loud moments are perfectly balanced--a hint of something special, even though the band are so young. They don't know how to make great music yet, but they seem to have a grasp on what it is supposed to sound like, and they are on their way to it. That makes Four Wall Blackmail not a paint-by-numbers affair, but an exciting glimpse into Dead Poetic's future.



2002 Solid State Records
1. Burgundy 3:43
2. The Corporate Enthusiast 3:06
3. A Green Desire 3:30
4. Four Wall Blackmail 5:31
5. August Winterman 4:02
6. Ollie Otson 3:33
7. Bliss Tearing Eyes 4:05
8. Stereochild 4:20
9. Arlington Arms 3:06
10. Tell Myself Goodbye 3:21

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Everyone Hates Lebron: An Alternate Theory

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Let's face it:
Most of us can't stand LeBron James and want the Miami Heat to lose.
People have posited many theories as to why these negative feelings exist. Some say it's racism.
Considering the racial makeup of the NBA, it's a little silly to accuse an NBA fan of racism.
I think it's something far less insidious.
Most people like to pull for the underdog.  It's been the American story since we kicked the British off this continent (after our germs killed everyone else).
LeBron James is never going to be the underdog.  He is bigger and more talented at the sport of basketball than pretty much everyone else on the planet.  This wasn't as big a deal when he played for Cleveland.  No team from Cleveland is ever not going to be the underdog.  I actually pulled for LeBron as a Cavalier.
Now that James is playing on a consistently winning team with other superstars, there is nothing to negate his advantage.  He is again the most distant thing from an underdog.  For most of us, that makes him impossible to root for.
If you see a big guy boxing a little guy, you are most likely going to pull for the little guy, unless the big guy is your brother (maybe that's why I was cheering for the Heat six years ago when they had Louisiana's favorite transplanted son, Shaq, along with Dwayne Wade).
OKC is a brand new team full of brand new superstars.  They've never been to the Finals before, and I have to root for them.  In theory, James and his crew should crush the Thunder, but I'll be pulling against the Heat every second of every game.
It is my duty as an American.

dc Talk -- Supernatural

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7/10

My mom loved dc Talk. By the time Supernatural came out, I had my own car and was blasting The Dismemberment Plan from my windows, but I sometimes caught a ride with my mom to church, and sure enough, she always had dc Talk's swansong playing. I guess those songs must have burrowed into my head because I recently felt compelled to pick up Supernatural for myself (found it used on Amazon for under $1). It was worth the money (It wasn't $1 wasted).
Listening to dc Talk's Supernatural now, it's easy to tell that the group was not long for this world. There's a finality to the songs, and a feeling that the trio of Toby, Tait, and Kevin have gone as far along together as they could. The album cover is a picture of a futuristic television set, featuring a ship sailing off into the sunset.
Supernatural begins on a bit of a surprising note, with evocative acoustic guitar strumming. This soon gives way to an electric attack, but for the first few tracks, it feels like all bets are off. "Dive" is about as close to goth as dc Talk can get. "Consume Me" might be their most textured, powerful, and passionate song of praise yet. "My Friend" is a little obnoxious, possibly the most rocking song dc Talk has done, but also perhaps the poppiest, with "Nah, Nah, Nahs" in full employ. From here, things get a little more rote. "Fearless," "Godsend," and "Wanna Be Loved" are all your basic Adult Contemporary Pop-Rock (I would have tagged those songs wtih more genres if I could), as done by dc Talk. The next song, "The Truth is Out There" is more interesting and mysterious. The group originally recorded the song for the first X-Files film, and while "The Truth is Out There" didn't make the cut, it's easy to hear it and imagine that franchise, especially in the big booming bridge that fades into atmospherics.
"Since I Met You" can be characterized as nothing more than a misstep, a reminder that dc Talk should never, ever try to make punk music. Toby Mac had a little more success in this vein later on (poppy, poppy success), but these three guys together should have steered far clear. "Into Jesus" is another atmospheric song, and if one can get past its kind of silly chorus, it's not half bad.
The title track really seems to embody what dc Talk were going for with this album. It rocks a little harder than they usual do, it has a lot of atmosphere, and it features very full production. "Red Letters" is a ballad, but quite a good one. It picks up very nicely in the second half of its six-minute run (it's the longest song dc Talk ever recorded), and really sends the trio off into a bold horizon.
Supernatural concludes with "There Is a Treason at Sea," a dark and hopeful Kevin Max poem set to ambient noise. It tellingly begins with the phrase, "I am solo in this world of water..."
So there you go. DC Talk end their career on a high note--not the highest they've hit, but not a low one either. When it made sense to quit, dc Talk did it, and there is certainly something to be said for that. Of course, Toby, Tait, and K Max are all still alive, still friends, and still doing their own thing. Though they are in their mid-40's now, a reunion isn't out of the question. I have to say, it would be interesting.
And instead of bringing this all around to the first paragraph, I will end with this.
Listen to this beautiful song at the 4:03 mark.  Does it not sound like someone is saying the word "Satan?" (Which makes the line "I am consumed with Satan")

I've always heard it as that. Now I know the guys in this band are die-hard Christians and not Satanists in the least, but maybe a bored sound engineer threw that in there to spite the group? There was a big argument about this on Amazon 13 years ago. I am sure there is a good story behind it. Doesn't diminish the song in the least.

1998 ForeFront
1. Intro 0:24
2. It's Killing Me 3:56
3. Dive 4:21
4. Consume Me 4:50
5. My Friend (So Long) 4:11
6. Fearless 5:07
7. Godsend 4:14
8. Wanna Be Loved 4:15
9. The Truth 4:25
10. Since I Met You 5:00
11. Into Jesus 4:19
12. Supernatural 4:00
13. Red Letters 6:06
14. There Is a Treason at Sea 1:40

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

dc Talk -- Jesus Freak

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9/10

A few weeks before Christmas of 1995. Youth Group Christmas Party. White Elephant Gift Exchange. The thin, square-shaped present everyone wants: dc Talk's Jesus Freak.
Well, everyone but me. I was too cool for school by that point, and Jesus Freak was what everyone else liked. I didn't try to win the dc Talk gift (I don't remember what I ended up with, but that's probably because it was candy, and I ate it before I got home). My sister received the album for Christmas, though, and I snuck a listen every chance I got. I think that's the difference between the current happy Christian me, and current bitter ex-Christian kids who also came up in the 90's. They had to sneak what they really wanted to listen to, and were forced to listen to dc Talk. I listened to pretty much whatever I wanted, but secretly wanted to listen to dc Talk. Nice.
Nearly seventeen years after sneaking listens, I can listen to my own copy of Jesus Freak. But at this point, do I truly want to?
Yes. The answer is yes, and for several good reasons, but maybe not the expected ones.
Jesus Freak was definitely the first breakout Christian rock album, but it really isn't a "rock" album, per se. Jesus Freak's hardest and most famous cut, the title track, is really just a watered down, yet enjoyable Christian-version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  The rest of the album is more pop-rock with hip-hop undertones.
If I wanted a hard-rocking Christian album at the time, I could find it more aptly from many other bands.  Jesus Freak is not a classic because it rocks.  It is a classic because it is the first consistent collection of truly great songs by a Christian artist to fit popular tastes.  And if the songs are truly great, when tastes change, the listen-ability of the songs does not.
The very lightly reggae-tinged "In the Light" for instance, a Charlie Peacock cover, still works just as well today as it did in 1995.
In The Light by dc Talk on Grooveshark
It also doesn't hurt that dc Talk actually worked to craft an album. Jesus Freak builds brilliantly to the penultimate darkness of "What Have We Become," which has a wonderfully optimistic old spiritual song for an outro, and then finishes triumphantly with "Mind's Eye." I like adverbs.  Don't sue me.
If Jesus Freak had just been a collection of great songs, it wouldn't be spoken of quite so highly today, but the fact that it flows together so well adds to its legacy.
While Jesus Freak may not be perfect (I always thought "What If I Stumble" could have used a lot more pep), after all these years, it still holds up as a classic.  I don't even have to listen to it in secret anymore. It is currently sitting in plain view on my dashboard right next to Peter Gabriel and Sigur Rós.

1995 Forefront/Virgin
1. So Help Me God 4:39
2. Colored People 4:26
3. Jesus Freak 4:49
4. What If I Stumble 5:06
5. Day by Day 4:30
6. Mrs. Morgan 0:57
7. Between You and Me 4:59
8. Like It, Love It, Need It 5:23
9. Jesus Freak (Reprise) 1:17
10. In the Light 5:05
11. What Have We Become 6:08
12. Mind's Eye 5:17
13. [Untitled Track] 5:17

Monday, June 11, 2012

dc Talk -- Free at Last

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8/10

The Fourth of July, 1993. Church picnic. Goodwood Park. I was eleven going on twelve. The adults were playing volleyball. The children and teenagers were finding other ways to entertain themselves. Somebody pulled out a boombox. I miss boomboxes. All of a sudden, I heard this song.
Time Is by dc Talk on Grooveshark
Reverb vocals. Big beat. Big guitars. Funky Bass. Rapping. Trippy bridge. Young sounding.  I was eleven, and I thought it was awesome (later that year I would discover Sade and Clannad and Deep Forest (thanks to the Mor Music channel) and begin my transformation into someone truly weird).
Fast-forward almost twenty years. I am not going to ignore the dc Talk section of my music collection. I will listen to and review it. But is Free at Last freaky awesome, or dated tripe that should live in the bargain bin?
I can easily render my first reaction to re-listening to this music a few days ago:
"Yep. This sounds like 1992."
But after a few minutes, something magical happened. Michael Tait's incredible singing prowess. Kevin Max's delightful weirdness. Toby Mac's trend-hopping, which could result in sounding dated sometimes, but was almost always pretty exciting. Something about these three things together created some type of inexplicable alchemy.
In 2012, this should not work. Early 90-s Hip-Hop. Big giant keyboard sounds. Bill Withers covers. This album should grate on my ears. Clicking play for the second listen was so easy I didn't even have to think about it.
I think what makes this album timeless, even though it exists in a dated genre, is its vitality. Free at Last is full of life and positive energy. Also, the songs are pretty good.

Props to the Achtung Baby-era U2 guitar, saxophone bridge, and three-part harmonies. Nothing wrong with that.

1992 Forefront
1. Luv Is a Verb 4:15
2. That Kinda Girl 4:12
3. Greer 0:21
4. Jesus Is Just Alright 4:37
5. Say the Words 4:59
6. WDCT 0:43
7. Socially Acceptable 4:57
8. Free at Last 4:55
9. Time Is... 4:10
10. The Hardway 5:19
11. 2 Honks & A Negro 0:18
12. Lean on Me 5:00
13. Testimony 0:44
14. I Don't Want It 4:14
15. Will Power 0:14
16. Word 2 the Father 4:02
17. Jesus Is Just Alright (Reprise) 1:00

Friday, June 08, 2012

Artist Spotlight: David Loti

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When I reached David Loti's place in my music collection, I knew I couldn't just simply review his work.  David has been a very good friend of mine for the past eleven years, and his work means a lot to me--I don't see that I could come at it with any form of objectivity.  Instead, I'll just talk about it...semi-objectively.
To quote David himself, his "musical enjoyments and influences include Five Iron Frenzy, Eric Peters, Weird Al, Was (Not Was), Roper, Brave St. Saturn, Craig's Brother, Pep Squad, Tom Lehrer, They Might Be Giants, Edie Brickell, Element 101, Potshot, Dr. Demento, Seth McGaha, Hangnail, Dogwood, Side Walk Slam, The Miscellaneous, Star Ghost Dog, Two Thirty Eight, The Aquabats, and Counting Crows."  Those are a lot of influences, and in some ways I have heard David incorporate them all into his music.  At the same time, I don't think anyone who has listened to any band or solo venture David has participated in has thought that he sounded like anyone other than himself.
After relinquishing his duties for the now defunct (and quite awesome) art-rock band, Lucid Soule , David embarked upon his solo career.  Though he began in a sort of acoustic, singer-songwriter vein (completing his first EP, The Process,during this period), David quickly branched out.  In my opinion, David's solo work really took off when he turned to ex-bandmate, John Tulley (Lucid Soule's founder and guitarist), to do production work on David's 2006 EP, Ambivalence.  At this point, David's songwriting work had already become quite strong, while Tulley's electronic work, programming, and additional instrumentation really expanded the frontiers of Loti's sound.  The Ambivalence EP features a song that, if the Earth was a fair and just planet, would be a really good hour long dramedy's opening theme, "Good Year."

While generally good-natured and cheerful on the surface, David's music can also have an underlying strain of melancholy that I find quite enjoyable.  It's that nearly indescribable feeling of being both happy and sad at the same time that I'm sure the French have a word for.
While working on Ambivalence, David also started up a short-lived duo with Monica Filgo called Stand Up Citizens. David played drums, keyboard, and sang at the same time in this band, while Monica also played keyboard and sang. David explored more of his light-hearted, humorous side with this band, and even once shared a stage with the similar (but in my opinion, less diverse), Matt and Kim.  When Stand Up Citizens folded, David put new energy into his solo work, bringing into it a lot of the keyboard and drum work.
All the while, David's most popular gig was as a guitarist (sharing that duty with Andy Venuto) and one of two vocalists/songwriters in A Soup Named Stew, a comedy rock band that won LSU's 2006 Battle of the Band's contest, and quite a bit of regional fame.
In Stew, Loti found an excellent love/hate stage banter with co-frontman/bassist, Will Heflin, that was often hilarious.  The duo wrote about monkeys, penguins, lawn chairs, girl vomit, bowling,  Zamboni machines, and robot dentists, among other things, and are now sorely missed on the local scene (Loti has since moved his sound from the swamps to Southwestern Canada).
Perhaps David's greatest achievement is Amalgam, titled literally, as it takes cues from all of Loti's work: his Ambivalence EP, his work in Standup Citizens, and even some tones from A Soup Named Stew.  Amalgam also features some new, more sublime touches, including a lovely cover of Five Iron Frenzy's "Dandelions," as well as the absolutely ethereal, "Sleep," a personal favorite of mine.

David Loti's joy, exuberance, melancholy, and humor are all on full display throughout Amalgam's sixteen tracks.
Not one to rest on his laurels, David has continued working.  His recent live recording of the new, semi-instrumental, "Save Me," in which he plays ukulele, plays tambourine, plays percussion, beat-boxes, and vocalizes (yes, all live at once) is proof of his continued excellence.



Listen to and or digitally purchase David's music here.
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Thursday, June 07, 2012

David Arnold (with Various Artists) -- Tomorrow Never Dies [Music from the Motion Picture]

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7/10

The first-released soundtrack for the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, is weird.  I don't mean that the actual music is weird, just the presentation.  For one, it was released before the score was even completed. For this reason, only music from the first half of the film is featured (It was re-released three years later with all of the score and none of the additional tracks this version features).  For two (how come people never say "for two?" It makes sense!), much of the music is based around musical themes laid out in the opening song, "Surrender," written by composer David Arnold and sung by k.d. lang...only it's not actually the opening song of the film.  The producers decided lang wasn't a big enough name (maybe she should start capitalizing it!), and replaced her and Arnold's song with an entirely different Sheryl Crow track.  Because the studio made this decision at the last minute, Sheryl Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" doesn't relate musically to any of the themes David Arnold composed.  It's a decent song, but nothing great.  It certainly shouldn't have replaced lang and Arnold's work, which acts as a musical codex for the rest of the film.  Lang's track did end up in the film's end credits, and second to last on this album, but the whole film shares the same issue as its soundtrack: good enough, but something that could have been entirely better if it wasn't rushed due to changes.
As it is, the half a score we get from Arnold here is pretty good.  He brings his big brassy sound to Monty Norman's classic James Bond theme, while adding electronic and techno elements at other times to aurally update the franchise.  The best track, "Backseat Driver" also coincides with the film's most entertaining scene (even if it reduces Bond to a button-pusher).  The piece, which backs a car chase, is a team-up of Arnold and super-cool British band, Propellerheads (I'll get to them many letters from now).
Propellerheads also scored the lobby shootout in The Matrix, so they know their way around an awesome bassline.  They also need to produce another album. It's been fourteen years since the last one.
Moby inexplicably lends another dance-music track, though this one is not found in the film.  It is listed as "James Bond Theme" and is simply Moby's take on the iconic anthem.  Perhaps it was added to fill more time.  Whatever the case, it's an enjoyable addition, just as the majority of Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack is enjoyable, though the incomplete feeling just can't quite be shaken.

1997 A&M
1. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow) 4:47
2. White Knight 8:30
3. The Sinking of the Devonshire 7:07
4. Company Car 3:08
5. Station Break 3:30
6. Paris and Bond 1:55
7. The Last Goodbye 1:34
8. Hamburg Break In 2:52
9. Hamburg Break Out 1:26
10. Doctor Kaufman 2:26
11. *-3-* Send 1:17
12. Underwater Discovery 3:37
13. Backseat Driver (with the Propellerheads) 4:37
14. Surrender (with k.d. lang) 2:56
15. James Bond Theme (Moby) 3:12

I Still Like the NBA

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Despite yesterday and a few other recent ones being days from hell for me (I feel like I'm in that town from X-Files, where no matter how many times Mulder flipped the coin, it landed on tails), at least my OKC boys put down the Spurs last night.  If Rondo and the Celtics can just put Lebron out of his misery tonight...
The NBA is playing really good basketball right now.  A lot of great superstar players, and a lot of really good supporting players. Watch the Celtics tonight to see what real team basketball is all about.  Also, watch them because Rajon Rondo is not a human being.
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Can't wait.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

David Arnold -- Independence Day [Original Soundtrack Recording]

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8/10

As we walked out of a dark theater and into the bright sun of the summer of 1996, my brother put his Independence Day ticket stub into his pocket and said to me, "That wasn't as good as Star Wars."
He was right. Independence Day is not as good as Star Wars. I don't have to go on about Star Wars' positive qualities, or the fact that I've watched it three times as much as I've watched Independence Day in the last sixteen years. The two aren't even close. Yet Independence Day does feature several notable qualities. It is a ton of fun. It doesn't take itself too seriously, except when it absolutely has to, striking a balance that makes it hold up today over all the other disaster films it spawned in its flaming wake--"flaming" because: STUFF SPLODES. And finally, actually much like Star Wars, Independence Day has quite a memorable score.
David Arnold, fresh off his triumphant composing work on Stargate, re-teams with Director/Writer/Producers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin to provide Independence Day's soundtrack. I would say it hits all the right notes, but that is a really cheesy pun...and actually I just said it...crap. Anyway, Arnold pulls no punches, going for the gusto. When the aliens arrive, gongs, drums, cymbals are pummeled, choirs sing menacingly loud, strings are ripped off of violins, and horn players need oxygen tanks to survive the aftermath. When the heroes fight against their extraterrestrial foes, George Washington might as well be riding a flaming horse to Washington. Independence Day absolutely would not work with a subdued score. In addition to its top-notch special effects and action scenes, Independence Day needs two things to succeed at the highest levels of B-Movie film-making: moments of levity that show the film realizes it is ridiculous (virtually every scene that Randy Quaid's drunken ex-abductee steals), and a score so into the film, the audience can't help but be as well.
Take for instance the overblown, patriotic speech Bill Pullman's President is forced to deliver before the film's final battle:

On its own, the speech is groan-inducing. After experiencing that scene with Arnold's music behind it, though, the viewer can't help but smile and want to stab every living alien in the heart with a star-spangled dagger. Arnold's music makes the film work, just as it makes Stargate work.
Like John Williams' work in Star Wars and countless other films, David Arnold's compositions inspire the viewer to watch the films he scores. And now I want to go watch Independence Day and Stargate, not caring that I'm viewing films that are indeed not as good as Star Wars, films where Mac Books can give viruses to alien spacecraft and Kurt Douglas and James Spader can take down galactic overlords, cuz dangit, the music tells me they can!

1996 RCA Victor
1. 1969-We Came in Peace 2:04
2. S.E.T.I. - Radio Signal 1:52
3. The Darkest Day 4:13
4. Canceled Leave 1:45
5. Evacuation 5:47
6. Fire Storm 1:23
7. Aftermath 3:35
8. Base Attack 6:11
9. El Toro Destroyed 1:30
10. International Code 1:32
11. The President's Speech 3:10
12. The Day We Fight Back 4:58
13. Jolly Roger 3:15
14. End Titles 9:08

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

David Arnold -- Stargate [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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8/10

The 1990's were a great decade for cinema.  There were a ton of great, innovative films, but there were also some very entertaining big budget B-Movies as well. Director/Writer/Producer duo, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, made two of the most enjoyable.  The first was Stargate, an action/adventure/sci-fi film that combined Egyptian mythology and outer space.  This resulted in American soldiers blasting aliens with machine guns on a desert planet, backed by excellent art design, production values, a dash of romance, and a palpable sense of wonder.  What's not to love? Without David Arnold's bombastic, awe-filled, throwback to classic cinema score, maybe not as much.
While I think Stargate would still be an entertaining film without David Arnold's music, there is no way it would hold together so enjoyably.  I'd even go so far to say, there is no way we would have received seventeen years of Stargate television spin-off glory without the excitement of David Arnold's original themes kicking off the shows every week.
Don't believe me, Dr. Jones? How can you not enjoy a fun action scene were a main character is dragged through the desert by a wild but friendly beast...especially while this is playing?

Well, if not, it's just because you're mean. How about intrigue-filled scenes where archaeologists pull a large portal to another galaxy from the sands of Egypt, backed by a score featuring delicate touches of female vocals and traditional instruments?

Or what about iconic, awe-inspiring scenes where nerdy Egyptologists gaze in wonder at the swirling entrance to a world trillions of miles away, dive in, and travel through the stars on an invisible roller coaster?

Either these musical cues just made you visualize the very scenes in Stargate they were taken from, or you don't like candy.  I wish more composers these days (uh-oh, here comes the nostalgia-train) would make their soundtracks for fun movies this fun. At least give me some themes I can hum.

1994 Milan (these YouTube tracks are all found on the original release I'm reviewing here, but were taken directly from a deluxe edition released twelve years later, which features additional tracks, hence the different track numbers)
1. Stargate Overture 3:01
2. Giza, 1928 2:10
3. Unstable 2:07
4. The Coverstones 0:58
5. Orion 1:29
6. The Stargate Opens 3:58
7. You're on the Team 1:55
8. Entering the Stargate 2:57
9. The Other Side 1:44
10. Mastadge Drag 0:56
11. The Mining Pit 1:34
12. King of the Slaves 1:15
13. Caravan to Nagada 2:16
14. Daniel and Shauri 1:53
15. Symbol Discovery 1:15
16. Sarcophagus Opens 0:55
17. Daniel's Mastadge 0:49
18. Leaving Nagada 4:09
19. Ra - The Sun God 3:22
20. The Destruction of Nagada 2:08
21. Myth, Faith, Belief 2:18
22. Procession 1:43
23. Slave Rebellion 1:00
24. The Seventh Symbol 0:57
25. Quart Shipment 1:27
26. Battle at the Pyramid 5:02
27. We Don't Want to Die 1:57
28. The Surrender 1:44
29. Kasuf Returns 3:06
30. Going Home 3:09

Monday, June 04, 2012

Press On

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Data Romance -- Data Romance

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8/10

It's hard to write much of a review for just four songs...how about I TELL A STORY.
Last summer, my wife and son and I were vacationing in Perdido Key, Florida.  We hadn't been on a family vacation in four years, and it was a pretty sweet trip.  Every night, my wife and I got out the laptop, surfed to teennick.com, and caught up on Degrassi: The Next Generation.  I used to love Degrassi, and I even expressed my love here, but my goodness has it gone off the rails into a realm that no longer resembles anything like reality lately.  Anyway, this one episode had a dramatic moment featuring a song that I thought was really cool.  Degrassi actually tells you what songs it has played at the end of every episode, and this one was "Bullets," by a Canadian duo (Degrassi is a Canadian show, after all), Data Romance.
My wife looked at me during the Degrassi episode and said, "You like this music, don't you?"  She was correct.  I'm a sucker for un-orthodox electronic music and dreamy female vocals.  I immediately downloaded Data Romance's just released self-titled EP debut.
While only four songs long, the Data Romance EP feels like a complete experience.  The vocalist sounds like emotion spilling out of a cup, washing over the table, and spilling onto the floor.  The cold, sometimes distant and mechanized tones of the music are a great counterbalance to her singing style (Get it? Data and Romance?).  The vocalist sings about keeping herself in a relationship on "The Deep," fighting for possibly the same guy she felt was threatening her freedom on "Arms," romantic confusion on "Bullets," and the fallout from everything on "Streetlight." All four tracks are equally different, but they interlock to form a pretty definite beginning, middle, and end.  Few acts can pull this off in four songs.  I'm impressed, and I want a full length, now.

Also, they just released a free covers EP, and it is sweet.

2011 Self-Released
1. The Deep 3:32
2. Arms 4:33
3. Bullets 4:21
4. Streetlight 5:20

Friday, June 01, 2012

Daniel Lanois -- Acadie

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9/10

Daniel Lanois has produced some of my favorite albums of all time.  U2's The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, and Peter Gabriel's So, among many others.  Those albums are huge, epic, and decade-defining, so it comes as a surprise that Lanois' solo debut, Acadie, sounds like the winter soundtrack to a small Acadian village in Canada...or Louisiana.
Lanois is a native of Southeastern Canada, and for inspiration, he spent much of the time leading up to the recording of Acadie in South Louisiana. For those not in the know, those two regions are uniquely linked.  Lanois obviously absorbed a lot of the sound down here. Take  "Under a Stormy Sky," for example, which features Lanois freely singing in both French and English, and sounds like every parish fair I've ever attended (for you Yankees...we ain't got counties down here...we have parishes). I mean that as a compliment.  Who doesn't enjoy a parish fair?

There are many songs in this realm, accordion and all, but  Lanois doesn't completely run away from the big sound he defined.  Starting with "Fisherman's Daughter," Lanois begins to employ the effects-laden guitar and keyboards that pushed U2 to the top of the charts, only in a far more subdued fashion.  "White Mustang II," co-written by frequent collaborator, Brian Eno, wanders around atmospheric streets before being suddenly punctuated by a feisty trumpet--another element Lanois' south Louisiana stay obviously inspired.  "Where the Hawkwind Kills" is as close to a stadium as Lanois gets, but the rest of the album continues in the smaller, more personal vein.
There is a spiritual element to Acadie as well.

Lanois' cry for God to "help us through the night" in the glittering caves of "Ice" is a particularly affecting moment, as is his radical re-working of album closer, "Amazing Grace," which employs the vocals of Louisiana-born Aaron Neville.
Acadie is quite a personal statement.  In just twelve songs, Daniel Lanois incorporates his heritage as a Canadian, the connection he feels to south Louisiana,* and his own unique musical language together to create something altogether original.  The warmth and joy he evokes in icy conditions is something I wish more artists could embody.

*(This makes three out of the last four artists in this review series who hail from Northern lands but tip their musical hats to the bayou)*

1989 Opal
1. Still Water 4:29
2. The Maker 4:13
3. O Marie 3:13
4. Jolie Louise 2:41
5. Fisherman's Daughter 2:47
6. White Mustang II 2:54
7. Under a Stormy Sky 2:20
8. Where the Hawkwind Kills 3:51
9. Silium's Hill 3:00
10. Ice 4:26
11. St. Ann's Gold 3:31
12. Amazing Grace 3:47