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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2012

No matter what anyone says, music reviews are an incredibly subjective thing. Depending on personal tastes and experiences, one man's masterpiece can be another man's meh. I hate that sentence, but I needed an intro. With that said, these are the nine albums released this year that I heard and liked best. That's it. Oh yeah, and the songs I liked best from them. And a bunch of notes on other albums afterward. That's it. Probably.

9. P.O.S. -- We Don't Even Live Here
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P.O.S. is in dire need of a kidney transplant and had to cancel his tour this year because of his health. Obviously, the means his latest album is a party record--P.O.S.'s idea of a party record. He's still an angry, incisive, yet affable rapper, but where his previous album "Let it Rattle," this time he's content to simply find fulfillment in the presence of his friends and loved ones. This makes We Don't Even Live Here ironically his most exclusive record, and yet his most populist sounding. He ditches some of the rock sounds from previous releases for club music, but it's club music through a P.O.S. filter--We Don't Even Live Here still doesn't sound like anyone else. Whatever club is playing "Wanted/Wasted" is somewhere I definitely want to be. Dang, that sentence was terrible, too. Sorry, P.O.S.


8. The Contortionist -- Intrinsic
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There's this old metal band called Neurosis. They have a video that begins with a caveman throwing something gnarly into a fire. The fire starts to get all blurry, and as the caveman looks up and gazes deeply into the ancient stars and all the vastness of the universe, his mind breaks. That's pretty much what listening to The Contortionist's Intrinsic is like. It's a weird, difficult album. It branches into paths that lead to enlightenment, and paths that lead to nowhere. Wandering them is always an unpredictable experience. I guess this is metal, sort of, except a lot of the time it's not, and the guitar is clean and complicated, and the keyboard and bass are all spacey and introspective, and the singing is beautiful, and then your skull gets bludgeoned.


7. mewithoutYou -- Ten Stories
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To be completely honest, mewithoutYou's Ten Stories didn't give me what I wanted, but by now it's clear this band follows its own muse. If they want to create a concept album about anthropomorphic zoo animals who escape an actual historical train accident, then that's what they're going to do (I'm not trying to be funny. That's actually what they did here). And if they decide they want to explore a little bit of their more aggressive roots in only a sparing fashion, giving a lot more time to more quiet experimentation, that's what they're going to do. And if they decide to do these two things in the same song, all the better. This might not be the album I wanted, but it's an excellent album nonetheless.

6. Latitudes -- Individuation
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Relentless and terrifying, but uniquely British, Latitudes' Individuation is a near metal masterwork. When rare vocals do appear, they come in the form of the scariest falsetto I've ever heard, but more often than not, the respite from the cacophony of avalanchean grooves are Moogs from a creepy 70's era Doctor Who episode. Of course, none of this would work if the album wasn't fun in addition to being dark. "The Glacial Body" is my personal favorite, as the opening lyric, "Find me good flesh/find me powerless" sounds like it is addressed under a full moon to a faithful servant from a vampire lord in his mountaintop castle. Individuation is a dark labyrinth you want to get lost in.


5. Skyharbor -- Blinding White Noise: Illusion and Chaos
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For some reason, as a child, I hated the voice of a man singing. I have no idea why, and I don't think I want to know. This trend continued well into high school, but now it doesn't bother me at all. With that said, the most polarizing aspect of Skyharbor's Blinding White Noise is my favorite: Dan Tompkins' vocals. The guy has some serious chops, good enough to win any of the middle-school talent show contests masquerading as reality shows on network television, yet he can inject a rawness and explosive power coveted by even the dirtiest rock band. I guess his singing is too passionate or over the top for some folks, but I think it's great. Few people will take issue with the complex and exotically beautiful music Tompkins' India-based band-mates create, though. Whether they are jamming through ridiculous time-signatures, or weaving a sunset, not a second of their brilliant work is wasted. And for those who just want to rock, the three-track "Chaos" encore does just that, presenting a straightforward aggression the more delicate "Illusion" section of the album tempers with subtlety and grace. A stunning, invigorating debut.


4. Deftones -- Koi no Yokan
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Koi no Yokan is absolutely elusive. Every time you think you've grasped it, it slides away. When you think you know what you're dealing with, it incomprehensibly morphs into something else. It is as heavy as anything Deftones have done, but it is also just as sensual, following and resisting expectations all at once. Precise and ordered, yet trippy and formless, not what you expect, and not when you expect it, an anachronism perfectly established by the album cover. The seven-minute monster, "Rosemary," is the emblematic offspring of its parent album. The opening guitar seems poised to whisk the listener off to paradise before suddenly darkening beneath Chino Moreno's voice. And then that beat comes in at 1:28, like a black mountain suddenly, inexorably rising over the horizon beneath an instantaneous eclipse. All of Deftones' albums are night albums, but this one stops time, a black pyramid with no entrance or exit.

3. The Mars Volta -- Noctourniquet
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Well, I wasn't expecting this. After their better every listen magnum opus, Frances the Mute, all of The Mars Volta's albums are "almost their best one," except for Noctourniquet's immediate predecessor, Octahedron, which is the only possible weak link in the band's canon (that it made my best of 2009 list is a testament to the overall weakness of that year's music releases(how about one more parenthetical to make this sentence longer and more nonsensical)). After Octahedron, I mistakenly expected The Mars Volta to continue on an inevitable downward spiral. Boy, was I wrong. Noctourniquet might be the band's best work. It retains the best qualities from Octahedron--Cedric Bixler-Zavala's suddenly coherent lyrics and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's more streamlined songwriting--but elevates them to a higher plane of existence. Where Octahedron sounded too small, Noctourniquet is huge, yet still intimate. Noctourniquet also takes some queues from the modern music scene, working in some surprising electronic textures in unexpected places. Noctourniquet is an exciting, unpredictable, and thrilling release from a veteran band, at a stage when many of their peers are resting on their laurels. Also, this song reminds me of Fringe.


2. Sucré -- A Minor Bird
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Now here's an album that lulls you into taking it for granted the first time you hear it. It isn't until you've listened a few times that you realize you are dreaming, that Stacy Dupree-King's voice can't possibly be this beautiful, that the musical arrangements crafted by her husband, Darren King, and their friend, Jeremy Larson, can't contain such inventive grandeur and majesty. Nope. This album can't be real.


1. Project 86 -- Wait for the Siren
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It's always nice when a band rewards your good faith. I thought Project 86's 1998 debut showed promise, and they rewarded me with their masterpiece sophomore album, Drawing Black Lines. I thought their controversial third LP, Truthless Heroes, would reward with further listens, and it not only did, but provided the impetus for their searingly angry, excellent fourth album, Songs to Burn Your Bridges By. I thought their fifth album, And the Rest Will Follow..., showed the band playing it a little too safe, but I was rewarded for sticking around by the wildly experimental, yet strangely personal sixth album, Rival Factions. I was disappointed by the straightforward nature of album seven, Picket Fence Cartel, but supported the kickstarter for Project 86's eighth effort, Wait for the Siren. Now Project 86 have rewarded me with one of their best efforts to date. Vocalist, Andrew Schwab, the band's only remaining member, has done Project 86's legacy proud. Wait for the Siren contains all of the heaviness one could want from a Project 86 album, but also displays the diversity and surprise factor of their best work (this time, the biggest surprise is the unique inclusion of traditional Celtic instruments). This means that every song sounds different, and the band doesn't shy away from their softer side when it's applicable. The instrumental work (including low-end focused drums and a dominant bass guitar) and dark, autumnal feel are right on target with the sound necessary for music to truly be considered the work of Project 86. Perhaps most importantly, Wait for the Siren also features the usual lyrical depth one has come to expect from Mr. Schwab. There is no argument that the band should continue to keep its name despite the member changes. It is very rare to find a veteran band who can put out albums that sound this focused and confident, while still remaining hungry and eager to lead the pack. "Still dropping flaming arrows to the middle of the village!" Here's to another eight albums.

Notes and Commentary on the Year in Music
NOTE: (I've linked my favorite songs from albums that didn't make the top nine in the names of the band's I discuss below)
Though I can't yet put my finger on why, this year's music felt incredibly different from last year's. Maybe it's just the changes in my own life. It just seemed like there were more landmark masterpieces in 2011. I also felt like some of my usual go-to bands released albums this year that sounded like the same outfit with maybe just some new buttons and a few pieces of flair. The Chariot, MxPx, Between the Buried and Me, Demon Hunter, and The Gaslight Anthem all put out really good albums that just didn't stoke my fire. Further Seems Forever also put out a good reunion album, but I'd rather just listen to their old stuff. On the bright side, Anberlin put out their best album in years. Linkin Park continued to be a viable guilty pleasure. P.O.D. still exist, and while I preferred their last album to this one (a minority opinion, for sure), their new album has some great songs. That dude from the Gorillaz somehow convinced Bobby Womack to create a new album. My kid was making me look up videos of killer whales, and we stumbled upon this really trippy, cool band called Orcas. I think I liked it more than my kid did. Everything in Slow Motion (essentially the band Hands, who took top honors last year) and Night Verses each put out E.P.s that would have made the list if they weren't only a combined six songs. By the way, that Night Verses video/song is really sweet, and you should watch/listen to it. Even though it's too quirky for its own good, I enjoyed some songs from Grimes' new album (She's like the chick version of the Baths' dude(except I like his album a little better than her new one)). Also, I stumbled across some Eastern European metal band called Absent Distance and liked them a lot. I'll tell you what I didn't like a lot, though. The new Sigur Rós album. The first half shows a lot of promise, which is a shame since the second half pretty much doesn't even exist. I wish they would have put more thought into it. LAME. If you are already awesome, you have to continue being awesome, not just do nothing. The next album better be better. I'm sure this threat has you guys terrified.
And now, it's time to honor an album that would have topped my list this year if it qualified.
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Uneven Structure--Februus
I can't express how much this album has meant to me this year. Februus' themes of birth, conflict, and transcendence have really resonated with me. Its seasonal outlook, starting with "Frost" and "Hail," the sprouting of "Buds," and the incredible harvest of "Plenitude" have followed me throughout the year, as I put so much blood into the ground literally, into a garden that has helped feed my family at a time where we've had so little, and metaphorically, as I've seen the dreams of my life evaporate to non-existence, only to realize they were only a naive boy's desires. The bitterness I felt as rain crushed and washed my literal and metaphorical crops away underwent a metamorphosis to the exuberant joy I've felt as new sprouts rose in their places, grew skyward just as I began to realize new dreams, selfless ones far greater than the selfish wants of a teenage boy--wants who's consequences I've had to deal with for the last decade. As the year ends, I feel like a new, better man, and over thirty-two New Years, that's something I've rarely felt. And that is everything this album has meant to me. It's ambient metal, meaning that basically, every emotion a human can have is encapsulated in the music. There are moments as heavy as icy mountains crashing into each other, as grueling as crawling through the mud with a mountain on your back, as joyful as melting streams coursing through flowering meadows, as pensive and meditative as watching the courses of constellations and nebulae, and as jubilant as soaring through and above those same stars and interstellar clouds. This French band has crafted a masterpiece. The best comparison I can make is to something I reviewed back in March, Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Fitting that that was my favorite review of the year. Februus capitalizes on Carmina Burana's themes of the cycles of life, but departs Burana's circular pattern at the end to find transcendence with the cosmos.

On a side note, I feel like Februus would also make a good soundtrack to the Vernor Vinge novel, A Fire Upon the Deep. That book rules. Also from 2011, I enjoyed *shels Plains of the Purple Buffalo. Not like I enjoyed Februus, but I figured I should mention that one, too. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Random End of the Year Musing

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Have beards officially gone from a sign of manliness, to the exact opposite of that? When is the last time you've seen a guy with a beard who was actually manly? If you have, you must still admit that the amount of absolutely, unquestionably unmanly men you've recently seen with beards highly outnumbers the number of bearded men you've recently seen who looked like they could stand up to a cool breeze.
That's lame.

NOTE: Sorry to the dude in this picture. You don't look very manly holding up the immense weight of your Pabst Blue Ribbon, but what do I know?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winding Down

In three days, the most productive year in the history of The Nicsperiment will come to a close. If anyone had told me I would be releasing this many posts, receiving this much consistent traffic, or being contacted and thanked by as many bands as I have this year, I would have been shocked. Just thinking about it now, I am shocked. Unfortunately for The Nicsperiment, 2013 will not be such a year. I am going to publish as many reviews as I can, but the truth of the matter is, I will be in class, studying, and working so much that consistency will pretty much be impossible. I am going to have to set much more humble goals for the blog and plan out months instead of weeks.
We'll see what happens, but don't expect to see more than maybe a couple of reviews posted every week. Expect to see every major Five Iron Frenzy release reviewed in the month of January, as well as the majority of the "F" albums in my collection. I am hoping to at least get to "H" by the summer. We'll see.
Whatever the case, gentle readers, thank you so much for this great blogging year. While it doesn't look like I will ever write for a living, I can take great pleasure that at least a decent chunk of Internet personage has somewhat enjoyed some of the things I have written, and that some people who make music I admire have appreciated them, as well. Expect to see my massively self-indulgent best of music list in the three days. Until then, enjoy these final moments of the year that will soon be was.
Here's a picture of some nachos.
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Face to Face -- Reactionary

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7/10

After Face to Face released Ignorance is Bliss, not only the best album of their career, but one of the best rock albums of all time, they were rewarded with a vitriolic fan-base who now hated them. Apparently going from a very good punk band to a great rock band was not acceptable. Face to Face responded to the backlash by banning all Ignorance is Bliss songs from their live playlists and quickly acting like the album never happened. The band promptly released Reactionary less than a year later, a fast-paced punk album showing little musical trace of their previous masterpiece. Of course, if one is paying attention, it is clear that Face to Face not only remember that Ignorance is Bliss happened, but also that they are angry about their fans' responses and their own musical kowtowing to those reactions. It's in the album title, it's in the song titles, and it's in the lyrics, particularly in Reactionary's standout, "Disappointed."

Unfortunately, it's also in the music. This just doesn't sound like the album the band want to be making. As a result, Reactionary is nearly identical in feeling to the band's self-titled album. It's a fun, but by the numbers punk album, breaking no new ground, by a band who at times seem to be going through the motions.
And speaking of the opposite of that:
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAYS! I'll be back a few days after Christmas with a quick yearly wrap-up post, and then on the 31st, my annual yearly music list. Hooray, I know you can't wait! I'm not sure "speaking of the opposite of that" worked, I just couldn't think of a better transition. Sorry.

2000 Vagrant
1. Disappointed 2:48
2. Out of Focus 3:32
3. What's in a Name 3:05
4. You Could've Had Everything 2:15
5. Hollow 3:23
6. Think for Yourself 2:43
7. Just Like You Said 3:06
8. Solitaire 3:05
9. Best Defense 3:47
10. Icons 3:18
11. Shame on Me 3:13
12. Estranged 2:52

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Face to Face -- Ignorance Is Bliss

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10/10

Here is the line that divides those who like good music from those who simply like genres. Before Ignorance Is Bliss, Face to Face were only known as a punk band who played punk music. Ignorance Is Bliss is not a punk record. If a punk rock fan takes the angle, "This band completely sold out, this is just regular old rock music," though, they are admitting they don't enjoy one of the greatest rock albums ever made because the tempos aren't fast. Never mind the fact that Ignorance Is Bliss is full of energy--it isn't punk, and for that reason ,a lot of close-minded "fans" of the band dismissed it immediately.
Make no mistake, though. Despite the genre change, Ignorance Is Bliss is not only a step up from Face to Face's previous work--it is a perfect album. The production and sounds are beyond satisfying, the songwriting is incredible,  and the performances are as good as you're going to get. Trevor Keith's voice finally gets the huge treatment it deserves. His lyrics take the "screw you, you hurt me" path to it's more mature conclusion--"man, I guess I have my own problems, too." All of these factors add up to thirteen very powerful tracks that flow incredibly well. The most important factor of the album's success, though, is an intangible. There is just something about the attitude of Ignorance Is Bliss that makes it better than its peers.
Over a decade later, I thought this album's power over me would weaken, but in my recent listens for this review, I was as equally moved. The theme in the title is still just as relevant today as thirteen years ago. It is a lot easier to just allow other's actions to affect you without questioning, and to just take your own behavior as rational and acceptable without ever evaluating yourself. Doing otherwise always brings conflict and difficulty, and sometimes it's debatable if the results are even worth it. Sometimes it's easier to just ignore everything going on around you. The effort of guarding yourself just doesn't seem worth it. If things go wrong, you can always blame somebody else. Or you can rebel against that mindset. Maybe this is a punk record.


1999 Beyond
1. Overcome 3:16
2. In Harm's Way 4:24
3. Burden" – 4:17
4. Everyone Hates a Know-It-All 3:07
5. Heart of Hearts 4:00
6. Prodigal 5:13
7. Nearly Impossible 5:20
8. I Know What You Are 4:10
9. The Devil You Know (God Is a Man) 3:38
10. (A)Pathetic 3:13
11. Lost 4:14
12. Run in Circles 3:50
13. Maybe Next Time 3:52

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Nicsperiment's Favorite Christmas Album

I am just going to be honest. I am not a huge fan of Christmas music. It's the same songs every year, concentrated over and over again for a month. On top of that, some of the songs are dreadful. "Silver Bells?" Awful. "The Little Drummer Boy?" How about I throw your drum into a trash compactor? Is there any hope for me? Let's move on.
When I was a child, Christmas was terrifying. I don't mean "bad" terrifying. I mean the kind of "scary" you welcome as a child. I had this strange dream/fantasy where Christmas Eve night would last forever, and everyone on Earth would disappear as I waited for Santa in my living room, which was lit only by the fireplace and the faint lights of the Christmas tree. People who had also been trapped for centuries would waft in and out of the house, the fantasy's only other inhabitants. For this whole imagining, you can blame Charles Dickens, the Nutcracker, and every early-80's Sesame Street special involving ghosts, ESPECIALLY this one.
Unfortunately, most Christmas music is schmaltzy crap, and doesn't touch upon the holiday's inherent darkness...until now!
Last year, my wife and son and I were using some gifted money post-Christmas to peruse Baton Rouge's only surviving music store, FYE. FYE's used section is massive, and with less and less people being cool enough to buy CD's, it isn't shrinking anytime soon. As my son and I met my wife at the cash register, we proudly held up our finds. "Look at this!" my wife said ecstatically.
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For some reason, my wife loves Canadian bands who are big in their home nations, but only have one or two mid-90's hits here. You can't argue with $1.99, though.
On the way home from FYE, as Crash Test Dummies 2002 opus, Jingle all the way..., crept out of my car speakers, I suddenly started to feel a slow-building wave of long buried nostalgia. What were these festively terrifying sounds? Could these be created by the same band who made a nation go "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm?"
Yes, they could! Lead singer Brad Roberts' inhumanly deep voice sounds even more inhumanly deep than it did during the Clinton administration. With an absolute black sense of humor, Roberts rings menace out of any Christmas tune line from which it can be construed. "What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight!," "To save us all from Satan's power," "Bring me flesh and bring me wine." The macabre, yet jaunty, near medieval arrangements are a beautiful, black sleigh for Roberts to spread his cheer from. He sounds like he is grudgingly having the time of his life (in the liner notes, he thanks rum and eggnog, the Grinch, and himself). An entire album of this would soon wear out its welcome, though. That's where Crash Test Dummies unleashes its secret weapon: Ellen Reid. You can hear and see Reid in the background of the "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" video, but on Jingle all the way... her starkly gorgeous vocals lead half the tracks. Reid's songs display a desolate elegance, glacially rolling over vast, frozen, aural landscapes. The juxtaposition of Roberts' songs with Reid's showcases the meeting of secular and sacred, earth and heaven, which after all, is what Christmas is all about.
Case in point, the joyfully frightening, Roberts-led "Jingle Bells"
is immediately followed by Reid's achingly beautiful, reverent, "In the Bleak Midwinter."

The two singers don't always split up, though. They often combine their powers and both styles for maximum impact. The result is an album that will affect everyone differently. Many will be reminded of a roadside diner playing Christmas music on a jukebox...in a horror film.
For me, though, the inside album cover says it all: It's an empty living room, lights off, ancient radio in the foreground, fire roaring, tree lights shining, an odd midnight light coming through the window. I feel like I'm six years old again.
BONUS: Track seven is the only tolerable version of "The Little Drummer Boy" ever recorded.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Face to Face -- Face to Face

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7/10

Good punk album, but feels a little perfunctory, especially compared to the grittier, more passionate Big Choice. Still, it's fun to listen to, and it has some great songs, particularly "I Won't Lie Down," which my particularly bad punk band attempted to cover. Unfortunately, our singer was flat and had an ego problem. He writes blog reviews now.


1996 A & M Records
1. Resignation 3:48
2. Walk the Walk 3:35
3. Blind 2:43
4. Ordinary 2:48
5. I Won't Lie Down 3:18
6. Can't Change the World 2:13
7. Handout 3:37
8. Everything's Your Fault 2:49
9. Take It Back 2:59
10. Complicated 4:02
11. Put You in Your Place 3:42
12. Falling 3:01

Monday, December 17, 2012

WHY WEREN'T PEOPLE TELLING ME THINGS LIKE THIS TEN YEARS AGO?

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If you are in your early 20's, you need to read this. I turned 31 yesterday, and though I do have a wife and child through some strange grace, I am only now beginning to take steps that will allow me to offer something to the world, and honestly, to them. I am so angry at myself for the naivete I had in my 20's about my own natural abilities and what I could do with them. I wish I could go back, meet my twenty-one year old self in a dark alley, beat the crap out of him, and tell him that being successful does matter. It's so frustrating that at 31, I have to do the things that I should have been doing then NOW. SO. FRUSTRATING.
Anyway, if you think that because you are a nice guy, whatever innate talents you have will just be brought out by the world around you, they won't. You actually have to learn a skill in order to utilize and benefit from that skill.
Anyway, here's the url, if the link above didn't work. If you hate the "F" word, suck it up and read this anyway:
http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-person/

Friday, December 14, 2012

Face to Face -- Big Choice

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9/10

During my first first college degree tenure at LSU, the outer rim of campus was a gritty ghost of 70's grandeur. Now it's a corporate mega-beast of shiny strip malls, but back then the buildings were rundown, and few businesses remained. Paradise Records was one of the few survivors, though it shutdown my sophomore year. Paradise had a great punk rock section, and though I've never been through a "phase" in my life, I really, really wanted to listen to little more than punk music during my first couple of semesters at LSU. Thankfully, Paradise Records had a great selection of punk music. Wading through albums with covers full of medical photos of vaginas, broken glass, and people passed out in gutters, I could always find a gem or two. Perhaps the greatest purchase I made at Paradise Records was Face to Face's second album, Big Choice.
People often argue about what constitutes punk music. Some people think it has to be angry protest music by people who never go to the dentist or shower. I disagree. I think punk is simply music with an agressive edge and an "I don't care what you think, I'm going to do what I'm going to do" attitude. That's why I think bands like MxPx or Slick Shoes (also a great Paradise Records purchase) should simply qualify as "punk." They might sing about girls a lot, but they have an attitude absent in popular music. They shouldn't be saddled with the label "pop-punk." That's just silly.
Face to Face don't sing about anything romantic on Big Choice, but they don't sound entrenched in some type of picket line either. There is simply a moral outrage to their music, a "how could you do this to me, you jerk?" sentiment, that, along with the band's aggressively fast tempos, puts them squarely in the realm of punk, at least for this album. The moral anger at unidentified entities is easily seen in the track titles, "Struggle," "I Know You Well," "You Lied," "Promises," etc. A favorite of mine then and now is "A-OK," which unloads on someone who assumes the singer is doing fine, when in fact he is not.

Despite the general pissed-offedness of the majority of Big Choice, Trevor Keith's voice contains a certain empathetic quality that prevents the album from sounding like one big bitch-fest. Instead, it's a fun, fast, angry, and well-performed record, the kind they just don't make anymore (I don't know who "they" specifically is, but they need to get back on the awesome train). Every time I listen to Big Choice, I'm thankful that, for at least a year, I got to experience the old LSU, before the graffiti-ed walls of Paradise Records and its kin were converted into Buffalo Wild Wings and 24-hour fitness clubs.
FINAL NOTE: The bonus track, "Disconnected," contains one of my favorite lyrics of all time. "Trust is something that comes easy/when you've never been a victim." So true.

1994 A & M Records
1. Struggle 3:07
2. I Know You Well 2:42
3. Sensible 2:58
4. A-OK 2:57
5. You Lied 3:27
6. Promises 3:15
7. Big Choice 3:24
8. It's Not Over 2:26
9. Velocity 3:17
10. Debt 2:19
11. Late 3:37
12. (blank)* 1:16
13. Disconnected* 3:20
14. Bikeage* (cover of Descendents) 2:09

Thursday, December 13, 2012

So Much for E

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Well, that's done. Short letter, but a lot of fun. Time to begin "F," one of the strangest letters. "F" isn't composed of a bunch of weird artists, but I find the combination of the artists I own who begin with "F" to mix weirdly together. Should I have used "whom" in the previous sentence? Is "whom" even a thing now? Also, there are a lot of artists I like a lot in the "F"'s, but after the 10-fest of "E," "F" should go back to the "C" standard of one or two 10's. Who knows, though, I still have to listen to the music and write the reviews...and depending on the future, that might never happen...wah!!!
Anybody up for a cuddle puddle?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Explosions in the Sky -- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

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10/10

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is Explosions in the Sky's most laid back album. It explores silence (something few bands are brave enough to tackle) at certain moments, and finds the band blending their crescendos more naturally into the songs than ever. Each track flows effortlessly into the next, but is a completely separate entity. To me, this conceptually sounds like a collection of instrumental short stories about people who have left home, with the album title as an admonishment. The CD digipak folds into an abandoned house, and includes a poster of realistic earth to set it upon. Even the inside of the house is fully realized (more excellent work from artist, Esteban Rey), and shows the windows looking out upon a rainy prairie and a tornado. All of Explosions in the Sky's albums have a comforting quality, but Take Care, Take Care, Take Care espouses it the most, offering reassurance for those who've struck out on their own--that is, until the final track, "Let Me Back In." I hate the saying "You can't go home again," but in many cases, it is true. When you leave something, it is rarely the same when you return, and if it is, you are probably different. Still, there is almost always an idealized place in our past we'd prefer to return to, a home we'd like to live in. "Let Me Back In" sounds like every weary traveler knocking on the door of the metaphorical house the album becomes. The song takes on a haunting, supernatural quality heretofore unexplored by the band. As the track grows in intensity, Tibetan singing bowls and strange chanting sounding like the voices of the dead, ghosts, join with the living, pound on the walls, Let Me Back In. When I saw the band perform this song live, I shut my lids, and I think I saw the eye of God.

***
Harry Reid is a pig farmer east of Austin, Texas in 1952. Harry is hunting rabbits next to a narrow ravine on the wilderness of his rural property, when he tumbles in and blacks out. He awakes to the sound of a jetliner cruising overhead, and climbs out of the ravine to find himself in the middle of a thick tangle of houses before a distant backdrop of skyscrapers. Harry panics and runs across a street, where he is promptly sideswiped by a car, then swarmed by concerned citizens, police, and soon an ambulance. As Harry recovers in a modern day hospital bed, confused out of his wits, a police detective approaches him. It is 2012, Harry has been missing for sixty years, and he hasn't aged a day. After several interrogations and medical tests, Harry is released to a foster family who attempts to help rehabilitate him to the new world. Harry comes to appreciate modern advances and seems to slowly become well-adjusted to his new surroundings. He is shown photographs of his family, and is told what became of them. Eventually, Harry gets a job as a greeter in a supermarket and appears to be living a comfortable life. One night, though, after perusing his old photos, Harry cannot sleep, and he finds himself wandering the streets, searching for his old home. Through suburbs and strands of trees that have been tamed, canyons that have been filled, and streams that have been bridged, Harry finally sees his home, boarded up, a Historic Registrar plaque on the gate. Harry climbs over and tries the door, but it is locked. He rips and hammers at the lock, but has no luck in opening the door. Desperately, Harry screams and begins to pound with his fist, and deep, verdant light seems to pour from the cracks in the walls and the door and the windows, from the very foundations, and still Harry bellows at the top of his lungs, "Let Me Back In!"

2011 Temporary Residence Limited
1. Last Known Surroundings 8:22
2. Human Qualities 8:10
3. Trembling Hands 3:31
4. Be Comfortable, Creature 8:48
5. Postcard from 1952 7:07
6. Let Me Back In 10:07

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Explosions in the Sky -- All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

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10/10

When it comes down to it, Explosions in the Sky's music is simply the rhythms of life. That sentence was stupid. At some point, I decided it would make a great opening for this review. It doesn't look as good on the screen as it did in my brain. Back to the drawing board.
Explosions in the Sky's third full length, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, is really, really good. Like all Explosions in the Sky albums, it is a world unto itself, an emotional instrumental narrative unique from the band's library, yet easily identifiable as a member of their catalog. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone reminds me of the emotions I feel when things are looking dire to the point of death, and suddenly God or friends or something I should have seen coming comes through and saves me, but when it's all over, the consequences must be met. That was probably too personal and introspective, but Explosions in the Sky's music is written to catalyze such imaginings amongst its listeners.
Or maybe not. I've never asked them, so I could be wrong. This album will mean a million different things to a million different people, and that's yet another reason it is awesome. I do think the Katrina-esque cover artwork certainly symbolizes the feelings of grief and loss embodied in some of this music, but I think the excellent artwork inside the booklet (get a physical copy, you non-troglodytes!), which showcases more mundane images of everyday life, along with its own corresponding music, acts as a counter. Siblings watching television at night with the lights out, friends playing basketball at sunset, a woman bent intently over a piano, a couple embracing in a late night swimming pool, a dog running back to its master with a flashlight in its mouth, and a lonely, cigarette-smoking man sitting at a lit birthday cake, sad, yet looking off toward the future, symbolize what gets us (us = non-sociopathic humans) through the moments symbolized by the flooded landscape of the album cover. The frightening opening four minutes of the emotional juggernaut (and well-titled) "It's Natural to Be Afraid" can easily be represented by the lamp searching through the water. The lumbering, comforting groove at 6:25 into the same song can represent the things we've been searching, hoping, and praying for, even if we didn't realize it, coming to the rescue. The dog running with the flashlight. Your brother watching re-runs of Salute Your Shorts with you. An unnaturally beautiful sunset. Playing Chopin with all the damn lights out.

But just because you are saved doesn't mean you don't have to deal with what just happened, and the latter half of the album expresses this beautifully, incorporating piano as a lead instrument in a way Explosions in the Sky never have before. It's an invigorating experience from start to finish, optimism fading to fear, fear fading to relief, relief fading to grief, grief fading to optimism. Yeah, the rhythms of life. That would make a great opening sentence.

2007 Temporary Residence Limited
1. The Birth and Death of the Day 7:49
2. Welcome, Ghosts 5:43
3. It's Natural to Be Afraid 13:27
4. What Do You Go Home To? 4:59
5. Catastrophe and the Cure 7:56
6. So Long, Lonesome 3:40

Monday, December 10, 2012

Explosions in the Sky -- The Rescue

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9/10

Explosions in the Sky improvised one song a day for eight days to record The Rescue EP for Temporary Residence Limited's "Travels in Constants" series. The band took their middle-of-nowhere van-breakdown imposed experience of living in a stranger's attic for eight days as inspiration for the EP. Because of these factors,  The Rescue is more loose and and free than anything Explosions in the Sky have ever done. It differs greatly from their usually meticulous, methodical approach, and it acts as the wild card in their discography. It is also a pleasure to hear.
The Rescue contains a unique, wintery, holiday feeling. Explosions in the Sky experiment with plenty of bells, alternative percussion, piano, acoustic guitar, and even vocals and spoken word (telling the story of their breakdown), while keeping just enough of their original electric guitar sound to ground the music in a familiar place. The result is a warm, comforting album, a healing balm for damaged ears, and another feather in Explosions in the Sky's cap. Though I not sure who wears caps with feathers in them these days. That would look kind of silly.
This EP can be downloaded for free from the band HERE.
Here is The Rescue's most wistful track, "Day Seven."


2005 Temporary Residence Limited
1. Day One 4:32
2. Day Two 3:47
3. Day Three 4:34
4 .Day Four 3:00
5. Day Five 4:35
6. Day Six 5:22
7. Day Seven 4:23
8. Day Eight 2:35

Friday, December 07, 2012

Explosions in the Sky -- The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place

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10/10

There's no use getting pretentious about this one. Explosions in the Sky's The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place has been woven into the fabric of our society. You've heard it in movies, TV shows, commercials, it's been ripped off countless times by a thousand other bands (including mine), and yet it still hasn't gotten old. An instrumental representation of waking up, feeling optimistic, feeling a lot of joy, feeling some uncertainty, feeling some pain, falling down, getting up again, hoping. It's the music of life. Often imitated, never duplicated, sneakily the rock instrumental album of its decade.** Also, one of the few albums to actually prove its title.

**Sneakily because everyone said, "Oh, this is good, but not as good as _____," but this is still relevant, and a lot of that other stuff isn't. I'm included in the everyone, but not everyone is.**

2003 Temporary Residence Limited
1. First Breath After Coma 9:33
2. The Only Moment We Were Alone 10:14
3. Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean 8:43
4. Memorial 8:50
5. Your Hand in Mine 8:16

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Explosions in the Sky -- Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever

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8/10

Before I post these five reviews, I need to say something about Explosions in the Sky.
Explosions in the Sky are generally considered by the music scene to be decent, described often with the unfair adjective "twinkly." They are regarded as a good populist, post-rock band (What the heck does that mean? Can't it just be rock? What is going to come after post-rock? Post post-rock?) that aren't artistically deep, while bands like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor are regarded as the artistic front-runners of the genre. Let me tell you this: Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor are great bands with some great albums. Explosions in the Sky are easily on the same level as those two bands.
Explosions receive less artistic attention for two reasons: they aren't weird, and they are accessible. When you think of Explosions in the Sky, you can easily picture the members tossing around a football or shooting some hoops...the fact that they've scored a film about high school football, and been photographed on a basketball court helps my assertion.** Their music is easily associated with the emotions of everyday life, sometimes powerfully so. It is absolutely impossible to not only imagine the members of Sigur Rós or Godspeed You Black Emperor throwing any type of ball correctly and accurately, but to actually see them living a life anything equitable to the ones you and I lead. Sigur Rós can be pictured staring at a glacier from a sheer cliff-side with melancholy expressions or dancing through a field of wildflowers and giggling, and Godspeed can easily be imagined protesting something or other and not taking showers. That's not to say that one can't laminate the emotions of these two bands' music over one's own life. I've done it many times. But these bands can also have a flighty, alienating quality that halts consistent connection. Sigur Rós 1999-2005 period of music-making is awe-inspiring. But when they got bored with their work and turned to acoustic, and then ambient music, they tossed their most powerful qualities away. Likewise, Godspeed going down a rabbit-hole of drone--it serves the artist's purpose, yet neglects the idea that the listener is a part of the work. Meanwhile, the first decade of Explosions in the Sky's career has been incredibly consistent. They haven't made the same album twice, and they've gotten better with each release, but they've never alienated or elevated themselves above the listener. On top of that, they aren't afraid to experiment, but they do it to serve the song, not just to be different or strange. Those who equate weirdness and an impenetrable nature with artistic integrity are missing the point, and while music snobs have been doing that, Explosions in the Sky have been absolutely mastering the instrumental album as literature. Their albums are fully-developed narratives without words, and each one is better than the last. I don't know what more one could want.
Explosions in the Sky began humbly enough, though. Their debut album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever is an excellent listen, but obviously the work of a band still searching for an identity. Because of this, the album is more metaphysical and less cohesive than Explosions in the Sky's following work. The artwork showcases an apocalyptic battle turned by an angel, one side of the album is called "Die" and the other "Live Forever," and John Steinbeck's novel of war and resistance "The Moon Is Down" is name-checked in the title of the album's best track.

All of this doesn't quite come together thematically with the music with the skill that the band's later work does. There are also a few short stretches that are a little uninteresting, but overall, this is still the kind of album one can throw on any time. The spiritual energy that runs throughout all of Explosions in the Sky's work is already flowing here, and the crescendos are just about as good as anyone's. It's hard to believe they are just getting started.

**I realize Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor come from Iceland and Canada, respectively, and those nations play and put a different emphasis on sports than we do in America. So should Explosions in the Sky be punished because they are distinctly American? NO! Also, I don't want to make the connection that a dislike for sports makes one a bad American, simply that football, basketball, and baseball are tied inextricably to our recent national identity. **

2001Temporary Residence Limited
1. Greet Death 7:19
2. Yasmin the Light 7:03
3. The Moon Is Down 10:02
4. Have You Passed Through This Night? 7:19
5. A Poor Man's Memory 6:04
6. With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept 12:04

This Is Amazing


The music, the dance performance, the special effects, the staging. Good grief, things are pretty.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Embodyment -- Forgotten

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9/10

After Embodyment's 2004 disbandment, rumors cropped up on the ole Internet that Embodyment had been smack in the middle of recording a new album. A slow trickle of songs rolled out, and sadly, they were all really, really great. Seven years later, those songs have been officially compounded into Embodyment's final release, the Forgotten EP.
This music will not be forgotten by anyone who hears it. This album, if completed, would have undoubtedly been Embodyment's finest. As it is, the five surviving songs perfectly blend the hooky goodness of Songs for the Living with the bite of Hold Your Breath. The result is something altogether better than what was found on those two albums. Embodyment could have been a rock band for the ages. Instead, they will be one their fans fondly remember, a band who ran out of time on the way to fulfilling their limitless potential. But hey, all five band members are still alive. A breakup of a band isn't death. Let's do this again, guys!
This EP can be purchased digitally here. Click below to hear the standout track, "Hindsight."


2011 SFC, Inc
1. Spilling Over 3:50
2. Breaking News 4:01
3. And Then Some 3:59
4. The Answer 3:42
5. Hindsight 4:31

Monday, December 03, 2012

Embodyment -- Songs for the Living

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8/10

And the transformation is complete. What was a a death/grind metal band three years ago is now playing polished radio-rock. Thankfully, the songs are good, and the band playing them is still talented. Nevertheless, this is a far more extreme change than the Beatles going from girl-pop to bong-pop. We're talking, over the course of three albums in the same amount of years, going from ear-shredding screams and bludgeoning music, to an album your mom, albeit, your cool mom, can enjoy in her soccermobile. That doesn't make Songs for the Living bad, though. Embodyment can play this style of music almost as well as the heavy stuff of their past. And in the realm of rock music, it's not like this is soft. It's still rock music, and there are even some Southern undertones (the band is from Texas) to keep things charmingly interesting.

And hey, despite being relatively obscure, Songs for the Living must have been fairly influential, since later (less-deserving, in my opinion) bands like The Killers' ripped Embodyment's songs off wholesale. Hey, I'm not being a jerk, listen for yourself:

Sure sounds an awful lot like Embodyment's "White Flag," released four years earlier.

Either that, or that riff just reverberated through time. Let's be nice and just say it's the second one.

2002 XSRecords
1. Reaching Out 4:07
2. She's There 4:00
3. Golden Rule 3:41
4. Time 3:21
5. Who's to Blame 4:24
6. Don't Go 3:45
7. Segue Station 3:09
8. It's Alright t 3:49
9. White Flag 4:37
10. Jaywalk 3:40

A Few Slight Changes to The Nicsperiment

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This blog has really become a happy place for me over the last two years. It's a place where I can unwind my mind and dedicate a little time to the things I enjoy. I've also unexpectedly enjoyed traffic nearly as high as the first year I ran this blog, which began eight years ago this month. Back then, I did not filter at all, had nothing to protect, and had more fire than wisdom. As a consequence, I was willing to not only display opinions I should have kept private, but to intensely argue those opinions. In eight years, things have changed. I have more concretely formed opinions, and a lot to protect. On top of that, I have few venues of relaxation. Why would I want to poison one of them with dissent?
For that reason, I am eliminating a small handful of posts that can bring dissent into my life. If I'm going to argue with people, I'd rather it be about music, which is actually fun. Don't worry, though, out of 600 Nicsperiment posts strewn across a near decade, I've removed less than ten. The narrative of the blog stays the same. And that's enough about that.
Back to reviewing a great band...