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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TIme For Some Wussy Music

It's the end of the day, and I feel exhausted and defeated. That means it's time for some extremely wussy music.
Have a good one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Godspeed You! Black Emperor -- Yanqui U.X.O.

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Twenty-plus minute long songs can easily become pretentious. The fact that Godspeed largely avoided that on their first three albums is a minor miracle. Somehow, through winding musical passages and pre-recorded, found speeches, everything just worked. This isn't the case for 2002's Yanqui U.X.O. For this album, the band cut out all pre-recorded speeches and samples and just stuck to music. This proves to be a pretty serious mistake. The rambling speakers Godspeed was known for marked changes in passages and mood, landmarks in the vast expanses of their musical landscape. Without them, Yanqui U.X.O. feels aimless. Producer, Steve Albini, allows the band far too much room to meander, pluck one guitar note a million times, and generally waste many minutes doing nothing. Brevity is a virtue when your album clocks in at 75 minutes. Repetition is not.
To harp on a point, in the spirit of this very album, Albini might be Yanqui U.X.O.'s problem. He doesn't rein Godspeed in at all, and his raw recording techniques do little to benefit Godspeed's sound. This is a band with two drummers, but any time the drums go momentarily silent in the middle of an intense Yanqui U.X.O. moment, it's because the drummers are doing rolls on their tom-toms, and Albini didn't capture the sound well enough.
Yanqui U.X.O. has its moments, though. The strongest is "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls," perhaps the album's most focused song. "Rockets Fall..." sounds like it could soundtrack footage to the War in the Pacific. It starts with a huge build before suddenly shifting into a surprising, 50's-style cinematic horn part, dropping into a musical Bataan Death March, picking up the horns again, and then slowly building into one of Godspeed's classic victorious jams. It's one of the only surprising tracks on the album, the only one that flies by despite its length, and easily the most satisfying. If the rest of Yanqui U.X.O. was this focused, we'd be talking about another classic here. As it is, Yanqui U.X.O. has the distinction of being the album that pushed the band into a ten-year hiatus. That hiatus ended last year, but I'm sad to say, I won't be posting a review of  2012's 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!. Godspeed You! Black Emperor's live show last year turned me off to the band so badly, I haven't been able to work up the nerve to check it out. Should I?

2002 Constellation
1. 09-15-00 16:27
2. 09-15-00 (cont.) 6:17
3. Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls 20:42
4. Motherfucker=Redeemer 21:22
5. Motherfucker=Redeemer (cont.) 10:10

Friday, April 26, 2013

Godspeed You! Black Emperor -- Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

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When I finished the first disc of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, I was dismayed to hear the exact same music on the second disc. Knowing Godspeed was eccentric, to say the least, I immediately worried that this was some kind of artistic statement on consumerism. Buy a double album, get the same album twice. I consulted Amazon and discovered that the tracks on the second disc had different run times than the ones on disc two. Now confident in not looking stupid, I sent the album back to Amazon and received a new one. This time, I didn't have two disc ones. I had discs one AND two. Thank goodness, because disc two features one of my favorite songs of all time, but we'll get to that.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor expand their formula on Lift Your Skinny Fists... They still make slowly-building, instrumental, string and horn-laden rock music, interspersed with voice samples and found sounds. What sets Lift Your Skinny Fists... apart is how it takes a page from its predecessor in the band's catalog, Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada, and transforms it into a bigger, better story. Slow Riot... features thirty minutes of well-written music that flows together wonderfully. Lift Your Skinny Fists...somehow improves on the already perfect songwriting of its predecessor, and stretches the whole thing out to 80-plus minutes of music. The 80-minutes fly by as Godspeed explore just about every emotion a human is capable of feeling. Sadness, anger, fear, happiness, joy, they're all here, and they all flow together as naturally as any album that's been put together by anyone.
If there's a highlight that somehow sets itself above the rest, it's disc two's "Sleep."

"Sleep" begins in a bleak place and grows so desperate, it seems the track will collapse under its own weight. That's when the band begin their unstoppable train of victory that somehow tops itself again and again in loftier and loftier fashion, until the listener feels like they could beat beat a swarm of lions in a fistfight, despite being a double amputee. Befitting an album of its stature, Lift Your Skinny Fists... does such a great job of earning "Sleep"'s final ten minutes, the song never feels over the top. In the last decade, few songs have inspired me like this one. "Sleep" is an incredible achievement.
The best part about "Sleep," though, is that it is not the album's final track. "Antennas to Heaven" closes things out in such an incomprehensibly ethereal place, it's hard to listen to anything else afterward and not feel sorry for the incompetence of the composer. They are never going to make anything like this. For that matter, neither will the current incarnation of Godspeed. That's okay. One 87-minute masterpiece ought to do it.

2000 Constellation/Kranky
Disc 1
1. Storm 22:32
2. Static 22:35

Disc 2
1. Sleep 23:17
2. Antennas to Heaven 18:57

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Godspeed You! Black Emperor -- Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada

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If I was gonna complain about Godspeed You! Black Emperor's debut album, F# A# Infinity, I'd say it is more of a bunch of sound collages than actual songs, and it is probably a little bit too long. Except, I wouldn't complain about that because I just did complain about it, just now. Isn't the English language confusing? Anyway, though F# A# Infinity is a very good album, it is more sound collage than songs, and it does go on just a bit too long. Its followup, Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada, remedies both issues. Both tracks are actually well-written songs, and the whole thing clocks in at right under thirty minutes. On Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada, Godspeed absolutely perfect the quiet to loud dynamics they became famous for. "Moya" is just a straight-ahead, perfectly written example of a winding, building instrumental song. It starts off creating a mood, builds on that mood, then explodes that mood. It could be the example in the textbook of instrumental rock. "BBF3," on the other hand, takes the formula to a whole new level, and no one has topped it since. "BBF3" weaves the recording of an obviously unhinged man throughout its near 18-minute runtime, and somehow makes him inspiring. Between the moments the man speaks, the band build up a monster of a song, deliver a wonderful payoff, and end with a gorgeous string-led epilogue. This EP/Album/Whatever is an astounding statement, one countless bands have tried to ripoff since. Unfortunately for those bands, Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada exists in a place outside of space and time. Its timeless awesomeness continues.

1999 Constellation/Kranky Records
1. Moya 10:51
2. BBF3 17:45

Monday, April 22, 2013

How In the World Did I Not Know About Epic Rap Battles???!!!....?

These things are awesome!

Godspeed You! Black Emperor -- F# A# Infinity

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Considering how badly I dissed Godspeed You! Black Emperor last year, readers might be surprised to hear that they were once one of my favorite bands. These reviews are a great chance to revisit and reevaluate my past, so let's take a look at Godspeed's back-catalog to see if it holds up today.
I originally got into Godspeed because I liked Sigur Rós, and Amazon thought Godspeed would be a good match for me. Back then, there weren't many bands that sounded like the two (i.e., "post-rock" bands who recorded ten-minute rock symphonies), and recommendations were few and far between. Mogwai was the only other point of reference, and I found Mogwai to be insufferably boring. Godspeed it was.
To my early 20's ears, F # A# Infinity, Godspeed's debut, sounded beautiful, bleak, terrifying, and hopeful. Later in life (2005, to be exact), I had quite a horrific out of body experience to the final two minutes of the track, "East Hastings." Lost had just finished its first season on ABC. At the same time, I had just gone through a traumatic personal experience (and here's a post from the day that experience occurred, which eventually combined with other life factors to get me to this particular place). Anyway, anyone who's watched Lost remembers this scene.

Well, maybe you don't remember it exactly like that, but the original scene scared the crap out of me. I felt lost at sea in life, and the idea that mysterious, malicious strangers were cruising around in the middle of the night, looking to hurt me, freaked me out. Same with the freaky radio signals on the show, coming from God knows where. I mean, my grip on reality was tenuous at best during this period, and I was mainly awake at night, paranoid, losing it. One night I popped on "East Hastings," and the ominous, repeating, found-voice announcement on "East Hastings," "There was a large barge with an antenna on top of it that they would charge up and discharge," gave me chills and set off an anxiety attack. The sudden, terrifying, electronic noises at the end of the song (the antenna going off), and the sound of a mosquito buzzing around the orbit of one's brain, took over my body, and I blacked out into a waking nightmare, a sleep paralysis event that definitely ranks among the worst I've had. Later, I tried to duplicate the experience for someone, and I scared them so badly they were begging me to stop and pretty much crying long before I was done.
FAR removed from those events, that part of the song is still freaky, and sorry I just talked about myself for this whole review. Back to the actual album...
Throughout this mix of instrumental, quiet to loud rock, strings and horns, found sounds and voices, and electronic and analog tomfoolery, a lot of hope breaks through, too, though. That's what made this band and makes this album so enticing. It's about as dark as possible at moments, but it also features plenty of hopeful, uplifting moments that counter the bleakness. Hope in the face of overwhelming odds is pretty much the greatest thing ever, so this album still rules by that count. Shortly after my terror experience, I finally got over F# A# Infinity's fear elements and latched onto that hope, and I can still hear it clear as day today. Wish that hope would have made it into their live show...
Hey, let's talk about scary crap one more time, though. Danny Boyle actually cut 28 Days Later to this album. Here's "East Hastings" in its entirety, the ending (which triggered my terror event) of which is described by one Youtube user as, "16:40 this is the creepiest shit ever...this song just keeps going further and further down the circles of hell..." Indeed, Youtube user. Indeed.

1997 Constellation/Kranky
1. The Dead Flag Blues 16:27
2. East Hastings 17:58
3. Providence 29:02

Friday, April 19, 2013

Favorite Scenes From Movies I'll Never Watch Again

There are some movies you watch once and know you are never, ever going to watch them again. The most common reason is because the given movie sucked. Why would you want to watch something terrible twice? Then there are boring, vanilla movies that aren't awful, but give you no reason to ever even want to think about them again.
There are two other kinds of movies I'll put in this category. The first is the great film that is just too difficult to watch twice. After the post I wrote about Once, which I would easily watch again, I started thinking about Mysterious Skin. Mysterious Skin is one of the greatest, most moving films I've ever seen. I will never, ever watch Mysterious Skin again. Sexual abuse is key to the film's plot, and as much as I appreciate what the film says about human resilience and the way we deal with pain, I don't want to ever relive some of the things I saw and heard in that film. With that said, I could watch the final  minute on loop for hours. It's one of the most incredibly honest, heart-wrenchingly beautiful things I've ever seen, and it somehow makes me feel more human.

It also helps that Mysterious Skin got a musical license from Sigur Rós, when such a thing was rare.
The second type of film I want to talk about is the decent film with one standout scene. Black Snake Moan immediately comes to mind. Black Snake Moan is a bit ridiculous, but its themes of morality and preserving oneself from darkness are pretty resonant. Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci play two severely damaged people, and this scene where they huddle together from the darkness is literally electrifying. It's worth at least one viewing of the film, though after that, I can now just watch this scene a million times on Youtube.

Actually, I feel like I just posted the same scene twice. Oh well, good night.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová -- Once: Music From the Motion Picture

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The duo in Once are the rare movie musical characters who actually have a reason to be singing. They are musicians working together with little more common tongue than song. Their songs and Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's chemistry carry the simple premise of the film. It's quite enjoyable, both in its cinematic form, and on this soundtrack, which I don't think misses a note from the film. Folk music usually isn't anything close to my style, but these two musicians are incredibly talented, and Hansard has a voice for the ages. This is good stuff.
Once comes from the period that launched that fun time in my life I was raving about a few reviews back. Back then, my wife and I went on a true tear of movie-watching excellence that included this film as well as Mysterious Skin (the kind of movie you only watch once), After the Wedding, The Lives of Others, Eagle vs Shark (one of the weirdest, funniest movies I've ever seen), as well as many others.

This scene marks the moment in Once where my wife looked over at me and said, "I love this movie." It believe it occurs 30 seconds into the film. I ended up having to purchase this soundtrack for her twice. I recommend the Collector's Edition, as the two additional Van Morrison covers it includes are quite good.
Fast forwarding six years, we recently watched The Swell Season, a documentary on Hansard and Irglová's current musical act of the same name. It's a great look into their relationship, as well as a meditation on the effect of Once on the duo's lives. If you're a fan, check it out.

2007 Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax
1. Falling Slowly 4:04
2. If You Want Me 3:48
3. Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy 0:53
4. When Your Mind's Made Up 3:41
5. Lies 3:59
6. Gold 3:59
7. The Hill 4:35
8. Fallen from the Sky 3:25
9. Leave 2:46
10. Trying to Pull Myself Away 3:36
11. All the Way Down 2:39
12. Once 3:39
13. Say It to Me Now 2:35
14. And the Healing Has Begun" (Van Morrison, Collector's Edition Only) 5:19
15. Into the Mystic" (Van Morrison, Collector's Edition Only) 4:21

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Gaslight Anthem -- Handwritten

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The Gaslight Anthem's Handwritten is a statement of purpose: We're a throwback rock band. We make verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus rock music heavily indebted to the past. This is what we do. This is all we're going to do.
Over Handwritten's eleven tracks, The Gaslight Anthem do this and do it well. Producer, Brendan O'Brien, brings a fuller sound to Handwritten than The Gaslight Anthem's previous work features, but nothing else is new. Brian Fallon still writes effectively heartfelt, but at times over the top lyrics.  His crew don't just write down what they're feeling, they "only write by the moon." The Gaslight Anthem still rock a high energy sound, heavily indebted to the 50's and 60's. They still write some very satisfying songs, recorded now better than ever. I'm still buying.
Handwritten is just as good as it is stubborn, and in an age where everyone is striving to be "relevant," that's as good a quality to have as any.

2012 Mercury
1. 45 3:23
2. Handwritten 3:58
3. Here Comes My Man 3:35
4. Mulholland Drive 3:53
5. Keepsake 4:02
6. Too Much Blood 5:07
7. Howl 2:04
8. Biloxi Parish 3:46
9. Desire 3:15
10. Mae 4:07
11. National Anthem 3:40

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Gaslight Anthem -- American Slang

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The Gaslight Anthem are back with, American Slang, an album that streamlines most of the band's usual punk influence out of the proceedings. What's left is good, old-fashioned, American rock music. Brian Fallon also cuts out the song quotes and Dickens references from his lyrics, getting more personal and crafting personalities for each song. Turns out Fallon is kind of a cheesy guy, but you have to be to be this enthusiastic about the songs you are writing, and his earnestness keeps the album going. Though American Slang doesn't have the energy of its predecessor, it still packs a gritty wallop, and some of the band's best work to date throughout its ten tracks. A favorite of mine is "The Diamond Church Street Choir." I'm not quite sure what Fallon is talking about, singing the blues better than anyone else or something, but the song is an instant classic.

It's pretty tough to hear Fallon's voice in this song and believe it comes from someone who was born during the Reagan administration. The past is The Gaslight Anthem's gift to the world.

2010 SideOneDummy
1. American Slang 3:41
2. Stay Lucky 3:09
3. Bring It On 3:27
4. The Diamond Church Street Choir 3:12
5. The Queen of Lower Chelsea 3:39
6. Orphans 3:23
7. Boxer 2:47
8. Old Haunts 3:30
9. The Spirit of Jazz 3:13
10. We Did It When We Were Young 4:16

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Gaslight Anthem -- The '59 Sound

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The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound is a great example of an album that thrusts its band to the spotlight with nothing but pure, enthusiastic energy. The '59 Sound's blend of punk and '50's sensibility isn't anything new, and Brian Fallon's mishmash lyrics (a patchwork of original lyrics, lyrics to other people's songs, and Springsteen tropes) are just as much a con as a pro, but the band is so fired-up and fresh-faced that The '59 Sound is completely irresistible.

2008 SideOneDummy
1. Great Expectations 3:05
2. The '59 Sound 3:09
3. Old White Lincoln 3:23
4. High Lonesome 3:05
5. Film Noir 3:29
6. Miles Davis & The Cool 4:11
7. The Patient Ferris Wheel 3:34
8. Casanova, Baby! 2:57
9. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues 3:30
10. Meet Me by the River's Edge 3:19
11. Here's Looking at You, Kid 3:36
12. The Backseat 4:14

Monday, April 08, 2013

So Much For F

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Well that's it, "F" is done. I said it would be weird, and it was weird. "G" should be nearly as strange, and even more sporadically updated, but at some speed, it will...probably happen. I enjoyed listening to all the "F" releases that have been on the fringe of my music collection, and then being reminded of why. Enjoyed because I got to prove my own instincts correct against my own tastes, or some other confusing self-absorbed thing like that that doesn't have to do with anything that's ever gonna mean anything.
I don't know, here's a picture of someone milking a donkey.
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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Furthermore -- She and I

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Furthermore return with an album that is at once different from and the same as their debut. Let's start with the new things She and I brings to the table. Musically, Furthermore still pump out old hip-hop beats under a fusion of samples, keyboards, and other live instrumental backing. The group is a duo now, led by the rapping of Daniel Fischer and the singing of Pepe "Lee" Chang. The first 3/4 of She and I mostly follow the theme of the title, exploring romantic relationships in often difficult depth. There's also Furthermore's major contribution to the canon of great songs, "Letter to Myself," which should have launched the band into the stratosphere.

"Letter to Myself" is part of a thread of self-exploration weaved throughout the quilt of romantic relationship dialogue of the first eight songs. Yuck, a quilt metaphor. What is this blog coming to? A quilt isn't fun. Despite the fact that, in the decade since this album has been released, I have found most of Daniel Fischer's difficult statements found in these first eight songs to be true, the songs are still very fun to listen to. There's a comfort to them, even in the fight of album centerpiece, "We Need to Talk," which finds Fischer arguing with himself as someone else. It's a crazy song, and it's this type of ambition that sets She and I apart. The album doesn't stick to these themes, though, as the latter songs feature wackier musings, references to the work of Walter Wangerin, Jr., and a sublime, Pepe-only REM cover that actually ties everything together quite well. These songs aren't bad, and truthfully, their vibe reminds me of the mid-90's network television post-1 am commercials I'd listen to on my handheld TV as I'd stare at the ceiling with the lights on, sleep nowhere in sight, yet soon to come. If that makes no sense and is too oddly specific, sorry, but that's the best I've got. At least it's better than a quilt metaphor.
Anyway, while not entirely cohesive, She and I is a highly enjoyable album with some great songs, some fun songs, and some really thought-provoking and difficult lyrics about the darker elements in relationships and personal happiness most of us would rather not think about. This run-on sentence was brought to you by The Miracle Blade III

And while I'm hawking stuff, check out Daniel Fischer's new project, Dani Lion, because it's awesome.

2003 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Deliriously Cold 2:56
2. Thanks for Nothing 4:05
3. Letter to Myself 3:27
4. Twice 3:40
5. Going Somewhere Fast 4:14
6. Eighty-Two 4:14
7. We Need to Talk 4:38
8. She and I 4:16
9. Nothing 4:13
10. Mundo Cani 3:55
11. So Happy, It's Scary 3:23
12. Fall on Me Furthermore 3:12

Monday, April 01, 2013

Furthermore -- Fluorescent Jellyfish

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Rap is just like any other genre. Most of the popular stuff sucks, and you have to really dig for whatever fits your tastes. During one of my last trips to the fabled Paradise Records, I picked up an excellent Tooth & Nail compilation titled Songs From the Penalty Box 4. This collection was loaded with songs from many albums that became favorites of mine. The diversity on that particular record label at that time was ridiculous, from rock, ska, punk, rockabilly, shoegaze, glam rock, to hardcore. You name it, turn of the century Tooth & Nail had just about everything, even rap, as Songs From the Penalty Box 4 attests. It's penultimate track is "Are You the Walrus" by a trio called Furthermore. I was shocked by its presence on the first listen, but I almost immediately came to love this song. How could you not love this song?

It provides just what I'd want from any music--smart, in this case, funny, lyrics, and enjoyable music. Unless you don't like to have any fun, ever, this song and its video are awesome. The album from which it is taken, Furthermore's debut, Fluorescent Jellyfish, features more of the same. Old school hip-hop beats, varied music, and clever, often introspective, sometimes funny lyrics. Daniel Fischer's rapping and Pepe "Lee" Chang's singing might be an acquired taste for some folks, but I love both. Fischer's musings about life, ghosts, and Marvel super heroes just get better with repeat listens.
If you usually hate hip-hop but wish you could at least say, "well, I do like ____," you can fill that empty line with Furthermore.

1999 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Flourescent Jellyfish 3:30
2. Best Of 3:17
3. Daydreaming 3:34
4. Are You the Walrus? 3:31
5. Moment of Her Time 3:13
6. Another Dimension 3:29
7. Figuratively Speaking 3:00
8. Being a Ghost Isn't That Great 2:54
9. Youth of Today 3:14
10. Melted Vinyl 3:48