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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jars of Clay -- Jars of Clay

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Jars of Clay's self-titled album is one of the most beloved, hyped debut's of the last twenty years. As good as it is, the band have probably released a couple of albums in the last two decades that are better. That doesn't diminish the magic of Jars of Clay, though. In lieu of writing a normal old review or retrospective, how about I just do a song by song breakdown, isolating the magical moments in each? No? Well, I'm gonna do it anyway. Sonic has Pretzel Dogs now, so pop out and grab one of those and come back when I'm finished.
1. Liquid: The urgency of the opening strings and acoustic guitar really set the tone for this album. Then those Gregorian chants hint. Overall, there is maybe ten seconds of Gregorian chanting on this song, but it automatically gives Jars of Clay an epic frame. Acoustic rock isn't really a genre that's been fleshed out this way before. Also, the subliminal aggression of the bass line in the verses means the intensity never bleeds out of the song for a second.
2. Sinking:Here's where the beauty of the album is really simple, yet again subliminal: The background sound of bugs calling throughout the song brings to mind the charm of a warm, Southern night, though many listeners may not even notice. The fiddle-ish violin does the same, while the reverb of the harmonies calls to mind a bit of a medieval feeling. It's down home and ancient at the same time.
3. Love Song for a Savior: The flute (actually a recorder) after the choruses, coupled with a generous amount of mandolin, add a Celtic feeling to the whimsical country mood, but the drum loops (used for much of the album) and really, the sentiments, are modern.
4. Like a Child The violin and recorder again give a Celtic tone, while retaining the album's country (as in "out in the country," not country as a genre) flavor. This rural, Southern feeling, melded with a modern edge, never leaves throughout the entirety of the album.:
5. Art in Me:There's some kind of 90's coffee-house vibe underneath this song that blends perfectly with the rest of Jars of Clay. The earnestness of this song brings out the earnestness in the rest of the album. Actually, only a young band could be this earnest, and anyone looking for that in later albums, even the ones that are probably better than this one, aren't going to find it.
6. He:The more depressed tone of this song brings a sort of balance to the album. Life can't all be happily running through fields. Sometimes life is incredibly painful. I think, while this isn't the strongest track on the album, it's the cornerstone that holds the whole thing together.
7. Boy on a String:This song also contains a pretty major 90's vibe. The quick tempo and the, by this point, magical strings, add a lot to the song, but I'll tell you the secret mojo of this song. It's Stephen Mason's backup vocal of the line "Crowds will go away," that sounds like it is coming from the deck of a passing Dartmouth University Boys Club yacht.
8. Flood: Their biggest hit by far. The urgency of the song is a big reason, as well as the chord progression. Acoustic guitars rarely sound this dangerous. What makes the song, in my opinion, is the sudden drop into the Gothic string chamber of the bridge. It's beautiful and puts the song, which really does evoke its title, into slow-motion. The radio-single version that was missing the bridge was severely lacking.
9. Worlds Apart:Well, where to start. How about how this is the best song Peter Gabriel never wrote. How about the rustling wind-chimes that begin the song, which could be superfluous, but actually serve to announce an oncoming emotional storm in a way that again matches the rural tone of the album. How about that Gabriel-esque drum pattern, so slow and deep and heavy. Speaking of Gabriel, how about the low, intense, steady cadence Dan Haseltine uses throughout the sing. How about the female vocals that come out of nowhere, but feel like they've been there throughout the album. How about the intensity of that ad-libbed bridge (reportedly, Dan Haseltine broke into tears during its recording) with the building tom-tom hits that would catch Peter Gabriel's ear, even in a crowded, buzzing subway. How about I just said Peter Gabriel's name four times, yet this song still manages to hold on to the same tone and flavor as the rest of Jars of Clay.

10. Blind:Since the strings have been the secret star of the album, how fitting to let them carry Jars of Clay away. "Blind" gives the feeling of a camera panning through dusty barns on an August evening, over hillsides, and into the forest. Then there's that secret track that only serves to build anticipation for the next release. And then afterward there's the hidden twenty minutes of the string section rehearsing "Blind" as a gift to all the nerds who have been gushing about the string section for the last forty-five minutes.

1995 Essential
1. Liquid 3:31
2. Sinking 3:47
3. Love Song for a Savior 4:46
4. Like a Child 4:35
5. Art in Me 3:58
6. He 5:19
7. Boy on a String 3:31
8. Flood 3:31
9. Worlds Apart 5:18
10. Blind 27:16

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Nicsperiment Changes Its Song. Also, The Nicsperiment Hates the expression, "Changes Its Song."

I have run out of room. My CD shelf is crammed far past overloaded, and my car looks like an FYE bargain bin. I literally have nowhere left to put new, physical copies of music. This means, if I am going to continue to purchase music, I have to pretty much disregard that four years ago, I wrote this. Lame.
Life is conspiring against me. I have had no time to write any reviews over the past few weeks. I don't see much time opening in the future. I don't think I'll discount The Nicsperiment's future again, though. I did that once, and that was stupid. I'm still going to blog and I'm still going to review stuff. I already have thirty reviews completed and saved as drafts. In recent years, I've had enough time to stockpile them. Though my course load will only be increasing over the next three years, I intend to keep the "Every Album I Own" series alive. I can't leave it uncompleted. My drafts ended in the middle of John Williams'oeuvre, and I really want to throw my Chemistry textbook on the floor and get to them. At some point, I will. I'll probably start leaking out more reviews over the next few weeks, too. Also, I registered some new blogger domains to do some classic video game reviews because I don't feel like I am alive unless I am biting off more than I can chew. I'll get it all down someday, though. Also, I'll still bunny-trail. All that to get back to my original topic.
I have a personal rule that if I stream a band's album at least four times, I owe it to them to purchase it. Otherwise, I feel like a thief. I have really been enjoying Bear's Noumenon over the last few weeks. It is a really aggressive album, and in a year where I've probably skewed far softer in my musical tastes than usual, I could really use something heavy. I could just buy the MP3 album off Amazon for $8.99
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BUT LOOK AT THAT ARTWORK! It looks so cool! I want to actually hold it in my hands. Holding my monitor just feels weird, and the heat it gives off makes me feel like my hand is going to grow extra fingers. I want a physical copy of this. After shipping, though, a physical copy costs almost twice as much as the MP3. If I buy it, where will I put it? This is far less important than, how am I going to parent my child correctly, how will I make sure my wife knows that she is loved, how will my family get its next meal, how will we keep a roof over our head, how will I pass my next Physics test, and what kind of life do I really want to live, but IT'S STILL BUGGING ME!!!

ADDENDUM: I have made my decision. After viewing the full packaging for this, I have no choice. I must buy a physical copy. Three days til payday. I'll hang it from the ceiling or something.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Finally Figured Out What Song We've Been Playing At Football Games

LSU has been playing this song during every kickoff and...
Of course we have.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday Mid-Term Non-Sequitur

The other day, me and my boy were taking a walk down the bayou. We crossed the railroad bridge and noticed a pickup crashed in the bank a little down the way. We walked down to the wreck. The tracks were dry in the mud.
 My kid says, "Daddy, what are those shiny things?"
 I look into the bed at a thick blossom of empty cans around an empty cardboard case.
"Bud Light. Straw-Ber-Rita."

Monday, October 14, 2013

James Newton Howard -- The Sixth Sense (Original Score)

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I just criticized a James Newton Howard soundtrack album heavily. I may have given the impression that I dislike The Fugitive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) because it does not contain enough music, but the fact is that I dislike it because it does not contain the right music. The Sixth Sense (Original Score) is exactly the opposite.  It clocks in at only 30 minutes (ten minutes shorter than The Fugitive's soundtrack), yet embodies the spirit of its entire film.
This is no small feat. The Sixth Sense is one of the most beloved films of all time (and was released during the greatest year in human history). The Sixth Sense also contains a certain creepiness that has caused certain viewers to swear off ever watching the film a second time. Howard's score captures this creepiness in a sort of Halloween kaleidoscope with strings, subtle, haunting vocal cues, and an all out sense of menace. Beside all this creepiness and atmosphere, though, is the goodness of the relationship between the main characters, and indeed, of all humanity. That Howard is able to capture this so strongly as well is a testament to his skills as a composer. His work is inseparable from the film as only the best scores are, and this album gives his music the treatment it deserves.
All but completionists should be happy with this listening experience. The Sixth Sense (Original Score) may not contain every musical cue from the film, but I've never heard another soundtrack that boils down the essence of its movie in such a short and enjoyable span. Every major event in the film gets its due, and the more quiet moments in between segue like the best albums should. This soundtrack feels as complete as possible, and in the time it takes to watch an episode of Seinfeld.
If you like The Sixth Sense, and you like listening to music, you should own this.
It's also all on Youtube, but the embedding has been disabled, and just go buy it.

1999 Varèse Sarabande
1. Run to the Church 1:21
2. De Profundis 2:23
3. Mind Reading 2:45
4. Photographs 0:55
5. Suicide Ghost 1:34
6. Malcolms Story/Coles Secret 4:01
7. Hanging Ghosts 2:31
8. Tape of Vincent 3:30
9. Help the Ghosts/Kyras Ghost 4:29
10. Kyras Tape 2:02
11. Malcolm Is Dead 4:44

Friday, October 11, 2013

James Newton Howard -- The Fugitive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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Let me make something clear: the actual score that James Newton Howard composed for the now twenty-year old classic film, The Fugitive, is excellent. I love that film, and I love its music. You won't find a lot of it on Elektra's 1993 soundtrack release for the film, though. Portions of this album's paltry 40-minute run-time aren't even found in the film...I'm not even sure why they are included here. The weary theme that runs throughout the film? It gets briefly teased in track three, "Kimble Dyes His Hair," and then doesn't play in its entirety until the final track. Never mind the fact that variations of it run throughout the majority of the film. This disc does include some of the awesome saxophone and percussion work found in the film, but it is greatly condensed and without any context. I'm getting angry just typing about it.
Thankfully, La-La Land Records released a new version of the soundtrack that includes ALL of the music found in the film, properly sequenced. Unfortunately, though, it looks like a lot of people agreed with my assessment of this 1993 Elektra release--the newer soundtrack is already out of print. Bummer.
Harrison Ford deserves better!

1993 Elektra
1. The Fugitive (Main Title) 3:48
2. The Storm Drain 4:23
3. Kimble Dyes His Hair 4:21
4. Helicopter Chase 4:48
5. The Fugitive Theme 3:03
6. Subway Fight 2:27
7. Kimble Returns 3:08
8. No Press 4:56
9. Stairway Chase 2:29
10. Sykes' Apt. 4:17
11. It's Over 3:40

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

James Horner -- Clear and Present Danger (Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)


What is more American than a scowling Harrison Ford, draped in an American flag?
Clear and Present Danger comes from the top of a very underrated pool of mid-90's action-adventure films. It includes one of the greatest, most-emulated set-pieces of all time, and here is a moment of it.

Now I know what some film score nerds are saying right now: "Out of every James Horner soundtrack, the one you are reviewing is Clear and Present Danger?!"
Well, nerds, the reason is that Clear and Present Danger (Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) has pretty much everything I could ever want in a score. It's got that stirring, awesome, Harrison Ford wrapped in an American flag, "Sorry Mr. President, I don't dance" theme, it is fittingly bombastic when it needs to be, suspenseful when it needs to be, and enhances the film's scenes of intrigue, as well. Horner expertly combines a martial, modern drum sound at times to give the action scenes a more contemporary feel. He also incorporates a lot of 90's synthesizer sounds into the score, which I am an absolute sucker for (being timeless and of your time is one of the best things you can aspire to). Most importantly, as I review soundtracks as albums, Clear and Present Danger's flows like one. The track-listing isn't quite chronological, but it excellently follows the emotional flow of the film. Someone should be keeping a running adverb count for this review.
On a final note, a large portion of the film takes place in South America. The pan flute is one of the most maligned instruments in modern history, but Horner finds some unconventional ways to use it. Who ever imagined a pan flute could heighten suspense? Well, I guess James Horner did, as apparently that is what I am trying to tell you. Jeez, that sentence was awful. How about a song link...yeah, let's do that.
Here is the score for the full ambush scene. Try not to chew your fingers off.

Long live the 90's!!!
Also, the fact that I reviewed this and wrote an obituary for Tom Clancy in the same week is some crazy happenstance.

1994 Milan
1. Main Title/A Clear and Present Danger 5:24
2. Operation Reciprocity 3:25
3. Ambush 9:50
4. Laser-Guided Missile 3:50
5. Looking for Clues 3:31
6. Deleting the Evidence 4:41
7. Greer's Funeral/Betrayal 6:21
8. Escobedo's New Friend 5:27
9. Second Hand Copter 2:15
10. Truth Needs a Soldier/End Title 5:48

I'm Having Problems

There are bands whose music for the most part is not my thing, but who somehow put out four or five songs I can't stop listening to. I just linked to a Civil Wars song a few days ago, but I am locked in some sort of Joy Williams and John Paul White whirlwind right now where I am just listening to the same three songs over and over again and I can't stop and I'm doing Physics and it's after midnight.
This is their cover of one of my favorite songs of all time, and tell me it isn't like freebasing cocaine into your ears.

Monday, October 07, 2013

RIP Tom Clancy

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In shocking news, best-selling author Tom Clancy passed away last week at 66. Well, I guess, as everyone dies, someone dying shouldn't be shocking, but it often is. I was really hoping Clancy had another sole-authored book in him, as his last few books all had co-authors. But let's back up.
I first came across Tom Clancy's work through my now deceased uncle James. Out in the country (and swamp country at that), witnessing a grown man reading a book is more rare than witnessing an alligator trudging across your driveway. However, my uncle James, who lived next door, always had an in-progress read on the coffee table. Often, that book was written by Tom Clancy. As I knew no other male readers, Uncle James was my sole reading influence, and I snagged any book he had finished. That meant plowing through the Hunt for Red October in the sixth grade, and so on, all the way to Clancy's Clear and Present Danger, and skipping ahead to Rainbow Six. I say "plow," but it took me forever to finish a Clancy-penned book. Months and months. I could knock out a Michael Crichton novel in a night, but Clancy's books were so dense and detail-oriented and grown up. I think Clear and Present Danger had a ten-page aside about how a minor character installed a mini-fridge in his garage.
As college began, and I selected English as my major, I became "too good" for Clancy books. They weren't "literature," written with "artistic integrity" as the goal, and I had better things to read--"critically (English Professorly) lauded over time" things to read. The trend continued into the heady, confusing years after college. As I slowly became bitter about my life choices, though, I began to notice Clancy's Debt of Honor nestled on my "unread" shelf. Christmas of 1995, my dear cousin gifted me the 900-page tome, and I had never gotten around to reading it. Finally, in the spring of 2012, I said, "Why not, Tom Clancy? Let's do this again." That spring, I really did plow through Debt of Honor. It was an incredibly fun read. I understood the political and military maneuverings far more clearly. I loved every second of it. I enjoyed it as much as any "classic" I had lately read. And my goodness, Debt of Honor predicted 9/11 seven years before it actually happened. Clancy's speculative powers bordered on genius. Why had I denied myself this Clancy goodness for so long?
Clancy's Debt of Honor ends on a cliffhanger, and now I'm reading its successor, Executive Orders, in the spare seconds I currently have to read. It is so much fun. I wish I could pull a couple junior-high style all-nighters and finish it quickly. At some point, I'll probably go back and read The Sum of All Fears, the novel I skipped so long ago, as well. But now, Clancy's works have a definite beginning and end. There will be no more Clancy-penned Jack Ryan and John Clark tales. Dangit, Clancy, I was just starting to comprehend what you meant to me. Rest in peace.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Good and Uncomfortable

This isn't anywhere close to my favorite style of music, but every time I see a Civil Wars video, I get a funny feeling. Now that the two of them aren't even on speaking terms, their newest video makes me the most Civil Wars-induced uncomfortable I've been yet. The 2:29 mark also gives me some pretty beautiful chills. Good job, I guess, weirdos.

Friday, October 04, 2013

James Blake -- Overgrown

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James Blake's self-titled debut album was a rigid exercise. It seemed like Blake had imposed limits on himself--I can only sing this loud; I can only use these sounds. He seems absolutely liberated on his sophomore outing, Overgrown, unbound by genre or rules.
Overgrown's first noticeable upgrade is its more expansive soundscape. Compared to Blake's tiny-sounding, self-titled debut, Overgrown sounds huge, even as it continues to espouse Blake's trademarked subtlety. He has described his work lately as "melodic bass music." That's pretty apt. This music is often centered around a strong beat, filled in with electronic milieu of Blake's imagining. What is refreshing here is that Blake diversifies his sound on Overgrown, yet is also able to make it more accessible. There's a pop skeleton giving direction to almost every sound here, which actually liberates Blake, as opposed to limiting him. This leads to the second upgrade to Blake's sound: his voice.
Blake's singing is far looser and more enjoyable here. He still distorts his voice from time to time, but seems far more confident to let it stand as a counterpart to the music. On the debut, his vocals were often just another wave of noise.
With these steps forward, Blake proves he isn't just some weightless image to be floated by tastemakers. He is a talent to watch.

2013 ATLAS/A&M/Polydor
1. Overgrown 5:00
2. I Am Sold 4:04
3. Life Round Here 3:37
4. Take a Fall for Me (featuring RZA) 3:33
5. Retrograde 3:43
6. DLM 2:25
7. Digital Lion (featuring Brian Eno) 4:45
8. Voyeur 4:17
9. To the Last 4:19
10. Our Love Comes Back 3:39

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

I Think I Could Lose Myself In Here

Walter White Is Not the Devil

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One of my biggest pet peeves in a review:
Colons. Just kidding.
It's when the reviewer brings his own narrative to the review, and judges what he is reviewing through the lens of that narrative, instead of judging the work on  its own merits..
If you've read my reviews here, you know that I often bring my life experiences into my reviews. I do this so that any bias I have is clear to the reader, and to, hopefully, make my reviews more interesting. I try to review whatever the work is on its own quality, without bringing my own ideas too much into play. I try to be objective.
That said, I read something about Breaking Bad on the Onion's AV Club that really irritated me. There are several reviewers on that website who approach their work like an eight grade writing an English paper. They feel that they have to come up with some sort of thesis, and use the episode to defend that thesis. This trivializes the work being reviewed because it strips some of its intended (and unintended) scope and feeling, while adding themes that may not even be in the work in the first place. On the lighter side, this makes really cool things seem really uncool. I know the phrase "AV Club" conjures some very nerdy images: Dorks with coke-bottle glasses fumbling around with a projector, for one. Even so, was turning Cowboy Bebop, the coolest show of all time, into a lame, humorless college gender studies class really necessary? Just review the show: say what it's about, say whether you think it's good or bad, and explain why. Spice it up with some personal details, but try your best not to let your personal biases get in the way.
While there are some AV Club reviewers whose work I enjoy (Will Harris, for instance), I particularly have disliked the work of their Breaking Bad reviewer, to the point that I quit following their coverage of that show altogether. I felt like that reviewer not only often missed the point, but tacked on themes important to herself that the show wasn't really broaching upon. Following that reviewer's dissection of the finale, AV Club allowed another of the website's reviewers to tackle the show as a whole. This particular reviewer is easily my least favorite of the entire website, but as I seem to often loathe myself quite a bit, I read his "Breaking Bad Ended the Anti-Hero Genre By Introducing Good and Evil" editorial in a sort of self-hate-fest. Just kidding, the hate wasn't directed at myself at all. It was directed at his lumbering piece, which provides the flammable thesis "He (Walter White) is, for lack of a better word, Satan."
My goodness, you could have said a lot of wrong things, but that is the wrongest thing you could have possibly put to Internet.
Breaking Bad is a great show because Walter White, its lead character, is not Satan. He is frustratingly human. He makes bad decisions for good reasons, then refuses to turn from those bad decisions because he is a slave to his enormous pride. That is about as human as it gets.
The Sopranos, the show that is proposed to have begun this television anti-hero wave, features a lead character many wanted to see redeemed. In the end, it is revealed that this character is simply a sociopath, and that any time he showed empathy or positive human emotion, he was only crying crocodile tears. Tony Soprano was not truly one of us. He was the enemy. Walter White is one of us. When he cries near the end of the series, it is because he is heartbroken, not because he feels it would look best if he cries. No one can see him. Most importantly, he can admit that the cause of all his problems is himself. What happens throughout the series is no one else's fault. Walter White, though at times evil, at times sacrificially loving, stays human throughout the program.
There. Gotta stop reading things just to piss myself off. I already have the news for that.