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Friday, August 29, 2014

500,000 People Every Week Are Not the Worst; Why You're The Worst Is the Best

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Back in 2005, FX Networks premiered its first two original comedies in a one hour block. The lead-in was "Starved" a show about a support group for eating disorders. Starved was highly advertised and received plenty of controversy and attention before it ever aired. The second show didn't receive any attention at all. I watched both premieres. Starved was not funny, not good, and difficult to watch. The second show, however, was a completely different animal. Within five minutes, I had to get a Kleenex to wipe all the laughter-tears off my face. Not only that, but in just that tiny time frame, I connected with the show. I had to tell every around me how funny it was. I had to blog about it. Though that first season was low-rated, and essentially produced with a DIY budget, nine years, and 104 episodes in, it is still on the air. That show is "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia." Starved was cancelled after seven episodes.
It's happening again.
FX recently debuted a new hour-long block of original comedies. The first show in the two-show block was again heavily advertised. It is called "Married," stars the immensely likeable Judy Greer, and looked from the commercials to be a funny and insightful look into its title subject. Unfortunately, it is not. Married is not funny and not insightful. The events that take place are unrealistic and the characters are not believable. Worst of all, the show's attempts at dark humor are dark and not humorous. However...
The second show in the block, "You're the Worst" is excellent. You're the Worst was not heavily advertised, and the advertisement it received was awful. The commercials made the show out to be a shallow look at two completely unlikeable, nasty individuals who just roll around in a dirty room having cheap, meaningless sex. I don't know who decided to advertise this show that way, but they need to be fired. "You're the Worst" is a deep look at two very damaged, bitter human beings, who somehow find connection with one another. They are not good people, but they are real people. The show is also hilarious, and though it has its share of potty jokes, it also features quite a bit of sophisticated humor. A recent episode featured a running gag where the male lead, Jimmy (played by Chris Geere), attempts to force the female, Gretchen (Aya Cash), into declaring a favorite between Genesis vocalists, Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel. Jimmy is too proud, and has too much trouble communicating to make his metaphor explicit: he is Peter Gabriel, and his competitor for the female's hand is Phil Collins...probably. The duo's failed attempts at honest communication are one of the show's high-points. The supporting cast is another. Jimmy's roommate, Edgar (Desmin Borges), is an example of You're the Worst mining honest humor from a subject that should be dark (and, unlike Married, doing it successfully). Edgar is a war veteran suffering from a pretty bad case of PTSD, and You're the Worst respects and shows surprising sensitivity to Edgar's psychological issues. It also can still make the fact that sometimes Edgar wakes up in the morning holding a knife funny. Borges' nuanced portrayal of the character certainly helps.
The cast is rounded out by Gretchen's best and only friend, Lindsay (Kether Donohue). Lindsay is married to a boring, but high-grossing husband she can't stand. Eventually, Lindsay cheats with a kid she meets in a bar. On most shows, this would be portrayed as a victorious moment, but not on You're the Worst. Pre-sex, the young man, 19 at most, tell's Lindsay he has recently left Ohio in the family van to try his luck at breaking into the writing business in L.A., the show's setting (and a character all its own). He does not enjoy the van tryst, clearly disturbed by the fact that he is sleeping with a married woman. Lindsay does enjoy herself until she looks up to notice one of those annoying family lineup stickers on the van's back window. She is disturbed not only by the image of the person under her as just recently a kid next to his parents, but by the thought of the future family she is throwing away because of her current choices. You're the Worst is assured enough to leave this up to the viewer, instead of having Lindsay break down and explicitly say these things. Showrunner, Stephen Falk, has confidence in not only Donohue's acting abilities, but the audience's intelligence.
I'll review You're the Worst's first season in full when it ends next month. The last four episodes might all inexplicably be stinkers, but at this point, You're the Worst is a surprising delight. This is the kind of show that doesn't come around very often, and considering its ratings, may be short for this world. Do yourself a favor and check it out, while you can.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Nicsperiment's End of Summer Movie Mini-Reviews, 2014

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The summer is over. I am crying. Why do summers have to end? If the summer was endless, would we surf forever? I tried to surf once, and I hurt myself. Here are mini-reviews of everything I've watched since my summer break movie mini-reviews. I called that one "summer break" because I thought that was all the break I was going to have. Turns out I had two more unforeseen months of breaking to come...if you call still working my job, watching my son, and taking care of my family "breaking."

22 Jump Street -- 8/10
It's been a long time since sequels have consistently sucked, and as 22 Jump Street is just as hilarious and entertaining as its predecessor, that idea should stay dead. Doesn't hurt that you actually want to hang out with these characters.

America -- 5/10
Semi-entertaining, and documentarian, Dinesh D'Souza, actually makes a few valid points, but then, three-quarters in and out of complete left-field, he tips his hand. This movie is built, not to defend "America," but its own filmmaker, D'Souza, from illegal campaign finance charges that will likely send him to prison. 

Attack the Block -- 9/10
Though it is rated "R," and some of the kids get killed by aliens, this is about as close to the Goonies as this decade is going to get. Fun, fast, loud, and funny, with an excellent crew of misfits, and a giant, blood-soaked heart.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes -- 9/10
Somehow gets the viewer to root for a pack of computer-generated apes over its human protagonists, though you also like the protagonists, too ("the viewer" and "you" really just mean me. Those words just sound better). Probably the most thematically difficult summer blockbuster in a while, and if Andy Serkis doesn't get some kind of award for his work this time, this whole movie business is a sham.

Drinking Buddies -- 9/10
Most movies about relationships follow a movie formula, but Drinking Buddies actually stays true to real life, as it explores the dynamic of a close, "platonic," guy-girl relationship, and the toil that can take. Also, I mostly knew Olivia Wilde from supermarket magazine covers, but based on her work in this film, she is quite an actress.

Elsker dig for evigt (Open Hearts) -- 8/10
Before Mads Mikkelsen was Hannibal, or even before he was Le Chiffre, he was the star of a bunch of really excellent, really difficult Danish films, among them, this, the first of two film's Mikkelsen collaborated with director, Susanne Bier, where he plays a doctor...sleeping with the fiancee of a patient...who was hospitalized by the doctor's own wife...and you care about everybody. As I said, difficult, even more so than the previous sentence.

Guardians of the Galaxy -- 9/10
In a world where a film like The Dark Knight is a bit of an anomaly (a superhero film that is actually a great film on its own), Guardians of the Galaxy sets a new standard. Marvel films have been consistently good as of late, but Guardians' character, humor, action, pacing, emotion, and heart are leagues above--that sentence didn't feel like it did the film justice; I didn't even mention how awesome its music many punctuation gimmicks can I use to extend this sentence: I think that about does it (or does it?).

The Last Winter -- 4/10
Environmental horror film that never gets its feet off the ground, let alone past its heavy-handed message. If you want to scare the audience, you have to actually make them care about the characters who are in danger--THEN you can focus on your agenda.

Prince Avalanche -- 7/10
Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch give excellent performances as two screwed-up guys who really need each other's friendship, and they are well-served by the dialogue in David Gordon Green's screenplay. Unfortunately, Green's pretentious, overindulgent direction gets in the way, as well as--and I can't believe I'm saying this--Explosions In the Sky's over-loud, heavy-handed soundtrack.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Kent -- Röd

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After offering up a decade of career best work, Kent decided to end the 00's as weirdly as possible. Röd finds Kent continuing in the electronic direction they took with Tillbaka Till Samtiden, but adding back more of the rock and live instrumentation of their earlier career. Most importantly, though, Röd finds Kent being completely unpredictable--hence the weirdness (so far, this review also feels weird, and features the word "find" too often). Röd's CD booklet features the band wandering around the streets of Sweden late at night, wearing freaky animal masks and wigs...and that about sums it up.
The album kicks off with "18:29-4," a track comprised solely of church bells and an elderly choir. Its bizarre aura is immediately supplanted by the one-two dance-rock punch of "Taxmannen" and "Krossa allt." I use the word punch specifically because the English translation of "Krossa allt" is "Crush everything." "Krossa allt" reveals a quieter, more atmospheric side in its latter half, which then leads into the strange, galloping dynamics of "Hjärta," following by the serious/fun contrast of "Sjukhus." Röd's centerpiece is "Vals för Satan (Din vän pessimisten)," one of the most powerful songs Kent have ever recorded. Beginning with a distant, four-on-the-floor beat, which characterizes Kent's music during this era of their existence, "Vals för Satan..." slowly adds layer after layer. The first chorus comes far into the song, which continues to build until the song explodes into a surprising cavalcade of live drums and vocalist Joakim Berg belting out the final chorus as if the very world will end if he doesn't get out the words.

Sadly, the song quality dips afterward (just barely), and while the weirdness does not relent during the final five tracks, the cohesion and momentum of the last three and a half albums finally lags just a little bit. I guess if you've just worked this hard for a decade, you're entitled to being a little boozy by the end of it.

2009 RCA/Sony
1. 18:29-4 2:26
2. Taxmannen (The Dachshund Man/The Taxman) 4:32
3. Krossa allt (Crush Everything) 4:48
4. Hjärta (Heart) 5:30
5. Sjukhus (Hospital) 6:16
6. Vals för Satan (Din vän pessimisten) (Waltz for Satan (Your Friend the Pessimist)) 6:47
7. Idioter (Idiots) 4:12
8. Svarta linjer (Black Lines) 4:27
9. Ensamheten (The Loneliness) 5:46
10. Töntarna (The Dorks) 4:37
11. Det finns inga ord (There Are No Words) 6:59

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kent -- Tillbaka till samtiden

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How can a band at their peak be re-invigorated? Kent was at a highpoint in 2007, having, over the last half-decade, released their best-selling record, followed by their most critically acclaimed. Apparently, Kent is a restless band, and this makes for greater creativity, and consequently, greater productivity. After so much success, Kent returns with something that might be even better. Tillbaka till samtiden sees Kent fusing their trademark sound with electronic and dance music. Generally, this method is the last ditch tool of a desperate band. In Kent's hands, though, it's just another way to be awesome. Tillbaka till samtiden is brewing with incredible energy and fun, coupled with startling depth. However, for those who can't stand electronic music of any sort, perfection might not be enough here. For instance, if the sudden electrical charge of the chorus at 1:50 into opening track, "Elefanter," does nothing for you, this might not be your album. If the buildup after it does nothing for you, this really might not be your album. If, on top of that, the triumphant trumpet at 4:20 does absolutely nothing for you, just give up. For everyone else, though, this is a lively album, full of dynamic moments, delightful surprises, and great songs. Tillbaka till samtiden is yet another statement of excellence from the greatest Swedish rock band of all time.

2007 RCA/Sony BMG
1. Elefanter (Elephants) 5:21
2. Berlin 4:36
3. Ingenting (Nothing) 4:17
4. Vid din sida (By Your Side) 4:55
5. Columbus 4:26
6. Sömnen (The Sleep) 4:08
7. Vy från ett luftslott (View from a Castle in the Air) 4:23
8. Våga vara rädd" (Dare to be Afraid) 3:59
9. LSD, någon? (LSD, anyone?) 4:20
10. Generation Ex 4:30
11. Ensammast i Sverige" (Loneliest in Sweden) 8:20

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kent -- The hjärta & smärta EP

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After receiving so much acclaim for their sixth full-length album, Du & jag döden, Kent decided to strike while the iron was hot, releasing The hjärta & smärta EP just seven months later. This turned out to be a great idea, as the five songs on the EP are as good as anything on Du & jag döden. There's just not enough of them.
Kent even make a children's choir sound cool, and a children's choir pretty much never sounds cool. Must be how strong the band's commitment to "'Dom som försvanns"'s 80's sound is, or simply how, no matter what they do, Kent cannot not sound cool.

2005 RCA/Sony BMG
1. Vi mot världen (Us Against the World) 4:12
2. Dom som försvann (Those Who Disappeared) 4:55
3. Ansgar & Evelyne 4:16
4. Flen / Paris 3:44
5. Månadens erbjudande (Offer of the Month) 4:12

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kent -- Du & Jag Döden

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Du & Jag Döden is the quintessential Kent album. Most of the five albums Kent released before Du & Jag Döden are great, but when a Kent fan thinks of the "Kent" sound, they invariably imagine how Kent sounds on this record. Unfortunately, describing how a band sounds is one of the most abstract tasks on the planet. I can't exactly onomatopoeia five instruments playing together for four minutes. Kent are a rock band. They have a pop-leaning, but a bit of a darker tone to balance it. Their music is driving, and consequently great for driving. The bass has a dominant presence in the music, as the bassist is instrumental in writing the band's songs. The singer has a pretty unique voice, both strong and weak at the same time. He sings primarily in Swedish (Silly for me to be breaking Kent's sound down this many reviews in). However, this is the most important aspect of Kent's music: they sound really cool. Of all their albums, Du & Jag Döden sounds arguably the coolest. Rather idiosyncratically, here is visual proof. Kent's guitarist took the band's $50,000 video budget, flew with a cameraman to Vegas, bet the entire $50,000 on black, won, drove off in a limo. This looks as cool as it sounds, and the band gave all the winnings (not spent on the limo and champagne) to a charity that helps treat childhood cancer.

I love you, Kent.

2005 RCA/Sony BMG
1. 400 slag (400 Blows) 4:58
2. Du är ånga (You Are Steam) 3:51
3. Den döda vinkeln (The Blind Spot) 4:19
4. Du var min armé (You Were My Army) 3:30
5. Palace & Main 4:05
6. Järnspöken (Iron Ghosts) 3:48
7. Klåparen (The Bungler) 5:25
8. Max 500 3:35
9. Romeo återvänder ensam (Romeo Returns Alone) 4:03
10. Rosor & palmblad (Roses & Palm Leaves) 4:05
11. Mannen i den vita hatten (16 år senare) (The Man in the White Hat (16 Years Later)) 6:38

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kent -- Vapen & Ammunition

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Here's a sublime 45-minute slice of music. Kent's Vapen and & Ammunition is a relaxed, definitive take on everything Kent, the most popular Swedish rock band of all time, are capable of doing. The faster-paced songs have attitude and vision, the ballads are assured and confident, and the whole thing sounds great. Whether it's guest female vocals, whistling, or slide guitar, every touch is perfect, and the songs are excellent. Kent set out to write an album of ten singles, and perhaps serendipitously, these ten songs fit together seamlessly. The band are so confident this time around, they eschew the usual eight-minute jammy closer for an under three-minute acoustic track, "Sverige." A tribute, and perhaps, light critique on Kent's native country, "Sverige" is...well, I already used the word "sublime," but there really isn't a more fitting one.
The album, and perhaps the band's crowing achievement, though, is Vapen & Ammunition's seven track, "Socker." It invokes a multitude of complicated emotions: bitterness, loneliness, distraction, disappointment, disconnection, and displeasure, yet does so with such attitude, the song is imminently enjoyable on multiple levels (it is also so lyrically complex enough to defy translation). Vapen & Ammunition is by no means a downer, nor is "Socker," but the way Kent are able to convey even negative feelings in such a catchy, enjoyable package speaks miles to their talent and ability. Vapen & Ammunition might just be Kent's masterwork.

2002 RCA/BMG
1. Sundance Kid 5:09
2. Pärlor (Pearls) 3:56
3. Dom andra 3:46
4. Duett (Duet) 4:42
5. Hur jag fick dig att älska mig (How I Made You Love Me) 5:22
6. Kärleken väntar (Love Waits) 3:59
7. Socker (Sugar) 5:35
8. FF 4:13
9. Elite 6:05
10. Sverige (Sweden) 2:59

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kent -- B-sidor 95-00

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Most bands don't compile 25-worthy B-Sides in only five years' time. Kent is not most bands. Kids these days don't even understand what a B-Side is. Here is a quick summation:
Back in the day, singles weren't released digitally on Youtube for streaming. The Internet did not exist. Singles were...wait, what's a single? A single is a song a band releases to radio. Wait, what's radio? Gah, this is getting ridiculous! Anyway, a single is essentially song A, and since a record has two sides, a band would often place an unreleased song on side B. Since singles generally became rare quickly, they would become collectible because of the B-Side, which could be found nowhere else. I guess that seems silly, now that every single song ever recorded is available to stream for free on Youtube. Kent released plenty of CD singles during the 90's, and though CD's only have one side, the extra song or two placed with the single was still called a B-Side, and still became hard to find after a short amount of time. Kent, reaching a turning point in their career (and a change in millennium), decided that their vast collection of B-Sides should be available for everyone to hear. Thus, B-sidor 95-00 was released, necessitating this review, and an introductory paragraph longer than what is actually being introduced.
Kent made the unique decision to sequence the songs on B-sidor 95-00 in reverse chronological order. This means the two new songs recorded especially for this collection, standout,"Chans" (Swedish for "Change"), and "Spökstad" come first, and the band work their way backward from their. Most of the tracks on disc one are very solid, though not better than the work usually found on Kent's regular albums. The second disc is where things really get interesting. The songs sound surprisingly raw, and they feature some odd rhythms and keyboard textures--it's like a lighting-lit, mad-scientist laboratory version of the band. Overall, I'm not sure I would recommend this entire 25-song monster to someone unfamiliar with Kent--despite some standout songs, context really helps with the whole. For anyone well-versed in Kentology, you probably own this anyway, but if you are and you don't, you should.

2000 BMG
Disc One
1. Chans 5:21
2. Spökstad 4:41
3. Längtan Skala 3:1 6:52
4. Om Gyllene År 2:39
5. Noll 4:30
6. Önskar Att Någon... 3:58
7. Bas Riff J 3:40
8. Din Skugga 4:06
9. Elever 4:46
10. Längesen VI Sågs 4:30
11. December 3:47
12. Utan Dina Andetag 4:24
13. På Nära Håll 3:19

Disc Two
1. Livrädd Med Stil 3:04
2. Verkligen 5:32
3. Gummiband 4:47
4. Att Presentera Ett Svin 4:28
5. En Helt NY Karriär 4:09
6. Rödljus 3:41
7. Pojken Med Hålet I Handen 4:11
8. Kallt Kaffe 3:27
9. Den Osynlige Mannen 2:39
10. Slutsats 2:49
11. Rödljus II 4:35
12. En Helt NY Karriär II 19:03

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fargo -- Season One (Review)

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2014 FX Networks
Season One
Score: 9/10

"...if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you..."
    -Middle of Genesis 4:7

This particular verse came into my head during one of Billy Bob Thornton's first scenes in the first episode of FX's Fargo. Thornton plays the malevolent, perhaps demonic, Lorne Malvo, a character who delights in subtly turning others to do evil. Fargo, written by Noah Hawley, is based upon the world of Joel and Ethan Coen's film of the same name, but(outside of an answer to a tangent in the film) has nothing to do with that film's story. With that said, Fargo deals with many of the moral and religious themes inherent in the Coen brothers' films, and does great justice to the duo's artistic legacy.
The bad: All told, an enormous amount of events do not occur across Fargo's ten-episode run. While almost every second is spellbinding, there are a few moments where the viewer may have to remind themselves that little time has passed. One particular character incurs an injury that seems to take forever to heal, until one realizes only weeks have passed in the show's chronology. Also, Fargo's season finale may not satisfy all viewers. A major character who some viewers may want to see in the center of the action is sidelined. However, in defense of this narrative decision, the final conflict does actually take place between the two characters with whom it began.
The good: Where to begin? Fargo features flawless performances from its lead and auxiliary actors. The show's creators reap a great reward for risking Fargo's lead role with a newcomer. As Police Deputy, Molly Solverson, Allison Tolman turns in impeccable work, perfectly realizing Solverson's determination and frustration. Tolman should easily find work in this line for the rest of her life. Martin Freeman, who has now been the lead in one of the most highly regarded comedies series of all time (UK's The Office), as well as the lead in adaptations of two of the most beloved books of all time (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Hobbit), Watson in BBC's Sherlock, and some guy in this Christmas-themed romantic comedy my wife made me watch once, plays Lester Nygaard, a bumbling, gentle man transformed into a monster through only one short conversation with Thornton's Malvo. Freeman has slowly become one of the most well-traveled actors of his generation, and with good reason. This character is the antithesis of most Freeman has played, but he is just as believable in the part. Rounding out the cast is Colin Hanks, who turns in solid work as Gus Grimly, a bastion of goodness, and the aforementioned, chameleon-like Thornton as Malvo. The secondary cast, including Bob Odenkirk (Saul from Breaking Bad), Keith Carradine, and Joey King, among others, all perform ably. Fargo's cinematography is gorgeous, on par with anything in the theater, and the direction is keen. Music is apt...I'm feeling redundant here...every element of craftsmanship regarding this show is top notch.
Thematically, Fargo tackles topics familiar to any fan of the Coen brother's work. The everyday battle of good and evil in the average human is explored in depth, as well as both the gulfs and ditches between the two. The concept of justice is also thoroughly dissected, and yet...even if one couldn't care less about any kind of philosophical or moral exploration, Fargo's story is just as engaging. People do bad things, and other people try to catch them.
Fargo is compared heavily to fellow limited-series, True Detective (both series run for only ten episodes, feature movie stars, and will be followed by unconnected, completely recast second seasons). Fargo shares one of that show's greatest assets--ambiguity as to the true nature of the villain. True Detective gives the viewer ample evidence that its villains' misdeeds could have supernatural implications, but also indicates that might not be the case at all. Likewise, Fargo's Malvo could be a very wicked man, but the show also hints that he could be an embodiment of the devil himself. His line after enjoying dessert at a diner, "Haven't had a piece of pie like that since the Garden of Eden," is particularly delicious for those who prefer to give the TV they watch a deeper analysis, and is one of many such moments.
Finally, as I've just mentioned True Detective, I feel like I should weigh in on the Fargo vs. True Detective debate. While both are enjoyable shows, I think Fargo is the better of the two. Fargo features a bit more thematic substance (not that True Detective is light in that department), and also shows more respect to its characters. While admittedly, True Detective inhabits a grayer realm of the moral spectrum than Fargo, Fargo is still able to blur the lines without dragging everyone on screen through the mud. While this may not be a heralded quality, I think it is an underrated one, and a noble one. True Detective is a good show, but Fargo is a great one. Though Fargo isn't quite perfect, I feel that I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Kent -- Hagnesta Hill

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Swedish Edition: 8/10
English Edition: 9/10

If we're taking a Radiohead comparison here, Kent go straight from their The Bends to Hail to the Thief with Hagnesta Hill. If we're not taking a Radiohead comparison here, and considering Kent's criticism's are cultural and not political, and considering Kent are a lot more interested in writing songs about romantic relationships than Radiohead, maybe we shouldn't...this sentence has gotten out of control. All that to say, at 13 songs and 64 minutes, Hagnesta Hill is a very long rock album, both more straightforward than its predecessor, and somehow more full of ideas. After Hagnesta Hill's release, Kent frontman, Joakim Berg,  voiced displeasure with the album's length, feeling it was overstuffed. This is more true of the original Swedish version than the later English version, even though the English edition is longer. In regard to the English version, the band and producers did a good job of removing a few tracks that sapped momentum in the Swedish one. They then added some that increased it, then rearranged the whole thing to give it a much better flow. The result is a highly enjoyable album that does go on a little too long, but delivers again and again and again. Berg's criticisms of our increasingly technology consumed, frequently disconnected culture are just as apt today as they were 15 years ago, and his transposition of this with a portrait of a decaying relationship is excellent. "Your voice disappears on a bad connection/it gets lonely out here/I need protection, please/are you protecting me?" goes "Protection," before the particularly heart-rending lines "Now I found a way to make you smile/pretending I am someone else/cause I really missed your smile/more than I missed myself." The\ running theme and story come to a fitting end on the album's final track, "Whistle Song." This was Kent's second and final album to be recorded in English, and with lyrics like "Whistle Song's," it's a shame for us non-Swedish speakers.
She is talking through a yawn
And the radio is on
I listen through the thin walls
Someone is whistling along
There is something in the air
Squeezing out sparks
The strip-light flickers and then dies
And leaves us in the dark

The great, horn-led outro to this eight-minute opus is earned, a final great little touch on an album full of great little touches. This is what sets Kent apart from its competition. It also makes Kent sound like a bunch of perverts. Sorry, Kent, I was trying to praise you.

1999/2000 BMG
1. The King Is Dead 4:17
2. Revolt III 3:10
3. Music Non Stop 4:34
4. Kevlar Soul 4:29
5. Stop Me June (Little Ego) 6:22
6. Heavenly Junkies 4:04
7. Stay With Me 3:58
8. Quiet Heart 5:25
9. Just Like Money 4:16
10. Rollercoaster 4:54
11. Protection 4:46
12. Cowboys 4:08
13. Whistle Song 7:47

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, July 21, 2014, Mahalia Jackson Theater, New Orleans, LA (Show Review + Bonus Travelogue)

The city of New Orleans and I have had a difficult relationship, to say the least. I'm not sure when it started. Maybe it was the wrong turn during a grade-school field trip that saw my class walking down a street of sexual grotesqueries. Actually, pretty much every one of my bad New Orleans stories involves getting lost and witnessing sexual grotesqueries.
You do not want to get lost in New Orleans.
Not literally, not metaphorically, not metaphysically(which would certainly involve you using some of the copious amounts of drugs available in the city of New Orleans). Even if you are careful, you are surely going to step in something. This is a town where wild animals and sometimes humans roam the streets, defecating where they please. This is New Orleans.
Anyway, the relationship between myself and New Orleans is difficult, but for some reason, half of the bridal party from my wedding now lives there, as well as several people who might as well have been. They all love it for some reason, and it has an aquarium and insectarium my kid loves, and bands I like spurn Baton Rouge for there, so I am pretty much stuck with a lifetime of heading down I-10 East to its soggiest destination.
I had a triple excuse, this time.
1. Meet up with my cousin for a trip to Canal Place Theater--essentially a restaurant that shows movies--to see the new Planet of the Apes film.
2. a.Head to my buddy Jon's new bar. b.Get some food.
3. Go see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Mahalia Jackson theater.
ONE I left for New Orleans shortly before noon and immediately noticed a strange smell. I was still nearly 90 miles from New Orleans, and though it has a unique dumpster-like stench, I was pretty sure I was still out of its range. I remembered getting stuck in the rain a few days before, making awesome Macgyveresque boots for my feet out of plastic bags, and the floor of my car getting really, really wet. That's a different story, though, and the only important bit is that water got in my car and made it stinky, and then I stopped at Wal-Mart and got some store-brand Lysol, and it sucked, and never buy it. Sorry, that tangent was useless, except I wanted to mention that Great Value Lysol blows because I want to see if someone reaches this post through Google by searching for the term "Great Value Lysol blows." That would be neat. Anyway, I met up with my cousin at Canal Place and ordered a Parmesan and Pepper Popcorn and some almond soda because I really, really, really wanted the people who get paid $7.50 to wait on arrogant movie patrons who are constantly yelling "down in front" at them to think I was an enormous douche. A byproduct of this was that the Parmesan and Pepper Popcorn was delicious, and after I finished it, I put the Popcorn Tub to my lips like a cup and drank out all the excess cheese crumbs, then murdered everyone else in the theater so there would be no witnesses. On that note, why does everyone make a really shocked face when I say that a pretty girl sleeps in the same bed as me? Also, the almond soda put me into the classic existential "am I progressing/regressing" crisis of "do I like soda better than beer?" The movie was quite good for a summer blockbuster, but that's for another post.
TWO A My cousin decided to tag-along to the bar, as the bartender is a mutual friend. I'm glad he did because otherwise, I was going to have to walk, and the bar is on the other side of the overpass, and if there is one thing you should NEVER, EVER do in New Orleans, it is walk beneath an overpass. We arrived at the bar, and I can't remember the name of it, and Jon, I'm sorry. Anyway, if you end up in a bar in New Orleans on Magazine St with a wildebeest mounted on the wall, that's probably it. I mean, there might be another bar on Magazine St with a Wildebeest on the wall, but if that's the case, New Orleans and wildebeests really need to work out their issues because not cool, guys (EDITOR'S NOTE: The bar is called Barrel-Proof). Anyway, knowing I was about to have to deal with a multitude of "hip" New Orleanians, I ordered a couple of drinks. Both were beers from some brewery in Michigan, but both were also pushing 20-proof, so good job guys, I can't remember the name of your brewery. Whatever you're called, your Dark Porter is excellent, and your Scotch Ale is even better.
Now, I was nearly prepared to deal with whatever mass of humanity awaited between me and Mahalia Jackson Theater. The only thing left to do was eat eat eat. Crap, I was hoping if I Beetlejuiced that, some food would pop-up in my face. Life's not fair. Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, I had to get my car from Canal Place to Mahalia Jackson. Getting your car from one place to another in New Orleans is like opening a box of Lucky Charms full of nothing but four-leaf clover marshmallows. Good luck. Anyway, as per usual, I got lost, and had to roll down my window and holler at complete strangers until someone made the nonsensical decision to approach me. A young married-ish couple gave me directions and also gave me a premium parking pass to the Mahalia Jackson theater, as they were headed to the Nick Cave show, too, bought their tickets on Stubhub, and ended up also receiving a parking pass they didn't need. The thought to then offer them a ride never once occurred to me until the girl who sleeps in my bed asked me the next morning, "Did you offer them a ride?" I did not answer her with the response "Did I remember Mother's Day this year?" though that would have been the most logical reminder of how thoughtful and not self-centered I am. If you are slow to pick up my meaning and my writing is obtuse to you: I did not remember Mother's Day this year.
TWO B Anyway, I parked right at the door, and wandered around the block. The only sign of food I saw was a door with a hot dog on it. I really didn't want a hot dog, but I also really didn't want to have to strain to hear Nick Cave above the hellacious sounds of my stomach cursing me out in Stomachese, a primitive, repulsive language, much like German. So, I entered into the hotdog door establishment that I just imagined was called Noladogs for some reason, and referred to it as such for the rest of the night. When I dug through my pockets the next day, I found a punch card that said DREAMY WEENIES on it, so unless I somehow went to two hotdog places that night, this next part of the story happened at Dreamy Weenies. Anyway, Dreamy Weenies offers a hotdog with chili AND grits on it, so I ordered that, and I also ordered a corn dog because corn dogs. The counter-girl looked surprised, though she was quite nice. Actually, the staff there were all as cute as puppies. I don't mean, like cute "attractive," not that they weren't attractive, but cute like puppies that want your love and attention, and are attempting to receive it by selling you hot dogs. Also, there were these weird old people wearing skin-tight leather costumes waiting for their food, and one of them, lady, went into the bathroom to do coke because she still had some on her nose when she came out, and I knew she was going to the show and I knew I was in New Orleans. My only cocaine for the moment was my massive, hot dog-based meal.
The reason the counter girl looked surprised was not because I got her a new chew toy, but because the hot dog and corn dog together would not fit in the average-sized New Orleans apartment. However, I was hungry, and my first cousin is the seventh-ranked eater in the world, and I have, like, a bunch of his genes or something and stuff. The delicious house made corn dog and chili-grits dog disappeared, literally, beneath my very eyes, because my mouth is beneath my eyes. The cook actually came out to shake my hand afterward, because he was shocked that someone actually ordered both those items and consumed them in one sitting. Then I tossed a ball toward the wall, he chased after it with his little tail wagging, and I left. SEE WHAT I DID THERE? I WENT TO A HOT DOG PLACE AND MADE A BUNCH OF METAPHORS THAT COMPARED THE EMPLOYEES WITH ACTUAL DOGS. SEE WHAT I DID THERE? SEE WHAT I DID THERE? I LACK SO MUCH CONFIDENCE IN MY HUMOR-SKILLS THAT I HAVE TO ASK YOU IF YOU EVEN NOTICED THAT I WAS MAKING A JOKE. IT'S THAT LOW. Seriously, I hate when people say, "See what I did there?" If I didn't get it, you did a bad job, and if I did get it, you just ruined it by pointing it out. Stop saying stupid stuff! LOOK AT THESE HOT-DOG BASED ENTREES!

THREE I walked back to the Mahalia Jackson theater at probably about the same time the people who gave me the premium parking pass did. Sorry, guys. I missed the opening act, and I don't remember what her name was, so sorry to you, too, opening act girl. I sat next to two really white looking dudes near the middle of the theater (in my assigned seat), and unfortunately, I stayed in that position for most of the night because here comes the let down: the patrons of the Mahalia Jackson theater absolutely suck.
Allow me to explain (the only other option is to quit reading):
Nick Cave and his heavily bearded band of strange old geezers took the stage in near darkness to the loud vibrations of a humming drone. Cave broke into "We Real Cool," from his most recent release, Push the Sky Away. The crowd came to their feet and applauded. Then the song ended. At that point everyone not in the front section or on the stage sat. Why? You paid to watch a crazy shaman man dance around and sing apocalyptic songs, and you are going to sit on your butt while he sweats his off? Why not just stay home and watch the show on YouTube(tm) while you lay in your bed putting on another five while you eat bonbons? A group of people directly in front of me did not sit. I did not want to sit either (obviously, I've made that clear), and if I would have, I'd have seen nothing but the people in front of me's posteriors. The lazy asses behind me, however, thought so incredibly highly of themselves and their privilege that after an obnoxious barrage of "hey, down in front," they began to pelt me with ice. The person next to me turned around and attempted to explain that if my row sat down, none of us would be able to see. At that exact instant, a large piece of ice bounced off my neck and stuck in my shirt collar. I immediately turned around, found the person who threw the ice, sat down with them, politely discussed the issue, and, after a long talk about all of the baggage our parents gave us, collapsed with them into one enormous cry hug.
Just kidding.
I'd love to say that I did that, but in reality, I grabbed the ice, threw it back in the direction it came from as hard as I could, said a few choice words about what whoever threw the ice could do, then used both hands to make a popular gesture, holding high certain fingers for the duration of the song, then continued to stand until every single person in my vicinity finally gave in and sat down, as whatever buzz of goodwill toward all of my fellow men, as well as my burgeoning positive feelings for the city of New Orleans, simultaneously evaporated. Yes, that was one sentence. Deal with it, sister...or brother...or whatever you are.
This also left me upset with myself, which in turn made me more angry with the city of New Orleans for bringing out the worst in me. I spent the next 45-minutes brooding and decided that, as I so rarely get to go to shows now, I will shell out whatever the extra cost to sit up front with actual fans of the band I am seeing, and not with the weird, steely-eyed crew I was stuck with, who never smiled, moved, or sang along to a word. They were essentially robots who were only programmed to sit. Thinking about it at this exact moment has completely fouled my sense of humor.
I then decided to at least try to enjoy the final hour of the show (Cave played for two). While the band wasn't exactly what one would call tight, Cave more than lived up to his bill, as a natural entertainer who still shimmies around the stage like a man half his age. Cave's bizarre fixation with a guy holding up a plastic cup was also a show highlight, starting with continuous shout-outs to "Plastic Cup Man," which eventually evolved into the dude being inserted into the narrative of the band's most well-known song, "Red Right Hand," metamorphosing Plastic Cup Man into a near mythological creature. Cave then cooled it on Plastic Cup Man references until the show's final minutes, whereupon he made one final triumphant mention which sent the crowd members who cared into a frenzy. Indeed, it was Cave's showmanship, along with the enthusiasm of those in the front section that saved the show for me. Also, after four decades of recording, Cave has quite a back catalog to choose from, and rather than hovering over only new material, Cave's setlist plucked songs from ten different albums.
Cave ended the show with an excellent four-song encore, and when the band began to play set-closer, "The Lyre of Orpheus," I decided to get on my feet again, regardless of whatever ice barrage awaited me. It was worth it, as my enjoyment was, at the least, tripled, and I left the show on the high I was hoping for. But this is still a travelogue, so here's a bonus epilogue because my night was not over.
BONUS EPILOGUE I knew the moment I sat in my car that if I did not get ice cream soon, I would certainly die on the two-hour drive home. I took the Interstate exit onto the dystopian Veterans Boulevard, spotted a McDonald's, decided the night would be a failure if it ended with me eating ice cream from McDonald's, and continued on through several of Veterans' approximately 60,000 red lights. I was just about to give up hope, but then New Orleans partially redeemed itself, offering me access to a 24-hour Baskin Robbins. Oreo Cake Batter ice cream got me part of the way home, and then I ended up in my bed somehow, and it was all over THE END.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Kent - Isola

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Swedish Edition: 8/10
English Edition: 9/10

As stated in my Kent review intro, after hearing the Kent song "We Ran Out of Time" on my local college radio station, I picked up Kent's Isola from my local awesome music store. Upon my first album listen, I was pleased to hear that "We Ran Out of Time" was actually a four minute re-mixed edit of "747," a near 8-minute epic of vast emotional scope. I was even more pleased to hear that "747" turned out to be the capper to a great rock album. Isola sees Kent graduating to the big leagues. Their songwriting becomes more timeless, their playing abilities are heightened, and the atmosphere is thicker. The English version contains a perfect combination of slower, more emotional songs, and faster...more emotional songs. Isola is a pretty emotional album. Isola also marks the point where the unique bass tone Martin Sköld achieved on Verkligen becomes trademarked. It is thick and rubbery, and it carries every song on its back. Awesome. I'll fault the Swedish language version one point for missing the song "Velvet." Occupying the track ten slot on the English Version, "Velvet" is a huge-sounding uptempo rock song, and without it, Isola's early ballad section (track 3-5) isn't quite balanced out. "Velvet" also works as a more natural segue into penultimate track, "Glider."
I could write quite a bit more about Isola, as I've listened to it so much over the last fifteen years, but I've covered the important bits, and the rest is up to you, the listener. Check it out.
Also, a note to young men in love: make your lady a mixtape featuring "Glider." It will help you get ahead.

1997(Swedish)/1998(English) BMG
1. Lifesavers 4:36
2. If You Were Here 4:01
3. Things She Said 3:55
4. Unprofessional 4:45
5. OWC 3:10
6. Celsius 4:16
7. Bianca 4:56
8. Before It All Ends 3:40
9. Elvis 4:33
10. Velvet 4:06
11. Glider 4:05
12. 747 7:48

Friday, August 01, 2014

Bates Motel -- Season One (Review)

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Bates Motel
2013 A&E
Season One
Score: 7/10

Psycho is one of the better films by arguably the greatest director of all time. The film, a master class in suspense and atmosphere, deserves its status as a classic. Now, as we continue into the depths of this age of infinite prequels and sequels, Psycho is ripe for mining. The film has been sequeled to death already, though, so the A&E channel has wisely chosen to take the prequel path with their series, Bates Motel. Considering the film features a guy who dresses in his dead mother's clothes, murders people in her guise, all while keeping his her corpse upright in a chair in the cellar, the series has a lot of ground to cover. Norman Bates must journey from a kind, well-mannered teenager to the severely disturbed individual mentioned in the previous sentence. Considering these horrific events have to somehow be entertaining and watchable over the course of multiple seasons, the showrunners, Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) and Carlton Cuse (Lost), have their work cut out for them.
The bad: Though Norman eventually has to reach quite a horrific state, the show can be a bit melodramatic at times. Rape, murder, illegal pot farming, sex slavery, incest--the show can lay it on pretty thick at times. The simple fact that Norman's mother is domineering and his family situation is poor could have fed these ten episodes with all the material they needed. The issues listed above continue to pile up to an almost ridiculous level--the show could be renamed "Don't Move to White Pine Bay," and perhaps be more aptly titled. All of this craziness undermines the seriousness of Bates Motel's first season a little. Also, Norman's mother is a bit hard to take at times, and while she is supposed to be, her motivations could have been revealed sooner than the final ten minutes of the season finale.
The good: For everything I've just mentioned, Bates Motel is a very fun, addictive program. The characters are well drawn, and the actors are enjoyable in their roles. The show dabbles quite a bit with high school romance, and actually does a great job of tying this in to Norman's future nature. Norman's romantic life also gives his mother fertile ground to roam. As Norman's mother, Norma (Yes, "Norma"), Vera Farmiga has the hardest task of any of Bates' actors. As previously stated, Norma acts bizarrely with no explanation for most of the season, so Farmiga has to work extra hard to inject some humanity and likability into the character. Elsewhere, Freddie Highmore does an excellent job portraying Norman's efforts to balance his devotion to Norma with actually having some sort of life. Highmore also excels at channeling his predecessor, Anthony Perkins, who portrayed Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho. One scene, involving a spurned Norman feverishly repeating his mother's words as he walks away from an ex-lover, is particularly chilling in its invocation of Perkins' performance. Indeed, the performances and character work, along with the setting and atmosphere, make Bates Motel worth watching.
"Indeed" is a swell word.