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Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Nicsperiment's Drive Home Playlist

I picked up my car up from my mother-in-law's tonight, and I drove it home. I have a deep connection to my car and the stuff in it, and I missed it deeply. As soon as I sat within its dark confines, I could feel the dopamine charging. I then threw on some of my absolute favorite songs from the past five or six years. Here is what I listened to in order, more for my benefit than anyone else's.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Various Artists -- The X-Files: The Album

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And this is it. The great divide. When something is at the height of its popularity, it can go in only one direction. In June of 1998, a film based upon The X-Files franchise was the highest grossing of its opening weekend, and made almost $200 million worldwide. A soundtrack released for the film debuted at #26 on the Billboard charts, despite not featuring a single hit song. When I listen to that album, I can hear the zeitgeist slipping away. When the show premiered its sixth season that fall, the ratings were 26% lower than the previous season premiere. The X-Files continued for another four years, but it just wasn't the same. Let me be clear, though. I enjoyed the sixth season of the show. I enjoyed the seventh. I enjoyed the majority of the eighth. Season nine had a couple good episodes. That last, not so much. But lets back up.
In June of 1998, The X-Files' place in popular culture was at its peak. That summer, The X-Files literally "went Hollywood," becoming a major motion picture, and also changing the filming location of the show from Vancouver to Los Angeles (and altering the look of the show forever...or at least for the next four seasons it ran...way more desert stories than forest ones from that point out). The X-Files important place in 90's culture was already set in stone as much as pop culture history can be. There wasn't much left for it to do.
After the summer of 1998, those who just watched The X-Files because it was the popular, new cool thing, or those who wanted concrete answers to every mystery, started to file out. Only the true fans (like yours truly) remained. But the moment before that happened, The X-Files film produced the #26 best selling album in America for the week of June 2-9, 1996.
The album itself is more polished, and on the whole contains less weird songs than 1996's Songs in the Key of X (the soundtrack for The X-Files, the TV show). Strangely enough, I already own albums by eight of the 14 artists presented here. X-Files and I were on the same wavelength...weird how that works out. In fact, Björk, The Cardigans and Dust Brothers were three of my absolute favorite artists of the time. Crazy. With that said, I will again do a track by track review of The X-Files: The Album, which is remarkably composed of 13 songs that are exclusive to it, and only one that is available elsewhere.
1. One by Filter: Filter, who also appear on Songs in the Key of X, kick off The X-Files: The Album. While Filter's contribution to the previous album was quiet and brooding, this cover of Three Dog Night's "One" for The X-Files: The Album explores the quiet-to-loud dynamics that dominated the following year's Filter full-length, Title of Record. It's nifty.
2. Flower Man by Tonic:Now what is this doing here? Tonic are responsible for a late 90's alt-rock song that was so ubiquitous and annoying, I don't want to talk about it. I like this "Flower Man" song a lot better. It's fun and crunchy, but doesn't sound like anything that has anything to do with The X-Files.
3. Walking After You by Foo Fighters:Like Filter, Foo Fighters also previously appeared on Songs in the Key of X, but here the bands' roles are reversed. Foo Fighters provided aggression before, but "Walking After You" a re-recorded song from The Colour and the Shape, is The X-Files: The Album's quiet moment. This sparklier, more condensed version of the song is a nice companion to the deep (but not yet romantic) love between Agents Mulder and Scully.
4. Beacon Light by Ween:Man, this song is so damn cool. It doesn't really remind one of The X-Files at all, except for the fact that they are both so damn cool. This was the worst individual song review ever. Also, the dude from Ween sounds like Dave Grohl, which is a little confusing This would make for a cool blooper-reel track.
5. Invisible Sun by Sting and Aswad:Ironically, the dark, searching tone of the Police's original version of this Sting-written song would have fit The X-Files nicely. Instead, we get an enjoyable, yet bafflingly sunny reggae version by Sting and Aswad. I don't envision aliens and government conspiracies when I hear this song, but I do envision Sting and Aswad holding their hands up in the air and waving them all around while they record their vocal takes. This is probably because on The Making of The X-Files Movie special the Fox Network aired to promote the movie, Sting and Aswad are shown holding their hands up in the air and waving them all around while they record their vocal takes. Also, its hard to take a band named Ass-wad seriously. Just kidding, Ass-wad fans.
6. Deuce by The Cardigans:Now here we go. The Cardigans' late 90's work is imbued with a certain inimitable fin-de-siecle, as if Nina Persson is sitting in a wall-papered room with the lights off, sitting by the window in dimming sunlight, waiting for the world to end. "Duece" is emblematic of that sound, a quiet, despairing rock song that suits The X-Files perfectly.
7. One More Murder by Better Than Ezra: Let me preface this: while Better Than Ezra are considered a local band here in South Louisiana, I've never been a fan. With that said, I like this song quite a bit. It's got the whole dark keyboard and lyrics thing going on while still existing as a fun, well-performed rock song. It sounds like it was written to play over the film's end credits, but unfortunately for it, the two best songs on this album are there instead.
8. More Than This by The Cure:Another drearily excellent song by Robert Smith and company. I can hear it playing over Mulder looking through the X on his apartment window, pining for Scully and acting all emo about his missing sister.
9. Hunter by Björk: This is the only song on this album that was originally released elsewhere. "Hunter" is taken from Björk's Homogenic, one of the best albums of all time. Its dark, questing tone fits X-Files like a glove.
10. 16 Horses by Soul Coughing:I mentioned how ridiculously 90's Soul Coughing's M. Doughty's vocals sounded in the Songs in the Key of X review. His singing is less affected here, but the song is still weird enough, and actually really good.
11. Crystal Ship by X: The only song on the soundtrack to actually appear in the film (playing on a bar jukebox while Mulder is getting sloshed). You would think a legendary punk band named "X" would mix well with The X-Files...and they do! This cover of The Doors ancient "Crystal Ship" melds marvelously with the atmosphere of the movie...and like many of the songs listed above, it's fun to listen to.
12. Black by Sarah McLachlan: Even this dark, atmospheric Sarah McLachlan song reminds me of a three-legged, one-eyed puppy.
13. Teotihuacan by Noel Gallagher: You might know Noel Gallagher from Oasis, aka, the brothers who hate each other. The Gallagher brothers have gone their separate ways, but even before that, Noel was not afraid to strike out on his own, as he did with the instrumental"Teotihuacan." "Teotihuacan" takes a page from the house music of the time, adding in a big beat, and some nice ambient textures. This was my favorite track from the soundtrack back then, and even two years later, I was putting it on my summer mixtape...I have a shoebox full of summer mixtapes...cassettes are cool. This song shared the end credits of the film with the aforementioned Foo Fighters song.
14. The X-Files Theme by Dust Brothers:Another instrumental, and this time by one of my favorite artists. These two brothers don't hate each other, but they also aren't actually brothers. Dust Brothers form their cover around their signature, detritus of the 20th Century sound (I actually think they somehow still live in the 20th Century, as they've been relatively quiet in this one...I wish they would take me with them). The classic, whistle-theme melody is played by a cool old spy guitar, with some ancient woodwinds echoing, and a retro beat pulling the whole thing together, along with a ton of samples and other cool Dust Brothers' sounds. I miss those guys.

So overall, The X-Files: The Album is actually a very well collected and put together soundtrack. There isn't a stinker in the bunch, and the songs are almost all exclusive. Though the music doesn't always fit the tone of the film, the whole and its parts make for a solid listen.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: As stated in the previous paragraph, the 20th Century ended, and though some of us hoped it would stick around, some huge idiots flew planes into some buildings to put two giant, flaming exclamation points at the end of its sentence. The world, or at least the world through an American lens, changed forever. This was a world in which the fun, alien-centered, conspiratorial mysteries of the X-Files no longer existed. In the place of space aliens hiding among us, making arcane machinations with the government, were evil terrorists hiding among us, who flew planes into buildings and killed 3,000 people. Not fun at all. The X-Files could no longer thrive in such an environment, particularly without its lead actor, David Duchovny, who only appeared in scattered episodes during the final two seasons.
For a nostalgia-centered man like myself, watching The X-Files now is like looking into a window of better times. But whatever, time marches on. Three more X-Files CD's were released in the 21st Century.
The first is Mark Snow's score for 2008's disappointing X-Files: I Want to Believe feature film, which should have been treated as a bigger deal by the studio who created it. Maybe one day, I'll go back to Snow's score for that movie, but until then, hearing it during my one viewing of the film is going to have to be enough. A few years ago, La-La Land Records, purveyors of rare soundtracks, released two extremely limited-edition volumes of music Mark Snow composed for the television series. These volumes are four-discs apiece, and are the only place to find these particular cues by Snow. Pressing was limited to 3,000, and used copies go on Amazon for the cost of a car payment, so I am going to have to pass on those two until they are more widely released, if ever.
I don't want to end on a depressing note, though. The four music releases I own are all uniquely awesome, and most importantly, with the show and films readily available in this digital age (I have them all on DVD, but still, cool), I, my family, and anyone else can watch and listen to The X-Files anytime they want. Maybe the present isn't so bad after all.
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Illustration by Sue Coe, 1996,  taken from her online gallery.

1998 Elektra
1. One by Filter 4:40
2. Flower Man by Tonic 2:56
3. Walking After You by Foo Fighters 4:07
4. Beacon Light by Ween 4:01
5. Invisible Sun by Sting and Aswad 4:08
6. Deuce by The Cardigans 3:32
7. One More Murder by Better Than Ezra 4:38
8. More Than This by The Cure 5:10
9. Hunter by Björk 3:30
10. 16 Horses by Soul Coughing 2:37
11. Crystal Ship by X 2:19
12. Black by Sarah McLachlan 4:29
13. Teotihuacan by Noel Gallagher 7:06
14. The X-Files Theme by Dust Brothers (includes a secret track, featuring Chris Carter explaining the plot of the series) 14:13

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mark Snow -- The X-Files: Original Motion Picture Score

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Mark's Snow's soundtrack for the 1998 film, The X:Files Fight the Future, was released more than two weeks before the movie. Befitting the nerddom I have revealed this week, I picked up the album the week of its release, eagerly poring over its music, which, for the next 17 days, would be completely free of associated imagery. Using the track-titles and music, I pieced together what the film could be in my imagination. The weekend of the film's release, my family was vacationing in the "Cajun Paradise" of Grand Isle, Louisiana. I picked up a Nintendo Power on the way there, excitedly read the cover story for Banjo Kazooie, listened to my X-Files CD. To be 16 is a wonderful thing. We got back home Sunday, and I caught a ride to the movie theater (RIP Siegen Village). While I admittedly enjoyed the film, and still do, nothing could have matched the one I created in my head to Mark Snow's music.
Mark Snow had the dual enviable/non-enviable task of translating his music for X-Files the television show to X-Files the movie. Enviably, Snow now had a much larger variety of available tools in his composing arsenal. Unenviably, Snow had to create a huge-sounding orchestral score that could soundtrack a film, while staying true to the tone and sounds of the dozens of hours of music he composed for the soundtrack for the television series. Thankfully, Snow was up to the task.
Snow's The X-Files: Original Motion Picture Scoreis a good one by film soundtrack standards, suspenseful and thrilling, yet ruminative when necessary. It matches executive producer Christ Carter's wishes for atonalism without sacrificing listenability. It is also an excellent translation of Snow's previous work for the show. For example, the The X-Files' main whistle-theme receives a major upgrade at the beginning of the film, but loses none of its enjoyability. Spellcheck says "enjoyability" and "listenability" and even "atonalism" are not words, but I'm gonna go with them.

What's really cool here is how Snow took the percussion, emblematic of his work on the show, but often synthesized, and fully realized it for the film. It's a timpani symphony! The synthesizer translates to strings and horns well, and Snow manages to get some of his distinctive minor key piano work in, as well. Also, as a fan, looking for echoes of themes from the show is quite a treat.
Finally, the way Snow flirts with the melody of the show's original whistle-theme after its dominant announcement in the opening track is particularly satisfying. He often will play a couple of notes from it, then take off in unexpected directions--that way, the few times he allows the orchestra to fully rip into it are more cathartic. While most of the score unfolds chronologically with the film, the producers wisely placed the film-closing, exposition-backing "Facts" as the penultimate track here, allowing the climactic "Crater Hug" to close out the album. As a final statement of Snow's X-Files theme in the film, it is a particularly powerful celebration of the deepened bond between the franchise's leading duo.

Why didn't Scully just look up?! The UFO was right there!!!

1998 Elektra
1. Threnody in X 3:13
2. B.C. Blood 2:26
3. Goop 4:17
4. Soda Pop 4:45
5. Already Dead 1:42
6. Cave Base 1:31
7. Remnants 2:10
8. Fossil Swings 0:58
9. Plague 3:22
10. Goodbye Bronschweig 2:40
11. A Call to Arms 0:57
12. Crossroads 2:17
13. Corn Hives 3:04
14. Corn Copters 2:35
15. Out of Luck 1:00
16. Stung Kissing/Cargo Hold 4:11
17. Come and Gone 5:27
18. Trust No One 2:51
19. Ice Base 1:33
20. Mind Games 3:52
21. Nightmare 2:44
22. Pod Monster Suite 5:21
23. Facts 2:35
24. Crater Hug 2:05

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mark Snow -- The Truth and the Light (Music from The X-Files)

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The next best thing to watching The X-Files is listening to Mark Snow's The Truth and the Light. Mark Snow composed the music for all nine of The X-Files' seasons, but The Truth and the Light, released in late 1996, only covers the first three. Thankfully, those first three seasons contain arguably the show's two best (Seasons 2 and 3), and the music found therein encompasses every mood and feeling the show achieved throughout its nine-year run.
Snow used sythesizers to create a percussive score, thick with atmosphere, punctuating it at times with little touches of strings and voice. Something I forgot until I listened to this album last week in the car with my five-year old: this music is quite scary. By track five, I had to apologize to my son and turn it off, though his eyes were a little bigger than usual for the rest of drive. Snow is heavily responsible for much of the dark feeling imbued deeply into the fabric of The X-Files (of course, along with the subject matter, and the "no lights must every be turned on in any room, ever" direction).
Listening to this soundtrack is like stepping through a window into another plane. It is extremely transportive. Snow also produced the album, along with Jeff Charbonneau, and the duo made the then highly controversial decision to scatter snippets of dialogue from the show throughout The Truth and the Light's 20 tracks. While the critics of 1996 took issue with this choice, here in 2015, it sounds brilliant. By this point, the dialogue spoken and the music itself are so intimately woven together, they are nearly inseparable.
I must not fail to mention that, like the show itself, the moods of Snow's score are actually quite diverse. This music is more than just haunting and creepy. Some tracks hold a plaintive and meditative quality, some a thrilling rush, while some are quite light-hearted, representing the more comedic tones the show was quite capable of creating.
Overall, The Truth and the Light is my favorite of the more than a handful of albums associated with The X-Files. In essence, it is the show, all nine seasons, compacted into one 46-minute wormhole into the unknown. Awesome.

1996 Warner Bros.
1. Introitus: Praeceps Transito Spatium 1:51
2. Materia Primoris: The X-Files Theme (Main Title) 3:22
3. Raptus ("Pilot") 3:16
4. Adflatus" ("One Breath") 4:00
5. Deverbero ("F. Emasculata") 1:28
6. Cantus Excio ("The Calusari") 4:42
7. Mercutura ("Gender Bender", "F. Emasculata") 3:23
8. Lamenta ("Roland") 1:48
9. Insequi ("Oubliette") 1:37
10. Otium ("Conduit") 1:43
11. Dubitatio ("F. Emasculata") 2:49
12. Iter ("Nisei") 1:20
13. Progigno De Axis ("Nisei") 1:35
14. Carmen Amatorium Ex Arcanum ("3") 2:38
15. Facetus Malum ("Humbug") 2:42
16. Memoria ("Shapes") 2:02
17. Mitus Lumen ("Soft Light") 2:41
18. Fides Fragilis ("The Erlenmeyer Flask") 1:35
19. Exoptare Ex Veritas ("Oubliette") 1:30
20. Kyrie ("Grotesque") 1:43

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Various Artists -- Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files

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I have very fond memories of looking at the back of Songs in the Key of X's CD case while hanging out at the Blockbuster Music (later converted to a Wherehouse Music...then FYE) as a teenager. The names of the songs and bands just seemed so dark..."Unmarked Helicopters" by Soul Coughing...a soul coughing?...scary, man! The jewel case featured a parental advisory, and I knew one thing immediately...I needed to start watching The X-Files regularly.
I had watched a couple of episodes before with my good old Uncle Steve, but I was a little scared that if I tried to watch the show at home, my mom would think it was too scary or something and complain about it. But wonder of those days, my mom was almost never home! A few weeks after Songs In the Key of X was released, I became a regular X-Files viewer, and the rest, including naming my firstborn after the protagonist of the show, is history. I have the cover art and tracklisting of this album to thank for all of it.
The funny thing is, I never actually purchased this CD back in the 90's. It wasn't until years later, when the show had been off the air for nearly a decade, that I remembered the impetus for my fandom, and purchased Songs in the Key of X for a penny off of Amazon.
Many soundtracks claim to be "Inspired by the Film," but in this case, the title is true (well, "Inspired by the Television Program"). Most of Songs in the Key of X was created by artists who are fans of The X-Files, and the lyrical subject matter (generally involving strange occurrences) is evidence. The album was released near the end of X-Files third season, in the Spring of 1996. What lovely days those were.
Listening to Songs in the Key of X for this week of reviews, 19 years after its release, the album is...interesting. How about a classic, track-by-track style review. I'm not asking.
-2. Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum by Nick Cave and Dirty Three: Yes, that's right, "-2." Songs in the Key of X exploits the format it was created for to the max, utilizing the compact disc's "pre-gap." This means that if one rewinds the CD right when it is put into the player, one can reach two hidden tracks by Cave and his band of weirdos. This is a nightmare for anyone attempting to digitize the album, but a dream for the ears of anyone with good taste, as this and -1. X-Files Theme Cover, also by Nick Cave and Dirty Three are by far Songs in the Key of X's strongest tracks. They are also its most timeless. While the majority of the songs I'm about to review are performed in the guitar-rock style of the time, Nick Cave and Dirty Three's two tracks here are haunting, violin-led wanderings through a dark, blighted forest. Cave's ghostly lyrics and piano playing on "Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum" set just the tone one would expect for an album inspired by one of the scariest shows to ever air on network television. Following "Time Jesum...,"the group's previously-mentioned cover does justice to The X-Files iconic theme song, while changing it to such an original degree that their version is vital, as well.
1. X-Files Theme (Main Title) by Mark Snow: And speaking of that theme, here it is in all its glory. Placed on as many "Greatest TV Theme Song" lists as "Most Annoying TV Theme Song" lists, the whistle and piano trade-offs of Mark Snow's timeless, most well-known creation are sure to stick in the listener's head. Presented uncut here, the theme's additional two-minutes, not heard on broadcast, feature a more playful vibe only hinted by the opening minute, while not sacrificing any of the piece's darkness or mystery. I've listened to this piece of music about 1,000 times in my life, and God-willing, I'll listen to it 1,000 more.
2. Unmarked Helicopters by Soul Coughing: I mentioned timeless to describe the first three tracks for a reason--large portions of the rest of this album are not. "Unmarked Helicopters" arrives like a falling parachute emblazoned with the words WELCOME TO THE 90's, as Mike Doughty's vocal-style could only have been performed in that decade. "Unmarked Helicopters" is actually an enjoyable song, but it isn't dark in the least, outside of the lyrics, which fit The X-Files quite well.
3. On the Outside by Sheryl Crow: This song is quite a happy surprise. One does not expect "dark" from Sheryl Crow, but the creeping minimalism of "On the Outside" does the trick. Though I'm not a fan of the vast majority of Crow's work (cool last name, though!), I enjoy this song, and I don't hate her theme song for the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. Weird.
4. Down in the Park by Foo Fighters: Recent fans of Foo Fighters may be surprised to hear their raw, fuzzed out contribution to this soundtrack. However, this album hearkens back to a day where Dave Grohl was better known as "the drummer from Nirvana," and Foo Fighters, at least to my recollection of 1996, as "the new band by the drummer from Nirvana." "Down in the Park," a Gary Numan cover, suits this darker, grungier version of Foo Fighters quite well, and Numan's lyrics fit the X-Files bill.
5. Star Me Kitten by William S. Burroughs & R.E.M.: The X-Files is a weird show and "Star Me Kitten" is a weird song. R.E.M.'s music sounds like the backing track for one of those late night "Magic Healing Rag" infomercials, and the opening line, "Keys cut, three for the price of one," seems to support such an idea. The line is read-sung by William S. Burroughs, who sounds like a crazy, end-times street preacher throughout, particularly during the song's profane finale. The music and words clash unsettlingly, though "Star Me Kitten" fits the soundtrack by basis of weirdness alone.
6. Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: "Red Right Hand" is one of the few songs on this soundtrack to have actually been featured on the show beforehand. Indeed, the season two scene from the episode, "Ascension," might be The X-Files most iconic musical moment. Show creator, Chris Carter, actually uses Songs in the Key of X's liner notes to explain how "Red Right Hand" inspired the creation of this collection of music. The bass and organ led "Red Right Hand" is most likely the standout song of Nick Cave's standout career, and one of my favorite songs of the 90's.
7. Thanks Bro by Filter: When I reviewed Filter's Short Bus, I described its "Stuck in Here" as a song where "one can easily visualize sitting in a moldering room housing all the burnt out, barely operating artifacts of the 20th Century, as this crackles from a rusting phonograph." "Thanks Bro" follows suit (there is literally an old song crackling out of a phonograph in the background), forgoing the usual jackhammer Filter sound for brooding minimalism, Unlike "Stuck in Here,"though, "Thanks Bro" builds to a cathartic, if still subdued finale.
8. Man of Steel by Frank Black: I didn't even realize Frank Black was the frontman for the Pixies until I researched the song for this review, and that is because there is absolutely nothing special about "Man of Steel." It is just a generic 90's rock song that slides in one ear and out the other, and it does not match the feeling of The X-Files in any way, shape, or form.
9. Unexplained by Meat Puppets: "Unexplained" does not slide in one ear and out the other because it is absolutely terrible. The only real stinker out of the bunch, "Unexplained" features a cloying, repetitive, circular chorus that just won't end, and I almost ripped the CD out of the player and threw it out the window. These are the same Meat Puppets that filled out Nirvana's live band for their incredible "MTV Unplugged" album, one of my all-time favorites. I have no idea how Meat Puppets composed something so horrible, but if I haven't driven the point home yet, "Unexplained" is really, really terrible, and like "Man of Steel," does nothing to conjure the mood of the show upon whose soundtrack it finds itself...even though the song is called "Unexplained."
10. Deep by Danzig: Now here is a song that sounds like it would be in an episode of X-Files, and indeed, it is (Season 3's "Syzygy"). "Deep" sounds like you are in a dirty, rusty, freak-inhabited hallway at night, and Danzig is chasing you with an axe. Awesome.
11. Frenzy by Screamin' Jay Hawkins: Speaking of freaks, "Frenzy" appears in the classic Season 2 episode, "Humbug." Originally recorded in 1957, "Frenzy" features Hawkins' classic manic, shouted, burbling delivery, perfect for the carnival-set episode it backed, and perfect for this collection. If Screamin' Jay Hawkins doesn't ring a bell, you might know him from his his yesteryear hit, "I Put a Spell on You."
12. My Dark Life by Elvis Costello, with Brian Eno: If you think Elvis Costello's name doesn't exactly scream X-Files, you're on to something. "My Dark Life" is an unusual song, but Costello's smooth, comforting delivery, despite being backed by some decently spooky Brian Eno synths, just does not fit here.
13. Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn) by Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper: "Hands of Death," however, does fit here, with the shock-rock dream-team of Zombie and Cooper sounding the part. Zombie could really produce a satisfyingly meaty guitar tone, and the song is heavy, while still being a lot of fun (it got nominated for a Grammy). My only complaint, and I feel like a grandpa for saying this, is that I can't understand anything the two are singing.
14. If You Never Say Goodbye by P.M. Dawn: Another weird choice...isn't P.M. Dawn a hip-hop group? This is apparently not that "P.M. Dawn." I think I would have preferred the rappers. The lyrics for "If You Never Say Goodbye" are probably the darkest found within this collection, but the song sounds like what would happen if instead of men, Boy George was sexually attracted to flanger pedals.
15. X-Files Theme (P.M. Dawn Remix): After Nick Cave and Dirty Three's outstanding re-imagining of the show's theme, P.M. Dawn, who bafflingly get to contribute two tracks to this disc, try their hand. However, in light of the excellence of the two other version's present on this disc, P.M. Dawn's goofy, disco twist sounds a bit silly. Sorry, P.M. Dawn.
And that's it. If I may, and I will, for who can stop me, I will mention some curious omissions. I really think James' "Ring the Bells," from Season 3's "DPO," should have been included. That moment is incredible, catching my ear back-in-the-day, and my wife's ear years later, when we were in the midst of our three-year long X-Files honeymoon. It is also strange that Filter's "Hey Man Nice Shot," also from "DPO," is not included, though that song was perhaps already too ubiquitous to be featured. "Thanks Bro" fits better, anyway.
Finally, a note on the packaging. My case includes a small catalog insert of 1996 X-Files merchandise for sale, i.e. X-Files' coffee mugs (when you fill them up with coffee, they say 'Trust No One!"), clothing, and an invitation to join The Official X-Files Fan Club, all available by mail order. I wonder what would happen if I sent this off to:
411 N Central Ave #300
Glendale, CA 91203
(Allow 4-6 Weeks for Delivery)
Has someone been sitting in a warehouse for 19 years awaiting my order?
Also, the foldout artwork included in the CD booklet, particularly an illustration of The X-Files Rogues Gallery by Sue Coe, is incredible.
So in conclusion, Songs in the Key of X, despite its considerable week points, really accomplishes what a physical musical release should. It is mainly composed of tracks that can only be found on itself. It includes material that essentially disables the album from being burned, intensifying its importance as an actual physical release. Finally, it includes exclusive, beautiful artwork that fans will want to own. And it costs a penny on Amazon.

1996 Warner Bros
-2. Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum by Nick Cave and Dirty Three 6:26
-1. The X-Files Theme Cover by Nick Cave and Dirty Three 2:52
1. X-Files Theme (Main Title) by Mark Snow 3:24
2. Unmarked Helicopters by Soul Coughing 3:22
3. On the Outside by Sheryl Crow 4:36
4. Down in the Park by Foo Fighters 4:04
5. Star Me Kitten by William S. Burroughs & R.E.M. 3:30
6. Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 6:11
7. Thanks Bro by Filter 4:10
8. Man of Steel by Frank Black 4:59
9. Unexplained by Meat Puppets 3:44
10. Deep by Danzig 3:50
11. Frenzy by Screamin' Jay Hawkins 2:10
12. My Dark Life by Elvis Costello with Brian Eno 6:20
13. Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn) by Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper 4:12
14. If You Never Say Goodbye by P.M. Dawn 4:06
15. X-Files Theme (P.M. Dawn Remix) by P.M. Dawn 3:59

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's the Music of The X-Files Week On The Nicsperiment!

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Above: The worst possible screenshot I could take from the greatest possible television episode of all time.

If you in any way, shape, or form, consider yourself a nerd, and even if you don't, you have most likely experienced several pop cultural touchstones that hold such a revered place in your mind, just thinking their title produces a comforting rush of dopamine, like sinking into an easy chair in a lamp-lit room. If you thought that was a run-on sentence, you've obviously never been here before. Anyway, these things most likely changed your life, the flow of your subconscious, and maybe even conscious thought.
I can think of a few things offhand that ease my mind: travelling through time with my friends in Chrono Trigger. Slacking through space with the crew of the Cowboy Bebop. The strains of John Williams right before Luke Skywalker tells Chewbacca to "take care of himself," about 20 minutes into The Empire Strikes Back. Exploring the mysteries of The X-Files.
The 1990's science fiction program, The X-Files, hit just about every sweet spot the teenage me had. I wanted to be Mulder. I wanted to go out with Scully. I distrusted the government. I wanted to believe in aliens. I liked scary stuff. I liked dark humor. I liked dark rooms, dark alleyways. I was a weirdo. The X-Files was my show.
A half-decade after The X-Files ended, I got married. Shortly thereafter, my wife asked if I had any shows on DVD we could watch together. "Ever watch X-Files?" I asked.
She watched the entire series and both films with me, and when we received the surprise news that we were with child (well, she was with my child...that expression is terrible!), we settled on the name within about five minutes. Yes, my kid is named after a character from The X-Files.
With that said, as I have reached "M" for Mark Snow, The X-Files music composer, I have decided to just review every X-Files album in my collection over the course of the next four days. Enjoy, or wallow in fear at the extent of the nerditry displayed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Marco D'Ambrosio and "The Castle Chaythe"

While I will not review Marco D'Ambrosio's full soundtrack for the anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, I will say that it is a pretty good soundtrack for a pretty good film. Like the movie, though, the soundtrack has some really great standout moments. The film itself does an excellent job of shedding the fan-service moments the original is famous for. Bloodlust also features some incredible animation, and for anime fans, as well as fans of action films in general, it is most definitely worth watching. D'Ambrosio's soundtrack helps mightily: without visuals, the dark mood set by D'Ambrosio's "The Castle Chaythe" can conjure a structure more gothically horrifying than the one in the film.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mae -- The Everglow

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Mae's first album, Destination Beautiful, is just a little too weak for me. Really smooth, bouncy singing, poppy songs, overly simplistic drums. However, Destination Beautiful has its moments, particularly "Summertime," which proves that Mae can rock out if they want to. On sophomore album, The Everglow, they want to, but not too hard, and that's okay. The reason it's okay? Because there aren't many albums that can produce the kind of feelings The Everglow can? What kind of feelings?
Yes, this is one of those wonderful Nicsperiment Q&A reviews. I never actually plan them as such...sometimes they just come out this way. Anyway, what kind of feelings?
WARNING: I'm not gonna put any commas in the following sentence. You know that moment when you tell a girl you like her and then there's that excruciating but wonderful moment immediately after where you wait for her to say that she likes you back?
That's this entire album, with the added bonus of having that "she said yes" high included.
My cousin Jared had The Everglow's "The Sun and the Moon" played at his wedding, as his soon to be wife walked down the isle toward him--perfect, as there is that "Is she going to not show up" moment, immediately followed by that "Wow, she did show up, and she dressed for the occasion!" one.

2005 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Prologue 1:16
2. We're So Far Away 3:50
3. Someone Else's Arms 5:09
4. Suspension 4:00
5. This Is the Countdown 3:57
6. Painless 4:20
7. The Ocean 4:41
8. Breakdown 4:14
9. Mistakes We Knew We Were Making 5:07
10. Cover Me 4:34
11. The Everglow 3:28
12. Ready and Waiting to Fall 4:21
13. Anything 4:03
14. The Sun and the Moon 7:16
15. Epilogue 0:54

Friday, January 16, 2015

M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

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M83's double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, is jubiliant and lovely. It features several key differences from its predecessor, Saturdays = Youth: it does not feature any 10-minute instrumentals solely consisting of two alternating keyboard notes, it flows perfectly, and it includes better, bigger-sounding songs. Actually, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming sounds huge.
I remember an October 2011 night drive with my wife and nearly two-year old son, heading from a wedding rehearsal to a distant restaraunt, blasting this album, everything feeling enormous and wonderful, brilliant payoff to a brilliant year. This is that kind of album. Giant synths, atmospheric guitars, big beats, children telling stories about frogs, funk-slap bass, dreamy lyrics, saxophones. Anthony Gonzales is going to have a tough time topping this one.

2011 Naive/Mute
Disc One
1. Intro 5:22
2. Midnight City 4:03
3. Reunion 3:55
4. Where the Boats Go 1:46
5. Wait 5:43
6. Raconte-moi une histoire 4:04
7. Train to Pluton 1:15
8. Claudia Lewis 4:31
9. This Bright Flash 2:23
10. When Will You Come Home? 1:23
11. Soon, My Friend 3:09

Disc Two
1. My Tears Are Becoming a Sea 2:31
2. New Map 4:22
3. OK Pal 3:58
4. Another Wave from You 1:53
5. Splendor 5:06
6. Year One, One UFO 3:17
7. Fountains 1:21
8. Steve McQueen 3:48
9. Echoes of Mine 3:39
10. Klaus I Love You 1:44
11. Outro 4:07

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

M83 -- Saturdays = Youth

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M83 is essentially a solo project for Frenchman, Anthony Gonzalez. M83 is very keyboard-centric, but Gonzalez plays guitar, as well. Saturdays = Youth's sound is thick and full of echo. The intended vibe is definitely the 80's, and on Saturdays = Youth, Gonzalez conjures the musical emotions of that decade quite well. Perhaps too well, as Saturdays = Youth, with its sometimes ten-minute swells of keyboard noise, is more a presentation of texture and atmosphere than a collection of songs. What songs do exist in this 62-minute cavern of reverb are pretty good, though, particularly "Kim & Jessie," whose accompanying video is a perfect visual exploration of the 80's ambiance evoked by Saturdays = Youth.

2008 Virgin/EMI Records/Mute
1. You, Appearing 3:39
2. Kim & Jessie 5:23
3. Skin of the Night 6:12
4. Graveyard Girl 4:51
5. Couleurs 8:34
6. Up! 4:27
7. We Own the Sky 5:02
8. Highway of Endless Dreams 4:35
9. Too Late 5:00
10. Dark Moves of Love 3:18
11. Midnight Souls Still Remain 11:11

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Clockwork Kubrick: Comparing the Films of Stanley Kubrick To Their Adapted Sources

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I think it is preposterous that one should think something is good because one is supposed to think that something is good. When evaluating material, a well-rounded viewer or reader should always view that material on its own merits--not merits that have been granted it by others.
As a teenager, I watched most of Stanley Kubrick's films. My classmates recommended them to me for two reasons:
1. They had boobs in them.
2. If they didn't have boobs in them, they were at least violent.
However, as a teenager, I also attained the opinion that I espoused in the first sentence of this post.
For example, I viewed the film Lifeforce when I was 16-years old (thanks Encore Network!). Lifeforce also has boobs in it, really awesome boobs, and I was still objective enough to realize that Lifeforce is a really, really terrible movie, despite Mathilda May's two major contributions. But why start off a serious piece with boobs? Because in a round about way, boobs will be a major part of this discussion.
But ignoring boobs for a moment, Stanley Kubrick was quite fond of adapting novels into screenplays, and subsequently, films. This piece will explore three films that Kubrick made nearly back to back, their source material, and how each fares in light of the other.
We begin with

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Directed by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from the book of the same title by Arthur C. Clarke

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Stanley Kubrick began his career as a photographer. As a filmmaker, Kubrick's greatest strength is the composition of images. 2001: A Space Odyssey contains little dialogue--Kubrick himself considered the film a "non-verbal experience^1. Instead, the film relies nearly completely on imagery and sound. Thus, it is Stanley Kubrick's greatest film.
2001 is told in four basic acts. The opening involves apes on a prehistoric Earth. The second involves astronauts visiting the moon. The third involves astronauts traversing the solar system. The fourth involves one of those astronauts venturing into a mysterious object among the moons of Saturn.
2001 plays to all of Kubrick's strengths. Actors make little contribution, outside of Keir Dullea's outstanding work as harried astronaut, Dave Bowman, and Douglas Rain's voice-over for the iconic robot, HAL 9000. Kubrick is free to focus on his well-known perfectionism as much as he wants. The film's imagery is stunning, even 47 years later. 2001's set design, along with Kubrick's framing and camera movement, seer images into the viewer's brain forever. The film's actual story is obtuse, which again plays to Kubrick's strengths, as he is allowed to convey his tale with images, allowing its interpretation to the viewer. Without all that pesky dialogue to deal with, Kubrick is also free to place classical music over nearly every scene, climaxing in a mind-bending moment where Bowman flies his spacecraft into the mysterious object orbiting Saturn. Kubrick uses György Ligeti’s Requiem to score Bowman's descent into the unknown, and as I viewed 2001 as a 16-year old, this sequence seemed to last a brilliant eternity--I could feel my face euphorically peeling back from my skull. This scene holds up today to the degree that the director of 2014's Godzilla, Gareth Edwards, used the same musical piece to score a climatic scene where soldiers skydive into the middle of a battle between 1000-feet tall monsters--and it works on the simple basis of evocation.
Arthur C Clarke's novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is unique in that it was written in cooperation with Kubrick as Kubrick made the film. Thus, the novel is very close in content to the film. Clarke is a fine and imaginative writer, but in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a picture is worth 1000 words, and the pictures are in the film. Clarke's writing just can't compete with what Kubrick puts on screen, and in perhaps one of the strangest flips of book and movie phenomena, Kubrick's film work actually allows the viewer's imagination more room to work than that of a reader of Clarke's book. So while Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey is simply a great book, Kubrick's film transcends its medium, becoming a part of the viewing body's consciousness. No small feat.

A Clockwork Orange (1971), Directed by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from the book of the same title by Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange centers on Alex, a violent young gang member living in a future British dystopia. Alex, along with his gang, spend their nights drinking drug-laced milk, beating innocent people they find in the streets, robbing, and raping women. I would generally consider Alex's gang's activities bad, but the film doesn't seem to be sure. Eventually, young Alex accidentally murders a woman his gang is thieving from, and he ends up in prison. There, to drastically speed up his sentence, Alex volunteers for an experimental brain treatment that renders the subject unable to commit acts of violence. Alex is treated, released to the world, where he finds his parents no longer have a place for him, and that the streets are no place for a man who cannot fight to defend himself. Eventually, as Alex becomes a pawn in a political battle, he is "cured" of his treatment and presumably goes back to his merry robbing, raping ways. Plentiful British boobage abounds.
So what is Kubrick getting at here? Let's look at the source material.
Anthony Burgess, in the forward to the most recently printed edition of A Clockwork Orange, admits that he does not regard it as among his strongest works. He says, "It seems likely to survive, while other works of mine that I value more bite the dust."^2. Burgess even goes so far as to wish he'd never written it, as he feels the film that adapted it, missing vital parts of the original novel, seemed to glorify sex and violence. Burgess pushes this point so vigorously, his editor actually includes a note following the forward that seems to apologize for it. However, when reading the complete novel, the reason for the intensity of Burgess' feelings becomes clear.
Stanley Kubrick, despite living in Britain, based his film adaptation on the original American edition of A Clockwork Orange. This version omits the redemptive chapter of Burgess' original draft, published in its entirety in his native Britain. In this closing chapter, as Alex leaves his teenage years behind, he feels himself growing bored with the violent life, desiring a family instead. This rounds out Burgess' theme: it is wrong for a society to control the mind of even its worst citizen--Alex has to make the decision to change for himself. Kubrick's version ends with a "cured" Alex grinning in his hospital bed as he fantasizes a violent sexual encounter. Kubrick, unwittingly, negates Burgess' original theme. In Kubrick's adaptation, society would fare better had Alex not been cured of his non-violence treatment. Now, Alex is off to roam the streets and hurt everyone he comes into contact with once again. Worst of all, the film doesn't seem to have a problem with Alex's actions. In the film, as Alex fights and rapes, he is shot and framed by Kubrick as a hero; perhaps the most egregious offense of this begins in the scene photographed above:
Alex, cool as a cucumber, visits a music store to buy a Beethoven record, takes two beautiful women home, and consensually bangs their brains out in a scene that is fast-forwarded to reveal the almost unbelievable amount of stamina Alex possesses to commit the numerous acts and positions he undertakes. To everyone I went to high school with, Alex was a hero--what sixteen year-old kid doesn't want to do what Alex does in this scene? In Burgess' book, Alex is not given such ample opportunity for hero-worship. He does indeed visit a music store and take two females home to commit hours of unspeakable acts--the two girls are ten years old. Burgess portrays the depravity beneath Alex's youthful, melodious language. Then, in the end, he redeems him. Whether intentionally or not, Kubrick mythologizes Alex's deplorable acts and decides Alex is fine just the way he is.
In all honesty, my impression of the film as a sixteen year-old was unchanged upon a recent viewing: That was weird, but those were some nice boobs. A Clockwork Orange features a lot of boobs. I can only imagine the casting sessions for the ample cache of boobs involved in the film. Kubrick has an unquestionably excellent visual eye, the only real strength of this film, which works so hard to argue against the point it is trying to make, it is meaningless.

The Shining (1980), Directed by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from the book of the same title by Stephen King

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The Shining follows Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, his wife Wendy, and their son, Danny, as they spend a winter in the haunted Overlook Hotel. Danny is gifted with psychic visions of the future. Things do not go well for the Torrances. Kubrick's The Shining received negative reviews upon its release. Of the three films explored here, The Shining is the only one I disliked upon my initial high school viewing. Many people I know love the film. After a decade or so, The Shining went from a critical flop to a film some critics considered among the finest ever made. I wondered if my perception of the film would change over time, as well. It did not.
In this case, I will more directly interweave my commentary between film and adaptation--the book remedies everything I believe ails the film. Let's start from the beginning:
Jack Torrance, portrayed by Jack Nicholson is clearly mentally unstable from the start of the film. After he is briefly introduced to the hotel after his hire as winter caretaker, Torrance picks up his family from a nearby town and brings them to their new winter home. As the family drives in the car, no connection or sign of affection between Torrance and his family is conveyed. These are just three people in a car. No reason is given to care for any of them. In the book, Torrance is fully fleshed out from the start: his battle with alcohol, his struggles with his temper, but most importantly, his love for his family, particularly Danny. The relationship between Danny and Jack is central to the novel. The two share one scene together in the film, and Jack is already completely mentally unhinged--there is no connection between the two of them. The book gives ample reason to care for these three and their struggling, yet tightly knit family. In the film they aren't even characters. Wendy is perhaps the most egregious offense in this department. In the book, Wendy is a strong, self-reliant, flaxen-haired New England woman. She is tied to Jack because her relationship with her family is even more dysfunctional, and because she has well-founded hope that her little family can make it. In the film, Wendy is a dark-haired, wide-eyed, slack-jawed, Southern idiot. Her lines are entirely contained to drawled out statements like, "Wowwee! Ain't this place nice!" Her character has no depth whatsoever, and barely even exists. Jack's distaste for her is apparent from their first scene together, and it is unbelievable that these two would have ever married each other in the first place, let alone copulated. Without characters, all Kubrick's Shining has left is the visuals--they are yet again gorgeous. The visuals are the reason to watch the film. Kubrick framed every shot in The Shining with all of the passion he could summon--his passion certainly isn't in the characters or the screenplay.
And it all comes back to boobs. King's book features one of the scariest passages ever written. It begins with young Danny venturing into a room he has been warned against. Danny then comes back to his family wet, and with strangle marks around his neck. He blames his injuries on a ghoul he sees in the forbidden room's bathtub--the decomposing malevolent ghost of a woman who committed suicide there years before. The horror amps up to a Spinal Tap 11 when Jack decides to go to the haunted room to check things out for himself.
Jack enters, finds the tub dry, scrapes the porcelain with his fingers--the room is empty. Yet just as Jack begins to leave, he feels a strange sensation and inexorably finds himself turning back around. Jack creeps back into the bathroom. Something casts a shadow behind the curtain. Torrance hears the movement of water. He can't help it--he must step closer. The curtain pulls back. The woman is there, rotten, eyes bulging, bloated lips grinning. She begins to stand. Under King's hand, this chapter is terrifying. What do we get with Kubrick?
Once again, one can envision Kubrick lining up a string of naked women to pick out the one he likes best. When Jack enters the room in the film, he finds a nubile, nude young woman in the tub waiting for him. She rises and approaches Jack's waiting arms. They kiss passionately, but Jack catches a glimpse of her in the mirror and sees her true form. Jack recoils in terror, but the scene is more awkward and grotesque than scary.
Finally, I will explore Danny's "shining" ability, from which the book and film take their name. In the book, the shining usually involves Danny blacking out and having a sort of dream where his "imaginary friend," Tony, tells him things that might happen in the future. In the film, Danny's shining ability is almost an afterthought. In the book, Danny's shining awakens The Overlook's demons, and it is what the evil of the hotel covets--why it wants Jack to kill Danny in the first place. The film portrays Tony as something that possesses Danny and causes him to talk with a funny voice while curling up his index finger. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Kubrick could have imaginatively portrayed Danny's shining, but the method he chose is a bit doesn't matter much anyway, though, as the film's Overlook Hotel only wants Jack, who has apparently "always been the caretaker."
In the film's final shot, a hotel photo from 1921 is revealed. In it, Jack smiles from the middle of a group of party-goers, despite the fact that he would not be born for another 30 years. This ponderous image is what has caused The Shining's quality to grow in public estimation over the years. The rest of the film is curiously empty and simplistic. Jack is already nuts when he arrives at the hotel, Wendy is a cardboard cutout of a human, Danny is strange and thinly drawn, and not much happens other than Jack seeing some ghosts that may not even be there, then trying to kill his family. However, with Kubrick's gorgeous imagery, and that mysterious final image, film viewers have done far more work to make the Shining a better film than Kubrick actually did.
The fact of the matter is that Kubrick's The Shining is a visual triumph and a narrative failure. A mysterious final image does not redeem the 140-minutes of subpar story-telling that preceded it. Viewers can dig in to look for a bigger meaning with the information given, but whatever they pull away is what they've brought with them. Many of Kubrick's films have this quality, but the best, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, possess a depth to support such a dive (The nature of man's place in the cosmos > "You've always been the caretaker"). Jumping into The Shining this way results in one hitting one's head on the bottom, and coming up with conspiratorial theories in the delirium. Every positive review or essay pertaining to Kubrick's Shining, including Roger Ebert's "Reliable Observer" piece, takes such perilous leaps in logic, Plan Nine From Outer Space could be rendered a classic under so little gravity. Ebert, by the way, did not respond so positively to the film the first time he viewed it.^3  
King's novel, on the other hand, is full of depth. Themes abound--addiction, the nature of evil, the sins of the past. One of Jack's most humanizing traits is his deep-seated fear of becoming just like his abusive, alcoholic father. Jack's inherent goodness, eventually overcome by the evil of the hotel, is best revealed by his horror at this possible future version of himself. The film does not mention Jack's father, and without the deep relationship between Danny and Jack in King's novel, the film is left with no method of redeeming the elder Torrance. He is nothing more than a monster. One need go no further than Vivian Kubrick's behind-the-scenes Shining Documentary to see this. Jack Nicholson, who eats scenery in this film so voraciously, it is a shock that the hotel survives this film and not King's book, warms up to his scenes by jumping up and down shouting "Axe murderer! Crazy!" That's all the Jack Torrance of Kubrick's Shining is. There is no nuance.
These three films represent Kubrick at his prime, all featuring screenplays written by Kubrick, adapted from other sources. From these movies, and in comparison to their source material, one can see what Kubrick values most as a filmmaker--not characters or story, but ideas, mood, atmosphere and a subconscious evocation of emotion, generally unease, all conveyed through aesthetics. With The Shining, Kubrick has access to great characters and themes, but he instead renders the material into a visual showcase centered around a ponderous final image. With A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick has access to an incredible moral dilemma, but instead renders the material into a shocking, titillating audio and visual assault on the senses. With 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick is simply handed an open-ended star-field of ideas, ones he can solely represent with visuals and music, and he excels with the material like no other director could.
Thus, one can gather: as a visualist, Stanley Kubrick stands high above nearly all his peers; as a verbal storyteller, he is lacking. It is my opinion that, while Kubrick deserves his status as a filmmaking legend, he should not be given the oft-bandied title of "the greatest film director of all time." Anyone in contention for such a lofty honorific should be greatly skilled in both the visual and the verbal. Unfortunately, Kubrick was only skilled, however immeasurably, in the former.
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1. Wakeman, John (ed.) World Film Directors: 1890–1945, H. W. Wilson Co. (1987) pp. 677–683
2. Burgess, Anthony, Forward to A Clockwork Orange, 1986, Norton Publishing, page v
3. DiMare, Philip (2011). Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 440

Friday, January 09, 2015

Doctor Who -- Series Eight (Review)

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Doctor Who
2014 BBC
Series Eight
Score: 8/10

In the mid-90's, my local PBS station syndicated every still-existent Doctor Who episode in chronological order. I watched every single one, getting a friend to record it for me if I was out of town. We were the only two citizens of Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana to watch Doctor Who. I can't prove that conclusively, but I can conclusively say that I have been watching Doctor Who for much longer than most of its current audience. In fact, in a sad embrace of the fact that I am nearly old enough to be President (how did this happen?), when I watched Doctor Who's first run, much of Doctor Who's current audience was not alive. I said all of that to illustrate that I have a pretty good handle on Doctor Who, and also to brag about myself, though all I've actually revealed is that I am an old, really obsessive, egotistical nerd...sorry.
Anyway, I'll admit I've been in the "the old ones were better" camp from the start of the 2005 Doctor Who reboot. With that said, I have still enjoyed the new episodes of Doctor Who immensely...until Series 6. The second season of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat's tenure rubbed me the wrong way...not because of Smith's Doctor, but because of the work of showrunner Moffat. This was unexpected...I love Moffat's screenwriter work on the show during Russel T Davies tenure as showrunner. I enjoyed the first season of the BBC's Sherlock, also run by Moffat, but at about the same time as Doctor Who's Series 6, I started to grow disillusioned with Moffat's work on Sherlock, as well: people talking too quickly and saying too many words, with unearned ending twists too clever for their own good that essentially came down to either, "I dunno, magic?" or "It was the power of love!" over over-dramatic, overdone music. The opening to Sherlock's third season premier was the final straw. As suddenly-introduced characters scattered back and forth, putting into place plans to fake Sherlock's death, convolutedly explaining Sherlock's miraculous escape from the grave at the end of the previous season, I said (aloud, mind you), "I don't have time for this crap," turned off the TV, and went to bed.
Despite Matt Smith's excellent performance, his tenure as the Doctor ended with a whimper in the sentimental, overly-fantastic "The Time of the Doctor." With all of that Doctor's storylines completed, and a new Doctor's tenure to begin, I hoped Steven Moffat would relish the opportunity to work with a clean slate, and return the show to past glories.
Generally, I despise grading each episode of a television show out of context of what is yet to come, instead, grading the entire season when all is said and done. However, with Doctor Who, each episode is meant to work as its own serial, and with that spirit, I'll give each episode a review of a few sentences, before diving into a deeper reflection of the season as a whole. The only setup needed is this: The Doctor is an ancient alien who travels around in a time machine. When he dies, he regenerates into a new body. This has just happened, and this Series Eight Doctor has gone from a young body to a much older one. Clara, who was quite fond of The Doctor's previous visage, is his human companion.
1. Deep Breath -- 4/10  I'm expecting a clean slate, and instead Moffat shoves the same old supporting characters down my throat, in lieu of actually focusing on Clara and the new Doctor. If you love Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, you want the characters to be put to rest so they can actually have closure, and a somewhat cohesive storyline. If you hate Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, you wonder why Moffat doesn't have the imagination to give his new Doctor someone new with which to interact. Clara brings enough familiarity; Moffat did not have to revive the old gang, and then give them most of the episode. Accomplishes little.
2. Into the Dalek -- 7/10 Establishes the new relationship between Clara and the Doctor, but feels slight.
3. Robot of Sherwood -- 8/10 Perhaps the funniest episode of the show's run. The Doctor and Robin Hood's competitive bickering could carry a full season.
4. Listen -- 10/10 I could be cynical and devalue this episode for some failures in logic, but that would be a disservice to its incredible visual design, direction, writing, and acting. Listen actually earns the commentary it makes about the Doctor, and its revelations about his past and character. Brilliant idea by Moffat, and his best execution in...maybe ever.
5. Time Heist -- 7/10 One of those episodes that must have taken a 400-page screenplay to fill out its 40-minute run. Lots and lots of talking, lots of insane plot twists, and too smart for its own good, Moffat's greatest flaw. Feels like a leftover from the Matt Smith era. However, The Teller is one of the coolest monsters the show has ever done, and the ending is darkly sweet.
6. The Caretaker -- 8/10 Feels like a really good romantic comedy/thriller with the Doctor acting as both Clara's over-protective father-figure and jilted suitor (which is as awkward as it sounds, but also quite wonderful).
7. Kill the Moon -- 9/10 A great episode that firmly draws the line between this particular incarnation of the Doctor, and the previous three. This doctor is more alien than human, and sometimes he would rather just get out of the humans' way and let them blow themselves up. Again, great direction and set and monster design. Series Eight is really clicking at this point, with the Twelfth Doctor's characterization really becoming clear. The way this doctor views humanity, even those closest him, and how this affects Clara's perception of him enables some of the best character work Doctor Who has ever done.
8. Mummy On the Orient Express -- 9/10 Yet another great episode, again revealing the darker machinations of which this more alien Doctor is capable. Also, as the direction and set design are again elevated, it appears the production standard for this season as a whole is simply beyond that of the previous seven.
9. Flatline -- 8/10 At this point in previous new Doctor seasons, the show would deliver a lazy, cheap-looking episode, but Flatline is thrilling, funny, and features better special effects than maybe any Who episode ever.
10. In the Forest of the Night -- 5/10 The clunker of the bunch. Unbelievably silly. "Trees did it" as a plot-device pretty much ensures failure.
11. Dark Water -- 7/10 Burdened with the flurry of exposition, the "we gotta get through the plot" storytelling of many a two-parter, but manages to stay interesting and emotional. "Dark Water" also excels at creating a genuinely dark and unsettling atmosphere, and spills its excellent ending twist in spectacular fashion.
12. Death in Heaven -- 4/10 And then Steven Moffat takes a dump. This excellent season developed to center around one thing: the messed up, co-dependent relationship between Clara and the Doctor. Clara had become addicted to the thrills she receives from her dangerous travels with The Doctor, putting her life on the line at the Doctor's whim. Meanwhile, this much less personable Doctor used Clara as a soldier, putting her into situations where her death is almost certain, and trusting she can find her way out. Clara calls the Doctor out on this in "Kill the Moon," and even tries to leave him. She fails to get away, even though her boyfriend, who can see this Doctor's true nature, asks her to time and time again. Anyone who's been paying any kind of attention can see this is what the season has centered upon. Apparently, Moffat, has not been paying attention. It is quite clear from this season finale that he has absolutely no idea what is going on, despite the fact that he is somehow running the show. This season of Doctor Who earned Clara's death by working hard to show the Doctor's callousness. Instead of cashing that check, Moffat arbitrarily kills off another character, off-screen, in a matter which has nothing to do with the Doctor. Moffat is absolutely clueless as to the actual conflict between Clara and the Doctor, and has another character definitively define Clara as "the control freak," something that has NEVER, EVER been shown in two seasons of Clara-involved Doctor Who. Moffat feels like he has to tell instead of show, and go through ridiculously complex plot machinations and mysteries instead of telling a simple story that allows the characters to simply be themselves. Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi did absolutely excellent work leading into this finale, and all Moffat can do for them, all he can ever do, is throw a ton of words up on the screen, then shrug and say, "I don't know, um, the power of love?" That's it. I am so sick of this guy. Everything he's done lately has been so damn lousy, including Sherlock, which showed so much early promise. He needs to take a break, and he needs to step down. Let someone else have a turn here. And why are the special effects so lousy in this episode when they were so good leading up to it?
So there you go. One of the best written, best produced, best acted seasons of Doctor Who in history, completely derailed by Stephen Moffat's incompetence.
Last Christmas (Doctor Who Christmas Special) -- 8/10
Classic dream within a dream episode featuring a welcome performance by guest star, Nick Frost. Essentially hits reset on the entire season that preceded it, though, which I don't even know how I feel about...
Yes, I'm a fanboy. Anyone who's read any reviews on this website knows I never speak this disparagingly of anyone but George Lucas, and I can honestly say that nothing has creatively disappointed me more than Death in Heaven outside of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Moffat has had his turn. He wrote some good episodes during Russel T Davies tenure as showrunner. He wrote "Listen," the best episode this season. He's welcome to write even more good ones during the tenure of whoever next takes the showrunner position. But first he needs to get out of the way.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bradley Hathaway's How Long Is the Album Of the Interim

Bradley Hathaway is a poet by trade, but a few years ago he picked up the guitar and decided to start setting his poems to music. I don't key too hard on people reading poems, but people singing poems set to ear-pleasing music is a whole other thing entirely.
How Long came out in December of 2013, and I heard it in January of 2014, too late for my Best of 2013 list. However, the album was supposed to be released on audio cassette in 2014, making it semi-eligible for my 2014 list. Doublehowever, the label that was supposed to release How Long on cassette had trouble with its distributor. I pre-ordered How Long during April of last year, and I was just notified a few days ago by the label that the cassettes had finally come in from the plant. Too late for my list again, but the record label did send me a digital copy of How Long to tide me over (and I had already streamed the album quite a bit), so I feel I should mention something about it so it doesn't get lost in the flow. Sadly, though, it appears How Long has already slipped through the cracks, as, according to Hathaway himself, it has sold a minuscule amount compared to the rest of his work. That's a shame. This album deserves some serious recognition.
How Long is laid-back country folk, but more abstractly, it sounds like a conversation on a back porch on a lazy summer day counterpointing a long drive on a lonely night. Hathaway's poetry explores absent fathers, surprising relationships, cold glasses of tea on a hot day, simple expressions of love, and the love of Jesus Christ. Don't let it pass you by. You can listen for free below.

Monday, January 05, 2015

My 2014 Booklist

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This year featured one of the longest non-reading gaps of my reading life. Thankfully, near the end, I snapped out of it and read most of the books on this list. Doing that reminded me of how much I love reading, and how integral it is to my identity, which sounds weird, but I think for readers, it isn't so outrageous a statement. With that said, here is the short list of books I read in 2014.
Bloodline -- Gaines (Ernest Gaines really flourishes in the long short story format. These five focus on the trials of African Americans living in rural Louisiana in the mid-20th century. The best has got to be A Long Day in November, following a young boy on the titular day that just won't end, but ends well.)
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous -- Stewart (Ernest Gaines has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, been a MacArthur Foundation fellow, awarded the National Humanities Medal, and inducted into the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) as a Chevalier. Sean Stewart wrote a book about Yoda. Here is a bit of an existential crisis: can a book about a green CGI puppet with magical powers have the same gravitas as a book written by a guy who can literally get Oprah to toss him up on her shoulders with just a word? YES!!! Dark Rendezvous is full of well-drawn characters like Scout, a young Jedi in training, low on the force and forced to rely more on her wits than her counterparts. It is full of humor..I mean, it is a book about Yoda. It has an excellent central conflict, as it fully fleshes out the CGI puppet into a living, breathing, thinking, fighting character who must face a wayward former pupil. Highly recommended.)
Crucible -- Denning (The end of the line for the original Star Wars story. Now, 25 years of work will be rendered mute--it didn't happen. While I am looking forward to the upcoming Abrams film, I do think the language surrounding the transfer of the Star Wars EU from cannon to essentially "what could have happened, but definitely didn't" could have been more sensitively stated. With that said, Denning's sly shots at the Disney buyout, including a side-plot about cutesy, yet disturbing clones of the main characters, are particularly satisfying. Denning, after all, put the last two decades of his life into this now discontinued story...glad he got to end it himself, and as a much stronger writer than when he began.
Snow Crash -- Stephenson (Neal Stephenson is a genius: to envision this bizarrely believable future of a corporation-dominated, nation-less Earth, to come up with such believable inhabitants of that Earth, and to pen such an absurdly complex, yet easily followable storyline that somehow brings ancient Sumerian language to the forefront. He does do a bit of leading with his personal philosophies that I could have done without, but other than that, this is a modern sci-fi masterpiece.
A Clockwork Orange -- Anthony Burgess (Twice I've picked up really short novels from Modern Library's top 100 books of the 20th Century list thinking I'd knock them out in no time. Both Heart of Darkness and A Clockwork Orange knocked me on my back. A Clockwork Orange is so dense for a 200-page book, as Burgess invented his own slang and tells the entire novel in it. That said, Burgess is a brilliant enough linguist to have the reader understanding every word he is saying by page 20, but I think the fact that Burgess is so good at language creation overshadows the fact that there isn't a lot to this book (Burgess seemed to agree)...but there's more to it than the movie, and I say this because...)
The Shining -- King (So good. I can't really say that Stephen King is underrated in the literary world anymore, considering all of the awards he has won, and the fact that he received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Still, there's a certain stigma attached to a "horror writer" and there should not be. The Shining is as well-written as just about anything to come out of the 70's, and full of heart, as well, just also full of grisly and terrifying scares. The observant may notice that these last two books I've mentioned were both adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick. This is because I am currently working on a piece that compares Kubrick's film adaptations to the actual works he adapted, attempting to pinpoint his successes and failures. Why? Because this is The Nicsperiment!)

Thursday, January 01, 2015