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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Michael Giacchino -- Alias: Season Two [Original Television Soundtrack]

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My review for Michael Giacchino's soundtrack for the first season of Alias was as much about me as the music. I sacrificed certain details about the show's plot so you could instead discover how much I like to talk about myself. For this review of the second season soundtrack, the last soundtrack ever released for the five season series, I would like to shine the focus on the show itself. After all, Season Two is Alias' landmark season.
Alias is about double-agent, Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), and her attempt to take down rogue intelligence agency, SD-6, through her work with the CIA. She is aided by her father (Victor Garber), a fellow double-agent, as well as her CIA handler, Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), and Vaughn's own partner, Eric Weiss (Greg Grunberg). Her SD-6 partner, Marcus Dixon (Carl Lumbly), has become suspicious of Sydney's activities, though he himself is unaware of SD-6's true nature. Dixon, along with the majority of SD-6's agents, have been led to believe they are working for the CIA. SD-6 is run by the slithery Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), who manipulates his patriotic agents into fighting against the very country for which they believe they are fighting. Sydney is given spy gadgets by SD-6's innocent and goofy Marshall Flinkman (Kevin Weisman). To further complicate matters, Sydney must also face off against the suavely dastardly bastardly Brit, Julian Sark (David Anders), a wild-card villain who works for the highest bidder. To blow off steam, Sydney relaxes with her roommate, Francie (Merrin Dungey), and their friend, Will (Bradley Cooper). Francie is oblivious to Sydney's day job, but Will, through much personal harm, discovered the secret near the end of the first season. There, I think I've mentioned everyone.
Season Two sees Sydney continuing her original mission, after making the soul-crushing discovery that her mother, Irina (Lena Olin), who supposedly died in a car accident years ago, and who Sydney has held on a pedestal, is not only still alive, but doing some wicked, wicked things. Turns out Irina, whose actual last name is Derevko, was an undercover KGB agent, assigned to marry and manipulate Sydney's father. After her faked death, Irina went into hiding. Now Sydney must grapple with the fact that she is the progeny of a false union--however, now she also knows why her father, who has long known the truth, is such a distant, hard-edged sourpuss who would fight a great white shark, underwater, with his bare hands, to protect his daughter. Garber brings an incredible gravitas to this role. Check out a clip of Garber in real life, then check out a clip of him as Jack Bristow, torturing someone who is trying to hurt Sydney. That dude is an actor (he also made a swell Jesus in Godspell). Anyway, Sydney is forced to come to terms with her evil mother to an even closer degree, when Irina inexplicably shows up at CIA headquarters to turn herself in. As Irina, Olin does several miraculous things: she brings a fierce sensuality to the role, but also menace. It's strange to see Garner (in an award-winning performance), who is not only beautiful in this role, but equally vulnerable and dangerous, completely overshadowed in the scenes she shares with Olin, who is somehow more beautiful and more dangerous, despite the fact that Olin was pushing 50 when this season was filmed. She is such a formidable figure, looming high over Sydney's life.
The second season takes off from there, as Sydney fights to undermine SD-6, while fighting to keep her sanity in meetings with her locked up mother, and persuading the doubting Dixon that she means America no harm. Sydney's relationship with Vaughn deepens (Garner and Vaughn, dating in real life, had incredible chemistry during the show's first two seasons), she begins to understand her father more, and it looks like everything is going to be status quo, and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. I went to two Super Bowl parties, co-hosted my weekly radio show at KLSU, and figured out the bassline to Coldplay's "Clocks," but by far, the most thrilling moment of that night for me was watching my VHS recording of the Post-Super Bowl Alias episode, "Phase One." I got home close to midnight from the radio station, but didn't even think of going to bed without catching up on Alias. That Superbowl may have been forgettable (Tampa Bay crushed 'em), but I will never forget Alias' second season's insane thirteenth episode. Here's the best comparison I can make:
Imagine instead that this is E.R., Season Two, episode 13. Here's what happens: The hospital blows up, and everyone moves on to much bigger, more epic things, as a prophecy portends the end of the world. George Clooney and Julianna Margulies finally get together. Anthony Edwards is murdered and replaced by a doppelganger. Gloria Reuben finds that she didn't even have AIDS in the first place. Everything is thrown into complete chaos. That's Alias' "Phase One."
At this point, the show, which has functioned as a season-and-a-half non-stop episode concerning Sydney Bristow's batle against SD-6, completely changes course. Til this point, I've neglected to mention a major component of Alias: Milo Rimbaldi. Rimbaldi, in the show's mythology, was a renaissance figure, comparable to Leonardo Di Vinci, except he also made a bunch of prophecies about the end of the world, and also, possibly, found the secret to eternal life. Turns out Arvin Sloane's main goal is not so much destroying the CIA as it is collecting Milo Rimbaldi artifacts that lead to Rimbaldi's great secret--possibly the discovery of the aforementioned immortality. The rest of the Season Two is a race to figure out just what it is Sloane is doing and then to stop him. I make this Rimbaldi stuff sound more random than it should, but the show has been building a foundation for it throughout the first 1.5 seasons. Truth be told, Rimbaldi's mysteries dominate for much the rest of the show's five season run (sans the first half or so of Season Four), if you didn't want any sci-fi in your action-packed spy show, sorry, and go watch something else. Know, though, that Alias, particularly its first two seasons, received much critical acclaim. If life were fair, the public would recognize Alias' second season as one of the best television seasons of all time. Unfortunately, life's not fair, and Alias was a low-rated network program that arrived just before the age of online viewing. It just missed the window that would have granted it Rimbaldi-like immortality. I guess it's up to me.
Anyway, I guess I should start talking about the music.
Composer, Michael Giacchino, takes Alias' musical identity in a slightly different direction for Season Two, just as JJ Abrams did the actual program. While the first season was musically backed by a lot of techno-esque beats and soundscapes, augmented by orchestra, Season Two's soundtrack is mainly orchestra, augmented by some techno-esque beats and soundscapes. As the orchestra is more greatly utilized, Giacchino's orchestral compositions have grown far more complex and sophisticated.
The Giacchino produced Alias: Season Two [Original Television Soundtrack] starts off with the JJ Abrams penned electronic ditty, "Main Title," just as its predecessor did. Following that is Giacchino's first original piece, "On the Train." "On the Train" flows naturally from the first season's sound, starting with a techno beat, strings, and bawdy brass. I failed to mention it in my Season One soundtrack review, but there are times, much like in the James Bond films, where Alias' horns sound like they could be backing a burlesque show. Actually, there are plenty of Bond comparisons to make, which I failed to do in my first review, as well. With that said, John Barry's orchestral work on the 60's Bond pictures is influential here, as well as David Arnold's attempt to infuse those classic sounds with the modern electronic music of the 90's for Pierce Brosnan's Bond (good Bond, bad movies, with the exception of Goldeneye). With that said, I feel like Giacchino has more success with this idiosyncratic melding than Arnold did. And now, let's get back to "On the Train."
Halfway through the track, the beat and brass fall out, leaving nothing but contemplative strings and subtle horns. This is a sign of things to come, as is the way the beat comes back slowed down and more sophisticated, to end the track. This leads directly into "Mother of a Mother," introducing Irina's theme, a motif played by seductive, yet plaintive cellos, backed by mysterious Middle-Eastern-style singing. Speaking of Middle-Eastern, "Rabat" comes next, kicking of with Middle-Eastern instrumentation, before climbing up to a stylish beat and violins that sound about as dancey as violins can sound. The song then enters an ambient midsection before the beat comes back, and the violin-theme returns. It's quite an atmospheric piece, yet also a bit of a counter to Season One's track four, "Spanish Heist." Both are album standouts, but where "Spanish Heist" was fast-paced, light-hearted fun, "Rabat" is more slowed-down, mysterious, and hypnotic, yet equally evocative. Like "Spanish Heist," it's also fitfully representative of a globetrotting show.

Track five, "Over the Edge," is most representative of Season One's techno side, but it leads directly to track six, "Emily's Eulogy," a slow, emotional orchestral piece. Season Two's emotional stakes are far more vast than Season One's, and Giacchino's moodier, more orchestral approach, along with his further mastery of classical composition, are necessary. They translate as well to the show as to disc. Some have criticized this soundtrack for not being as fun as Season One's, lacking its faster pace, and that may be true, but Alias: Season Two [Original Television Soundtrack] certainly makes up for those things with its beauty, sophistication, and emotional depth. I think "sophistication" is my soundtrack review go-to word.
Giacchino continues in this vein, not completely discarding the techno elements, but rarely letting them dominate ("Going Down" and "I'm So Screwed" are notable exceptions).
Track twelve, "Aftermath Class," which soundtracks the closing moments of "Phase One," features a beautiful, definitive rendition of Sydney's "emotion theme" on strings, but also segues to a dark, final passage, representative of the show's shift into a much darker organism in the season's second half. These tones are quite reminiscent of John Williams' work during the Sith meeting at the end of Star Wars: Episode Two, a film which was released a year before this season of Alias aired. Later Williams' is actually a good reference for some of the things Giacchino does here, as well, and if you reference anyone in your soundtracking career, you're best off with him.
"Sarkavator" continues the strains of darkness with stabbing violin reminiscent of Bernard Herrman, as do the techno and orchestro trilogy of tracks that follow, "I'm So Promoted," "I'm So Screwed," and "I'm So Demoted." The next track, "Inferno," is an absolutely gorgeous piece for strings, further showcasing Giacchino's increased composing skills. A couple tracks later, on "Something Fishy," Giachino references Williams again, this time with opening strings that remind of Williams' work on Jaws...not the main two-note theme, but the frightening strings found in the film's more suspenseful scenes...think Brody's and Hooper's investigation of Ben Gardner's boat.
Even as the darkness mounts, the latter part of Alias Season Two takes on a dreamlike feeling. As such, Giacchino's score becomes a bit more impressionistic. Check out "Sloane's Revelation"'s blurry reverie of strings, suddenly giving way to a terrifying chorus of rising voices.

The quality of this music is far higher than what one would usually expect to hear on television. Honestly, this music is better than a lot of what one hears in a cineplex. Yeah, "cineplex" is a word. I remember early into the first season, coming to the conclusion that I had never heard anything like this on TV, just as I had never seen anything quite like the show itself. I hoped for a soundtrack, but as that was rare for a television show, I wasn't optimistic about the chances. As much as I'd now like soundtracks for Alias' final three seasons, I'm thankful for these two. Perhaps the producers knew they were never going to top Season Two's finale, "The Telling." JJ Abrams-created television programs can claim two of the greatest season finales of all time (along with many other season finales that are just plain old ordinary "great")--"The Telling" is the first of those two...the other I'll get to later. "The Telling" (along with Season Two's latter episodes) swells tension and expectation until the viewer is standing on a skyscraper of it...then Abrams and company spend the episode's final ten minutes pushing the viewer off.
This nightmarish turn of events begins with the major villains escaping, then moves to the best fight sequence ever filmed for television. I know some people will say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured a couple fights that were better, but the fact of the matter is, Buffy relied heavily on stunt doubles, and was never too great at disguising them. "The Telling"'s climactic fight pits Garner's Sydney against an actress one would never suspect could throw a punch. However, the actress (SPOILER: IT'S DUNGEY) found out about the season-ending events well before filming, and spent the entire season leading up to them training with a fight coordinator (youtube is full of behind-the-scenes footage of this), so stunt-double use would be minimal. That last sentence was ironic considering the scene I'm describing.
I've heard that fights in American cinema differ from those in Asian cinema for one major reason: in American cinema, the two enemies fight because they hate each other; in Asian cinema, they fight because they respect one another. "The Telling"'s climactic fight posits another scenario. Two people look at each other and come to the same conclusion at the exact same time: If I do not kill this person, this person will kill me. And yet, simultaneously, there is so much more to it, and yet nothing more to it than that...check Garner's expression when she sees what's in the bathtub :59 in on the clip below. She feels an entire world's emotions in a millisecond, compartmentalizes, and returns to the fray-an excellent bit of acting on Garner's part.
For three minutes, Garner and Dungey go at it with such an intensity, it's a wonder someone didn't kick in the camera lens. Sydney's and Francie's house turns into one giant weapon, as Garner and Dungey rip anything off the walls that won't stick. By the end of the fight, they are shredded to bits--there used to be a rule on television stating that blood could only appear on an actor's face if it was dried--it's pouring off of Garner's and Dungey's in torrents.
Alias spent a year-and-a-half convincing the viewer that a 120-pound woman could stomp the shit out of anyone who dared point a fist at her. It only takes three minutes to make believable that she could be completely dominated by her roommate. Enough of me yakking about it, though. Just watch the fight:

Check Giacchino's massive cue at the end of the clobbering, "Balboa and Clubber." Beside being titled with an awesome Rocky III reference, "Balboa and Clubber" puts a huge exclamation on this otherwise music-less battle royale.
The episode doesn't end when the fight does, though. Sydney wakes up to find herself in something worse than a nightmare. All of the impressionistic tones click into place. Giacchino's "Almost Two Years" feigns comfort before pulling the rug out. Garner's horrified expression. Season Two ends. The show does not, though.
While Alias went on for another three seasons, it could never get out of the massive shadow of Season Two's creative success. While Season Three is quite thrilling in its attempts to reconcile the events of "The Telling," it buckles during its finale, having a character who is so minor betray Sydney, the betrayal does not emotionally register, and gives sense that the show is grasping at straws. Season Four is an attempt to simplify Alias' chaos, and it used a self-contained episode formula, along with a sexy new timeslot after ABC's new hit, Lost, to achieve the best ratings of Alias' run. Unfortunately, for those who fell in love with Alias' breakneck pace, this viewer included, the more procedural episodes of Season Four felt like a bit of a drag. Season Five is a shot in the arm, a return to the crazier pace of earlier seasons, and plot twists that actually land, It also features a pregnant Garner, and a fun side-story about a wet-behind the ear's agent who tries to step into her shoes. While Season Five's final episodes take the Rimbaldi thread to soap operatic proportions, the overall season is a fun ride. Then, the show is over. Season Five received dismal ratings, just as much of the rest of Alias did (for example, "Phase One" received the lowest viewer-percentage of any show to air after a Super Bowl in nearly two decades).
Alias has been forgotten by the public. Life isn't fair. But I will not let this stand! Myself and others like me will keep its memory alive. Most of the major publications who gave Alias stellar reviews when it aired still have the articles posted to their websites. All of the awards and award nominations are recorded. Alias may never get the recognition it deserves, but as long as Google exists, and this blog's URL is not destroyed, it will be recognized here!
Oh, yeah, and this is a very good soundtrack.

2004 Varèse Sarabande
1. Main Title (Written by JJ Abrahms) 0:28
2. On the Train 3:01
3. Mother of a Mother 1:40
4. Rabat 2:22
5. Over the Edge 3:03
6. Emily's Eulogy 3:06
7. Fond Memories 2:16
8. Post A-Mortem 1:32
9. Syd's Best Alias Yet 3:44
10. Going Down? 0:53
11. Sydney Implores Dixon 2:42
12. Aftermath Class 4:16
13. Sarkavator 0:33
14. I'm So Promoted 2:28
15. I'm So Screwed 2:47
16. I'm So Demoted 1:41
17. Inferno 2:35
18. Do I Have to Do Another Eulogy? 6:16
19. Something Fishy 2:37
20. Sloane's Revelation 2:50
21. Hitting the Fan 4:22
22. Balboa and Clubber 1:12
23. Almost Two Years 4:58

Monday, April 27, 2015

Michael Giacchino -- Alias [Original Television Soundtrack]

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In hindsight, it was a bad idea. A rebellious 19-year old punk rocker should most likely not move in with a structure-loving 26-year old war veteran, no matter how close of friends they are. Derek and I both needed a place to stay, couldn't afford our own place, and...the rest is history. That we are still friends now is a testament to the core strength of our friendship...that we are still alive is a testament to the fact that we didn't keep a gun or large knives within easy reach.
But hey! you might be yelling at your sexy computer screen. I thought this was a review of Michael Giacchino's soundtrack for the first season of Alias?
Well, person I just imagined with a sexy computer screen (because that screen is currently displaying The Nicsperiment), this is The Nicsperiment, and this is how we do things.
Divergence aside, my first couple of months at Plantation Trace apartments on Highland Road, August and September of the year 2001, were not the brightest of my life. Beside the simple fact that living away from home for the fist time can be difficult, I was flat broke, struggling with my stupid Spanish class (and really, most of the classes in that one ill-chosen Mass Communications semester (I've now officially majored in everything, for at least a couple of days)), subsisting entirely on wheat bread, water, and Swiss Cake Rolls, and a crew of jackasses commandeered some planes into some buildings (I did not subsist on them). The only activity I had to escape it all was reading Lord of the Rings, but the lighting in that apartment was really bad, and I was really malnourished, and I always passed out after a couple of pages.
Enter Alias. I had seen promos for the show in the weeks leading up to its premiere. It looked cool, and it looked like an escape from my dreary world. I bookmarked September 30 on my mental calendar. That ended up being a magical night.
Turns out I just needed some new place of mental escape where I could somewhat reforge myself. While Derek and I never really found a great way to co-exist, with the sole exception of staying out of each other's way, from September 30, 2001 onward, I enjoyed living on my own (all the sympathy food my parents started sending when they discovered how broke I was helped as well...and by "on my own," I of course mean living without my parents and paying my own rent).
The Girl of a Thousand Wigs and even more problems pulled me out of miserable reality and into the wonderful world of imagination we could all exist in harmony in together if not for jackasses who like to do things like commandeer planes into buildings. But enough about jackasses. It's time to look at the nearly forgotten Alias, and its excellent soundtrack.
I'm of course joking about living in a world of imagination. I think the positive of visiting an imaginary world is that it can help you better deal with the real one. If you just stay in an imaginary world and never leave...well, that's your choice I guess, but not one I'd advise. But what do I know, I just lied to you and said "enough about jackasses," but just kept on rambling about myself. Okay, for real, here is the jumping off point to finally talk about, for real this time.
If not for the fact that almost everyone involved with the show went on to have a wildly successful career, I'd feel sorry for Alias. Many may have forgotten about the program, or never even gave it the time of day, but at this point in history, everyone knows who showrunner and creator, JJ Abrams (uh...he's making the new Star Wars movie that's going to make a billion dollars this December), actress, Jennifer Garner (major movie star, famous baby maker), and actor, Bradley Cooper (up to four Oscar nominations now, three for acting) are. All three owe their fame and success to Alias, but they aren't the only ones in debt. The entire last decade of television owes a great debt to this underrated little show.
You know how people complain about shows being "episodic" or "procedural," and bemoan a lack of "ongoing storyline?" That's because Alias popularized those things.
Sure, The X-Files (my favorite show of all time) utilized those kinds of tools, but outside of four or five "mythology" episodes a season, the rest of the show's episodes stood alone. One can go back as far as The Fugitive in the 1960's--it took Dr. Richard Kimble 120 episodes to find justice, but he spent most of those helping out people with small town problems, instead of chasing after the one-armed man. Buffy may fight a new big bad every season, but episode to episode, she's generally dealing with something else entirely (Angel's evil!...but Xander's on the swim team now...let's do an episode about that! (Don't worry, Buffy, I've got the love for you, too)). With Alias, the entire show was the "mythology."
Double-agent Sydney Bristow's attempt to take down CIA competitor and enemy, SD-6, and the repercussions of her actions, occupy the entire first two seasons of the show. While this mission contains several threads, and the show is able to weave many characters and story-lines within, these episodes are always about Sydney attempting to take down SD-6. Almost every episode ends with a cliffhanger, sometimes in mid-scene, only to pick up exactly where the show left off the next week. In season three (and admittedly, halfway through season two, as well), the plot morphed, but the show's structure did not, nor did the momentum stop. The first three seasons of Alias are essentially one enormous, 50-hour episode.
While no following show has adopted this format with the blistering intensity of Alias, expectations for many in the viewing public subtly shifted. What happened in the previous episode has to inform the following episode. Nine years later, Justified premiered on FX. While during a certain era of television, there would be no complaints, contemporary viewers criticized the first few episodes for their lack of serialization. Justified then attempted to create an ongoing plot. It became a much better show. The serialization was expected, and when those expectations created it, it improved.  Think of a Breaking Bad that doesn't flow smoothly from episode to episode....JJ Abrams' own Lost...thanks Alias!
ABC should also thank Alias. When Alias premiered, that network was in the gutter. QVC was pulling in better ratings. Alias challenged ABC to think big. Now they're at the top of  the network heap...excluding that channel that only people over the age of 55 back to the perptually young and hip Alias.
On a micro level, Alias generally consisted of Agent Bristow (Garner) going on various missions for SD-6, generally completing those missions successfully, but in a way that would instead benefit the CIA. Her partner, the patriotic Dixon (Carl Lumbly), as well as most SD-6 employees, believe they are actually working for the CIA. The evil SD-6 manipulates these agents into working against the very organization they believe they are working for. Bristow also works with her father, Jack (played by Victor Garber, possibly the best actor in the ensemble), also a double agent, and a high-ranking officer in both the CIA and SD-6. Sydney somehow also finds time to hang out with her friends, the oblivious Will (Cooper) and Francie (the underrated Merrin Dungey), in a desperate attempt to maintain a social life. While Sydey's time relaxing with Will and Francie is often soundtracked by the contemporary pop hits of 2001, Agent Bristow's time infiltrating a cool international party, sneaking downstairs in disguise, creeping down a garishly lit hallway, doing techie spy stuff, and running back down that same hallway while dodging bullets and beating men twice her size senseless is soundtracked by Michael Giacchino.
Man, this review just rules!
The first season soundtrack, vaguely titled,  Alias [Original Television Soundtrack], features music entirely composed by Giacchino...except for the first track, "Main Title," a quick electronic ditty by JJ Abrams. I've heard other reviewers complain that this :27 of music is slight and unsophisticated, but the fact of the matter is, it's a fun little blast of sound, and it works perfectly as both an intro for this album, and as a sudden shock to the system after one has been watching an Alias episode for 20-minutes, only to suddenly have the main titles and this music pop up and out from the screen. Abrams loved to do that during the first season--begin an episode so breathlessly and quick of pace that an intro after so much action was a welcome respite. The next twenty-five tracks are all Giacchino, with an employed host of excellent Hollywood Studio Symphony musicians at his disposal.
Giacchino creates a definite style and soundscape for Alias' first season of television: electronic beats and sounds, sometimes augmented by a full orchestra, even more rarely augmented by guitar and indigenous instrumentation. Sometimes, the electronic beat is switched out for organic percussion: check track two, "Dissolved," where Giacchino immediately gives the lay of the land: fast, energetic beats, sweeping strings, and a showy, definitive announcement of Sydney's four-note adventure theme by the brass, before the whole thing dissolves into a burble of electronics, fading strings, and a sudden gentle piano introduction of Sydney's "emotion theme" in the track's closing seconds (this sentence was a shameless aping of Clemmensen's style...thanks, Clemmensen). "Dissolved" is a whirlwind of sound, finely representative of the show it was created to service.

The next track, "Red Hair is Better" introduces rock guitar to the mix, along with a more ambient electronic palette, and a thicker beat, all building to a digital scream two-minutes in that just makes me want to throw back a bottle of Surge (NOTE: THEY ARE MAKING THAT GREEN ELIXIR ONCE AGAIN! 9/11 NEVER HAPPENED!!!*).
Selection four,"Spanish Heist," really heightens this soundtrack's international flavor, a fitting feel for such a globetrotting show. Spanish guitar, flamenco-style bass and singing, and percussion, give way to a pulsing beat and electronics, though the guitar sticks around and has a rowdy old time. This is probably the most fun piece Giacchino has written to date, and it works well coming so early in this album. Actually, the track order seems to follow chronologically with the season, which Giacchino has generally done from here on out with all his soundtrack albums.
"Double Life" begins with a somber woodwind pronouncement of Sydney's "emotion theme," before handing things over to the strings. This theme usually plays in some form when Sydney is looking at old pictures of her mother, experiencing a little romance, or feeling...emotional. "Tunisia" offers up another mix of electronics and orchestra, and by this point, the listener will know whether or not they want to continue. Giacchino has lain out the blueprint. Fast, fun pieces consisting of some combination of electronic beats and sounds, full orchestra, international-sounding additions, and at times a little electric spy guitar. These tracks are contrasted by moodier, often somber pieces for the strings and orchestra. Along the way, Giacchino introduces more themes, further elaborates ones already introduced, and creates a significantly darker, more epic aura in the album's final quarter, reflective of the show's rising stakes and bleaker tone.
Giacchino, along with his album co-producers, do a great job of pacing this album, building energy, giving a break with a more quiet piece, diving into the energetic pieces once more. This staves off listener restlessness over the course of Alias [Original Television Soundtrack], and ensures that even listeners not interested in Alias, the TV show, will enjoy this album. But really, you should go watch that show, it was awesome.

*I do not mean to belittle the loss of life that occurred on September 11th, 2001. I only mean that certain cultural elements that seemed to die out in conjunction with that horrible day seem to be returning. Unfortunately, a stupid soda that makes your teeth fall out rates negative infinity in comparison to just one of the lives lost that day, or in the wars that followed.

2003 Varèse Sarabande
1. Main Title (written by JJ Abrams) 0:27
2. Dissolved 2:07
3. Red Hair is Better 2:31
4. Spanish Heist 4:30
5. Double Life 1:53
6. Tunisia 4:12
7. In the Garden 2:29
8. Looking for a Man 3:53
9. Anna Shows Up 3:30
10. Home Movies 0:40
11. On to Paris 1:49
12. Page 47 1:54
13. The Prophecy 2:10
14. Badenweiler 5:11
15. Arvin at the Poles 1:36
16. Sleeping Beauty 3:08
17. Blow'd Up 2:26
18. It's Not the C.I.A. 1:38
19. Oh My God!!!! 3:18
20. The Tooth Doctor 2:00
21. It Was Anna 0:54
22. Wet Suits 2:39
23. Ball Buster 1:39
24. The End? 0:57
25. Bristow & Bristow 3:26
26. SD-6 Dance Party 3:18

Friday, April 24, 2015

Is The Nicsperiment Qualified to Review Classical Music?

Allow me to pontificate.
In the last four years, I have written and published more than 500 music reviews. Roughly 50 of those reviews were for instrumental albums, roughly 35 of which were classical music albums. The majority of those 35, but not all, were film and television scores. I am soon to review nine albums by the film and television composer, Michael Giacchino. In preparation, mainly to check my track titles and running times (yeah, I do that for these), I visited a reading mainstay of mine, Filmtracks is solely operated and maintained by Christian Clemmensen. His reviews are at times laborious, often featuring paragraphs longer than my average reviews, and sentences that make my average sentences not look like run-ons. With that said, Clemmensen is a very talented man, an excellent writer, a clear communicator (sometimes "clear communicator" and "excellent writer" are one in the same), and he has actual experience in the field and study of classical composition. One time I played bass in a punk rock band.
Actually, I'm selling myself short. I am classically trained on piano, I can play both the bass guitar and drums well, I have experience with electronic sound manipulation, I can make people think that I can play the guitar, and I have an actual major in creative writing versus Clemmensen's puny English minor (his major is in Organizational minors are in Film and History. 3>2!...2>1.5?). Even though I am equally qualified to review classical music on paper, when I look at the sheer exhaustive volume of Clemmensen's reviews, and the fact that despite their tome-like word count, not one is wasted, I feel quite intimidated by his body of work. I mean, this guy was one of my inspirations to start reviewing music in the first place.
Nothing like a little motivation.
I'm coming for you, Clemmensen!
Your chin can't save you now!
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As I really want to do right by these admittedly niche reviews, I am guessing my updates for the next month will be sporadic. Also, finals.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wii U Game Reviews: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Review)

I have to admit, this is one of my favorite pieces I've done. I'm not saying it's one of the best, but I had more fun writing it, and I'm having more fun reading it and looking at it than just about anything I've published on the Internet. Writing these video game reviews has been so freeing, perhaps because it's just something new for me, or perhaps because of the loose, casual format in which I have chosen to write them. Whatever the case, I am hoping I can transfer that passion into my Every Album I Own review series, as I must admit, my enthusiasm in writing those has flagged at times this year. Then again, considering I am smack in the middle of them, and almost four years in, fatigue is only natural. I'm sure that spark will come back soon. It only takes the right note rubbing up against my ear.

That sounded improper.

Wii U Game Reviews: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Review): ZombiU  Released on the Wii, August 27, 2007, by Nintendo  Retail: $49.99 Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.9/10 I've been a Nintendo f...

Monday, April 20, 2015

M.I.A. -- Kala

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It's a dance pop album. I hate that kind of crap. A few seconds in, and it's a repetitive beat under repetitive, monotone rap-speaking. Then the song gains momentum. Then the beat blows up and all these weird samples come in. Then, all of a sudden, I'm having fun. How is this happening? Same thing happens with the next two songs, Asian drums booming, strange samples abounding, though I feel I'm soon to grow tired of this sound. But wait, track four is some kind of Indian-subcontinental disco-song? Where did this come from? I hate disco, but this song is actually interesting and fun. That's okay, because no way can she keep this up. But wait, track five is serious business. The hook is somber, but somehow the song is still enjoyable. Then it's "Mango Pickle Down River," and it sounds like its title. So far, Kala has displayed more sonic texture and color than I thought anything in this genre could be capable...of displaying. Then "20 Dollar" hits. If you're gonna sample the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind," you better do it right, and I'm not sure anyone could do it better and more mind-bendingly than this. And then, what?
Track eight, "World Town," is kind of crazy, but it's immediately followed by "The Turn." "The Turn" is all melancholy, and I'm actually feeling, like, emotions, man. Then "XR2" comes on, and it might be a misfire, but it's immediately followed by the now 00's classic, "Paper Planes." What a contagious song, but I don't feel like I just paid a Las Vegas woman $500 for an hour of her time when it's over. Then "Come Around" ends the album, and I want to listen to the whole thing again. I haven't heard anything quite like M.I.A.'s Kala, before or since. Is there a more international sounding album performed in English?
Sometimes, it's worthwhile to be surprised.

2007 XL/Interscope
1. Bamboo Banga 4:58
2. Bird Flu 3:24
3. Boyz 3:27
4. Jimmy" 3:29
5. Hussel (featuring Afrikan Boy) 4:25
6. Mango Pickle Down River (with The Wilcannia Mob) 3:53
7. 20 Dollar 4:34
8. World Town 3:52
9. The Turn 3:52
10. XR2 4:20
11. Paper Planes 3:24
12. Come Around (featuring Timbaland) 3:53

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

mewithoutYou -- Ten Stories

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Here I am on the last one, and it doesn't even feel like I've written a single review. I must hold a really strange place in my mind and heart for mewithoutYou.
Ten Stories is mewithoutYou's fifth album. Album number four, It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright, took the band from super-buzzed upon, about to explode, to "hey, what happened to mewithoutYou?" The band's remaining fans, outside of the ten who actually liked It's All Crazy..., had one simple demand for the next album: please don't do that again! People are generally more demanding than that, though, so it was actually more like: please don't do that again, and also, remake either your first or second album, please! mewithoutYou do an admirable job on Ten Stories of "don't do that again," but no self-respecting band could have abided by that second request. Musically, I don't think this (continuing to forge a new sound) hurts the band. Ten Stories explores a gentler, more ornate sound than any of the band's previous albums. Songs like "East Enders Wives" and "Aubergine" are hypnotic in their quiet beauty. However, Ten Stories is not afraid to get its hands dirty...
SHIT! I hate this review! I hate all these mewithoutYou reviews! I've done a horrible job!!! These are the worst! Generally, when I have to resort to non-ironic profanity, my reviewing skill has hit rock bottom! Dammit, mewithoutYou, you've triggered an existential crisis!
Here's the lowdown:
Ten Stories sounds a bit more sophisticated than mewithoutYou's previous work. I never would have thought the band were capable of sounding as pretty as they do on Ten Stories' softer songs--but overall, Ten Stories isn't a soft album. The guitars are thankfully distorted again throughout. No more It's All Crazy's acoustic nonsense. mewithoutYou have wisely realized that they are not an acoustic band. Ten Stories isn't a heavy album, though. The rock here is a more whimsical than aggressive. On, say, "Cardiff Giant," Michael Weiss sounds like he is playing his guitar while riding a Ferris wheel. His brother, vocalist, Aaron, obliges with an equally whimsical chorus, "I wonder if I've already died." Weiss' vocal performance on Ten Stories might be his best yet, as he effortlessly switches from spoken-word, to singing, to his trademark-shouted delivery. Unfortunately, his lyrics don't quite meet the same standard. They
What? Who said that?
How far in the future? Wait, what?
Wrong? About what? I can't even remember what I was saying!
But...what do you mean?
So that helps make sense of this thing?
Has a lot happened to me in the coming week?
Yeah, that movie is awesome!
Have they made sense of any of it?
Dude, Percival was the best knight of the round table.
Woah, that was weird. But me from a week in the future is right. Ten Stories contains Weiss' best work. While I can't quite say this is mewithoutYou's best album to date, mainly due to Catch for Us the Foxes and Brother, Sister connecting so strongly, Ten Stories rewards dedicated listens more than all the rest of the bands work. It's a great album, and when the lyrics hit on all cylinders together with the music, which happens during the vast majority of Ten Stories' runtime, the experience is sublime. I'll end with a great example for the previous sentence, "Fox's Dream of the Log Flume," one of Ten Stories' more intense tracks. When the lead guitar line comes in, you know the band mean business, but they are spurred by Aaron's opening verse:
Provisionally 'I,' practically alive/
Mistook signs for signified/
And so since I’ve often tried/
To run them off a cliff like Gadarene swine

Finally, Ten Stories' numerous female guest vocalists certainly do not hurt.

2012 Pine Street
1. February, 1878 3:46
2. Grist for the Malady Mill 3:17
3. East Enders Wives (featuring Aimee Wilson) 2:52
4. Cardiff Giant 3:43
5. Elephant in the Dock (featuring Amy Carrigan) 3:51
6. Aubergine (featuring Amy Carrigan) 3:14
7. Fox's Dream of the Log Flume (featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore) 3:44
8. Nine Stories 4:46
9. Fiji Mermaid 3:34
10. Bear's Vision of St. Agnes (featuring Aimee Wilson) 4:59
11. All Circles (featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore and Daniel Smith of Danielson) 2:44

mewithoutYou -- It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright

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I recently read a very interesting interview with mewithoutYou guitarist, Michael Weiss. Therein, Weiss states that the band have a "core sound of competency," and that mewithoutYou lived more fully in that sound on their second and third albums, Catch for Us the Foxes, and Brother, Sister, respectively. Their fourth album, It's All Crazy..., does not play to mewithoutYou's core sound of competency.
I get wanting to branch out. mewithoutYou's dalliances with folk music on It's All Crazy... speak to a band who doesn't want to be placed in a box. They also speak to a band who most definitely should not be recording folk music (unless it's only a dabble). The songs here just aren't very interesting. And...HEY!!! I'VE JUST BEEN HIT WITH A TRACK-BY-TRACK BULLET!

1. "Every Thought a Thought of You" -- pleasant, but it just sort of happens.
2. "The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie" --always tricks me into thinking I'll like the album this time around because it's one of the few songs on It's All Crazy... where the band really put it all together. Enjoyable and insightful lyrics on human nature, great arrangement, interesting instrumentation (love the horns). Unfortunately, though, this song is an exception and not the rule.
3. "The Angel of Death Came to David's Room" -- it's not bad, it happens, and then it's over.
4. "Goodbye, I!" -- barely registers. Aaron's lyrics here, and in many places on It's All Crazy..., are too dense and opaque.
5. "A Stick, a Carrot & String" - I've always thought of It's All Crazy... as some sort of strange Islamic folk album, but this song is a simple, lovely telling of the gospel, with an arrangement that is quiet, yet moving and interesting. A definite highlight.
6. "Bullet to Binary (Pt. Two)" -- pt. one is so much more memorable than this. It's just so weird, yet all the acoustic strumming and the odd mid-song breakdown somehow don't register.
7. "Timothy Hay" --it's almost good, yet it's also so hippy-dippy it's not quite there. I don't know. The "what a beautiful God there must be" outro should be so much more powerful.
8. "Fig with a Bellyache" -- here it is, the worst song mewithoutYou have recorded up until this point (April of 2015). It's almost antagonistic to the listener, with the obnoxious background vocals, Aaron's stacatto cadence, and lyrics that are supposed to champion purity, but instead just turn sex into some unnatural, disgusting thing. An awful song.
9. "Cattail Down" -- if this song was just a little more aggressive, it could have found its way onto Brother, Sister. Also, if it was just a little more memorable, though the outro does stick in one's head.
10. "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate" -- an album highlight, along with "The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie" and "A Stick, a Carrot & String." Strong build, and the horns and strings really work well here. Aaron's telling of an old Sufi story is pretty thrilling.
11. "Allah, Allah, Allah" -- this album is so disjointed, closing it out is a difficult task. "Allah, Allah, Allah" is pretty good, but doesn't quite feel earned after all the silliness that has preceded it. Still, the closing lines "If you want to sing forgiveness songs, come down and join our band, and we'll cut you like a sword and sing forgiveness songs" is satisfyingly apt, and oddly satisfying.

And that's it. I don't want to talk about It's All Crazy... anymore, or listen to it ever again. The only reason it gets a point above five is that there are more really good songs (3), than really awful ones (1), though the rest is close to below even average. A six it is, and go away.

 2009 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Every Thought a Thought of You 3:31
2. The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie 3:31
3. The Angel of Death Came to David's Room 3:54
4. Goodbye, I! 3:50
5. A Stick, a Carrot & String 3:06
6. Bullet to Binary (Pt. Two) 5:12
7. Timothy Hay 3:37
8. Fig with a Bellyache 3:31
9. Cattail Down 3:47
10. The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate 6:01
11. Allah, Allah, Allah 4:55

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Just 45 Minutes...

"Raylan, Boyd, and Ava fight one last, bloody battle to find out who leaves Harlan alive."
I can't believe this is the end...

Monday, April 13, 2015

mewithoutYou -- Brother, Sister

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Well, here's a surprise. In the fall of 2006, I was in an interesting place. I was about to get married, freaking out heavily. Meanwhile, all those freshman who had come in at LSU in fall of 2004 (my last semester), all those kids who had latched on to Underoath's They're Only Chasing Safety, were moving on to something else. Turns out the new Underoath album for 2006 was too damn heavy for them, and they didn't like heavy anymore, anyway. Time for them to find a new band. Time for them to hop on the mewithoutYou bandwagon. 
In reality, this migration began before 2006. It began on mewithoutYou's Catch for Us the Foxes tour, when suddenly I was mashed up against these young punks (and I don't mean punk-rockers!), who acted like they were too cool to remember your name. So anyway, by the fall of 2006, mewithoutYou was poised to breakout, or at least breakout as much as a band of this nature can. So by the fall of 2006, mewithoutYou no longer felt like my band.
To make matters worse, this video popped up on Youtube, mewithoutYou playing at Cornerstone, where I had seen them four years before they were big, when they were new, and they were exciting, and all the kids in this 2006 crowd, watching the band's set de-evolve into some hippy-dippy group-hugging hippy dance, were still in high school, listening to N'Sync.

My future (and now nearly for nine years) wife thought the video was awesome and loved Brother, Sister right when it was released, but let's face it, she's five years younger than me, which essentially makes her a generational stranger. She had an e-mail account in like elementary school.

Well, Brother, Sister came out on September 26, 2006, and my fiancee and I picked it up from FYE or Best Buy or some damn place and listened to it in the car and she loved it and I thought it was okay, not as good as Catch for Us the Foxes, and it didn't have all the lovely little outros that all of Catch for Us the Foxes did.
End of story.
But then, almost nine years later, I listened to every mewithoutYou album chronologically (multiple times) for this review series, and they were all pretty good, except for the fourth one, and Catch for Us the Foxes was really, really good, and I already gave that one a ten, but how has this happened(?), Brother, Sister is even better. Turns out, removed from a new apartment with all my cool stuff packed out of sight and girl clothes everywhere, and me not realizing being in a relationship can be as fun as being single, and all those damned hipsters who only liked mewithoutYou for the three months after Brother, Sister came out, Brother, Sister is the greatest achievement in mewithoutYou's five album career.
I listened to Brother. Sister on the way to work, and I was excited by every track, even the stupid "Spider" interludes, and emotional at the end...and singing along at the end with my eyes closed and tearing up and not existing. Everything about Aaron Weiss's journey from being a damn mess, to giving up his mess to God and simply no longer being, hit all the write notes, and his band's experiments with straight-up-rock, dub, punk and ...folk all work and work and work. And dammit, now I'm listening to that video above and the damn blender at Starbucks is in exact pitch and key with "In a Sweater Poorly Knit" and I give up, God, take it.

This review brought to you by angry old man enterprises, at

*     *     *

Hey, now that he's done, I'd like to make some comments, as well. Well, really only one, as that old dude above somehow touched upon almost everything in his rambling, anti-diabtribe. What I'd like to say is, on top of how awesome this album flows, creates tension, releases it, is awesome, I really dig its sonic textures. I like how the darker moments, like the trumpet hits before the second verse in "C-Minor," remind me of a scary old art-deco office at night, and the harp parts, for example, the ones at the end of the album, remind me of fairy tales when I was a kid, and you could look out the window at the pale, welcoming moon, and climb a tree and be there, and watch the cow soar over your head.

2006 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Messes of Men 3:52
2. The Dryness and the Rain (guest vocals by Jeremy Enigk) 2:57
3. Wolf Am I! (and Shadow) 2:36
4. Yellow Spider 1:10
5. A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains 3:45
6. Nice and Blue (Pt. Two) 3:43
7. The Sun and the Moon 5:15
8. Orange Spider 1:10
9. C-Minor 3:21
10. In a Market Dimly Lit 4:27
11. O, Porcupine (Guest vocals by Jeremy Enigk) 4:31
12. Brownish Spider (featuring guest harpist Timbre) 1:19
13. In a Sweater Poorly Knit (featuring guest harpist Timbre) 5:26

Friday, April 10, 2015

mewithoutYou -- Catch for Us the Foxes

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Catch for Us the Foxes is mewithoutYou's second album. It follows their debut (logically), [A→B] Life, which is a spastic rock record with plenty of seemingly random tempo and structural changes, and angst-filled, yelled vocals. That album is a blast. Their second album is something else entirely. In 2004 (more than a decade ago?!), in my end of the year list, I said of my ninth favorite album of that year:
Haunting, heart-breaking, tear-inducing. Aaron Weiss's spoken/shouted word delivery has only grown more emotional, while his band has evolved by combining their spasmodic post-punk with beautiful early 80s art-rock. Imagine their first album combined with the textures from the first five tracks of U2's "War" album, or simply imagine a dying rocky field in the autumn, oak's dropping fading blue and red leaves, while a voice echoing somewhere over the dim misty hills shouts about the decaying nature of the world and mankind, and the absense and return of Jesus Christ. A tough listen at times, but wow, wow, wow. The definite standout here is "Carousels" a song so tough to bear, a box of tissues is neccessary. Highly recommended, but you may not feel good when it's over.
After my first listen for this review, I wondered what the big deal was. I mean, my 2004 top albums list includes some works that on reflection, and sometimes for this "Every Album I Own Series," I have found to not be so great. Interpol's Antics? Like a shadow someone shined a light on. U2's How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb? A candidate for that band's worst album. I think when I finish this series, I'm going to post a "My Favorite Album's of the Year...Many Years Later" entry, just to see how much my opinion has shifted. But back to mewithoutYou...
After that first re-listen it was looking like Catch for Us the Foxes would be a likely casualty. Definitely not going to appear on any revised list...then I got depressed this morning for no I threw on Catch for Us the Foxes...
The reason Catch for Us the Foxes is so good is nearly intangible. First, the instrumentation is lovely. Who knew this band had these kind of performances in them after the first album? The guitars are so pretty, but still a bit edgy. Yeah, like the Edge. My old U2 comparison is still apt. I mean, on [A→B] Life, mewtithoutYou's Aaron Weiss straight up quotes "40," the final track from U2's War. War had to have been an influence on Catch for Us the Foxes' sound. Here's 1983 U2 side by side with 2004 mewithoutYou. Bono's A new heart is what I need/oh God, make it bleed! is certainly akin to Aaron's If only I could be the servant of all/no lower place to fall! Tell me these two bands couldn't have toured together.

Actually, don't tell me, I'm not interested in your objections!
The recording of Catch for Us the Foxes is also a big factor toward its success. The drums and bass sound like wood. Not wooden, as in stiff, but they sound like such an organic thing, again supporting my original proposition of trees shedding blue and red leaves (the leaves being impressionistic, free-floating guitar notes). The music in these songs, while a bit melancholy, is magical. I love how most of the first seven tracks have an extended, reflective instrumental outro. I love how the opening strains of track eight, "Paper Hanger," show that the end is coming, and the band mean business. I love how the next track, "My Exit, Unfair," is like one last look back, and then the final three tracks are a dive into deepest emotion. But that's the music. What about mewithouYou's simultaneous Ace In the Hole and Joker, vocalist, Aaron Weiss?
On the band's debut, Weiss' emotions were extreme, as if the relationship he was describing was wrenching not just his world, but THE WORLD apart. So what about here on Catch for Us the Foxes? For that we'll have to go to a special segment we here at The Nicsperiment like to call:


"And I haven't even thought of killing myself in almost five months"--Aaron Weiss, taken from the song "Tie Me Up! Untie Me!," from Catch for Us the Foxes

Oh no, looks like Weiss is dealing with some heavy emotions again, and this time it's not a girl, though maybe that's part of it. This time it's the entire existential crisis of being, wanting salvation, running from salvation. Well, 2004 Aaron Weiss, get off my lawn, and go get a job!
Just kidding, 2004 Aaron Weiss! Come inside and have some tea. I hope you like it cold and sweet. I know you Yankees usually like it hot.
The reason 2004 Aaron Weiss is welcome to my house to drink cold sweet tea (hot tea is vomit), is that 2004 Aaron Weiss knows what it feels like to be depressed, just like 2004 The Nicsperiment and 2015 The Nicsperiment know what it feels like to be depressed. If you listen to Catch for Us the Foxes with even a small amount of sadness in your heart, you will most likely have the ability to connect to Aaron Weiss' lyrical imagery. The "Foxes" here are the little ones from the Song of Solomon "that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom." The ones that ruin everything, even though they are so tiny, and (from "The Soviet") "...when it's quiet, Their tails brushing over your eyelids...""And whatever's charming disappears while all things lovely only hurt my head," just like this morning when I was walking out the door in a good mood, but then I noticed that damned TV wire hanging weird, and it looked dangerous, and I didn't like it, so I tried to straighten it, but it wouldn't go where I wanted it to, and then I realized I was going to be late, and dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit

2004 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Torches Together 3:47
2. January 1979 3:26
3. Tie Me Up! Untie Me! 3:41
4. Leaf 3:37
5. Disaster Tourism 2:58
6. Seven Sisters 3:48
7. The Soviet 3:03
8. Paper Hanger 4:12
9. My Exit, Unfair 3:52
10. Four Word Letter (Pt. Two) 4:22
11. Carousels 5:41
12. Son of a Widow 3:27

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

mewithoutYou -- [A→B] Life

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I understand some things in 2015 that I did not back in 2002. Here is one of those things: I don't know a single person older than me who enjoyed mewithoutYou's [A→B] Life. The most frequent comment I remember hearing from older 2002 folks in regard to mewithoutYou was, "I don't know, I just don't get it." Back then, I didn't get them not getting it. How could you not like this new band, mewithoutYou? Thirteen years later, I can imagine hearing the band for the first time as a 33-year old, instead of as a 20-year old. My first thought now would be, why is this dude yelling at me so angstily? My second, following suit, would be, why are this dude's relationship so torturous? Of course, as a 20-year old, I just accepted Aaron Weiss vocal delivery as normal, an expression of everyday emotions.
Okay, old people, I get it now.
It's kind of weird.
Weiss' lyrics and lyrical delivery have grown increasingly less tortured over time. I've heard a rumor he's even married now. During the summer of 2002, though, he was not. He was a tortured young man yelling at you and God over some messed up female relationship he was mixed up in.
Weiss' performance is so immediate, you pretty much know if this is a ride you want to take after [A→B] Life's first two minutes. I enjoy the passion in Weiss' voice still, and while his 13-year old lyrics sound a little overwrought to my adult ears, they aren't much of a detriment to my enjoyment of Weiss' riot act. However, with less emotional stake in the lyrics, I find that I am able to better focus on the intricacies of [A→B] Life's music. Listening differently has revealed [A→B] Life's unsung hero (literally, he does not sing): Weiss' brother, Michael. During my Cornerstone 2002 experience, I literally (accidentally) ran into Michael in Zao's tent, and he went down like a really thin sack of wet noodles. By the way, I am literally declaring 2015 as the Nicsperiment's "Year of Literally," as I take back the word from decades of misuse...literally. Michael Weiss didn't look like much, lying on his back, deeply confused as to why someone would run stock over him (I REALLY wanted to see Zao). Turns out I almost took out mewithoutYou's star player.
While Aaron Weiss' passionate shouting is [A→B] Life's most unique (and since most copied) aspect, Michael Weiss' guitar-playing is what really sets mewithoutYou ahead of the pack. Check the variety, energy, and atmosphere he injects into each song. His effect-laden intro to open the album creates a sense of urgency before exploding into descending, distorted, and discordant riffs. Michael brings so much to each song. My longtime favorite from [A→B] Life, the melodramatically titled* "Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt," is an absolute showcase for Michael's skill and diverse ability. The song begins with a meditative, softly played guitar line, like a drizzle on a tin roof, growing stormier and stormier. Suddenly, the clouds burst, and the guitar lines are thick stitches of lightning, peeling impressionistic paint off the ceiling. His guitar is like a vessel that doesn't necessarily contain his brother's voice so much as shepherd it on to the next shift of emotion. The rest of the band performs ably, with longtime drummer, Richard Mazzotta, acquitting himself particularly well. Bassist (for only mewithoutYou's first two albums), Greg Jehanian, throws out some nice, Australian-sounding background vocals, even singing lead on a hidden acoustic version of "I Never Said That I Was Brave" at the end of the album. Christopher Kleinberg fills out the band's sound nicely on second guitar, though I'm not exactly sure what he added to [A→B] Life (for all I know, his contributions might be substantial). I think I'm done reviewing this now.

*Yeah...I'm not a Vonnegut fan.*

2002 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Bullet to Binary 2:47
2. The Ghost 3:13
3. Nice and Blue 3:54
4. Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt 4:44
5. (A) 0:54
6. Gentlemen 2:49
7. Be Still, Child 2:41
8. We Know Who Our Enemies Are 2:58
9. I Never Said That I Was Brave 3:01
10. (B) 1:34
11. Silencer 3:49
12. The Cure for Pain 15:08

Monday, April 06, 2015

It's Time for Some mewithoutYou Reviews

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Even these dudes just want to through it all out the window.

I started re-listening to all the mewithoutYou albums and reviewing them, and suddenly started to have all these strange, strong feelings. I couldn't comprehend half of them. I had all these ideas for regulated review structures, and then kicked them all to the curb when I realized how hard organized thought is when attempting to describe a mewithoutYou album. This band don't even capitalize the first letter of their name! It's the tenth one! WAH???!!!
It got so bad, my review for mewithoutYou's third album, Brother, Sister has essentially been written by a guest/ghost reviewer.
I hope these next two weeks of reviews don't wreck your life.
What a ringing endorsement!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster -- IV

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Maylene and the Sons of Disaster hinted at a radio-rock side on select moments of their third album, III. I really needed to point out the chronology there. You're welcome. Anyway, as much as some people hated III's radio-rock elements, *cough* AP Magazine, personally, I thought they were III's best aspect. Apparently, Maylene did, too, because IV is a whole lot less core, and a whole lot more of that radio station where most of the listeners have tribal tattoos.
III also hinted at Dallas Taylor's marital problems. Between III and IV, Taylor and his wife divorced. IV centers around Taylor's anger, confliction (if people can just make up stupid words like "healthful," then I can, too), and in its darker moments, sense of feeling lost and hopeless. Outside of the last two tracks, IV isn't quite a downer, though. Taylor has way too much spit and grit for that to happen. And while "Open Your Eyes," sounds like the best song Breaking Benjamin never wrote, I'll be the first to admit that a very good Breaking Benjamin song is actually a pretty good song. I don't know why I started that previous sentence with "and while." I just transitioned from nothing. Awesome. The radio-rock sound works great for Maylene until track five, "Killing Me Slow," which is really boring. It is followed by "Taking On Water," which is the most Skynyrd Maylene have ever sounded, so hooray. But then, "Fate Games" is a really boring and pointless waste of two minutes. Then "Come For You" is a pretty good Breaking Benjamin song. But then all the rest of the songs are boring, though I like "Never Enough"'s final chorus, and "Cat's Walk" would be a lot of fun if the lyrics weren't in really poor taste. You probably shouldn't include a song about disfiguring a woman with a hammer amongst more complex songs about the woman you are no longer legally bound to. "Drought of '85" features one of the cheesiest drum machines I've heard on a major album, and also ridiculously ponderous and depressing lyrics that make you want to turn the album off. If you did, you'd miss "Off to the Laughing Place," which isn't really that bad of a thing to miss, as it is barely a song.
So anyway, on IV, Maylene prove they can put their own unique twist on airwave-rock, but like III, they can't sustain momentum through the course of the entire album. Hey, those seven good songs are awesome, though, unless you're a spiteful radio hater, in which case this must be your golden age. South Louisiana currently has approximately zero modern rock stations. RIP 104.9, 93.7, 100.7...

This song above doesn't really sound like a Breaking Benjamin song. It sounds like a Maylene song. I hope if they ever pop out another album, they can do stuff like this...not poppy, but palatable. Southern, but not pandering. I dunno, I like it.

2011 Ferret Music
1. In Dead We Dream 3:16
2. Save Me 4:00
3. Faith Healer (Bring Me Down) 3:37
4. Open Your Eyes 3:15
5. Killing Me Slow 4:04
6. Taking On Water 4:05
7. Fate Games 2:16
8. Come For You 3:59
9. Never Enough 2:51
10. Cat's Walk 2:37
11. Drought of '85 4:11
12. Off To The Laughing Place 3:27

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster -- III

 photo 220px-MAYLENE_IIIcover_zpsxplvbxcr.jpg

I talk about how I am constantly looking for a new Björk. Even though she just put out a pretty great album, it's no secret that Björk is no spring chicken. At least she's alive, though. Most of Lynyrd Skynyrd is dead. I love Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Well, why didn't you review them, The Nicsperiment reviewer guy?
Because I landed on the Lynyrd Skynyrd portion of the alphabet in November of last year, and in November of last year, this happened, I decided to skip old Lynyrd Skynyrd. Let's just say that on Sunday, November 9th, on a family trip to the Denham Springs, Louisiana Bass Pro Shop, I complained to the manager after hearing "Sweet Home Alabama" on the music intercom. I was not the only complainer. Several of the cashiers had to leave the store and go outside so they wouldn't punch a customer. College football is a big deal in the South.
Anyway, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster are not Lynyrd Skynyrd. Not even close. Skynyrd hit on more of a delta blues and boogie sound, at which Maylene only hints on their third album, III (really only on the opening guitar riff of III's "Listen Close.") This is heavy music, more indebted to the indigenous sounds of Appalachia than the big muddy. I picked up III during the summer of 2009, hoping to scratch my Skynyrd itch. Because this was my sole aim, I didn't appreciate what III was attempting to accomplish. It has taken nearly seven seasons of FX's Justified, which premiered a year after III was released, to ease my ears into III's banjo touches and whiskey jug slaps.
On it's own merits, III is a pretty decent album. The guitar riffs are heavy and technical. Vocalist, Dallas Taylor, sounds like the dude from AC/DC, if the dude from AC/DC had drank an entire fifth of whiskey filtered through every cigarette ever made. The rhythm section is adequate. Track three, "Just a Shock" is one of the better mixes of heavy and poppy I've heard. Dallas Taylor shows he can sing smoothly, if a little high and dirty in the chorus, though the verses and guitar are ferocious enough. Track five, "Step Up (I'm On It)", with it's banjo and foot-stomping is catchy enough to have foundd its way into a video game and a Sons of Anarchy episode. Actually, in many ways, III and Sons of Anarchy are reminiscent, with all the stories of repentant and not-so repentant outlaws. Really, the two are a match made in heaven. Track six, the (as above-mentioned) Skynyrd-esque "Listen Close" is a sad, personal, and rather prophetic song from the road, as Taylor senses his marriage slipping away due to distance. IV, released two years later, drops a lot of the outlaw stuff to chronicle Taylor's divorce. I'll review that one in a couple of days.
The effect of switching between grittier songs, and ones with a little gloss is enjoyably dizzying, but the three tracks after "Listen Close" fall into a same-y funk that drags down the album. By the time the banjo and old-man singing of track ten,"Oh Lonely Grave," kick in, it's a little too late to revive the album. Closing instrumental "The End Is Here...The End Is Beautiful" is lovely, like a Southern meadow at twilight, but by then, the album already feels over.
So in the end, III does a lot of cool things, but just can't sustain the momentum of its opening half. But while III isn't Skynyrd, Maylene do have their own musical identity that is well worth checking out.

2009 Ferret Music
1. Waiting on My Deathbed 4:03
2. Settling Scores by Burning Bridges 3:52
3. Just a Shock 3:13
4. Last Train Coming 2:31
5. Step Up (I'm on It) 3:28
6. Listen Close 3:40
7. The Old Iron Hills 2:33
8. No Good Son 2:49
9. Harvest Moon Hanging 3:24
10. Oh Lonely Grave 4:12
11. The End Is Here... The End Is Beautiful 5:11