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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2016

About a million music albums were released in 2016. I heard maybe a couple hundred of those. Out of that, here are my favorite nine, in an attempted briefer fashion than previous years.

9. The Algorithm -- Brute Force

After three albums, I'm ready to say it: Rémi Gallego is a genius. His unique instrumental blend of metal and electronic music grows more sophisticated and beautiful with each new release. On Brute Force, Gallego adds touches of lovely, soaring electric guitar, which take his compositions to the next level. It's time for this Frenchman to get some international recognition.

8. FM-84 -- Atlas

I know that movies like Garden State and Elizabethtown feature girls who are not realistic, but one summer in the 80's, I met this girl named Autumn at the beach in Grand Isle, and we made friends, and she always called me "Honey" instead of "The Nicsperiment," and she had this awesome clubhouse where we ate watermelon, and she had an NES and a ton of awesome games, but the best thing is, this guy named Col Bennett, under the moniker FM-84, recorded a whole album about it.

7. Michael Giacchino -- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

I saw Michael Giacchino speak live earlier this year at an event for which I really need to do a write-up. During a Q&A, a crowd-member asked how Giacchino felt to be "this generation's John Williams." "I think John Williams is this generation's John Williams," Giacchino replied sheepishly. Now, Giacchino has been tasked with writing the first score for a live action Star Wars film not sound-tracked by the maestro. Giacchino does not falter. While I won't even pretend like the Oscar-winning Giacchino is Williams' equal, his score for Rogue One features a wonderfully heroic theme for the heroes, a great dastardly theme for the villians, and a seemingly endless amount of motifs for others. He does a great job of incorporating Williams' previous Star Wars work at just the right moments, creating work that gives Williams his due, and expressing his own personality as well. Giacchino's action music is the best since Williams' score for The Force Awakens last year, and he gives hope that a soon-to-be post-Williams soundscape has a bright future.

6. Pure in the Plastic -- Polyenso

This album in one sentence: What I wish Justin Timberlake would sound like. Somebody sign these guys.

5. Childish Gambino -- Awaken, My Love

If Donald Glover has a better year then this one, someone needs to check to see if his DNA is shaped like four-leaf clovers. Coming fresh off the birth of his first child, and the incredible success of his creative work on FX's Atlanta, Glover's musical project drops rap completely in favor of an old-school 70's funk and R&B attack. The diversity of the sounds on this album is almost as big a surprise as Glover's lively voice. Consider me on-board.

4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --Skeleton Tree

Formless, shapeless; Cave, grieving the loss of his son, calling out across the water, hearing no response, trying to live regardless.

3. Radiohead -- A Moon Shaped Pool

Experimental rock music should have run out of ideas years ago, but these Brits just keep uncovering new ones, and everything on this haunting lullaby of an album sticks, from the odd rhythms, to the nervous, seemingly sentient sounds wandering around each corner.

2. Norma Jean -- Polar Similar

With Polar Similar, Norma Jean have not only transcended whatever they once were, but whatever genre or scene could have ever claimed them. This is huge, deep, relentlessly heavy--and I mean heavy on a metaphysical level as much as a musical level--restlessly progressing to some black summit, yet not bleak, not depressing, just heavy, heavy and massive. This is an astounding work by a band without peer.

1. Solange -- A Seat at the Table

I've always had an antagonistic relationship with Beyoncé's music, solely based upon the fact that when Destiny's Child's broke out, their album was the display CD at the local Wal-Mart where I worked. After hearing the umpteenth tween belt out, "Can you pay my bills, can you pay my telephone bills...," I decided I never wanted to hear the lovely Ms. Knowles voice ever again. If someone would have only told me that she had a cooler sister who sat in the back of the class, always wore black, and never smiled, maybe I would have thought better of the Knowles family. A Seat at the Table presents a sort of minimalist R&B unlike anything I've heard, with live instruments and excellent songwriting. This is an album of ideas and deep metaphors, with Solange repeating the coda "away," near the beginning and end of A Seat at the Table in a fashion that gifts the word a thousand meanings. This is a great work, my favorite album of the year...and she wrote it right down the highway from here!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Songs of 2016 (Not Found on Albums in the Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of the Year)

Brace yourself: I'm about to say a bunch of really controversial stuff, like In Utero isn't Nirvana's best album, that I like the idea of David Bowie more than the actual David Bowie, and that politics don't matter and can neither ruin nor improve your life, except when George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and then my dad's farming business went bankrupt and I had to start giving my Winn Dixie paycheck to my parents so we could pay our light bill. Nevermind, I guess.
Here are my nine favorite songs from 2016 that don't appear on any of my nine favorite albums from 2016. They are arranged, seemingly like the events of 2016, in no particular order.

Shell Sport -- "Rain Print"
The way this random kid from Greenland puts beats and bass together in this song makes me hope that he makes a lot more songs.

David Bowie -- "Lazarus"
Knowing how non-plussed I've been about David Bowie, my wife arrived back from a January trip to New York with the words "You've got to listen to this song." "This song" is "Lazarus," a haunting, fog-horned swansong from a guy who's influence of innovation and imagination on other artists has always had a stronger effect on me than his actual back-catalogue. While the non-video six-minute version is more powerful with its extended jam-session ending, this abridged video-version is stunning, and a hell of a way to go.

Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil -- "Nonchalant"
The Wow to the Deadness EP from whence this came overwhelmed my expectations. I've never been wowed by Steve Albini's production skill's, even on Nirvana's In Utero, but he brings out the best in this scrappy band of old guys, really finding some space in this straightforward, nearly shamanistic rock song.

Deftones -- "Prayers/Triangles"
The mid-section to Deftones' Gore is the weakest thing they've ever done, sounding more like watered-down alternative rock than the spacey art-metal they've perfected over the years. Thankfully, the album's opening salvo is excellent, particularly the first track, "Prayers/Triangles," which is as hypnotic as head-bangers come.

Drive-by Truckers -- "Guns of Umpqua"
American Band is a huge step back in the write direction after DBT's shockingly inconsequential English Oceans. The standout from this thoughtful collection of protest songs is gorgeous, spectral "Guns of Umpqua," contrasting the more menial aspects of life with a horrible real-life Oregon school-shooting.

ORKA -- "softly" ft. Amy Seach
I discovered the reclusive ORKA this year through an older song, "Phantom." His sensual, earthy grooves feel infinite, while piling on a strange soul that seems alien. He only released a handful of songs this year, with "softly" being my favorite. It fully captures the way he drags the listener through near-orgasmic soundwaves, and also makes me cry when I look at how many Youtube views it has next to any random video of Taylor Swift pulling out a wedgie.

Chevelle - "Shot From a Cannon"
Chevelle's The North Corridor almost feels like an exercise in denial, as it seems to be determined not to give the listener what they want. The building atmosphere from the last several albums is almost completely diminished, and the heavy grooves one expects seem to be hiding around every corner, hesitant to reveal themselves. Instead, the band settle for a very bare bones, simplistic, nearly generic rock approach, until the awesome closer, "Shot From a Cannon," where they introduce the groove that will bring the apocalypse. More of these on the next album, please!

Alcest-- "Kodama"
Alcest is the critically heralded band I always want to like, but their formless, spacey guitar-work always seems to put me to sleep...until the excellent Kodama, which takes inspiration from Master Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. This eastern tint gives Alcest a sense of dynamics heretofore missing, and the opening title track, with its quiet to loud breaks and soaring vocal moments, announces a band intent on keeping the listener wowed and engaged.

Kent - "Den sista sången"
People, generally those very young and naive, who have previously never seen the candidate they voted for lose an election, have been calling 2016 the worst year in history. In my years, I've seen both parties come and go, but my lot in life strangely not change regardless. Hmm. However, knowing that Kent will never make another album does directly effect me. While their swansong album, Då Som Nu För Alltid, is sadly not their best, the closer, "Den sista sången," and its corresponding final performance video hit me right in the tear-ducts.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


It's been almost five years since I've visited, and I'm not sure if it's even still a thing. I've written a lot of negative things about Pitchfork in the past, and I believed and still believe all of them. I guess at the end of the day, Pitchfork is a business (if it's still around), and it has to back up its business. I almost forgot they existed, but this review is inextricable from my too-cool-for-school music review website experience. But let's back it up.
I saw Phoenix on SNL in 2009. They performed "Lisztomania" and "1901," thought the songs were great, and loved the band's positive energy. I knew that the album the songs were from, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was receiving critical praise, and I picked it up at Best Buy for a low, low price. Those two SNL songs kick off the album, and are basically bouncy pop-rock, full of fun, weightless lyrics. They third song is a slower, semi-disco track. Four and five are basically one long song, a keyboard-based instrumental buildup with a gentle vocal coda. I'll note here that, as far as I know, Phoenix performed this album as a four-piece, playing keyboard, bass, and guitar, and a drum-machine performed the drum parts. No drummer is credited. These four guys carve out a signature sound, and it becomes apparent by the halfway point, sixth track, "Lasso," that this sound is extremely limited. Vocalist, Thomas Mars, has a certain cadence and rhythm, and a certain group of notes he likes to sing. It doesn't vary on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Tracks five through ten show that the band have a certain thing they can do, and that they did it best on the first two tracks. The last five tracks are essentially B-grade reinterpretations of those two songs.
I've long held the opinion that many modern music reviewers listen to an album's first few tracks, turn it off, review it, then throw on the next one. I am fairly certain that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's many "album-of-the-year" accolades came from reviewers who did just that. After quickly reaching a wall in my own listening of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I fled to those positive reviews to try to find out how to enjoy the rest of it. Pitchfork did that typical thing they always do where they ignore the best, often most popular songs, and talk about deep-album cuts as if they are the true standouts. This would seem to counteract my initial statement, but Pitchfork's praise of these songs was often complete gibberish, nonsense showcasing the reviewers' large vocabularies. I found no solace in this gibberish. The other reviews did the general, "mention the first couple of songs" thing, and that was it. I then decided on my own that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would work great as an EP, ending at track five. As a ten-track album, it reveals Phoenix as a band with some pretty unfortunate limitations. I think the fact that no one has heard from them since proves this point. Outside of a 2013 album that the previously mentioned reviewers couldn't even pretend to be interested in--and why would they? Praising it wouldn't raise their cool points, so why do it?--they've been silent.
This experience from seven years ago planted a seed in me to start writing my own music reviews (though I had written some scattered reviews before, as well as made end-of-the-year lists). I was disgusted by the little effort put into reviews by major publications like Rolling Stone (the "just listen to the beginning and the singles" approach), and even more disgusted by the trendy ("we're too good for anything, except what you won't get"), tone-deaf approach of Pitchfork. Why not write my own reviews? I decided I'd shoot for two things: objectivity and honesty. Objective in that I want to review the music I am reviewing, and not its cool-factor and lack thereof, and honesty in how certain factors may influence my ability to be objective.
Objectively, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix starts off great, then repeats itself in weaker and weaker variations, till it squeaks to a close. Honestly, the fact that the album received numerous accolades, despite being quite average, may be why I have only given it a five instead of a six or a seven. Whatever the case, this review is yet more proof that I like to talk about myself far more than I like to actually review anything.

Phoenix-1901 (Live on SNL on 4/4/09) from Joaquin Sharpe on Vimeo.

2009 Glassnote
1. Lisztomania 4:08
2. 1901 3:13
3. Fences 3:45
4. Love Like a Sunset (Part I) 5:39
5. Love Like a Sunset (Part II) 1:57
6. Lasso 2:48
7. Rome 4:38
8. Countdown 3:57
9. Girlfriend 3:24
10. Armistice 3:05

Saturday, December 24, 2016

PFR- Disappear


I feel like in many ways, the reputation of PFR's Disappear is doomed. I've lately read several articles lamenting the lack of backing veteran Christian artists are finding in their latter years (here's a great one!). For one, Christian music is a niche genre. Then there's the fact that some people de-convert and don't care for the lyrical content of the music anymore. There's also a large crowd who treats music as disposable, and doesn't come back to anything they've listened to in the past. That doesn't leave older Christian artists many listeners.
PFR were not quite huge in the 90's, but certainly had a following, and held a certain respect in the mainstream Christian rock scene of the mid-90's. The respect was due to the band's excellent, Beatles-esque harmonies, their tight musicianship, and strong songwriting abilities. While they never put out an absolute standout mid-90's album, like their respective peers DC Talk with Jesus Freak, Jars of Clay with their self-titled album, or Newsboys with Take Me to Your Leader, their Great Lengths is at least on par with Audio Adrenaline's Bloom. Then they "broke up." DC Talk also broke-up (or went on a still-active 18-year hiatus...whatever you want to call it), Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys mutated into ungainly, original member-free zombies, and Jars of Clay shunned their original fanbase to produce one of the most critically acclaimed back-catalogues of the past 20 years. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, PFR got back together to record Disappear. They also put out a live album, and an album of re-workings, then broke-up for what we can assume will be forever. However, this final PFR review of mine is for Disappear, PFR's final full-length album of original material, released by Squint Entertainment in 2001. Shortly after Disappear's release, Squint Entertainment went out of business... leaving Disappear not promoted. With the factors I mentioned in this review's opening sentences already working against it, this complete lack of visibility rendered Disappear's title unfortunately apt. I am the only person I know who owns it. But fifteen years later, I'm still listening.
Man, this is like the saddest review intro I've ever written. Disappear is a good album, not perfect by any means, but it doesn't deserve to be as completely overlooked as it has. It shows PFR maturing, yet not becoming boring or predictable.
"Amsterdam" kicks things off with high-energy, but experiments with some cool guitar effects and brings a sense of urgency and a bit of darkness, which the band's previous music never quite touched upon. It also brings back those fabulous harmonies their previous, supposed-to-be-final album, Them lacked. "Gone" keeps the energy high, making for a very rocking opening duo. "All Ready" then comes completely out of left-field with a Celtic, autumnal intro, perhaps full of even more energy than the previous two songs. "All Ready" also features, in its chorus, some of the most beautiful harmonies PFR have sung.
After this wonderful opening trio, the band offer the standard PFR CCM radio ballad of the album, with "Missing Love," but it's actually one of the best they've done. It features some gorgeous strings, and lets them breathe for an excellent extended outro--I hate when a band doles out the money for some classical instrumentation then relegates it entirely to the background--I love the respect PFR show for it here. "Closer" picks the rock back up, a mid-tempo number that highlights Disappear's excellent production qualities--with a trio, you'd hope guitar, bass, and drums are all given equal love in the mix, and PFR continue to excel in this.
Unfortunately, Disappear is not a perfect album, and is let down by its sixth and seventh tracks. "Even a Whisper" perhaps aims for the circular melodies of past songs like "Merry-Go-Round," but falls into a pit of cheese. It also features an unfortunately boppy drum beat that brings to mind what I call the "K-Love" rhythm. This song is not going on my PFR mix-tape. "Language of the Soul" also disappoints, another ballad, but nowhere in the league of "Missing Love," just too schmaltzy. Thankfully, these two songs come and go, and Disappear picks back up. "Falling" is a return to urgency, and thematically links back to "Amsterdam." There's a definitel sense of searching and longing in these lyrics that I enjoy. "Me," is next, a true weirdo of a song, and maybe my favorite for that very reason. In between the industrial choruses (I'm not kidding!), an effect-laden guitar riff, and a distant spaghetti-western bass line bring to life an imaginative sound I haven't heard in any other song. It may be too strange for some, and certainly not what one would expect from PFR, but I dig it. It reminds me of when I moved into my first apartment, broke and lying on the carpet in the middle of the night next to my stereo, but I'll actually get to that when I review another band's album in a few weeks.
Disappear closes with "You," a hazy, sort-of ballad that ends the album on a definite high. It's spacey and mysterious, yet victorious, another unique feather in PFR's cap. The strings return and are again allowed freedom to soar, lifting Disappear into a twilit stratosphere for its final two minutes.
And that's it. No more PFR--and just when it looked like, instead of becoming old and boring, they were going to experiment with new sounds more than ever. Miss you guys.
Also, the only person to post songs from this album to Youtube was apparently raptured five years ago.

2001 Squint Entertainment
1. Amsterdam 2:41
2. Gone 3:20
3. All Ready 3:09
4. Missing Love 5:24
5. Closer 3:15
6. Even a Whisper 3:11
7. Language of the Soul 3:47
8. Falling 2:56
9. Me 2:35
10. You 4:46

Thursday, December 22, 2016

PFR -- The Late Great PFR


Greatest Hits albums are a relic of the pre-digital past. Now you can just stream however many songs you want by any band for basically free. However, in the 90's, people would be way more likely to give a greatest hits album a chance...especially if it included additional content. 90's mainstream Christian rock band, PFR, who deserve to be mentioned among any of the other standout bands in that genre,* did two things to make their greatest hits album more attractive. First, they did something extremely forward-thinking for the time, and let fans vote online for what songs should make the cut. The band's other fans must agree with my assessment of PFR's output. Great Lengths is very well-represented, while only two of Them's songs reach the tracklist. The band's older two albums get some love, as well. The fans chose a great mix, highlighting PFR's tight musicianship and Beatles-esque harmonies. However, the second thing I alluded to above makes The Late Great PFR unique: it's got three brand new songs. These are all okay, with "Name" showing the band's more rocking side, "Forever" their easy ability to churn out a CCM radio ballad, and "Fare Thee Well" featuring their lighter, fun side, even if it is about the band breaking up. Of course, four-years shouldn't actually count as a break up, but PFR isn't the only band to be a bit hasty in that regard.
*Other bands I'd include there: Newsboys, Jars of Clay, and Audio Adrenaline. Jars of Clay is the only one that is still viable, though, with the other two shuffling along zombie-like without an original member, and PFR forever disbanded.

1997 Sparrow Records
1. Great Lengths 2:32
2. Pour Me Out 4:06
3. Name (New Recording) 3:30
4. Walk Away from Love 3:54
5. Forever (New Recording) 4:20
6. Anything 3:49
7. Spinnin' Round 4:00
8. Goldie's Last Day 4:14
9. Pray for Rain 3:30
10. Wonder Why 3:15
11. The Love I Know 3:48
12. Do You Want to Know Love 3:30
13. Merry-Go-Round 4:59
14. That Kind of Love 3:33
15. Wait for the Sun 4:49
16. Fare Thee Well (New Recording) 4:30

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

PFR -- Them


Aw, man. There's a reason that PFR's greatest hits album, released just a few years after their first swansong, Them, only includes two of Them's songs.
Do you come to PFR for the sweet, Beatles-esque harmonies? They are few and far between on Them. They are replaced by vocal effects and strings. Maybe there were tensions in the band, considering they had their first break-up shortly after Them was released, but it seems rare on this album for frontmen, Joel Hanson and Patrick Andrew, to even appear on the same song together. On top of that, most PFR albums see Hanson taking lead-singing duties throughout, with Andrew providing a large amount of background vocals on each song, and lead on maybe two or three (with songwriting credits following accordingly). For some reason, Andrew sings lead and receives chief writing credits on over half these songs. This diverts from PFR's trademark sound, and strengths. Andrew, at least in 1996, is not as strong a vocalist or writer as Hanson. He adds a grit to his Them vocals that is not really found on previous albums, and it is a little abrasive to the ears. Also, Andrew's melodies are Beyoncé-esque. By that, I mean that the melodies are extremely busy, and that Andrew sings many, many notes--even if he and Hanson were getting along great, and in great proximity, there isn't much room for harmony in Andrew's songs here, anyway.
But I won't place all of the Them blame on Patrick Andrew. Outside of "Pour Me Out," Them features some of Joel Hanson's weakest songwriting to date. Compared to the previous two albums, it almost sounds like Hanson is just fulfilling a quota so the band can end. The two frontmen combine to give Them a strange hard rock-lite meets CCM sound. I just don't like it. It's weak and a little, the lyrics are even cheesy, too. PFR can and have done so much better. I don't get the regression.
I am very happy, though, that PFR decided to give the fans a better conclusion, just five years later. Them would have been a lousy way to end things.
But before I get to that, here's Them's first track, "Pour Me Out," which signals a far better album than what listener's actually get.

1996 Sparrow Records
1. Pour Me Out 4:06
2. Daddy Never Cried 3:27
3. Anything 3:49
4. Fight 4:59
5. Line of Love 3:11
6. Ordinary Day 3:12
7. Tried to Tell Her 2:38
8. Face to Face 3:52
9. Them 4:13
10. Kingdom Smile 3:08
11. Say 2:48
12. Garden 3:16

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

PFR -- Great Lengths


90's Mainstream Christian Rock wunderkinds, PFR, are back with their third album, Great Lengths, Beatles influence on their sleeves. The opening title-track starts with strings, and a tumble of cascading waterfalls of harmonies that continues throughout the album. While they might have been "mainstream," and seemingly able to write a radio-ballad at will, PFR rocked harder, and had far more musical ability than most mainstream Christian Rock bands of the day, endearing them to those who may not have been naturally inclined toward the genre. The more I listen to them with the opportunity of hindsight, the more I realize how much of an anomaly this band was. They could have backed up any Nashville front-person in a studio, but they really did their own thing, combining a sort of straight-ahead 90's college rock approach with both the aforementioned Beatles-influence and CCM radio sensibilities. You can tell that they know where there bread was buttered, and yet they sound like they are still doing whatever they like. Great Lengths has a leg up on their previous album because it's got just a little more emotion behind it, a little more darkness and tension, maybe simply because the band-members are older and have more life experience. Whatever the case, this is a great shot of nostalgia for anyone who was listening in the 90's, maybe "The PFR Album," and I don't find myself skipping any tracks now, so I think it's safe to say that though it's certainly of a time, it still holds up. I mean, look at these dudes, how can you hate them? Also, how can you hate run-on sentences?

1994 Sparrow Records
1. Great Lengths 2:32
2. Wonder Why 3:15
3. Merry Go Round 4:59
4. The Love I Know 3:47
5. It's You Jesus 4:01
6. Trials Turned to Gold (Keith Green cover) 2:27
7. Blind Man, Deaf Boy 2:54
8. See the Sun Again 3:23
9. The Grace of God 3:43
10. Last Breath 2:56
11. Life Goes On 3:54

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

PFR -- Goldie's Last Day


Let's jump right into this:
90's Christian rock band, PFR, may have attracted few non-Christian listeners, but they garnered respect in the overall music community. The trio had serious musical chops, and the two vocalists' harmonies were often compared to those of the much so that they were tagged for a secular Beatles tribute album featuring acts far more well known...and they were considered the standout performers.
PFR's sophomore album, Goldie's Last Day, showcases these strengths in spades, and is an enjoyable listen, though it is missing a key aspect of a great album: tension. Outside of the closer, which morphs in its second half into a strangely cathartic cover of The 5th Dimension's "Let the Sun Shine In," tension is non-existent on Goldie's Last Day. It's just a bunch of sunny, early 90's pop-rock songs, played by an extremely competent bassist, guitarist, and drummer. As such, it doesn't make much of an emotional connection, but for most of its running time, it's pretty fun, even if it sounds a bit dated. Back in '93, we mainly listened to this for the title track, a delightfully goofy rock eulogy for a golden retriever. And for that "Let the Sunshine" cover. It's killer. But mostly Goldie.

Aw man, when I looked for the Goldie video, I came across this Out of the Grey one. Man, I had such a huge crush on the singer when I was 12 (I was so jealous of the guitar-player husband! And now that I am googling, I see that they are still together, and still playing music together. Man, that is inspirational!). And that jazzy, new-agey early 90's soft rock, man, that was my jam. So much atmosphere. Now, I'm gonna go find me some Enya.
GO GO 1993!!!

1993 Sparrow Records
1. Walk Away from Love 3:54
2. By Myself 3:39
3. That Kind of Love 3:33
4. Dying Man 3:27
5. Spinnin' Round 4:00
6. Goldie's Last Day 4:14
7. Satisfied 5:06
8. I Don't Understand 3:09
9. Mercy Man 4:53
10. Shine 3:34
11. Wait for the Sun 4:49

Monday, December 12, 2016

Peter Gabriel -- Us


1986's So is the peak of Peter Gabriel's career. Once you're at the peak, the only way to go isn't actually down--you could also just stay at the peak. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, since So, Gabriel's music has trended downward. This is clear before even the halfway point of So's six-years-later follow-up, Us.
I couldn't do an objective review for So, but I can easily do one for Us, even though it does have a few of my favorite Gabriel songs. Us comes on the heels of Gabriel's soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, which saw Gabriel working with Northern African  and Middle Eastern musicians. Part of that influence carries over to Us...
1. Come Talk to Me -- I really wish the rest of the album would have flowed with "Come Talk to Me" as a template. The song has a very epic feel, with bagpipes in the intro, and heavy African percussion throughout (and some African singing in the bridge), as Gabriel harmonizes with Sinéad O'Connor about a breakdown in communication. If you've seen any performance footage of this song from the "Secret World Tour," Gabriel does some really cool theatrical stuff, but with Paula Cole (yeah...Dawson's Creek theme song Paula Cole...and she does great!) in the female role.
2. Love to Be Loved -- Here's where a few minor cracks show. This ain't a bad song, but it's already weaker than anything on So, and we're only on the second track.
3. Blood of Eden -- But then here might be my favorite song Gabriel ever recorded. in the early 90's, Gabriel was reeling from his recent divorce, and this mediation on the great mystery of the union between male and female is one of his most painful and mystical songs. It's another duet with O'Connor, but in a far more gentle mode than "Come Talk to Me." The song flows like a gentle brook from the depths of the Earth up through an ancient, fertile, biblical landscape, African drums guiding with sure hands, old instruments (an ancient Armenian flute!) gliding against Gabriel's subtle synth work, the otherworldly backup vocals from co-producer Daniel Lanois, that almost medieval guitar in the soaring bridge, and stirring vocal performances by Gabriel and O'Connor. The video may be my favorite of any music video, doing a great job of somehow visually translating the song, and featuring arresting chemistry between Gabriel and O'Connor, who, with her shaved head and piercing eyes, is like some ancient Irish aes sídhe. Also, why haven't I been to the motherland by now? Even my non-Irish co-worker has been there! Life isn't fair!

4, Steam -- After the great "Blood of Eden," Us starts to take a turn for the worse. "Steam" is not a bad song, but it is a carbon copy of "Sledgehammer," minus the catchy flute sample.
5. Only Us -- Every time I hear this song, I immediately forget what it sounded like as soon as I don't hear it anymore.
6. Washing of the Water -- Borderline Jack Johnson/John Mayer softball crap, but it picks up a little at the end.
7. Digging in the Dirt -- I love the juxtaposition of aggression in the verses, and quiet, reverent seeking in the chorus. Sums up the themes of the album, as Gabriel lashes out, then realizes he needs to figure out what his issues are--yet, still doesn't want to be alone. An album highlight for sure, and the video is so cool, really early 90's, and full of imagination.

8. Fourteen Black Paintings -- Cool atmosphere, almost like a showcase for the things Gabriel learned on The Last Temptation... soundtrack.
9. Kiss That Frog -- If you are trying to make a sensitive, thoughtful album on the pain and searching you are doing after a divorce, maybe don't include this ridiculous song with a frog-for-penis metaphor about how you really want a blow job.  Somehow the music is worse than the concept.
10. Secret World -- This track is a pretty cool closer, a muted encapsulation of some of Us' better moments--but it would work a lot better if it was closing a consistent album.
So, "Blood of Eden" is one of the best songs I've ever heard, several other songs are pretty great, some are a bit boring, and one is borderline unlistenable ("Kiss That Frog"). If Gabriel could have taken the World Music influence to better encompass the entire album, and written some stronger songs to replace the weaker ones, he could have stayed on top. Instead, Us isn't So good.

1992 Geffen Records
1. Come Talk to Me 7:06
2. Love to Be Loved 5:18
3. Blood of Eden 6:38
4. Steam 6:03
5. Only Us 6:30
6. Washing of the Water 3:52
7. Digging in the Dirt 5:18
8. Fourteen Black Paintings 4:38
9. Kiss That Frog 5:20
10. Secret World 7:03

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Peter Gabriel -- Passion (Music from The Last Temptation of Christ)


Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ blew up a dust storm of controversy upon its release because of a scene showing Jesus partaking in sexual intercourse with a woman. This offended millions of people who never saw the film. I did see the film, and I did not hate it because it showed Jesus having sex. The said scene is actually a vision shown to Jesus by Satan to tempt the former away from the cross. If Jesus was human, he was tempted in the same ways we are. That scene doesn't bother me. I am not bothered that Willem Dafoe's portrayal of Jesus is tempted by sex, but I am bothered by the fact that he is a pasty, ineffectual wimp. He gets slapped around by Judas and before his ministry begins, he makes crosses for the Romans for money. It's not that he his is tempted, because he was surely tempted: it is that he is not He. The portrayal is ridiculous.
This is actually a review of Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for the film, though. His soundtrack, titled Passion, saw Gabriel combining his knowledge of electronic music and ambient textures with the indigenous music of the Middle East and North Africa. Gabriel hired many musicians from these regions to create an original work of art that influenced musicians around the world, and shined a light on the genre of "World Music." As great as all that is, though, Gabriel's soundtrack, as an album, is a little bit of a test for your average listener or Peter Gabriel fan. While the music is beautiful, it has few peaks and valleys, mainly existing to create mood. Vocals are sparse, as are any moments of catharsis. Seventy minutes of that can get a little trying. I tend to break this album up into chunks when I listen to it. While as a part of the film, Passion is the best part, on its own, I only love it in bits and pieces.

1989 Geffen Records
1. The Feeling Begins 4:00
2. Gethsemane 1:23
3. Of These, Hope 4:05
4. Lazarus Raised 0:36
5. Of These, Hope (Reprise) 1:06
6. In Doubt 2:07
7. A Different Drum 6:05
8. Zaar Peter Gabriel 4:44
9. Troubled 2:46
10. Open 3:18
11. Before Night Falls 2:16
12. With This Love 3:36
13. Sandstorm 2:55
14. Stigmata 2:24
15. Passion 7:36
16. With This Love (Choir) 3:19
17. Wall of Breath 2:25
18. The Promise of Shadows 2:12
19. Disturbed 3:07
20. It Is Accomplished 3:30
21. Bread and Wine 2:23

Monday, December 05, 2016

Peter Gabriel -- So


It's tough to be objective when reviewing a voice that has been in your head for 30 years. Peter Gabriel is my favorite vocalist, and his album, So, is now 30 years old. I'm not going to even pretend that this is a fair review. In fact, I am going to review the version of this I am most familiar with, the original vinyl, because that is the one ingrained upon me, and I struggle to even think about this album any other way. So, if you're still there, here is a song-by-song breakdown of Peter Gabriel's breakout album (yes, I began this sentence that way on purpose). He recorded plenty albums before this (including the ones he did with Genesis), and I have heard them, and they have some good songs, but they're also too weird for their own good.  Gabriel also did some good work after this, which I'll actually review, but his artistic and commercial peak occurred in 1986, with So. Wait, I forgot, it's time to break it down!
Wait, no its not. I can't do it. I can't be objective, so I can't write a review. Gabriel's vocals sound like the Earth itself is singing--they are ancient and full and wise and comforting and discomforting, cut from well-aged stone, but shifting and changing. The synths in "Red Rain" sound like seismic shifts. The percussion on this album, African and South American in origin, Motown and British in origin. sounds like it has existed and will always exist for all eternity. Gabriel's harmonies on "Mercy Street" are so healing, cleansing, and painful. The way he satirizes 80's over-indulgence in such a timeless way on "Big Time" reminds me of America's currently most popular twitter account. The way he is so vulnerable throughout, voice full of emotion, "I come to you, defenses down/with the trust of a child," "Without a noise, without my pride/I reach out from the inside," isn't like anything else I've ever heard. The way, after he describes so much much humanity throughout the previous seven tracks, then makes you question everything by casting all of human behavior as an act of preprogrammed obedience in the closer, "We Do What We're Told," is a final contradicting stroke of genius. I love this music so much. Here's all of the videos from the album. He made one for all but two of the songs.

1986 Geffen Records
 Side One
1. Red Rain 5:39
2. Sledgehammer 5:12
3. Don't Give Up (featuring Kate Bush) 6:33
4. That Voice Again 4:53

Side Two
1. In Your Eyes 5:27
2. Mercy Street 6:22
3. Big Time 4:28
4. We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37) 3:22

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Nicsperiment's 11/29/16 Movie Marathon, featuring Star Trek Beyond, Independence Day: Resurgence, Lights Out, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Last year, I had an even weirder life than I have now, and I got to go to the movies alone a lot during the day, like Don Draper--

--yep, exactly like Don Draper.
This year, I didn't really get to do that. There were a lot of movies I wanted to see that I knew few people would actually want to watch with me. I would have gone to see them by myself, but I was less Don Draper this year, and more Pete, except for most of Pete's defining characteristics and appearance. The only movies I've seen are every single kid movie with my wife and son.
I recently noticed that at least four of the grown-up movies I wanted to see that my wife probably wouldn't want to watch are on Redbox--aka, the I-don't-have-the-Internet-where-I-live movie machine. So, I took today off from work today and watched four movies in a row.
It's the 11/29/16 Nicsperiment Movie Marathon. Here's a write up of my awesome day (questionably awesome to anyone with taste or ambition), and an opinion blurb on each movie. For posterity's sake, I've listed the Rotten Tomatoes consensus afterward, though I will pretend that Rotten Tomatoes is actually an arrogant, opinionated person who I can disagree with, instead of an amalgam of the opinions of 300 arrogant, opinionated persons. Now on with the day.

I wake up early to run and help my wife and son get out of the door. My plan is to wear a towel all day. As predicted, however, about three minutes in, I get a call from my wife. She is freaking out because she has somehow spilled coffee all over her shirt. She asks me if I can drop a shirt to her on my way to work (we work across the street from each other). I remind her that I am not going in to work today. She tells me not to worry about it. My life cereal has already gone soggy.
The whole day is ruined. Might as well give up.
Just kidding. If there's something I've recently put into practice, it's that stuff that isn't my fault is in fact, not my fault. I did not spill the coffee on my wife's shirt. Where my wife and I work is nowhere near our house. I cannot help my wife, therefore I will not worry about it. The day is not ruined. It is time for The Nicsperiment's 11/29/16 Movie Marathon.
I throw my soggy cereal into the yard (I literally do this--and I hope the fire-ants choke on the soured milk!), and put in the Star Trek Beyond Blu Ray.

Star Trek Beyond 
Man, I'm still not a fan of Michael Giacchino's Star Trek theme, and I really like Michael Giacchino. Thankfully, the rest of his score here is really, really good. Justin Lin is the director, his first time on a Star Trek film. He elevated the Fast and Furious franchise from B-movie car race films to action masterpieces. Can he bring these new Star Trek's from pretty good to awesome? Eh. Almost. The strength of these films is still the casting. Each actor does respect to the original cast-played character, yet makes that character their own. Everyone has great chemistry together. Also, Sofia Boutella, as an alien ally, is a really great addition. Lin gets some excellent shots, and the action, despite the abundant CGI (which is actually well done), is pretty fun. However, the villain is just so-so, as well as his motivation. The plot goes to the basic structure of 70-minutes of conflict, then hour-long numbing action finale. Too much of it is just silly. There's a motorcycle scene with Kirk that seems like a joke, but I think it's supposed to be serious. The there's the "see, Star Trek is cool, check out how we incorporated a modern song into this major scene!" part that stands out like a sore thumb. Also, do they have to blow up the Enterprise in every damn movie? I'm disappointed. This isn't awful, but it's nowhere near great, either. Still, the ending makes me look forward to another. Maybe they'll nail it next time. It took Lin two films to perfect Fast and Furious(The 4th Fast and Furious movie(his first for the franchise) is total crap). Maybe give Lin a second chance here. They'll miss Anton Yelchin as Chekov, though. What a tragic death. Good actor, likely had some great work ahead of him. Chekov is mostly just there for side-humor, but it will be strange without him. Should they re-cast or just let the character rest in peace? Situation sounds familiar. I give Star Trek Beyond a 7/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Star Trek Beyond an 84%. I think their expectations were lower than mine. Have they seen Wrath of Khan?

My kid's birthday was last week, and he wanted kingcake. Mardi Gras is four months away, but if you want kingcake down here, you can get a kingcake. You can get a lot of things, actually...
We've got a ton of leftover kingcake, so I grab a piece, and throw in Independence Day: Resurgence.

Independence Day: Resurgence 
The original Independence Day is one of the greatest B-movies of all time. It was one of the last major blockbusters to rely on practical effects over CGI (back in'96, I bought the "Making Of" book!), didn't take itself seriously, yet was able to pull off a ridiculously rousing speech right before its finale. Most of the original cast is back for the 20-years later sequel, and they seem to be having a blast. Unfortunately, the new cast members can't measure up. These millennial kids just seem too young, like high-schoolers flying fighter jets. Also, David Arnold, the soundtrack composer for the original film, does not return. His Grammy-award winning score for the first film made that movie (figuratively!). What his replacements do here is an unfortunate rent-a-score, completely disposable. Same goes for the special effects. The 2016 CGI is poor, cold, and remote. It can't replace the warm flames the special effects coordinators from the original film in 1996 created with thousands of tons of gasoline. This movie has some fun moments--bringing back Brent Spiner and Judd Hirsch for larger parts is an inspired choice--but overall, it feel uninspired and unnecessary. The charge to take the fight to the aliens in a sequel at the end is also a bit sad, considering this film flopped, and these characters will never get to "kick some major alien ass." I give Independence Day: Resurgence a 5/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Independence Day: Resurgence a 31%. That about equates to a 5/10 on The Nicsperiment.

I had thought about slow-cooking some ducks for lunch, but I didn't feel like cleaning up all that crap. Instead, I cut up a bell pepper, get some shredded cheese of my choice and oregano, and toss it on a Totino's pizza I grab from my freezer. Toss it in the oven for ten minutes. Problem solved. I then attempt to start Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The Blu Ray will not play. Maybe Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates didn't hear: this is the Nicsperiment's 11/29/16 movie marathon.
It will get its.
For now, I put in Lights Out, get my pizza out of the oven, and settle in. My wife calls me a few minutes into the movie to apologize about earlier. She was just stressed about finals. I already figured that out because instead of just trying to figure out why I am a huge idiot, I thought rationally, realized that I didn't do anything wrong, and figured that my awesome wife would figure that out, too, once the coffee dried. Being rational in marriage has its perks. Simplify that sentence: being rational has its perks. Simplify it again: being perks. Ugh...sorry, for some reason I thought that would work.
Next movie!!!

Lights Out 
I love a good horror film, especially when the horror holds a deeper meaning. The Descent, It Follows, and The Babadook, my three favorites in the last decade, all feature great metaphorical depth. Lights Out seems to be taking a page from the Babadook, which is a great idea. The Babadook, whose monster is a metaphor for grief, is one of the greatest horror films of this young century. The literal idea for Lights Out's monster, a creature which only lives in darkness, is great, but the Babadook did the wonder of making its metaphor clear without spelling it out for the viewer--Lights Out straight up tells the viewer that the monster is sycophantic with the mother in the film's depression. Also, The Babadook is far more artfully made. Still, Lights Out is scary, well made enough, and the performances are excellent. Though it takes the easy way out in its ending, I'd put it in the "solid" tier of 21st century horror films, on the same level as say, Unfriended. I give Lights Out a 7/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Lights Out a 77%. Hey, that's pretty close to what I think! Nice job, man!

I reserve another copy of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates from the closest Redbox, which is at a Dollar General in the middle of a cane field. I take a fifteen minute drive, and grab that and some hamburger helper, because my kid thinks hamburger helper is Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. I get home, bake myself some cookies, get a huge glass of milk, and prepare for that milk to then come out of my nose.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates 
(Written immediately after watching) I can't believe I am going to say this, but I enjoyed Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates more than any of the other movies that I watched today. I laughed almost endlessly (endlessly in this case being a finite term for the duration of the movie). I even enjoyed the credits. I was a little worried going in, because the millennial casts for the two middle movies made me feel old, and of the four leads in this film, I've got about five years on everyone but Adam Devine. Thankfully, that didn't hurt my enjoyment of the film at all. While these characters are obviously exaggerated for comedy, they at least feel like exaggerations of real people. Also, the sex-comedy/rom-com hybrid movies can follow formula to a fault. This movie has a high-concept tailer made for that formula: two wild brothers are asked by their parents to bring nice girls to their sisters Hawaiian wedding--the girls aren't so nice--and hijinks ensue. Thankfully, the movie focuses on laughs through the interaction of its characters instead of the formula. This is about as good as a stupid raunchy sex comedy can get, and while I don't think a stupid raunchy sex comedy could ever be a great film (of course, I could be proven wrong), this is definitely a great stupid raunchy sex comedy. Also, stick around till the end, as the end credits feature an outtakes real that shows how talented the cast is at improvising--also, there's an awesomely stupid rap song by the two male leads. I give Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates an 8/10.
Holy cow, Mike and Dave only got 37% on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe they were too old for it? Maybe my sense of humor is just dumber than theirs?

Time to get my get kid from school. Good movie marathon The Nicsperiment. None of the movies were great, but at least they didn't kill you, and you got to eat some cookies. All-in-all, a good day. You didn't even cry once!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Nicsperiment's First PC Game Review

Throughout the year, I have been ripping the soundtrack from the classic 1996 PC point-and-click adventure game, Timelapse. I had been looking for the soundtrack for nearly 20 years, then realized it wasn't out there, and that I would have to make one myself. I posted the entire thing to Youtube a few months ago. It's a very unique mix of tribal percussion, indigenous music, and subtle keyboards that I think deserves attention.

I figured since I've put so much time into the game this year, I might as well review it. I've done so here. Hope everybody had a great holiday break!
-The Nicsperiment

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hodges Gardens 3/1/16; Hodges Gardens 11/16/16: A Double Travelogue

One thing is abundantly clear: I went to Hodges Gardens twice. Hodges Gardens is a magical place in Western Louisiana, and life is strange, beautiful, and horrifying, sometimes in no particular order, and sometimes in exactly that order. As the great philosopher, Earl Theodore Simmons, once exclaimed, "It's dark and hell is hot." This is a simple paraphrase of the most famous quote by the Catholic Saint, Joan of Arc, "Damn, it's hot in here."
With those words of wisdom out of the way, earlier this year I up and decided to drive three hours to Many, Louisiana, which can brag of such famous luminaries as Cliff Ammons, former state representative, and Ethel, who works at the Cracker Barrel down the street. I did not drive to Many to see the birthplace of representative Ammons, nor Ethel, but the rumored Hodges Gardens, a paradise upon Earth, a place not dark, nor hot as hell, except the second time I went there, but I'll get to that.
I stumbled upon Hodges Gardens while aimlessly surfing Google Maps one day, or as it's known in support groups, Geography Porn. I had selected the little option where user-submitted photographs popped up at the bottom of the region you're exploring, when suddenly a massive waterfall and unspeakably beautiful gardens, punctuated by massive boulders, loomed before me.
"Surely this is photoshopped harder than Katy Perry's cellulite," I thought. "We don't have anything like this in Louisiana."
Boy, was I wronger than that Joan of Arc joke I told in the first paragraph.
We do have something like this in Louisiana, and it is called Hodges Gardens.
But Hodges Gardens wasn't always Hodges Gardens. Once, it was an untamed, rocky, wooded wilderness on the edge of the massive Kisatchie National Forest. Then, Native Americans, or as the city of Cleveland calls them, Indians, came and slightly tamed it. Then white people came and killed all of them, raped the land, and took all of the best rocks to build some white people things. Then some nicer white people came and decided to try to do something with the barren quarry the not as nice white people left behind, saw beauty in the ruins, and created a giant breathtaking lake, a colorful, well-planted garden full of waterfalls, a rustic lighthouse, and hiking trails in the adjoining woods.
If this was indeed a real place, by Kesha's bones, I wasn't about to not go there. I eagerly took a cool March day off of work, got in my car, and headed west.
Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake. I gave myself a cut-off time. I had to make it to the Lecompte, Louisiana post office by 3 pm, in order to mail something. One must never post limits on an adventure into mystery. And that is why this travelogue, like my dream home, is a double-wide.
And now to begin...
To get to Many, Louisiana, you must take many roads.
I had to speed down all of them, because for some reason, I decided that I had to mail an EBay auction winner their item that very day, and not the next one, when I could have just skipped work to do it (NOTE TO BOSSES: Hahaha, that's a joke, don't fire me...please...I have a family to feed...and I really need the health insurance right now...I would never skip work...I love you! We can make this work! I'll take you out more! I'll do more thoughful things around the house! I promise! It was just a fling! She didn't mean anything! I don't love her...I love you! Could we just talk about this later when I get home?).
Anyway, I did not get to take my time to the level that I prefer, but I did have to stop a couple of times because something awful happens when you reach Presidential Age: you have to pee pretty much all the time. I am peeing right now. There is no end to the amount of urine that must escape my body. Where does this urine come from? Has a more advanced universe opened a trans-dimensional portal in my bladder, in order to transfer their owns liquid wastes to our less-intelligent world? These are the types of questions the presidential candidates SHOULD HAVE BEEN answering. Also, "are you, or are you not humans?" I'm not sure why Ken Bone didn't ask that one.
Speaking of bone, on my tenth pit stop in as many miles, I ended up at Camp Claiborne, another thing that white people made, or more likely made by a subjugated group of minorities in exchange for minimum wage or some sandwiches, probably bologna on white with mayonnaise, at the bequest of white people. It was used in the 1940's to train American soldiers to go fight the Nazis, which seems pretty important, so naturally, the structure is in complete ruin and disrepair, and jerk-offs with aging bladders stop by from time to time to piss on it. Also, there's unexploded ordinances there, because this is America, dammit.

For some reason, at about this point, a police man started tailing my car, and did so for most of the final hour of my trip, most likely because he cared about my safety and well-being. At some point, probably after peeing on the fort, I passed a sign that said welcome to the Kisatchie National Forest, and things certainly felt different from that point, sort of like some giant pine monster had devoured me. Then, while traveling on a state highway with a 65 mph speed limit, the road suddenly turned into a roundabout. I'm pretty sure that roundabouts are a slow way of the British attempting to retake the continent, after that whole "attack you directly" thing failed when a bunch of Louisianians shot them in their faces.
I knew that I was supposed to take a right to get to Hodges Gardens, but before me lay a beautiful mass of concrete and drywall called The Market Basket. I then decided that I needed to purchase an apple, and also pee again.
Upon exiting my car, I noticed that the parking lot was full of cigarette-smoking elderly women, and at that point I suddenly realized that this store was not "The Market Basket," but "The Damn Market Basket." As in:
"Hey, Dorris, when you gonna get here?"
"I'll be there in a few minutes, Ethel, first I gotta swing by The Damn Market Basket."
The best part about The Damn Market Basket, despite the fact that it is called The Damn Market Basket, is that the produce guy was both shocked and amazed at the fact that I wanted to purchase an apple (after, of course, the bathroom, not in the apples). Here is a copy of our exchange.

"You like them things?"
"What? ...apples?"
"No, like,, uh...them kind of apples?"
"Like Pink Lady apples? Yeah, they're good."
"Maybe one day I'll try them kind of apples."
"Yeah, you should."
"They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away."
"Yes, I guess they do say that."
"Un hunh."
"Okay, bye."

The strange thing is, The Damn Market Basket is a very nice grocery store, spacious, with a sensible layout and a great selection, and that apple did keep the doctor away, at least for that day (except for Dr. Funk, whose prescription I try to keep daily).

Finally, I made it to Hodges Gardens.
Just kidding, I followed a sign which included the wrong information, reached a cliff side that surely didn't really exist, ran into a girl standing by the road in the middle of nowhere, asked her if she needed help, admitted that I actually needed help, then left her there because she is probably that girl from The Witch.

Then I made it to Hodges Gardens.
Hodges Gardens really doesn't appear to belong in Louisiana. I love Louisiana, but our cheap, lowly topography is coastal wetland, and I basically live in a swamp full of cane field islands. As I rounded over the final hill of my trek, I came down a lakeside road, which appeared to belong in California. In fact, I've legitimately been to California, and taken a picture of a lake that looked exactly like the one at Hodges Gardnes. Here's one of them. Can you tell me which one this is, and also, can you please do so without being a smartass, because I get my feelings hurt easily? HINT: I'M TOO LAZY TOO HUNT DOWN A PICTURE FROM 17 YEARS AGO.

I reached the parking lot, then wandered around, pretty sure that either the police man, The Witch, or Ethel drugged me, because Hodges Gardens does not appear to be of this world.
I can't even make fun of it. There is nothing to make fun of. I can't believe this exists in our state. This simply isn't what Louisiana looks like.

After staying on trail, I played a classic The Nicsperiment move and went off-trail, even though I was pressed for time. I then ended up in a cypress swamp in the middle of the woods. Where I live, cypress trees usually equal nearby gators, and I don't really like running into alligators in the wild, because for gators, a human a day keeps the doctor away, especially if that human just ate an apple. After giving the cypress swamp a wide berth, I wandered aimlessly through the forest, crossing streams, running into giant stone boulders that must have somehow crashed down from the sky, found a strange, sandy hill, and then pulled out my knife because I heard something large crashing through the woods.
Sunlight glinted through the leaf-cover, as suddenly, everything was still, and I crouched toward the noise, knife in hand. Barely visible through the brush, something brown and mottled with white, roughly five or six feet off the ground, turned in my direction. I felt a strange wave of connection wash over me, like I was joined to something vast, ancient, dwarfing the very concept of "me."
Suddenly, the creature let out a neigh, and bolted across my path, then up the hill, and out of sight.
It was a wild horse.
"What just happened?" I said out loud, breaking the spell. I put away my knife, stepped a few feet ahead, and checked the ground. Indeed, it was covered in horse horse prints--as in, that horse wasn't wearing horse shoes, and was just running free in the middle of a forest, a billion miles from civilization, near a Magical Garden.

Later, when I reached home, I googled Kisatchie Horses, and thankfully, while I am insane, my insanity does not cause me to hallucinate visions of horses. Herds of wild horses, thought to be the descendants of cavalry horses released after World War II, actually do roam the forests of the Kisatchie.
I can honestly say, running into a wild horse in the middle of the woods when I was not anticipating running into a wild horse in the middle of the woods is one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.
Um...weiners. Now, what was I talking about?
Okay, so I saw that horse, and then realized I was probably way off course, and pushing my three pm post office time. I tried to find my way out, but instead found a fishing pier, an abandoned water tower, a freaky old barn, a bunch of mysterious boulders, and these ruined greenhouses from Resident Evil.

Finally, I made it to my car, got to the post office at 2:50, satisfied my EBay customer (just kidding, I've never satisfied anyone... :( ), and then went to the nearby Lea's Lunchroom, because apparently, Lecompte is "The Pie Capital of Louisiana."
Actually, I'm the Pie Capital of Louisiana, but that is neither here nor there.
Lea's is more of a "Southern Eatery" than a "Louisiana Eatery," featuring food one would most likely eat in other parts of the South. In other words, the stuff they serve that Judaism forbids is more of the hoofed variety than the crawling in a ditch variety. That was fine by me, as the hoofed variety they serve was full of fatty flavor and delicious. The vegetables, misused in many other regions as a source of health and vitality, were also full of fatty flavor and delicious.
And then I ate pie, delicious pie, so much, no more pie.

I then immediately went to a nearby gas station and got some pizza and an energy drink because if you haven't figured it out yet, there is something seriously wrong with me...and you best believe that that pizza and can of chemicals didn't make it down the street without meeting my insides...ugh...sorry, that was gross.

Thus came the end of my first trip to Hodges Gardens. I didn't intend for it to be a "first trip." It was supposed to be the only one. My plan was to go on this road trip, make some memories, and then have a normal year where I maintained the sweet, sweet status quo.
Of course, that didn't happen. For instance, because I had to rush, less of the trip stuck in my head than I would like. I also didn't quite get to explore the Gardens to the extent that I wanted...might sound crazy to some people, but there was more I wanted to see.
Not only that, but pretty much no year for me has had any sort of status quo, and I am guessing that is the same for most people, or for whatever species I belong to. A few months after my trip to Hodges, my wife and I went on a cruise with some friends (I'll do a travelogue on that as soon as I pay it off!), and it looked like smooth sailing ahead. My old buddies, crippling social anxiety and depression, seemed to be far away, and indeed they did stay far away. I hate those guys. But other things happened, things which have forced me to continue to grow as a human being when all I want to do is lie on the floor and eat pizza.
Indeed, I have had to work hard at being a husband and a father when I thought I had all those things worked out. But most importantly, I've had to deal with some personal issues that date back to whenever my home people dropped me off on this rock. Man, it has been so, so fun. So fun, that I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to visit Hodges Gardens again. I mean, I'm like a completely different person now than I was eight months ago. I even bought a Sega CD! These are different times: the newly elected President's now on-hiatus day-job is game show host, and his biggest opponent had already lived in the White House for eight years. In fact, for all but eight of the last 28 years, a Bush or a Clinton has been in the President's chair. Why do we have royal dynasties? It's like we're England or something! So it's the guy who says he "Grabs um by the Pu$$y," (I keep seeing that quote written that way, and must guess that that word has a high value in our society) and who has been accused of sexual assault, or the wife of the guy who has been accused of sexual assault. Either way, we apparently want sexual assault to be associated with our top Presidential candidates. But I don't have time for politics here! Who cares! They're all sociopaths! If you think you should be in charge of everyone, you probably shouldn't be in charge of everyone!
With that said, the state of Louisiana wouldn't let me write my name in as a Presidential candidate, but I sure can finish this travelogue!
*     *     *
On a not so cool (mid 80's!) November day, I once again set out for Hodges Gardens. This time, I had no time constraints. I took my time, and it was foggy. Also, I got to take a decent pic of the inside of the under-repairs Atchafalaya bridge at Krotz Springs--or, as we used to call Krotz Springs in high school... well, you can guess.
Thankfully, the fog cleared up just in time, as I had pulled up to a rest stop, noticed it was obscuring some random lake, and saw there was a snake warning. Of course, I had pulled over to this rest stop to guessed it, Crotch Springs.

My wife called me while I was gazing out at this mysterious wonder, and she gave me some bad news: Her mission to Krispy Kreme to retrieve a that-day-only pumpkin spice donut had ended in failure. While I personally think pumpkin spice tastes like vomit, my wife loves it, and since I am trying to be more supportive, I told her to keep her head up and keep fighting the good fight. Also, Donald Trump is President.
I must confess that going into this trip, I had been suffering from a migraine for about three days. I have been drinking the devil's juice, coffee, for the last two weeks or so because I had a day where I needed a lot of gallons of it, and my wife is now helping me to slowly ween myself off of satan's brew. Actually, on a purely evolutionary level, coffee is winning--get another species addicted to you, and you don't even have to breed anymore--they'll do all the work for you! They'll spread your beans across the galaxies!!!
So, seeing a deer in the wild can be a very spiritual experience, almost, but not on par with seeing a wild the wild. I've only seen that one horse, but I've run into deer on several occasions--I mean with my eyeballs, not with my car. Also, deer are delicious. Haven't tried horse yet.
Anyway, on that same old highway that ends in a roundabout, I saw a huge buck standing just outside the tree line on the side of the road. Of course, any time you actually see a beautiful beast in the wild, your first thought isn't "Let me get my camera," but instead, "Please don't run away, please don't run away, please don't run away!" He did, however, run away, but then I suddenly realized with delight that I actually had taken a picture about twenty seconds earlier, because I thought the juxtaposition of the highway and sky was beautiful.
Turns out, you can actually see the deer, on the right-hand side, though he looks like a cross between a pinprick and bigfoot. Little known fact: an actual pinprick once bred with an actual bigfoot. The result became a famous celebrity, but I've been sworn to secrecy cough***Katy Perry***coughcough.

I knew even before it rose over the majestic roundabout, that I would have to pay a visit to The Damn Market Basket.
Now that I wasn't having to rush, I decided to be more aware of my surroundings, and it turns out that The Damn Market Basket is right on the edge of the fine town of Leesville, LA. If iconography reveals the true nature of a place, Leesville really loves America and Jesus. There are American flags and pictures of Jesus everywhere, even in The Damn Market Basket. I also noticed another strange flag around Leesville, a red one with a blue X and some stars on it. I don't know what that flag meant, but I'm guessing by the fact that Leesville loves both America and Jesus so very, very much, it must mean something good. Here's a fine gentleman flying it from his motorcycle, and wearing it on his head. America and Jesus are proud. Also, I got a Faygo and some Bugles from The Damn Market Basket because apparently I am a Juggalo.

I found Hodges Gardens way easier on the second trip, probably because The Witch didn't put a spell on me this time. I decided to explore more of the Gardens main peninsula, at least to start. The Gardens again revealed untold wonders, untold because, as before, I was the only person there, though actually sort of told because I talk to myself. The lack of humans makes Hodges Gardens seem even more unreal, and more like some kind of post-civilization oddity that a just crash-landed astronaut discovers after the apocalypse. Oh, yeah, and it's also like Myst. That game was harder than Katy Perry's heart. By the way, Russell Brand gave me $5 and a can of Pringles to write all this mean stuff about Katy Perry. I have already spent the cash on more Faygo and some Hatchetgear.

I remembered a hiking trail I had to pass up the first go through because of the time constraint, and decided after clearing the main area (of zombies), to head that way.
I suddenly realized something while walking to that trail: God was already mad at me for the future act of making that Joan of Arc joke, and had decided to smite me with fire, which is the only way to explain the kind of heat I experienced that November day in Hodges Gardens. It was so hot that... Okay, there are several directions I can go with this joke.
There's the cute route:
1. It was so hot, I saw a squirrel trade his tail for some ice cubes.
I could go the mid-90's David Letterman route:
2. It was so hot, I saw a hooker on Broadway pay a hobo to fan her with a playbill.
I could try to make fun of your mom, but make it awkward:
3. It was as hot as your mom gets when your dad tells her how inadequate he thinks you are.
Or I could just go with this racially-motivated gem:
4. It was so hot, I was literally sweating my butt off, but since I am a white male of mostly Irish descent, this took less time than it took for me to type this sentence.
The hiking trail was pretty cool, except it was hot, a nice stream flowing nearby, with boulders strewn throughout, a dense canopy high above, and a thick layer of pine needles below. Here is a picture of me standing in front of a boulder bank, purposely making a face my wife and son will hate, while also showing most of my 143 years of age. On that note, I hope the Trump inauguration features all of the pomp and pageantry that Grover Cleveland's did. #Squadgoals, amirite? I have no idea what that means, or who Grover Cleveland is, except for when he was on Sesame Street.

Eventually, I started getting that evil feeling to go off trail, so I did. I saw an overgrown offshoot that looked possible, and found myself following a natural drainage area, kind of like the forest's colon, but not like mine, because I don't get enough fiber. At one point, the wind suddenly died, and I said, "It is as if the very air has stilled, as if God himself is holding his breath," because I am an over-dramatic douche. I followed this path for far longer than it was prudent, because a girl named Prudence was mean to me once, and I still bear a grudge. Finally, I came to a meadow in the midst of the woods, told the woods we'd call it a draw, turned around, and walked back to the main path, and then to my car. I felt like I had gotten my five dollars worth because I forgot to tell you that you have to pay five dollars to enter Hodges Gardens. Small price to pay.

Upon leaving, I noticed that across the street from the entrance to Hodges Gardens is a haunted hotel, but I'm not posting any pictures here because the last thing I need is to face the wrath of some damned hotel ghosts. They haunt your bed and make it so uncomfortable. Instead of getting back on the main highway at the roundabout, I went further south into Leesville.
This is because I don't like going home the same way that I came, which is also why I am still single.
I am so very sorry, and can only take solace in the fact that many people will miss the joke and think, "Wait, I thought he was married and has a kid, and also that he had a sense of basic human decency." I love those people. Of course, I could erase the joke, but when I put white out on my monitor, then scroll down, I can still see it. That is a waste of white out, and also a joke I stole from a Dumb Blonde Jokes Book, which I guess is considered hairist now.
Driving through Leesville brought me right by an eatery called Fatboy and Skinny's, so obviously, I stopped at Fatboy and Skinny's. I ordered a Fatboy and some Cajun Fries, and while you are what you eat, I'm not actually Cajun, so the jokes on you Fatboy and Skinny's.

After my meal, I ordered a chocolate milkshake to go, and got out of Leesville, as I don't trust villes not one little bit. I took Highway 10 through Fort Polk to Ville Platte, and then got onto Louisiana's great highway, 190. My drive home was a beautiful experience, as the sun seemed to be setting all around me, and I listened to some great tunes and reflected on the positive changes I've made in my life, besides all the dirty jokes I wrote for this travelogue, and then I made it back to my wife and child because contrary to what I said a moment ago, I do come back the way that I came, and I'm proud of it. For some reason, when I suggested that as a slogan at a Promise Keepers rally, they shot it down. If there's one thing that's wrong with this nation, it's that shocking statements aren't rewarded.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Enjoy time with your family, whatever your concept of family entails.