Search This Blog

Monday, October 31, 2016

Remember 1993? Remember Jurassic Park? Remember Video Games? Yeah, I Member!

If you mosey on down to, you will see that I just spent a month playing all six 16-bit Jurassic Park games for three different video game systems, then compared and reviewed them, because that is my idea of fun.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Pearl Jam Listen-and-Review-a-Thon

If it wasn't clear from the Nirvana reviews I posted over the summer, in the Nirvana vs Pearl Jam debate in the 90's, I firmly chose Nirvana to the point that I own every Nirvana album, and no Pearl Jam ones. In fact, the only Pearl Jam album I've heard all the way through is Ten, despite Vs. and Vitalogy hanging out in most of my friends' glove compartments. Wait, that's a lie, my wife has Backspacer, and she played that one a lot right when it came out. Well, er...
I am at a point where I am reflecting a lot on my life thus far, all of my life, and now that I am at the point in the alphabet (for those not up to date, I am reviewing every album I own in alphabetical band order) where Pearl Jam would reside, I have a batty idea:
I am going to stream every single Pearl Jam full length, all ten of them in a row, and write a mini-review of each as I listen, right here on The Nicsperiment, right now.
Let's do this!

1991 Epic Records

To start, I am loving these early 90's keyboard sounds, but then there's that Vedder voice, so earnest and urgent and serious, so serious. Why so serious? But then the singles start hitting, and "Even Flow" is so good, I could never pretend not to like it. Vedder's soaring vocals really hit the spot on this one, and all the singles, but especially this one. Whoever is on the far right of this album cover needs to wear looser jeans. How do they breathe? I like the snare drum sound on "Alive." This whole thing has a nice, "We recorded this in a big room with lots of reverb" sound. Man, the singles for this album are all ubiquitous to this day, and the non-singles just kind of exist. The non-singles are okay, but the album gets a little bit tiring and repetitive, similar riff-structure, similar rhythms, Vedder's muddy grit all sort of bleeding together...and this is most of the second half of the album. You also don't feel the music is commenting on the times like Nirvana's did. It's just kind of there, like "Hey, we're Pearl Jam, and this could have been made at any point in history." I think the best albums are timeless, and yet of a time. I hope all of the other albums don't just muddle along like this. I mean, the second half isn't bad, I don't want to give the impression that I think it sucks, but in comparison to the singles... The singles are so good! Man, "Black" is so powerful! And "Jeremy" when Vedder is grunge scatting, or whatever it is he is doing at the end of the song and belting out like he is on top of a mountain. Makes me want to play the song again and again! But I have nine more albums of this to get through! Hey, the weird keyboard sounds are back at the end. Cool!
I give Ten an 8.0/10.0

1993 Epic Records

I remember this camel (EDITOR'S NOTE: It's apparently a goat) from the album cover staring up at me from my cousin Rhett's dashboard all the time. Man, this album opener jams harder than anything on Ten! Man, I really like this song. It's called "Go." Full of energy. Great opener. I love how the chorus comes down from the verses. Digging this new drummer! Really cool stuff. Man, and the next song, "Animal," is so aggressive, and nasty, like good nasty, way more attitude than Vedder showed on Ten. Nice guitar solo, too. Doesn't feel extraneous, more like an extension of the anger. Aw, but the next song has an acoustic intro...wait a minute, this is "Daughter." This was Vs. big single. It flows, sounds like it could have been a single from Ten, but again, more attitude.  It picks up, but it's actually a nice break after the energy of the first two songs. Whup, but the next song is lame, like cheesy lame, mainly due to Vedder's silly, repetitive chorus. Sounds like a kid's song. Aw, man, with "Dissident" it looks like Vs. is falling into a mid-tempo groove. How are they going to keep this interesting with seven tracks left? Woah, but "W.M.A" comes out with this crazy tom-tom part on the drums (loving this new drummer!), and keeps the energy going for six minutes, with Vedder's most pointed lyrics yet, directed to abusive police. Nice. The Vs. title is starting to make more sense. The next song has "wah-wah" guitar, but Vedder's most abrasive vocals yet--he essentially screams his way through the song. Enjoying his vocal diversity on this album compared to the previous one. Next few songs keep my interest...three left, though, and I feel like something drastic needs to happen. Hey, the next song is cool, I know I've heard it before, kind of a tender, quieter song about an older woman, but not boring. The rhythm keeps a good sense of movement. Nice, the next song is another rager. This is a much better album than the debut. It doesn't have the "soaring to the top of a mountain" singles, but as a whole, it is very consistent, cohesive, but it's got a lot of variety. The anger, the versus theme really works. Cobain lost his anger and he died, but Vedder's seems to be fueling him...this has the of a time feeling I mentioned above. Holy crap, check out Vedder's lyrics in the quiet, ragged closer, "Indifference":

I will hold the candle till it burns up my arm
Oh I'll keep takin' punches until their will grows tired
Oh I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind
Hey, I won't change direction, and I won't change my mind
How much difference does it make
How much difference does it make, how much difference

I'll swallow poison, until I grow immune
I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room
How much difference
How much difference does it make

I could see myself owning this album. It is really, really good.
I give Vs. a 9.0/10.0

1994 Epic Records

Man, this one came out barely a year after the last one. Maybe the record label wanted some more singles? Well, they're not really getting singles out of this because this album sounds kind of weird...and hey, I think I like it. Vitalogy is so full of life. It just keeps changing from one sound, vibe, emotion to the next. It's so vibrant. Oh, there's "Better Man," the one song the label was able to get on the radio, and it comes at just the right time, even though it sounds more vulnerable and small than the band's older singles...and I don't mean that as a negative. Vedder's sincerity is starting to became an asset. His honest feelings transcend the irony the time is known for--I kind of feel like I am eating my 20-year old opinion now...really my opinion from two-hours ago when I was negatively comparing Pearl Jam to Nirvana ...Wow, great pacing on Vitalogy, too.  Man, really digging "Immortality," I think I love this album. I can see where Pearl Jam totally lost their mainstream cred here, but they must have really concreted their core fan base with this one. You realize this isn't some radio-single machine, this just might be a great band.
This is two albums straight I have really enjoyed.
I give Vitalogy a 9.0/10.0

No Code
1996 Epic Records

All that praise I just gave, and now album # 4, No Code, is not doing much for me. While Vitalogy sounded cohesive, despite its diversity, No Code sounds disjointed and strangely generic in its own. Another new drummer. I like the guy from the last two albums way better--so much more personality, and such a more full sound. Where are the toms? It's cool the band tried out so many different things for this album, but I wish they had maybe done less things and done them well. "Off He Goes," a softer song, is pretty cool. Man, the rest of this is so aimless. Oh, yeah, this is the album that pissed my high school history teacher off so much. He was a huge Pearl Jam fan, and he hated this album. What a bummer after the last two. Man, this is lame, and to add insult-to-injury, they've gotten all pseudo-spiritual and mopey. 30 ain't death, dudes! No Code's not the worst thing I've ever heard, but it's by far the worst thing they've put out up to this point. Hope they can get it back together.
I give No Code a 5.0/10.0

1998 Epic Records

Man, coming into this album, it just feels like that early fire is gone. Yield is definitely a more cohesive, and dare I say coherent musical document than No Code, not a bad way to spend 50 minutes, but it's far from great, with little standing out. At least it is relaxed and not scatterbrained. It's absolutely solid, but after that opening trio of albums, I want more than solid. I know it's only been a couple of hours, but I miss early Pearl Jam. The drummer on this and the last album just isn't doing it for me, either.
I give Yield a 7.0/10.0

2000 Epic Records

Hey, this one is starting with a bit of energy. Another new drummer, too. This one sounds a lot less boring. My attention is piqued. Three tracks in, and this sounds a lot deeper than the last couple--Vedder singing in ways that sound different than he did in the past. This has a bit of that, "It's a new millenium and everything is going to be awesome" vibe. Stupid 9/11 killed that. Holy crap, did Pearl Jam make a space metal album? Space Jam? Not quite, but "Nothing As It Seems" is awesome. This is excellent. It's like they just kept reshuffling the same toys in the same box, and those toys are all worn out and tired, and then they left the play room and the whole universe was out the door (life hint: the whole universe is always out the door). It's weird how much Vedder is starting to sound like Chris Cornell here. Man, I love how this album sounds. Finally switching producers (they've been using the same one since album #2) really did wonders for the band here. Drums sound huge. I like this new drummer. Brings something different to the table, but he likes the toms like the second guy did, which always seems to benefit Pearl Jam's sound. Man, even the acoustic stuff, like "Of the Girl" is full of atmosphere and sounds great. Wow, "Sleight of Hand" sounds huge (EDITOR'S NOTE: The bassist wrote all the best songs on this one!). I'm back on the Pearl Jam wagon. This is really good stuff. Binaural is so full, I feel like it will take far more than one listen to unpack all of the sounds here.
I give Binaural an 8.0/10.0

Riot Act
2002 Epic Records

I can't lie. Even though I enjoyed the last album, I am starting to get tired of listening to Pearl Jam. Still, I said I would do this, and I have to follow through. Here we go. Riot Act. Three tracks in, and I am not enjoying this as much as the last one. Same drummer, but that big spacey sound is gone. Vedder is laying it on pretty thick, but seems, deeps in his soul, to be profoundly bored--they all do. Forcing myself not to skip tracks. Almost back to No Code territory. ....and I've almost tuned out this whole thing. It's just not very interesting...and yet, No Code is still worse. This is just kind of bleh. Maybe that's why they took a four year break after this. Hope it helps!
I give Riot Act a 6.0/10.0

Pearl Jam
2006 J know what? I feel like I need to give credit to drummer, Dave Abbruzzese, who played for Pearl Jam on Vs. and Vitalogy (albums #2 and #3). Nothing has touched those albums to this point, and it is becoming apparent to me why. Abbruszzese gave the band an energy, aggression, and sense of movement that they haven't had since. Perhaps the tension he allegedly created in the band was a good thing that spurred Pearl Jam into making great music. You can hear them shooting for the sound of their second and third albums here, but without Abbruzzese's playing, it's just not working. Matt Cameron, the current drummer, certainly isn't band, but the songs just can't seem to rise above the level of "generic rock" with him behind the kit (Binaural not withstanding). Or maybe Pearl Jam are just getting old. I can appreciate what they are trying to do here, returning to that political edge and anger of their youth, and it certainly raises this album over the level of the previous one, but they just can't pull off that sound any more and make it interesting. This album is just blandly decent. Man, it really sounds like 2006. "Army Reserve"'s got a cool guitar sound. If the whole album did stuff like that, maybe I would care more.
I give Pearl Jam an extremely half-hearted 7.0/10.0

2009 Monkeywrench

Well, this one I've heard a lot in my wife's car, as it was the first Pearl Jam to come out since our wedding, and she likes Vedder. An anecdote: One time we were watching a late night talk show and Vedder was going to perform some solo stuff at the end. My wife fell asleep on the couch about a half-hour before his performance, and I got up, got a bowl of cereal, and sat on the floor. When Vedder started singing, I said, "Man, his voice sounds like shit," very quietly, nearly under my breath. "No, he doesn't!" my wife said loudly, from deep within a dream. She didn't wake or even stir, but her I Must Defend Eddie Vedder's Honor brain reflex was still running. It's interesting to hear Backspacer in the context of the rest of the band's albums--it sounds like such a breath of fresh air. They probably could have made 1,000 other albums like their self-titled, where they play okay-but-generic songs for 50-minutes, but I'm glad they tried something different here. The long album lengths definitely contributed to the fatiguing factor of their last few albums, and distilling their songs to 3:30 minute averages on this 35-minute long album works wonders. It's also great that they made their sound so much punchier, the short song lengths really prohibiting them from ever falling into any sort of lag, even when the band delves into the more ballad-type tracks. To put something out this lively 20 years into your career is no small feat. This Pearl Jam band might have some legs.
I give Backspacer an 8.0/10.0

Lightning Bolt
2013 Monkeywrench

Ah, the last one...for now. I've made it through ten straight Pearl Jam albums, and lived to tell the tale. Well, actually, I guess I could die while listening to Lightning Bolt, cuz I'm not done with it yet. Digging the energy, though. Maybe even more energetic than Backspacer so far. The drum part in the middle of "My Father's Son" is the most interesting thing Cameron has done for the band. Hey, some of these songs got on the radio...well, this is a depressing fact: In the South Louisiana area we had one rock station, based in Lafayette. It shut down about the time this album came out, and these singles are some of the last songs it played. Man, rock and roll is dead. So depressing. The keyboard has conquered all. Eh, this album is starting to bog down a bit in the middle. By "Let the Records Play" these are sounding like old dudes again...and I'm done, that's it. This album falls into the "It's just modern Pearl Jam" category, kind of like dad-rock wallpaper. But to put the whole thing in perspective, having listened to all ten Pearl Jam albums in a row, this band used to be straight-up mean-sounding, their second and third albums have such a great punk-edge. Pearl Jam is a decent band, and was once a great band. I guess I'll rank these albums now. Then I'm going to bed. Let's make tiers out of this. Oh wait, first:
I give Lightning Bolt a 7.0/10.0

I would buy these:
1. Vs.
2. Vitalogy

I would think about buying these:
3. Ten
4. Binaural
5. Backspacer

I am never listening to these again:
6. Lightning Bolt
7. Pearl Jam
8. Yield
9. Riot Act

I wish I would not have listened to this:
10. No Code

Oh, and one more thing before I forget:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Pavement -- Terror Twilight


I was doing the thing all seventeen year-old dude's love, giving my younger sister and brother a ride around town. They wanted to go to Wendy's, so I pulled off of Florida Boulevard into Dave Thomas' baby's parking lot, only to find the window's boarded up, and letters hanging off the sign. My lovely siblings began to serenade me with their lovely songs of "Nice job, idiot," but then the first notes of "Major Leagues" stretched out of my car speakers and everybody shut their pie holes. We just sat in the parking lot, as KLSU worked the kind of magic that won it the 225 "Best Radio Station in the City" award that year. I started college the next year and became a DJ there, and they never won another award, but I am sure that is just a coincidence.
"Who is this?" my sister asked.
"Pavement, I think," I said, even though I knew it was Pavement, but I used to preface a lot of things I said back then with "I think," which maybe wasn't that bad of an idea.
KLSU played a Those Bastard Souls song next, but they never announced who it was, and it took me like 12 years to figure it out, but that review is four letters away, and now it is time for Pavement's final album, Terror Twilight.
I love Terror Twilight. I like that, while it is unarguably a rock album, it contains a multitude of sounds, is relaxed, but never runs out of energy. I love that every time I listen to it, I feel better by the end than I did before I listened. I love how it sounds like it is going to end all dark and stressed out, then presents a jolly nonsensical "everything is going to be alright" album closer, whose title begins with an ellipses. I love how "Folk Jam" incorporates a genre that isn't necessarily my favorite, and creates a charming rock song out of it. I love how "Platform Blues," doesn't incorporate the blues in any way, but is still a great song (and I like the Blues). Most of all, I love "Major Leagues," and I love how relaxed it is, and how it is hypnotically calming, and makes me feel so good. It is such a great song.

After I decided how much I loved Terror Twilight, Pavement fans tried to tell me that it wasn't any good, and that Pavement's older albums were where it's at. I listened to those older albums, and they sound like they were made by a talented band who is purposely trying to sound bad--vocalist, Stephen Malkmus, singing bum notes, guitar solos in three different keys, production lousy. Previous Pavement sounded like the ultimate, we could be awesome, but just to be ironic, we won't be band, and I don't understand the appeal in listening to that.  
However, their final album, Terror Twilight was produced by Nigel Godrich, who has produced every Radiohead album since OK Computer. If that doesn't impress you, he also produced Beck's Sea Change, which is generally regarded as one of the greatest albums ever recorded, receiving perfect scores from such established publications as Billboard, Rolling Stone, Slant, and The Nicsperiment. Nigel Godrich is not about to put up with Pavement's bullcrap. On Terror Twilight, Malkmus sings in key, and the instrumentation retains Pavement's unique character, but sounds professional. Plus, you get Godrich's spacey touch. So Terror Twilight contains all the pros of Pavement's "slacker" vibe, and none of the cons, while containing loads of atmosphere, and featuring Malkmus' strongest songwriting to date. If that's selling out, sign me up. I wish the band could have recorded ten more with Godrich instead of immediately breaking up.
BONUS: The reason the sitcom How I Met Your Mother won me over: the eleventh episode, Drumroll Please, ends with the blissful "Spit on a Stranger," causing me to say, "Holy crap, Pavement. This show knows its stuff (Except how to end properly. They should have paid better attention to Terror Twilight)!"

1999 Matador
1. Spit on a Stranger 3:04
2. Folk Jam 3:34
3. You Are a Light 3:54
4. Cream of Gold 3:47
5. Major Leagues 3:24
6. Platform Blues 4:42
7. Ann Don't Cry 4:09
8. Billie 3:44
9. Speak, See, Remember 4:19
10. The Hexx 5:39
11. Carrot Rope 3:52

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pavement -- Wowee Zowee


The summer before senior year of high school, Pavement released their final album, Terror Twilight. The local college station played "Major Leagues" from that, and I loved it, and I bought that album, and I tried to get into Pavement further, but their other albums don't really sound like Terror Twilight. The other albums have this raw, lazy sound that I guess endeared them to their fans, but to me sounded like a man singing badly over a rock band playing badly. For some reason, I did purchase their middle album (third of five), Wowee Zowee, an aimless, wandering piece of work apparently fueled by massive amounts of marijuana usage. None of Wowee Zowee's eighteen songs stand out, and every time I listen to it, I think the guitarist has to be hitting the wrong notes on purpose. Still, the "slacker rock" does send out some great 90's vibes for 56-rambling minutes, and I don't mind tossing this on in the background. As far as active listening goes, this and the three other Pavement albums not titled Terror Twilight don't do much for me. I guess I prefer good music over irony.

1995 Matador
1. We Dance 3:01
2. Rattled by the Rush 4:16
3. Black Out 2:10
4. Brinx Job 1:31
5. Grounded 4:14
6. Serpentine Pad 1:16
7. Motion Suggests Itself 3:15
8. Father to a Sister of Thought 3:30
9. Extradition 2:12
10. Best Friend's Arm 2:19
11. Grave Architecture 4:16
12. AT&T 3:32
13. Flux = Rad 1:45
14. Fight This Generation 4:22
15. Kennel District 2:59
16. Pueblo 3:25
17. Half a Canyon 6:10
18. Western Homes 1:49

Friday, October 14, 2016

Patrick Doyle -- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


My cousin Amber and I are contrarian jerks, and we mocked Harry Potter nerds for years until one day we saw this commercial.

We then had a clandestine meeting where we decided to go to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in secret, perhaps while wearing fake glasses and mustaches (we settled for hoodies). The movie gave us everything the commercial promised and more, and we bought in to the series fully, reading all the books, watching the previous films, going to see the future films at midnight. That was a special time in life (on a double-nerd level, the edge of town cinema we stealthed off to played music from the Chrono Cross soundtrack before the movie started!), and this film has a special place in my heart.
Still, composer, Patrick Doyle, had the unfortunate task of following up longtime series composer, John Williams. No big deal or anything, just keep up the consistency and quality of the greatest film composer of all time.
Obviously, in comparison to the maestro's work, Doyle's soundtrack for this film at first underwhelmed me. Where was all of the sophisticated low-end work one expects from a John Williams soundtrack? Where was the mind-bending complexity of themes?
It turns out, once one gets their Williams-bias out of the way, its easy to realize that Doyle has done a pretty great job for this one Harry Potter film he scored. His music works very well within the film, and really only suffers during action scenes, where Williams cannot even be imitated, let alone matched. Doyle does a great job of evoking emotional movement, and has perhaps produced the most diverse of the Harry Potter soundtracks. In the midst of the more traditional orchestral film music, he works in a quick Irish jig, an Eastern European march, a bunch of gorgeous waltzes, a beautiful choral piece, an old-timey Fox-hunt-evoking English horn parade, and a beautiful instrumental hymn--not to mention a handful of apt new themes for heroes and villains alike.
Bonus: when Doyle's work is done, the soundtrack keeps on going, with three wizard rock songs performed by nearly half of Radiohead and a bunch of all-star British musicians. The songs are played during the film's Yule Ball, after the waltzing stops, and the kids get to party. "Do the Hippogriff" is a Billy Idol-esque rager, "This Is the Night" is a more atmospheric mid-tempo song, and "Magic Works" is a so-earnest-it's-awesome slow-dance song about wizards looking for love.
Overall, it's difficult to be disappointed by such a complete, greatly-paced soundtrack, full of so much variety and fun. It may not be Williams, but...even if he's "Just Patrick," Mr. Doyle has done this series of films proud.

2005 Warner/Sunset
1. The Story Continues 1:31
2. Frank Dies 2:12
3. The Quidditch World Cup 1:52
4. The Dark Mark 3:27
5. Foreign Visitors Arrive 1:30
6. The Goblet of Fire 3:23
7. Rita Skeeter 1:42
8. Sirius Fire 2:00
9. Harry Sees Dragons 1:54
10. Golden Egg 6:10
11. Neville's Waltz 2:11
12. Harry in Winter 2:56
13. Potter Waltz 2:19
14. Underwater Secrets 2:28
15. The Black Lake 4:38
16. Hogwarts' March 2:47
17. The Maze 4:44
18. Voldemort 9:39
19. Death of Cedric 1:59
20. Another Year Ends 2:21
21. Hogwarts' Hymn 2:59
22. Do the Hippogriff 3:39
23. This Is the Night 3:24
24. Magic Works 4:02

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Paramore -- Paramore


Paramore are too young for me. My millennial wife asked me to buy her their second album, Riot!, shortly after it was released, and I did, and I wasn't impressed. A year later, my millennial wife asked me to buy her the Twilight soundtrack. More Paramore. The next year (2009), I streamed their then newest album, Brand New Eyes, and was even less impressed than before, except for with the closing track, "All I Wanted."

At about this point, I realized something: I love Hayley Williams' powerful voice. In fact, Williams is one of my favorite vocalists. Her surprise duet with The Chariot on "Then Came to Kill," is one of my favorite guest spots ever. However, outside of a very small handful of tracks, I didn't care for any of the music Williams' own band made.
After the release of Brand New Eyes, Paramore underwent some rather intense personal stress, and bled out its two co-founding members, the Farro brothers. Left without its drummer and presumably its chief songwriter/guitarist, Paramore seemed to be done for. I then wished that Williams would move on to a new musical endeavor I found more interesting, so that I could finally enjoy her voice free of music I did not enjoy. She did, and the name of that endeavor is Paramore.
Paramore's self-titled album features none of the personality-free, ready-for-radio punk pop of the band's previous work. Rather ironically, this actually makes Paramore far more ready for radio. With the band whittled to a trio, and electrifying guest drummer, Ilan Rubin, ready to show off his chops,  Paramore fires off great song after great song, adhering to no single genre other than "good music," a genre that surprisingly few bands ever fully explore. Paramore's music sounds unique, still at times containing some of the driving sound of the band's past, and all of the energy, but with a virtuoso polish and a newfound skill in songwriting diversity. There's a definite 80's influence here, be it the keyboards,  slap-bass, or rhythms, but more than anything, this sounds like a real live band--singer, guitar, bass, and drums--jamming in perfect sync. This is enhanced by a great album flow and song sequencing, with the album starting off bright and energetic, but going to a darker, introspective place in the middle, before coming out even brighter than before. Also, the closer is eight minutes long, and mostly music, an optimistic, beautiful skyscraper of sound reaching up to space, and a truly unexpected touch. The band's hard work is on full display here, and the success this album has achieved is well-earned and deserved.
I should also mention the lyrics, which are less about stealing boyfriends, and more about growing up and moving on, looking to the future with positivity and wonder.
Also, who knew the bass player was the most talented member of the band. Just listen to the way he carries the Grammy-winning "Ain't It Fun," on his back. Man, am I looking forward to...what's that?
He just left the band?

2013 Fueled by Ramen/Warner Bros.
1. Fast in My Car 3:42
2. Now 4:07
3. Grow Up 3:50
4. Daydreaming 4:31
5. Interlude: Moving On 1:30
6. Ain't It Fun 4:56
7. Part II 4:41
8. Last Hope 5:09
9. Still Into You 3:36
10. Anklebiters 2:17
11. Interlude: Holiday 1:09
12. Proof 3:15
13. Hate to See Your Heart Break 5:09
14. (One of Those) Crazy Girls 3:32
15. Interlude: I'm Not Angry Anymore 0:52
16. Be Alone 3:40
17. Future 7:52