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Monday, June 26, 2017

Project 86 -- Project 86


I cannot recall exactly how I discovered Project 86, only that I noticed they had a cool dragon logo and Asian aesthetic, their album cover featured a metaphysically dismembered person staring into some great void, and they looked all dark and mysterious. That was enough to pique my interest, and one afternoon, a few weeks before my first semester of college, I picked up a sweet CD double-header of MxPx's Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo and Project 86's Self-Titled debut. I said everything I could say about that MxPx album its (linked above) review, but my first listen to Project 86 was an equally special experience. From the dark, probing atmosphere of the opening minute, spilling into a heavy riff, and vocalist, Andrew Schwab, shouting "Back so full of scrapes!" to the tiny little guitar line that explodes after the first whispered chorus, Schwab's vocals growing urgent, I was immediately hooked, pulled into the band's world. The next track, "Rebuttal," further progresses the band's sound at this point, thick, dominant drop-tuned bass, unique, heavy drums that feel like they're attached to your neck, quiet-to-loud guitar, and Schwab's menacing, yet meditative presence, his poetic lyrics digging deep into matters of self, as well as threats to it. "Rebuttal," features an interesting structure, strangely subdued, threatening release, but never quite giving it. That release comes in track three, "Pipe Dream."

If there is one song on this self-titled album that portends what Project 86 will do in the future, it is the dynamic "Pipe Dream," chugging ahead, changing and evolving, stopping to breathe, chugging further, then flowing into a quiet, anxious bridge, before the entire song ignites into a completely unexpected final 90-seconds, backed by a completely unexpected melodic vocal by guitarist, Randy Torres, which completely recontextualizes this entire band.
Yes, I'll admit it, plenty of songs on this album, no matter how well-done, sound like they were directly influenced by Rage Against the Machine. "Pipe Dream," though, hints at entirely new worlds Project 86 could possibly take the listener...and whats better, in a few years, those worlds would be visited! But back to Self-Titled...
"Pipe Dream" is followed by "Stalemate," a six-minute song with a sitar and tribal-drum intro that quietly builds into something sinister and aggressive, and shows just how deep Schwab is willing to go into his own psyche. This is followed by the thrilling "Run," which bounces from a fast-paced intro, to a hip-hop sounding verse, to a neck-snapping chorus, to yet another powerful outro.
Thus ends the classic first half of this album. However, you may notice that I did not give this album a 10/10, but a 7/10. This is because the second half is not nearly as strong as the first, even though the songs are all good, and some are even great. The problem is that the band is working from a rather limited palette, and none of these second-half songs does anything the first half didn't. Thus, the momentum lags a bit to the point that I remember almost groaning when the first few seconds of track nine, "1 X 7" hit for the first time. As I said, though, this half has its highlights, in the energetic Sonny Sandoval guest performance and the straight rap-rock of "Six Sirens" (the only song I would classify from that genre in this band's full-length catalogue), the powerful emotion of "Bleed Season"'s outro, and the entirety of "When Darkness Reigns." "When Darkness Reigns" final repeated cry of "arise from the dead and wake!" set to a guitar riff that sounds like it could re-start a dead sun, is insanely powerful, and built up to with one of the band's (fittingly) darkest soundscapes. This ending signifies that Project 86 have much vaster musical worlds in sight, even if they're not yet sure how to get there. But it won't take long...

1998 BEC
1. Spill Me 5:25
2. Rebuttal 4:47
3. Pipe Dream 4:35
4. Stalemate 6:16
5. Run 3:37
6. Independence? 4:27
7. Six Sirens (ft. Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D.) 3:35
8. Bleed Season 5:16
9. 1 X 7 3:55
10. When Darkness Reigns 6:40

Friday, June 23, 2017

Next Week, I Will Begin to Review the Full Catalogue of One of My Favorite Bands, Project 86

Few rock bands have continued to exist for more than 20 years with as many permutations as Project 86. For the last seven years, the vocalist has been the only remaining band member, and the band is still somehow releasing quality music. Truthfully, Project 86 have undergone three distinct eras (and are still in the third).

ERA ONE: THE CLASSIC LINEUP -- Self-Titled, Drawing Black Lines, Truthless Heroes, Songs to Burn Your Bridges By, ...And the Rest Will Follow
Undoubtably the most well known time of the band's existence, where they enjoyed their highest popularity and mystique, during the heyday of the Christian hard rock scene, peaking with getting signed by Atlantic records and having that label spend a million dollars on them...before getting subsequently dumped by Atlantic, going independent, and then going back to the smaller record label where they got their start.

ERA TWO: THE TRANSITION YEARS -- Rival Factions, The Kane Mutiny EP, This Time of Year EP, Picket Fence Cartel 
A time when Project 86 began to shed members, one by one, until, by the end of Picket Fence Cartel, only vocalist, Andrew Schwab, remained. Also, rather fittingly, the most experimental time of the band's career.,

Somehow, Schwab kept the band going with crowdfunding. While some might say he should have just changed the name of the band, considering everyone who once wrote music for it is no longer involved, this period has so far featured some pretty solid work, to say the least.

Cool. Time to write a bunch of reviews.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Congratulations, World! I Just Wrote You Another Video Game Review!

This one is for the Sega Dreamcast classic, Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes.
I am about to dive into the catalogue of yet another one of my favorite bands for my "Every Album I Own" reviews (The letter "P" features a wealth of treasures!), so I am trying to wrap up the reviews for any game I have completed in the last couple of months. Unlike the steaming pile I reviewed last week, this is a good one, fun for fans of Marvel, Capcom, 2D fighting games, and new ages, replete with heroes.
Read it here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

I Just Reviewed An Awful Video Game

Reviewing a video game is quite a time investment. Listen to a 30-minute album, spend 30-minutes reviewing hour gone. Play a video game for 30 hours spread over several weeks or months, then spend significantly longer than one hour reviewing it...many hours gone. For this reason, I generally haven't tackled any games I know are going to be absolutely terrible. For some reason, I did not think Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. for Nintendo 64 would be one of those games, but I was in for a rude awakening. Check out my equally rude review for it, linked here, and then please never play it, unless masochism is your thing, in which case, play it now, and play it hard.

♥ The Nicsperiment

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Early Summer of 2017 Movie and TV Mini-Reviews

It's that time of year again. The time when I take stock of all the movies and TV I have lately seen, and write a two sentence review of it for The Nicsperiment. Of course, just one sentence on The Nicsperiment is like two or three paragraphs anywhere else, and will surely have you saying “What did I ever do to deserve this?” in a good way...of course...
This is one of the rare times I am including re-watches on this list. This recent Tom Cruise Mummy movie that I will likely never see reminded me of how the 1999 Mummy with Brendan Frasier is a perfect action/adventure/comedy hybrid, and the best Indiana Jones movie in the last 20 years. I remember being supremely disappointed in the bigger isn't always better sequel, The Mummy Returns, but now it is a sort of post-Y2K/pre-9/11 relic, and I felt like I owed it a second chance after 16 years. I also gave the third movie in that series a try, as I had never seen it. Also, obviously, I recently saw Alien: Covenant. I realized afterward that Alien: Resurrection was the only film in that series I haven't seen, so I watched it, and gave the supposedly better “Assembly Cut” of Alien 3 a try, as well (I'd already seen the original cut). I think the rest of this stuff is pretty much all new...or at least, recent.

Alien: Covenant -- 7/10
I don't get why it is so hard to make a great, modern alien film--you have the greatest movie monster ever conceived, and an outer space setting, and instead, this is just a decent, violent, mostly enjoyable  sci-fi film that doesn't even take advantage of its setting. Instead of capitalizing on the terrifying isolation of space, or going all in on action, Ridley Scott essentially does a retread of Prometheus with slightly more competent, but still profoundly stupid human protagonists whose stupidity drives the story, and scenarios that were more fresh in the 1930's, like "Is this the good twin, or the evil twin?"--c'mon 20th Century Fox, VALUE YOUR PROPERTIES!

Alien 3 (Assembly Cut) -- 4/10
Makes an incomprehensible, bad movie, into a comprehensible, overlong, bad movie.

Alien Resurrection -- 6/10 least it's better than 3? I'm glad they went all out on the creatures, but this is kind of just weird for the sake of weird, with little substance.

The Americans: Season Five -- 9/10
Races headlong to its Season Six conclusion at a glacial pace, like a car crash in slow motion. By the time this ends, The Americans might very well go down as the greatest show of all time.

Arrival -- 7/10
Ah, sorry. I mean, it's a cool idea and all, and it's beautifully shot, but it's so damn hokey.

The Boss Baby -- 4/10
Of all the kids movies I have been to over the last seven years, this is not one of the better. Fart, fart, puke.

The Fate of the Furious -- 4/10
Disregards everything that made the last three films so fun--the family aspect is completely missing, and without Paul Walker, it may never be possible to recreate it. The action is incompetently filmed, cutting every time the frame gets interesting, mangling the unbelievably awesome stunts the crew pulled off--and making them look like CGI when they were actually real...this is a huge disappointment.

Get Out -- 10/10
In my personal opinion, horror is the best genre to get across deeper metaphors about humanity. That the dude from Key and Peele was able to do this better, scarier, and more hilariously than anyone in a good decade is a revelation--more movies please, because with great power comes great responsitrillitrunce.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 -- 9/10
I've heard this film accused of having "too much heart." I'm not sure what that means--I love this tale about a makeshift family of lovable losers just as much as I did the first.

It Comes At Night -- 7/10
It's a nihilistic post-apocalyptic thriller being advertised as a horror film--and one of the most depressing films I've seen. I thought I figured out its purpose, then realized that if that was what the film was going for, it contradicts itself, and though it is quite well-made, one of the three other people in the theater besides me very reasonably requested a refund after it was over.

It's Always Sunny in Phildelphia: Season Twelve --7/10
Starts out with some episodes that give the impression this season will be an all time great, and there are a couple more midway in that vein, but overall, it ends up being a very average season. Hope the break helps.

John Wick -- 8/10
It's basically a live action cartoon where Keanu kills 'em all for killing his dog, mostly using a gun. I can't wait to watch the second one now.

Kong: Skull Island -- 7/10
It realizes it is a big dumb monster movie, and never ascribes for more than that, achieving well what it set out to accomplish, with big monsters smashing lots of stuff real good. Nice bit of pathos for the John C Reilly character, too, just to make sure you care a little bit.

Legion: Season One -- 9/10
Probably the most head-tripping Marvel adaption on screen, beautiful to look at, and seductively addictive, though the jury's out as to where the journey will lead.

The Lego Batman Movie -- 8/10
It is so stupid, and it is so funny. It may betray the character just a little, but who cares when the laughs come this fast, and what's happening on screen is so entertaining...afterall, Lego Batman, by this point, is his own character.

Logan -- 9/10
Considering how badly these Wolverine movies have been squandering the greatest character Marvel ever created, it is shocking how well they put him to bed here. Finally liberating the character to create the bloodbaths and swear-storms previous films have only hinted at feels refreshingly real and sobering, rather than exploitative, measuring the cost of Logan's life, yet without quite making you want to jump off the Golden Gate.

The Mummy Returns -- 7/10
The first hour is incredible fun, more fun than I remembered, but the second is a "bigger isn't necessarily better" retread of the first film, featuring notoriously lousy CGI. However, The Mummy Returns seems positively restrained compared to today's wall of CGI blockbusters, is luxuriously shot, stays focused, and features an excellent score...also all things the majority of today's blockbusters seem to be missing.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor -- 5/10
And this is what a Mummy movie looks like post 9/11--the colors are muted, the fun is missing, everything that made the series special is lost, or at best, downgraded. At least The Mummy Returns had the courtesy of making one side of its climactic CGI battle human.

Nocturnal Animals -- 9/10
Incredibly spellbinding film, with a hypnotic score, great performances, and one of the better novel within a movie metaphors I've seen, directed with style to spare by Tom Ford. So entrancing.

Split -- 7/10
It's not as good as his first few films, but Shyamalan has now created two fun, competently made films only he could have written and directed in a row--and it connects to a past favorite. Bring on the next one--Shyamalan's back!

Monday, June 12, 2017

P.O.S. -- Chill, dummy


After a five-year hiatus, mostly due to a failed kidney and subsequently successful transplant, P.O.S. is back from the gallows with Chill, dummy. It's always a bit weird for me when I write an "Every Album I Own" review about an album that was just released, as I've been listening to the past two P.O.S. albums I reviewed over a half-decade, and this one for just a short time.
Even with only a short listening window, I can confirm that P.O.S. is back with a renewed sense of urgency, backed by a decidedly more experimental, electronic sound--and yet, this is the same defiant, independent P.O.S. The album has a great flow and diversity of sound and mood, with some great, frequent guest spots, and more of a lyrical focus on race and mortality than previous albums. Also, it's really, really good. The final track, the stunning, nine-minute "Sleepdrone/Superposition" might be P.O.S.'s career highlight, with an impassioned P.O.S. rapping "And all I want is to chisel my initials into something permanent now." I think it's safe to say you've done that, buddy.

2017 Doomtree Records
1. Born a Snake 2:32
2. Wearing a Bear 2:41
3. Bully (featuring Moncelas Boston & Rapper Hooks) 3:29
4. Faded (featuring Justin Vernon & Lady Midnight) 3:51
5. Pieces/Ruins (featuring Busdriver & Dwynell Roland) 5:21
6. Get Ate (featuring Gerald) 1:25
7. Roddy Piper (featuring Moncelas Boston) 4:20
8. Thieves/Kings 2:44
9. Infinite Scroll (featuring Manchita & Open Mike Eagle) 4:02
10. Lanes P.O.S 1:50
11. Gravedigger (featuring Angelenah) 4:17
12. Sleepdrone/Superposition" (featuring Allan Kingdom, Astronautalis, Eric Mayson, Hard_R, Kathleen Hanna, Lizzo, Lydia Liza & Nicholas L. Perez) 8:48

Friday, June 09, 2017

P.O.S. -- We Don't Even Live Here


We Don't Even Live Here, P.O.S.' 4th album, has the bad luck of dinverging heavily from his 3rd album, Never Better, which is one of my favorites, and by "bad luck," I mean that, subjectively, Never Better is one of my favorite albums of all time and We Don't Even Live Here doesn't really sound like it, so I like it a little less than its predecessor. In lieu of Never Better's more organic. lived in, snowy street feel, We Don't Even Live Here is blunt, with a clubbier vibe. The musically diverse Never Better seemed to cover a vast amount of topics surrounding individualism, while We Don't Even Live Here is a direct call to anarchy.  There's plenty of talk about living off the grid, and out of society's rules, molotov cocktail's at the ready. A more straightforward musical palette backs this more straightforward lyrical content, with the (often live) percussion at times banging away, and P.O.S. rapping aggressively, right from the start.

If a line sums up the attitude of the album in general, it's "Black president, hooray for history! That shits totally pretend," on the standout"Wanted Wasted," one of We Don't Even Live Here's more subtle tracks, featuring a great guest appearance by Astronautalis, and some cool strings. Another standout, and essentially P.O.S.' manifesto, "Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats," showcases a stunning display of P.O.S.' prowess, as he raps over a powerful soundscape featuring nothing approaching a beat.
Despite having less variation than its predecessor, We Don't Even Live Here features enough of it, and wells of righteous anger at an unfair system its creator refuses to join, and that, along with P.O.S.' always engaging persona, is enough to carry the album far past the finish line.

2012 Rhymesayers Entertainment
1. Bumper  2:59
2. Fuck Your Stuff 3:53
3. How We Land (featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver) 4:00
4. Wanted Wasted (featuring Astronautalis) 4:20
5. They Can't Come (featuring Sims) 4:01
6. Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats 3:48
7. Fire in the Hole / Arrow to the Action 3:48
8. Get Down (featuring Mike Mictlan) 3:40
9. All of It 3:11
10. Weird Friends (We Don't Even Live Here) 2:48
11. Piano Hits (featuring Isaac Gale of Marijuana Deathsquads) 3:12

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

P.O.S. -- Never Better


One October day in 2010, I was trying to youtube "P.O.D." and I accidentally typed in "P.O.S." This is how I discovered the rap output of Stefon Alexander, under the stage name, P.O.S. The song I heard, "Get Smokes," isn't close to my favorite from Never Better, the album where it finds its home, but it was good enough to drive me to immediately seek out Never Better.
You've probably noticed I haven't reviewed a ton of rap albums. I've generally bought singles over albums in that genre, and I've never made any secret that my favorite genre of music is rock. With that said, Never Better is my favorite rap album, and I'm not sure if it's even close. I felt an affinity to Alexander's attitude on "Get Smokes," but I felt complete connection almost immediately after putting Never Better into my player.

The album begins with "Let It Rattle," which contains my favorite opening line of any album I have ever heard, and Jimmy Carter was in office the year I was born. I shared "Let It Rattle"with an old schoolmate who listens to rap almost exclusively, and he described it as getting a bucket of cold water splashed in your face when you're asleep in your bed. There's no going back to sleep after this stunning opener, which lays out P.O.S.'s modus operandi: big, unique percussion, a leaning toward organic instrumentation, Alexander's unique lyrical perspective and delivery, and blood, fresh life, punk energy. There's a huge vibe of resistance, timeless resistance against conformity, any oppressive force, other people's expectations, whatever is attempting to stop you from being you. There's so much life in this album--Never Better might be the most lived in album I've heard. It features numerous guest appearances by P.O.S.' Doomtree collective mates, as well as others, and it sounds like they are all in the same house, or on the same inner-city Minneapolis street. And the pacing--as soon as "Let It Rattle" ends, the hyperactive "Drumroll" starts off with a Cowboy Bebop reference and someone killing a snare drum.

Yet, later on, particularly in its back half, P.O.S. is able to venture to some meditative, far more chill places. Never Better never gets boring for a second, moving, shifting, bleeding, breathing, changing continuously, feeling like a transformative, non-compromising journey from beginning to end. The album flow is incredible.
Oh, but I have to make a confession. If you've been reading these things long enough, you probably also know that I struggle with depression. The day I purchased Never Better was a particularly rough one. My entire life up to that time, I had struggled with the idea that anytime I was experiencing a moment of happiness, there would have to be a horrible come down. If everything was good, then everything would soon have to be bad, everything would have to come crashing down. I got off of work that day, and walked down the street to Forest Park, lied next to the artificial fishing lake, pulled out my discman (if you don't know what a discman is, it was a way of listening to music), popped in Never Better, and put on my headphones. Once that cold water hit my face in the fading light of the late October sun, I found myself standing and walking to the titular forest of the park. My wife and son weren't due to pick me up for a couple of hours, and I had no reason not to follow my directional muse. I wandered aimlessly through the woods, until the woods ended, and I was stepping through a mysteriously placed pasture, full of antennas. I hopped a couple fences, and soon found myself in a subdivision. After following several streets and turning wherever the spirit moved me, I ended up on a strangely familiar one. Suddenly, I realized this was a street one of my best friends lived on, and that his mom still lived there. I went by to pay her a visit, P.O.S. still blasting in my ears. When I reached the driveway, I noticed his sister sitting on the patio, smoking a cigarette. His mom wasn't home, but I passed on my well wishes. I took this street to the highway, got my bearings, and started back toward my long-shut down office to wait for my ride. As I made this last leg of the trip, I suddenly said out loud, "Things can stay good." It was something that had never occurred to me before that moment. I repeated the phrase again and again, like a mantra, and then P.O.S.' "Purexed" began. P.O.S. uses a vast amount of adult language in "Purexed," but this video of him performing the song sans profanity at the Minnesota State Fair, with his son sitting behind him in this family friendly environment, yet still somehow conveying the message and feeling of the song exactly as he did on record, won me over as a fan for life.

For me, Never Better is vital.

2009 Rhymesayers Entertainment
1. Let It Rattle 3:33
2. Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)" (featuring Doomtree) 2:37
3. Savion Glover 2:19
4. Purexed 3:24
5. Graves (We Wrote the Book) 3:14
6. Goodbye 3:07
7. Get Smokes (featuring Jessy Greene) 2:38
8. Been Afraid 3:39
9. Low Light Low Life" (featuring Sims, Cecil Otter, and Dessa) 3:14
10. The Basics (Alright) 3:23
11. Out of Category 3:16
12. Optimist (We Are Not for Them) 3:19
13. Terrorish (featuring Jason Shevchuk) 2:13
14. Never Better (featuring Judah Nagler) 4:03
15. The Brave and the Snake (ends at 3:53, followed by hidden track, "Hand Made Hand Gun," featuring Astronautalis) 11:51

Friday, June 02, 2017

Portugal, The Man -- American Ghetto


I'll be honest: I had a tough time with the music of 2009 and 2010. When I look at my best-of lists for those two years, I see little of anything I've actually listened to since I made them. I'm not a disposable music guy--I come back to the music I like again and again. Seeing with hindsight, I think I was having a tough time coming to grips with the fact that indie-rock had been taken over by the next generation, those blasted millennials (jk, I ♥ u guys), and that, to me, the music didn't rock very much anymore. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear. The Dirty Projectors, MGMT, FUN--I hated all of it and wanted it to die.
This made me more desperate to like anything else I could find, and in that way, I think I talked my way into liking this 2010 Portugal, The Man album, American Ghetto, way more than I actually did. In many ways, American Ghetto is like The National's High Violet, which came out that very same year, but which, for some reason, I was able to be a bit more honest with myself about--it starts out very interestingly, with a great vibe, and then kind of blurs into a boring, droning, unexciting drag. Let's give this brief review just a bit more background: Portugal, the Man are a rock band from Alaska with a weird coma in their name. They write straightforward, three-minute rock songs. Before American Ghetto, the biggest knock against them was that all their songs sounded the same. All the songs on American Ghetto do not sound the same, but after a fun first half, which introduces a laid-back, dreamy, sort of slacker-rock sound, the band goes into a just under mid-tempo slog where all the songs kind of do sound the same, until the upbeat, disco-flavored "When the War Ends," which makes you wonder why they are only just picking up the pace now, when the album is over, and yes, I get the irony of this sentence in the review of an album whose middle track is titled "Fantastic Pace," and also that this sentence does not have the quality of the title of said song.
With whatever the previous sentence intended said, a 36-minute long album shouldn't struggle to stay interesting. You don't have to do all that much in 36 minutes. You could make a sandwich, then watch an episode of Seinfeld while eating that sandwich. I wish Portugal, The Man had mixed it up more. As it is, I've now reviewed American Ghetto, it is just okay, and I don't think I'll be listening to it again, "The Nicsperiment's 9 Best Albums of 2010" list be damned.

2010 Equal Vision
1. The Dead Dog 3:14
2. Break 0:58
3. 60 Years 4:13
4. All My People 3:12
5. 1000 Years 2:52
6. Fantastic Pace 3:42
7. The Pushers Party 4:23
8. Do What We Do 3:27
9. Just a Fool 3:05
10. Some Men 3:31
11. When the War Ends 3:30

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Now What Do You Think About Portishead? Well, I'll Tell You! Reflections On Reviewing One of My Favorite Bands from High School Now that I Am Old Enough to be President.

By Rick Weston from UK -, CC BY 2.0, Link

Wow, Portishead are good! Since I've started these reviews, I haven't quite listened to my favorite bands as much, as I have to instead dedicate listening time to what I am reviewing. As it's been awhile, I was a little worried my love for them might have only been due to a late 90's teenage chemical connection. Turns out that the way more boring mid-30's chemicals in my brain love them, too. So without further preamble, here is my customary split-personality interview of myself, after I either review a million albums by one band, or just four by a band I am obsessed with.

Hey, that was fun!
Yeah, it was.

Um, how you doin?

Good, I feel great!

Strange, though, when you were like 17, Portishead kind of made your dopamine-addled brain feel depressed. Now that your brain composition is an arid wasteland, it's sort of the opposite now, isn't it?

You shutup, you! It's not an arid just doesn't...imagine as many things as before.

Wow. That in itself is actually quite depressing. Hey, didn't you say you were going to review an EP by Portishead, as well?

It's actually a double-CD double-single, with a bunch of weird remixes. I realized it just didn't fit in with the rest of the reviews (that disc is called Glory Times). Plus, when do I ever get to give every album by a particular artist a "ten?"

You always give out tens!

Well, it is my music collection, and I own each album because, in most cases, I love it! Of course I am going to give out a disproportionate number of high scores. Who buys a bunch of stuff they don't like?

Americans. Americans do.

What's with this cynical view of humanity, man? Perk up. People aren't all that bad.

People are the worst.

You're the worst!

I'm you.

Oh, yeah. You want to go get some waffles?

Sweet. I love waffles.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Portishead -- Third


Portishead's first two albums explored a fusion of hip-hop, samples and sounds from the 50's, 60's, and 70's, spy guitar, and a pervading, yet enjoyable dark atmosphere, bolstered by Beth Gibbons' emotive and haunting vocals. Third, the band's third full-length album of new material, coming 11 years after their second, ditches all but the atmosphere, Gibbons' voice, and Adrian Utley's trademarked guitar sound. The vinyl skips and scratches of their first two albums are replaced with the worn sheen of 80's analog tape and synthesizers. Lead single, "Machine Gun," comes at the listener like a choice cut from Brad Fiedel's Terminator soundtracks. It's an aggressive primer for Third's sound, and yet, it isn't indicative of it, other than the fact that it doesn't sound like the music the band released in the 90's. But what is indicative of it? I will have to be a bit abstract, and by "a bit," I mean extremely:
You wake up, mysteriously, in a small boat, on a black, moonlit river, floating slowly through willow fronds. The hair on the back of your neck stands as the fronds begin to part...Third exists in this moment for 49 minutes.
That's all I got.

2008 Island/Mercury
1. Silence 4:58
2. Hunter 3:57
3. Nylon Smile 3:16
4. The Rip 4:29
5. Plastic 3:27
6. We Carry On 6:27
7. Deep Water 1:31
8. Machine Gun 4:43
9. Small 6:45
10. Magic Doors 3:32
11. Threads 5:45

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Portishead -- Roseland NYC Live


Portishead's last aural document for a full decade was their live album, Roseland NYC Live. The band performed with an orchestra for a night during the US tour in support of their 1997 self-titled album, which I didn't so much review last week, as canonize. I won't song-by-song review this live album, like am doing with Portishead's three full-lengths of original material. I won't go too far in depth either. I wrote a college paper on the video version of this performance for a film class (got an A+ on that one), so I don't feel the need to pontificate on it for five pages. I'll simply say, the strings and live setting release a bit of the claustrophobia of the studio versions of these songs. They don't so much lesson or increase the atmosphere, as alter it, more fully revealing the band's film score influences. Ennio Morricone twangs through on "Cowboys" more than ever, and Bernard Herrmann's is detailed with the Vertigo-esque organs on "Only You," among others (heavy John Barry on "Only You," as well!). The track list leans on the self-titled album early on, but favors their debut, Dummy, heavily in the latter half. While most of these songs do an excellent job of presenting choice cuts from the band's catalogue in a slightly more cinematic fashion (and they were pretty damn cinematic from the start), the band take their most well-known song, "Sour Times," and completely reinterpret it as a slow-bubbling then violently erupting volcano. For this new arrangement's stunning conclusion, vocalist, Beth Gibbons, sounds like Janis Joplin after someone has rolled over her feet with a pickup--it's an incredible performance (actually taken from another show, and inserted here) is the entirety of this album. I think the studio albums are a better introduction to the band, but no advanced studies in Portishead is completely without a dive into Roseland NYC Live.

1998 Go! Discs/London
1. Humming 6:28
2. Cowboys 5:03
3. All Mine 4:02
4. Mysterons 5:41
5. Only You 5:22
6. Half Day Closing 4:14
7. Over 4:13
8. Glory Box 5:37
9. Sour Times 5:21
10. Roads 5:51
11. Strangers 5:20

Friday, May 19, 2017

Portishead -- Portishead


Fin de siècle is a French expression for "end of the century." It is generally used in conjunction with anxiety and dread, and generally used to reference a certain feeling at the end of the 19th century. However, I think that feeling is also apt for the end of the 20th century, and I feel like few if any albums dredge up that kind of unique dread like Portishead's 1997 self-titled album.
The end of the 20th century brought about its own specialized, self-titled crisis, Y2K, which was possibly going to destroy the world. If it appears, for those too young to remember, or for those who were around, but less prone to panic, that I am being histrionic, check out this Time magazine cover from the period:

This was a very real fear, and this is on top of events like the Heaven's Gate cult mass-suicide in 1997, 39 of its members ending their lives in an attempt to somehow metaphysically board a spaceship they thought was following the Hale-Bopp was weird times. Also, the President got impeached. I love the 90's.
Portishead's self-titled album rides an insurmountably massive wave of this dread from start to finish, pumping up the beats and bass of its first album with self-made samples (often of horns), record scratching, female vocals, spy guitar, and an industrial-sized closet's worth of all manner of creepy soundscapes. Also, it's fun, and unspeakably cool...but I will speak about it anyway!
Portishead kicks off with "Cowboys," a terrifying, spaghetti western/spy/big-beat mashup featuring Beth Gibbons wailing "But don't despair, this day, will be their damnedest day/if you take these things from me." Gibbons performances have yielded critical descriptions of a Bond girl jaded after years of her old paramour not returning. Maybe that's how I felt about her lyrics and vocals when I was in high school. Looking at them now, this self-titled album is largely political in lyrical content, and biting and pointed at that. They paint the picture of a decaying, corrupt society. That's not to say romance doesn't make its presence felt: track two, "All Mine," with its giant beat and thudding bassline over ancient-sounding horn samples, a sinister 60's-esque spy guitar line, and Gibbons' haunting vocals, conjures feelings of obsession bordering on mania. It is just as scary as its predecessor, despite the change in topic, and for it the band commissioned a fitting, extremely creepy, trippy, black-and-white video, featuring an actress in Gibbons' place. They even used imagery from this video for the album cover.

Lest Portishead ever be put in a box, "Undenied" then takes things in an entirely different direction, a quiet, lonely, meditative track which leads into the pitch black "Half Day Closing." This middle section of Portishead is easily the darkest of Portishead's discography. "Half Day Closing" starts with a slow, rumbly bassline, and builds up into a cacophonous, banshee wail of a song about society's degradation. This is followed by the darkest song of Portishead's career, and maybe the bleakest song I have ever heard, "Over," whose sound is best illustrated by its video: Beth Gibbons in pitch darkness, desperately running from pinprick spotlight to pinprick spotlight.

I need to reiterate something here, though: through all this bleakness, and all this darkness, Portishead's music sounds so cool and is so cinematically immersive, unless the listener is already in a dark place, the overall vibe of the album is more fun and relaxing than "turn this off and get all sharp objects away from me." It's just, to paraphrase the late Chris Farley "...awesome!" But back to the songs...
"Humming," with its dark strings and theremin intro, almost seems like an album reboot. It gives me the feeling of floating through the dark void of deep space, and as the beat and bass kick in, this is an ever-so inviting trip. It gave another listener a completely different feeling, so here is a fan-made video that I find just as apt a visual descriptor.

Thankfully, Portishead isn't all darkness, as this section ends, and one absolutely dripping with coolness begins. This section is kicked off by "Mourning Air," with it's fuzzy trumpet samples and awesome beat, and sublime guitar bridge, is continued by "Seven Months," with one of the feistier combined performances of Beth Gibbons, and guitarist, Adrian Utley, and comes to a climax with track nine, my favorite Portishead song, "Only You."

In high school, I worked at Wal-Mart, and most-likely against child labor laws, often had to work very late. One very late night drive home, I realized I was almost completely out of gas. I am from a very rural part of South Louisiana, and there was (and is no longer) only one gas station within five miles of my house. It was closed by that hour, but the owner, who I was friendly with, lived next door to it, and turned on the pumps for me. The gas pumps weren't covered by an overhang, and sat in a barely paved lot, lit by a solitary lamp-post, which she also turned on with the pumps. The light took a few minutes to come on all the way, first perfect time with "Only You," which I was blaring in my car while I pumped. The song just happened to come on the local college radio station at that exact moment, and that five minutes remains perhaps the most serendipitously cool of my life. The light even stopped flickering just as the song ended, coming on brightly. I miss the 90's, or perhaps just my 90's brain chemistry, which was far more attuned to such experiences. You are only young once.
Portishead ends with the one/two punch of "Elysium" and "Western Eyes." "Elysium," with its nasty guitar and record scratches, and a snarling vocal from Gibbons, perfectly nails that "this whole thing is about to come to a close" feel most great albums penultimate tracks invoke. Then it does close, with "Western Eyes," which might as well close out the 20th century itself. Quietly downbeat (but that beat is huge!), and opening with foreboding strings and piano, "Western Eyes" features one of Gibbons' most subtle performances, as she sums up the album's ideas as a critique of 20th century western civilization:

Forgotten throes of another's life
The heart of love is their only light
Faithless greeds, consolidating
Holding down sweet charity
With western eyes and serpents' breath
We lay our own conscience to rest

But I'm aching at the view
Yes, I'm breaking at the seams, just like you

They have values of a certain taste
The innocent they can hardly wait
To crucify, invalidating
Turning to dishonesty
With western eyes and serpents' breath
They lay their own conscience to rest
But then they lie and then they dare to be
Hidden heroes, candidly

So I'm aching at the view
Yes, I'm breaking at the seams, just like you

Just as she finishes singing, an ancient sounding lounge band sample begins(actually created by the band itself, and falsely listed as coming from a made-up 1957 Starfish Records (also fake!) release, The Sean Atkins Experience), a washed-out, scratchy vinyl male-vocal intoning "I feel so cold on hookers and gin/this mess we're in." This is followed by a jazz piano line, conjuring a feeling that the second the last note is hit, the lights go off, and the apocalypse begins. It's a stunning moment on a stunning album--one of my favorites.

1997 Go!/London
1. Cowboys 4:38
2. All Mine 3:59
3. Undenied 4:18
4. Half Day Closing 3:49
5. Over 4:00
6. Humming 6:02
7. Mourning Air 4:11
8. Seven Months 4:15
9. Only You 4:59
10. Elysium 5:54
11. Western Eyes 3:57

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Tribute to Crystal, My Wife

One of us still looks this good...and she's on the right.
In the environment in which I grew up, dating was a sin akin only to murder, worse if the person being dated went to a DIFFERENT CHURCH. As I reached my 20's, I started to believe I would be single forever. Then I met Crystal.
I can't even begin to express my appreciation for her. However, as we approach our 11th anniversary, and upon the eve of her eighth Mother's Day, here are 15 things I love about my wife. I started with a basic top ten list, and soon realized how impossibly unquantifiable the things I love about her are, then realized that if I didn't stop at fifteen, this list wouldn't be ready before Christmas.

Her Eyes: How's this for a pickup line: "I miss the whites of your eyes." Yes, that's what yours truly used in an attempt to first hint my attraction to the love of my life. Crystal has bright, beautiful, black coffee eyes. From the autumn of 2003, to the end of 2004, Crystal and I were student workers together at LSU's Accounting Services, and this is where her gorgeous eyes first came to my attention. One afternoon, she was sitting in a chair, and when I walked by, our eyes happened to meet. For me, the moment froze in time, those hypnotic brown orbs gazing up, white filling in beneath them. I thought about them for the rest of the day...and for most of the night...and for most of the time after that. In 2005, when our paths separated for a time, they were all I could think about. Jesus Christ states in Matthew 6:22 that, "The eye is the lamp of the body. You draw light into your body through your eyes, and light shines out to the world through your eyes." If Crystal had been alive 2000 years ago during this teaching, I could easily see him calling her up and using her as His illustration.

Her Intelligence: That blazing light is not only beautiful, but expresses her amazing intellect. Crystal not only skipped a year of grade school...she graduated college in three years. In fact, when the Vice President of the United States gave the commencement speech at her LSU graduation, he mentioned that the youngest graduate in the class was only 20...yes, even the Vice President was aware of my wife's genius. She tested into my fifth semester of Spanish as a 17-year old freshman (yes, this cradle-robber was fortunate enough to have Crystal Ramezanzadeh fall into his life in two separate places at the same time. We could walk from class to work!) As someone who certainly has an inflated sense of his own intelligence, it is certainly humbling to live with someone who not only understands the obtuse things I try to say, but can generally tell me what I "meant" to say ;) I've always loved smart girls, but Crystal takes it to another level...and thankfully, hers is not a cold, robotic intelligence...

Her Empathy: You know the scary vagrants who hang out at the front of grocery stores and ask you for money? I am ashamed to admit, when I am alone, I often don't even look their way. My wife, however, will bring them into the store and buy them food. Every day, she shows a care for "the least of these" that makes me want to be a better man. She is currently working on her Masters in Mental Health Counseling, and she is going to be a great help to many. She has inspired me to become a better listener in conversations, as well, as every time I have a friend over, by the end of the night, they end up lying on the couch, talking to her about their problems. The hurt and care she feels for anyone who is left out or marginalized could be qualified as a superpower.

Her Sense of Style: Speaking of superpowers...I might be a nerd...okay, I am definitely a nerd, but I have always been attracted to a well-put together woman. By this, I mean that I like to wear Zelda t-shirts and I don't understand the basic geometry of my own hair, but I like women who are awesome at applying makeup, fixing their hair, and who wear cool clothes. My wife, whose face is beautiful without any makeup whatsoever applied, is a makeup ninja, can not only fix her own hair to look as awesome as possible, but has her cosmetology license (which she uses to make me look far better than I have any right to), and dresses cooler than anyone I've ever met (and I learn more every year that it is wiser to let her pick out my clothes, as well), even though the bacon I bring home is more John Morrell than Hormel Black Label. And speaking of cool...

She Is the Coolest Person I've Ever Met: From the way she dresses, to the way she effortlessly carries herself, to the way she can evolve a shallow conversation into a deep one, to her taste in art (music, TV, movies, general aesthetics), I've never met anyone as intriguingly cool as her.  Her soul is as deep as a well in the desert. I try to express this to her at times, and I am not sure if I make my meaning clear enough--coolness is a nearly intangible thing, but I think more than anything, hers flows as someone unafraid to be and express exactly who she really is. Speaking of expressing...

The Way She Expresses Her Emotions: I hate the silent treatment. I hate when people bottle up their emotions and then blow up on you when you least expect it. For better or worse, my wife does not do this. When she has feelings, she lets me know just what those feelings are. I love this. There is nothing hotter than a woman who speaks her mind.

Her Patience and Resilience: I am going to let you, gentle reader, in on a little secret about myself you may not have picked up on from the tens of thousands of rambling, seemingly incoherent and selfishly pointless run-on sentences I have contributed to The Nicsperiment over the last twelve years: I am not the easiest person to be with. I space out into my own world, I don't communicate clearly, I get confused about and by basic human behavior, and normal everyday activities sometimes seem to me like learning Greek while piloting a space shuttle blindfolded. This woman still sleeps in the same bed as me. But leaving me out of this discussion entirely, my wife has undergone several disappointing life developments, rejections, and heartbreaks, yet she is still hopeful for each new day, and she is still reaching for and achieving her dreams. I admire and hope to emulate the way she wakes up each morning with such a sense of purpose, even on days it is not so clear what that purpose might be.

Her Love for Music: I grew up in a small town, where most people listened to whatever pop or country crap was on the radio. However, I think it is important to note that just hating things because they are popular is kind of a drag.My wife's love of both catchy, dance-inciting tunes, and more emotional, personal fare is a huge turn on. When we met in the fall of 2003, during our first class-to-work walk, I realized how ridiculously cool this girl was, and how awesome her taste in music must be. As a DJ at the campus radio station, about to lose my co-host to graduation, I didn't hesitate to ask Crystal to be my new co-host for the spring semester. She then, over the next year on-air, made me seem so much cooler than I really was. We've shared a bond of music ever since. I love the fact that I recently downloaded Warpaint and Foxing albums for her, and yet she can easily alternate that with...whatever it is the kids are listening to these days.

Her Voices: Since I was a small child, I have made ridiculous cartoon voices for every pet I have ever owned. I grew up in the country, so I had a lot of them. I feel like few people would understand this compulsion...but I think Crystal gets it--not only that, but she is an incredible cartoon voice-maker herself. In fact, I have never told her this, but my dream job for us as a couple would be to voice-act an entire Nicktoon of our own. I mean, we already have experience sharing a mic! Okay, maybe not, and I know that's a strange thing to appreciate, but I does our son. Speaking of him...

The Way She Is a Mother to Our Son: Being a father didn't immediately come naturally to me (truthfully, I don't think it comes naturally to anyone), but it has been a joy learning to parent our son together. There isn't any one I would rather do it with. Crystal has such a nurturing love for him, and I appreciate how anytime she hears me speak negatively toward him (I don't mean disciplining, I mean using negative language that is more harmful than helpful), she gently takes me aside and suggests words I could use in the future. Even though I suspect our son's more introverted nature (and his love for video games!) comes from me, I know he is learning empathy and inclusiveness from Crystal.

Her Beauty: I mean, have you seen her? I've long called Crystal my Iranian Marilyn Monroe, a seemingly impossible amalgamation of  every physical trait I've ever found attractive. However, rather inexplicably, while I continue to suffer the effects of aging, she somehow grows more beautiful every day. I can't begin to explain how I fill with pride when we are out and someone comments on her indelibly gorgeous physical appearance, or gives her a double take--I fill with pride any of the many times someone points out how awesome she is in all ways, not just the physical...but the physical...wowsa. Yeah, I just said wowsa. I don't care if spellcheck doesn't like it!

Her Unexpectedly Adventurous Side: Six months into our marriage, Crystal and I took a fun trip to Tennessee. The Crystal I had known up to that point seemed scared of the outdoors and adventure. "Can we go whitewater rafting?" she asked two days into the trip. We did, and I think she had an even better time than I did. I love traveling with Crystal--her inquisitive and surprisingly adventurous spirit always makes things more exciting. I'll always remember with joy a moment from our recent anniversary trip to Austin, running together from the Alamo Theater to the car after seeing Star Wars, laughing with surprise and glee at the shockingly below freezing temperatures. Austin, Texas isn't supposed to reach the teens, but I wouldn't have wanted to run through that cold with anyone else--it wouldn't have been nearly as fun!

She Is My Catfish: The fact that my wife loves prestige drama like FX's The Americans and Legion, yet also loves reality TV like My 600-Pound Life and Catfish, shows how cool she is far more than my nonsense paragraph above. However, this has also taught me a vital illustration about our relationship I have to be brutally honest about--Catfish got its name because of this concept: "...when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish's inactivity in their tanks resulted in only mushy flesh reaching the destination. However, fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active, and thus ensured the quality of the fish." On my own, I would be an unfocused, diffident lump. Crystal drives me to be a better man. I simply cannot remain stagnant when she is swimming around my life. She is my catfish.

Her Faith: I don't explicitly talk about religion on the Nicsperiment, but I don't hide it, either. Numerous people have read this blog, intuited it, and asked me about it in private. In a world where faith seems to lose its importance just a bit more every day, to share my life with someone who shares my faith is an incredible godsend, and I am blessed to share my faith journey with her every day.

This Very Blog Exists in its Current Form Because of Her: After Crystal and I got engaged, I stopped blogging. I didn't see a use for it anymore. However, several years later, and especially getting into 2011, I realized something: my life was so much richer with Crystal in it, and I had grown so much because of my relationship with her, a newly revitalized The Nicsperiment could be a 1000x better than the old one. So, in complete honesty, The Nicsperiment of the last six years, which has featured the writing of an increasingly honest,  increasingly interesting, facade-free version of myself, would simply not exist without the presence of Crystal in my life.

I love you, Babe.

Look at those eyes! Jeez!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Portishead -- Dummy


After hearing it on good authority that I needed to listen to Portishead, I did what any computer-saavy high school senior in the late 90's would do--I used my dial-up Internet to download one of their songs. It only took six hours (this is one of the rare, Nicsperiment non-exaggerations, and it may have actually taken longer). This may seem impossible to kids who grew up in the 00's, and are used to streaming unlimited songs with one click, but if I wanted to hear ONE song, I had to download it over the course of a night. The song I downloaded that particular night was "Sour Times, off of Portishead's debut album, Dummy. at the time, and perhaps still now, the coolest song I ever heard.
I wore that long-awaited MP3 out, until I heard my local college station, KLSU, was going to air a full two-hours of Portishead music during its "Mystery Machine" program. "Mystery Machine" featured a different KLSU DJ every week, allowing each respective DJ full freedom to play two hours of music from an artist they felt was under-exposed (when I became a DJ at KLSU a couple years later, I made sure to host as many Mystery Machines as possible, hoping to do the next young impressionable kid the same favor...alas, I don't think I ever matched the one I am describing). I cassette-recorded the show, featuring music from Portishead's, at the time, only two albums, their live album, and some rare EP's...and I immediately fell in love.
This was the coolest music I had ever heard. This was right at the close of the millennium, and Portishead felt to me as if someone had collected every ghost of the 20th century, and distilled them into intoxicating, seductive, four-minute musical vignettes. 90's Portishead, particularly on their debut, Dummy, combine chopped up samples of songs from the 50's, 60's, and 70's, with hip-hop beats, big basslines, record scratches, spy guitar, haunting female vocals, and various electronic touches. I realize that even attempting to describe their music somehow commodifies it, and impossibly misrepresents it. I'll try, though:
Dummy's music is scary, it's cool, and it's darkly infectious. And yet--it's not just this. Its first two songs sound like mysterious spy themes, a dark room with brick walls, lit only by a buzzy streetlamp, but then third track, "Strangers," features a bright, bouncy coolness, even with its spectral sample subconsciously creating a strange feeling of ghosts bragging of past glories (All of these songs are ridiculously cool, so using "coolness" in this sentence was a bit redundant...but I'm sure I'll soon use it again). "It Could Be Sweet" then rides in on a big beat and bassline, backed by a chill keyboard, and vocalist, Beth Gibbons...sweetest, most inviting vocals.
Fifth track, "Wandering Star," then stomps in on another big beat and bassline, backed by an absolutely gnarly sample of War's "Magic Mountain," and Gibbons' forlorn, biblical-quoting vocals, intoning in the chorus, "Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved, the blackness, the darkness, forever." The whole thing is set to a walking tempo, as if Gibbons is stepping down a dusty road with the apocalypse softly raining down upon either side.
"Wandering Star" is followed by Dummy's most idiosyncratic track, "It's a Fire," a very quiet, determinedly resigned song that acts as a brief respite in the album's track order. Things pick back up with "Numb," featuring a creepy, yet rowdy organ, an ancient-sounding beat, and Gibbons seemingly smiling through some extremely depressing lyrics--a brilliant juxtaposition. This is followed by the incredibly somber "Roads," with a downer of a keyboard line, another beat that sounds like it has existed since the beginning of time, longing strings, and an absolutely despairing vocal by Gibbons--punctuated, and juxtaposed with a cool, spy-esque guitar line. "How can it feel this wrong?" sings Gibbons, as it becomes clear just how versatile a singer she is, how many disparate emotions her vocals can summon.
The final trio of songs are all standouts, in an album entirely composed of standouts. "Pedestal" features Dummy's biggest beat of all, and an elastic bassline, Gibbons' vocals seemingly coming from an old speaker that isn't plugged in. I'm sorry about that lousy metaphor--I just mean that she sounds like a charming ghost. "Pedestal" is punctuated by some great record scratching, and a jubilant horn solo that somehow makes the song both more fun, and more scary. This song sums up everything great about both Portishead and Dummy, creating an atmosphere that is at once relaxed and a little frightening--ancient, timeless, and new. No other band I've heard can conjure this blend of feelings.
"Biscuit" is one of Portishead's most terrifying songs, transforming a jaunty old Johnnie Ray song from the 50's into an apocalyptic, minor key nightmare, the line "I'll never fall in love again" into a world-ending event. The trumpets at the end seem to herald the coming of the beast. Or maybe I just had a bad case of the Y2K willie's the first time I heard it. It's an incredible song.
"Glory Box" closes out Dummy on an incredible high note, a triumphant resolution to get back in the game after the heavy darkness of the last track, but in the most awesome fashion possible, riding out on a buttery Isaac Hayes sample and rocking distortion by band guitarist Adrian Utley, which leaves Dummy resting on a pinnacle of cool that may never be topped. (even taller than this sentence!)..and yet, it isn't even my favorite Portishead album!

1994 Go! Beat
1. Mysterons 5:02
2. Sour Times 4:11
3. Strangers 3:55
4. It Could Be Sweet 4:16
5. Wandering Star 4:51
6. It's a Fire 3:48
7. Numb 3:54
8. Roads 5:02
9. Pedestal 3:39
10. Biscuit 5:01
11. Glory Box 5:06

Thursday, May 04, 2017

R.I.P. Bates Motel (2013-2017)

The initial announcement for Bates Motel made the show seem needless and silly. "See how Norman Bates became the mother-obsessed serial-killer from Psycho." Yet another origin story of a pre-existing property. Whoopie. On top of that, Alfred Hitchcock, who originally brought Psycho to the screen, has been my favorite filmmaker for the majority of my life. The fact that someone would be exploring something he breathed cinematic life into made me even more antagonistic.
A couple of my more persuasive cousins suggested I give the show a chance, shortly before the start of its second season. Finally, finding myself with way more free time than expected in the summer of 2014, I tried out Bates Motel--I had DVR'd the second season, and a marathon of the first that spring. I enjoyed the first season, but I didn't think it was great. While the central performances of Freddie Highmore, as Norman Bates, and Vera Farmiga, as his mother, Norma, were outstanding, Bates Motel surrounded them with needlessly melodramatic sub-plots. The show placed them in a seemingly idyllic town, full of sex slavery, drug trading, and corruption, and I felt like all of this town drama was a needless distraction from the central mother/son relationship. However, as the show filled out its cast, with Max Thierot as Norman's outsider brother, Dylan, Nestor Carbonell as town sheriff, Romero, Olivia Cooke as Norman's terminally ill friend, Emma, and the Shield's Kenny Johnson as Norma's estranged brother, Caleb, something happened. The distractions slowly faded to the background, as the relationship between the characters deepened and found new meanings.
As this occurred, something even stranger happened: in the show's 4th, and penultimate season, when the gulf of silly subplots was drained, the space was filled with a sea of empathy. Suddenly, Bates Motel went from an entertaining, campy way to pass an hour, to great television. In fact, I'll argue that in 2016 and 2017, Bates Motel became one of the best shows on television/online/wherever it is people watch shows now. And thus, in its final two seasons, and particularly in its last five or so hours (the show ended last week), a once silly show about the origins of a monster from a horror movie had me blubbering like a baby, and ugly-face crying.
How did Bates Motel accomplish such a staggering task (going from silly to great, not making me ugly face cry, which admittedly, is not that difficult)? By humanizing its monster, presenting him through the eyes of those who care for him, humanizing his mental struggles, and by widely deviating from the source material in its final story arc. I should hand my bucket of ugly-cry tears to Max Thierot's Dylan in particular, as the compassion he shows for his wayward brother in Season Five has been the cause of most (but not all) of my eye-departed moisture. Having my own mother issues, and also desiring a general happiness in life, in spite of my own, thankfully not murderous mental issues, has always given me a deeper connection to this show, despite its early contrasts in quality. Now, I'll list it as one of my favorites.
Bates Motel, in its final three seasons, has averaged far less than two million viewers. Review aggregate website, Rotten Tomatoes, was able to locate 37 critically written reviews for Bates Motel's first season, 81% of them positive. For the fifth season, it could only find eight to aggregate, all of them positive. I hope, because of the excellence the show has espoused over the last two years, a massive re-evaluation is in order.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

From The Police to Portishead: I Get to Review the Catalogue of One of My Favorite Bands, Immediately After Reviewing the Catalogue of One of My Favorite Bands!

Remember, kids, just say no to smoking! She might look like the coolest person ever on the outside, but just imagine if this was an X-Ray. She would still look cool, but also far less healthy!

I love both The Police and Portishead so much. After I finished reviewing the Police's discography, instead of diving right into Portishead, I decided to spend time completing and publishing some video game reviews that had been piling up--I just didn't want to write two straight months of bubbly music reviews. HOWEVER!...the video game reviews have been completed, and I'm looking at a (small, considering how not prolific Portishead are) stack of CD's I need to review, all with PORTISHEAD on the spine. So coming up, a review of all three Portishead original LP's, their live LP, and one of their rarer EP releases. In the meantime, here is the only worthwhile thing I ever wrote on Facebook, during the six years I was on Facebook. I have now been off of Facebook for a greater amount of time than I was actually a member...what a fuzzy feeling that gives me.
The following was written two days after Portishead's third album, the not so cryptically-titled, Third, was released. I have left all typos and errors intact.

An Obsession
posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 5:14pm
Wow, I have a migraine right now. Some people know I once had a migraine for nine months straight. That was four years ago, and I only have them sometimes now. But tonight I have a migraine. And I am at work. But my head hurts so bad, I can't really get anything done. So instead I am writing a Facebook note. Anyway:
When I was in high school in the 60s I thought Natalie Portman was like the coolest person ever. One time I read this Star Wars Insider interview with her where she said her favorite band was Portishead. Wanting to immediately be as cool as she, I made it my mission to find all I could about this "Portishead" and get all their music. I immediately hit the Internet, the awesome late 90s Napsterless, ITunesless version, and went on an all night sojourn in which I downloaded an entire song of theirs from AudioGalaxy or some other MP3 site. In the time it took to download another one, I listened to the first one, "Sour Times", like 2,000,000 times. This was the amount of time required to find and download one 4 MB Mp3 in 1999. Anyway, the start of an obsession was born. From this moment I entered a new world, just me, my car, and my bootlegged Portishead cassettes. It is weird saying cassettes considering no one even listens to CDs anymore, but anyway.
I would spend all of my Wal-Mart work dinner breaks sitting in my car staring through the rain at the moon or some random streetlight and listening to Beth Gibbons haunting voice over Portishead's weird mélange of mashed up ghosts and empty spider webbed dancehalls and whatever other thing is spooky and cool and old but uninhabited except for ghosts and my ears.
Anyway, after 11 years of silence, nine years since they shook me all night long, Portishead is back with a new album. So go buy it and listen to it and get transported to a place called awesome while I think of my new copy (thanks, Crystal!) sitting in my car CD player (finally moving up technology-wise, though I wish I had the vinyl, too) while I sit here at my desk with a blinding migraine and the deafening noises of the helpless public.
Portishead, almost a decade later, are still magicians. Natalie Portman is an okay actress, I guess, though I must say, thanks Natalie and Star Wars Insider Issue 45 for sending me on this wonderful journey.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's recent release, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is no longer the most recently released Zelda console game. That didn't stop me from recently playing through it, though, and reviewing it at the below Link...get it?
Spoiler alert! The game's controversial legacy is deserved!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Total Obscurity! The Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Review You Didn't Know You Wanted or Needed!

Yes, I wrote another review for a game no one cares about, on a system no one cares about. Sorry, I can't help it. Just like Demi Lovato said, this is real, this is me.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Friday, April 21, 2017

Composite Mood

Bad start today. Maybe start over?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Animal Crossing Review Up on The Gamecube Archives

I have made good on my promise to focus more of my retro-gaming on the Nintendo Gamecube, with my first review, published here.
I had a ton of fun writing it, and also rediscovering how fun and immersive Animal Crossing can be.
Looking forward to hopefully writing many more of these.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Honest Truth

When I went to college, I couldn't pick a major. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. I changed majors a thousand times. For a brief time, I even co-majored in History and Religious Studies! Back then, Louisiana had a special, recently rolled out program called TOPS. TOPS would pay for a full, four-year college tuition for any willing, in-state student with a good high school GPA and high ACT test score. The only catch was, you had to go to a Louisiana college, and you had to begin in the fall semester directly following high school graduation. I had wanted to take some time away from education, to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but the lure of free college was too tempting not to bite. I gave in and took the free tuition to LSU.
Finally, in my third of nearly five years at LSU, I settled on an English major, with a core concentration in Creative Writing, with minors in Film Theory and History (added in my final semester, when I realized I only needed six hours to get it!). I don't know if I am supposed to capitalize those or not, but it sure makes them look more important! I picked Creative Writing because I knew I enjoyed it, and would enjoy taking the classes--I had been writing short stories since I was a wee lad, anyway. I thought that being a writer would be cool, but didn't really think about what my career would be, or how I would make money after college, or that I would be alive after college and have to support myself in order to continue being alive, or that I might even get married and have my very own family that I would have to support in order for them to continue to be alive, too.
I bounced around from whatever job would have me, to whatever slightly better job would have me, and now, thirteen years, a wife and a kid later, it looks like I finally have a pretty clear shot at success in life as a paper-pusher. Awesome! Just what I thought I would do in college!
I don't know if I will ever be paid to put to use what I learned in college about writing (Studying under a twice-nominated for a Pulitzer mad-genius. I was his prized pupil, and I feel like I am disappointing him every single day of my life!). In complete honesty, I must admit, I haven't written a work of short fiction in over five years. However, in that span, I have blogged quite a bit. My blog started as a way to bloviatingly barf out all my emotions...while meanwhile cultivating an image of myself that was probably not realistic. Then I gave that a rest, before finally bringing The Nicsperiment back to focus on a sort of life retrospective framed under the guise of reviewing every album in my bloviated music collection. Yeah, I know I just technically used "bloviated" in the incorrect context, but I DON'T CARE!!! HAHAHAHA! This is my space, and I can use it however I want!
That's what the blog has been. A personal space. And hidden deep within this blog are the most personal expressions of who I really am as a person. Those personal expressions are my Travelogues.
When I die, I think there is one artistic achievement I should be remembered by, the only thing I would be proud to show to Mr. Madden at heaven's gate, attached to the phrase: I did this! Well, actually, I wrote a handful of stories about a decade ago that I think he'd be really proud of, as well, but as far as honestly expressing myself artistically and who I am as a human being over the last thirteen years of my life, I don't think I've done it better in anything than the travelogues I post on The Nicsperiment. So if anyone is reading this in the future, and is curious about who the author of The Nicsperiment really was, type "travelogue" into the search bar.
That's it. That's me.
Where gloves? photo DCP_0007.jpg

Monday, April 10, 2017

Travelogue: Brownell Memorial Park Carillon and The Mystery of the Morgan City Rambler

A few years ago, I was at Grand Isle, LA, but I was not fishing, crabbing, shrimping, or beaching like the other whales. I was watching cable access television. Some glorious local program, sponsored by a local motorcycle company, featured a hip leather-jacket-clad couple gallivanting around strange locations in South Louisiana. At some point, much like a fever dream in a Stephen King novel, there was a massive tower in the middle of nowhere, full of ringing bells.  I sat up, entranced by its blissful, alien melodies.
"I am going to this place," I sang in whale song.
I began my journey, aka, I did not go to that place and lived my normal life for several years, then thought, oh yeah, that bell thing, and went a couple of weeks ago. Here, translated from my native Whaleanese, which is essentially just yiddish with more bubbles, is the tale of my adventure. Please blame all of the typos and grammatical errors on the translator, a wily moray eel named Frank that I met through Craig's List.  Okay, Frank, put some dots right here, or something.
*     *     *
I set out for Morgan City not so early in the morning because the bell thing, or Carillon, located in Morgan City, LA, did not open until ten that morning. Research, which I don't really like to do for these travelogues, instead just typing whatever stupid garbage first pops into my mind, shows that the 106-feet tall Carillon features 61 bells. varying in size between 18 and 4730 pounds, and was built by someone with entirely too much disposable income back when people could afford such things. Songs of great depth can be played through the Carillon by means of an actual human sitting at a clavier. Clavier sounds like clavicle. It would be cool if the clavier was made out of clavicles.
A clavier is like a piano, and that cable access show I watched featured footage from the top of the tower, where an actual human played songs on the bells through a clavier.  Now you possibly know what a Carillon is, or you just got bored and clicked your bookmarked porn or knitting site of choice, and are still waiting for it to load.
For those still with me, Morgan City is a a town in South Louisiana. I'd say it is on the ocean, or more specifically, on the Gulf of Mexico, but in South Louisiana, outside of Grand Isle, no town is actually on the ocean.  It is generally the town, and then 10-20 miles of mud, and then the ocean. Plus, our whole state is slowly sinking into the gulf, thanks to the weight of deposited sediment. Thanks a lot, Father of Waters.
I had never been to Morgan City before, even though it is 90-minutes from my house. I set out on a nearly empty stomach because I heard they feed you real good in Morgan City, and I was tired of eating nothing but krill. Eh, I'm tired of the "I'm a whale" joke already. I'll drop it now, I guess (ED. NOTE: Wait, am I still getting paid? I have a family to support. How will I feed my eel pups? The minnow harvest was low this year. My wife has been giving her portion to the kids every night. Did you know we lay over 10,000 eggs. Do you have any idea how much food it takes to feed 10,000 starving eels? My wife is wasting away! I'm so weak, I can barely type this! Pl). Yes, it is definitely time to drop this dumb whale schtick. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes.
The day before my trip, I decided to head to FYE. I have this tradition of purchasing cheap used CD's blind, and then listening to them on road trips. Not only is this fun and surprising, but sometimes you happen upon a real winner. See: this travelogue for reference.
However, this winter, FYE closed. Physical media is dead. I decided to do the digital equivalent and purchase three $5 albums blind from Amazon's digital store, because that plucky little company could use a little more capital.
I put on one of these albums, Past Life, by a new band called Unwill. This album is metalcore in the style of Underoath, by which I mean it is by 20-year-old white, middle-class dudes with their whole lives ahead of them, who hate themselves and wish they were dead, which in turn makes me feel really old and out of touch. It was pretty good.
The drive to Morgan City was very swampy, and I got to travel down one of my favorite stretches of Louisiana highway, LA 69 (also, if LA 69 PM's you, IGNORE). LA 69, once you pass the speed trap in White Castle (not the burger place, the impoverished, badly aging town that needs to catch you speeding to make rent), runs along Avoca Island Cutoff Bayou, and there are houses on the other side of the bayou that can only be reached by tiny, hand-pulled, wood-plank ferries. Lest this sound like some made-up thing I saw on a True Detective episode, here is a picture I took for proof. There are five or six houses like this along the bayou, and this is one of the reasons I love Louisiana.

I then took a right onto Highway 70 at Pierre Part, and started seeing a ton of "Abortion Is Murder" signs. In the last half decade, I have completely stripped The Nicsperiment of any political identity, but all of these signs reminded me of an ex co-worker who thinks and says in these exact words, "Liberals want to kill all the babies. In fact, they actually probably want to kill everybody." That sounds like a very well-reasoned and well-educated political argument, and a great reason to vote for conservative politicians--actually, this ex co-worker admits this is the only reason he votes for conservative politicians...and he's right. Surely every one of American's 175 million non-conservatives wakes up each day, immediately thinking, "How the hell could I kill a bunch of babies this morning? I hate those damn little things so much. Hmm...what could I eat for breakfast this morning? Man, I wish babies were edible. Two birds with one stone, there. Plus, that would cut down on climate change. We need to get more liberals like me in political office to make this happen. I hope those conservative voters don't foil my liberal plans!" Maybe that old co-worker of mine will one day run for office. He'd probably win. And this is one of the reasons I hate Louisiana.
I crossed a bridge I once saw at a distance at sunset while driving my cousin to his bachelor party at a Pierre Part Bar called Crobar. For some reason, though, I couldn't remember where Crobar was, only that there were a lot of bug and animal noises outside when we were leaving it, and Google maps it in the middle of a swamp. Hmm...

I then drove along Louisiana's most prevalent landmass, a levee, for quite some time, until I saw a sign along the highway, and took a hard left into the woods.

I crossed my fingers and hoped that Brownell Memorial Park was free to enter...and just like your mother, it was!
I drove a short distance and ended up at a classic swamp shack (still waiting to see my first "post-modern" swamp shack).

The shack was manned by a very nice, talkative woman. An elderly Colorado couple happened to pull up at the same time as me, and bore the brunt of her sweet hospitality, but when I saw a poster for Tarzan of the Apes, I had to ask, "Was this movie shot here?"

"Yes," she replied. "We actually showed a screening of it a few years was...interesting."
Well, with a tagline like "TARZAN DID NOT KNOW WHY HE CARESSED HER...HE HAD NEVER SEEN A WHITE WOMAN BEFORE," I don't understand why it could have been anything out of the ordinary, but seeing as my own wife is not white, maybe I am missing something. Do white women have some kind of magical power? Should I try to caress one?
After looking at some photos of the bells' construction, I headed back out to the walking path. Brownell Memorial Park borders Lake Palourde, which is part of the Atchafalaya Basin. Also, a manatee was spotted there last year! but I didn't see it (ED. NOTE: That's because the manatee, washed into the lake by a storm, shortly died in the fresh, cold water). Brownell Memorial Park is like my wife of non-European descent-- and this is no offense to the women whose mere presence causes Tarzan to compulsively caress them-- beautiful, but in an entirely different way, though I guess I could make a bunch of awful double-entendrees about swamp and hanging moss or something. This is a family blog, though, so you perverted, life-hating liberals will get none of that!

Also, there's a sculpture of some dude just chilling with a bunch of raccoons, with absolutely no explanation. And this is one of the reasons I love Louisiana.

Wait, it looks like there's an explanatory plaque right to his left. How could I have missed that? But wait, why is it on his left side? More liberal lies and distortion!
Speaking of lies, you know how I told you that The Carillon has 61 bells that are played by a clavier? Apparently, the one at Brownell Memorial Park is only played on special occasions.  The rest of the time, every fifteen minutes, speakers, controlled by a computer, play pre-recorded bell music. I realized this after seeing the mysterious tower rise up out of the woods, then produce beautiful music without a single bell ringing...wait a minute...oh, no. I just realized something. The bells are hammered. Not rung. So actually, the computer program might still be ringing the bells. I just wouldn't be able to see them ringing, because they wouldn't be moving. Oh crap, I need to make a phone call real's a picture I took of the tower to keep you occupied--

--okay, I just had the most charming conversation with the lovely older woman in the visitor's center, as well as a woman in the Morgan City tourism department. It turns out that neither of them actually know if the computer program is playing the bells, or just playing pre-recorded music...but I don't recall seeing any kind of speaker up there. Maybe the bells were really ringing. Maybe, instead of just having knee jerk reactions, I should make sure my opinions are informed by thoughtful dialogue and the accrual of facts. Nah, that just sounds like some kind of snowflake jibber-jabber! This is a free country, and I can think what I want!
Anyway, as a cool peaceful breeze blew off the lake, I sat in peace and filmed the tower chiming 11, and playing a couple of songs.

I then got up to take a walk around Brownell Park's lovely, but incredibly short walking paths.
This is when I felt the pain on my butt.
Something was biting me and it wasn't existential dread, or the encroachment of time; this wasn't metaphysical, but an actual creature with teeth, sinking those teeth into the left cheek of my buttocks.
I immediately spanked myself, unfortunately in front of that couple from Colorado, and then fled to a private place in the woods where I could stick my hand down my pants, which is something I'm thinking about putting on my Linked In account. After fishing around, fearing a large black widow and leg meat-liquidification, I discovered, removed, and promptly crushed the culprit: a large fire ant. I hate those guys. By this point, the Colorado couple had fled, and I had the Park all to myself, including this lovely vista.

I then did what every sane person would do in that instance: I sat on a bench and played Chrono Trigger on my DS for an hour.

After a lovely gameplay session, I looked up to see a little friend from the game had come to life, and was sitting on a broken bench on the edge of the lake.

Most people would take this frog as a sign that God or the universe loves them, or would simply think, "What a lovely frog!" or (if you're a hypocritical, offspring hating liberal) "What a horrid frog, let me squash it with my shoe so it doesn't spawn!" but I instead thought this:
Wait a minute, did Chris from work give me this copy of Chrono Trigger, or did he just loan it to me? Will I have to give it back some day? Should I ask him if he gave it to me, or if he wants money for it, or if he wants it back some day? What if he did give it to me, but he forgot that he gave it to me, and will then want something for it if I mention it to him? But aren't material goods impermanent? Chrono Trigger is your favorite video game of all time, and has been for 20 years. You still have your original Super Nintendo copy, which still works and holds your original save file. This portable version, which you received for free, is only a convenience, and you can't take either version with you when you die! But what if they don't even make it that long? Video game systems weren't meant to last for decades upon decades. Eventually, all of the video games and systems you've collected will not only become obsolete, but non-functional. But then, won't physical media go the way of the dodo, anyway? Look at what just happened to FYE. Won't everything be easily available digitally? Even if isn't, and the physical copies of your video games still somehow miraculously work, are you going to be playing Chrono Trigger on your DS in bed in 50 years when you are in your mid-80's? No, probably not. It's not material goods that matter. It's people. It's human relationships. Wait a minute, how did I get to this section of woods? I haven't even been paying attention to my physical surroundings, I have been lost so deeply in this metaphysical, existential mental quandary. Look what's staring at me? A huge owl! My, how we can miss the beauty of creation by worrying about possessions and property. Who owns this beautiful owl? Who can know if it has a soul? But seriously, though, did Chris say I could have this, or did he just loan it to me?

After all this foolishness, I realized I was hungry and left.
I took Highway 70 into Morgan City, and searched for the near legendary Morgan's Restaurant. This restaurant, like Dolly Parton, is famous for two things (in her case, her wit and humor):
1. Its near perfect rating and status as top-ranked Morgan City restaurant on Trip Adviser. For some perspective, when people talk about Louisiana food being the best in the world, they're talking about the food in a town like Morgan City.
2. It is located in a hotel lobby.
That's right, the highest-rated restaurant in a town more full of good food than Uncle Scrooge's Money Bin is full of doubloons' best restaurant shares a space with the Clarion Inn Hotel.

Let me tell you something else ("Please" let me tell you something else?): Morgan's is a buffet--it has a full menu, but the buffet is its claim to fame. In the early 2000's, after the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi was constructed, many people, myself included, were excited about its buffet--I don't gamble, but I do eat. Unfortunately, I have never found the Beau Rivage buffet very satisfying. Morgan's kills it. It is everything I wanted Beau Rivage to be. The food at Morgan's skews more typically "Southern" than "Cajun"---think smothered fried chicken over jambalaya--but good gravy, and I ate a whole lot of gravy that day, it was delicious. I didn't take any pictures of my food because that would have just been obscene, considering the amount of plates I put away, and the three tall glasses of Dr. Pepper and Sweet Tea (always capitalized) I dumped down my gullet. At some point, my wife called me, and her sweet voice lifted me out of my eating-induced stupor. Full of good food and my wife's optimism, I drove around Morgan City aimlessly.
Morgan City, like most towns in South Louisiana, has three markers.
Giant Catholic Church around which the entire town is based:

Cemetary that holds a sum of bodies greater than the entire current population of the town.

Badly aging, down-on-its-luck downtown area that's seen better days.
Check, and mate.
Actually, I am only saying that about Morgan City's downtown to serve a narrative I already predetermined before even visiting the city, something I learned from those godless liberals I heard about on TV. The downtown is actually composed of several streets, contains a park with a cool fountain, and an awesome-looking blues bar that I will surely visit if I ever find myself in the vicinity of Morgan City after dark.
Another interesting fact: following the will of our fearless leader, who God obviously intends to use in a sort of pussy-grabbing Moses role to lead us to the promised land, you stupid godless liberals, Morgan City is a walled city. In all seriousness, there is a wall protecting the city from the Atchafalaya River, who, much like our President, can get a little too handsy. This makes for quite a strange effect, but rather than some nebulous concept, like a murdering, raping, job-stealing immigrant, it keeps out something that is only fluid on an elemental level.
The truth is, Morgan City has a cool, totally unique vibe and attitude. I mean, you are welcomed into the town by a shrimp boat.

Which is a great insult to any shrimp visiting from out of town, but for everyone else, it is an original, warm welcome.
Bolstered by this knowledge, my wife's encouragement, and the rather alarming quantity of medicinals I procured from the local Walgreen's to counter-effect the feeling of consuming double-digit pounds of food, I decided to re-visit Brownell Memorial Park Carillon on the way out of town.
I leapt out of my car, strode through the woods, past the tower, to the lapping shores of Lake Palourde, where I pissed into the waves as a conqueror.

Suck it, libtards!!!