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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Promise Ring -- Very Emergency


Under the looming shadow of Y2K, and the imminent removal of a possibly cancerous mass from my lower back, I spent a quiet autumn Friday night behind the cash register at my local Winn Dixie grocery store. A half-a-mile away, the majority of my high school senior classmates were either playing in my rural high school's homecoming football game, cheerleading, or watching. I never planned to be the guy who never went to anything--it was a conspiratorial effort between the previously-mentioned medical problem and something I'll just euphemistically, for the sake of brevity, call "family problems" that led to my solitary state.
Perhaps because I had just listened to Weezer's "Good Life," or perhaps because of a girl, or perhaps because I noticed the clock on my youth was about to hit midnight, I decided that as soon as I got off of work, I would meet my fellow classmates in the middle of a nowhere field to burn down a giant pyre of wood. My younger sister, who drove from the harmful events of our shared childhood in exactly the opposite direction as I did, was likely already at bonfire getting sloshed, and would certainly need a ride home. In that glorious age, none of us had cell phones, and actual word of mouth was quite important. However, in this case, I did need a phone, and as soon as I finished my shift, I drove over to the moonlit, south Louisiana Shell Station, and plopped a quarter in the payphone. "Hey, mom, I'm going to bonfire, I'll bring sister home, okay bye," I said, and hung up before you she could articulate even the preamble of her dissension. I hopped in my car with a rush of energy I hadn't felt in ages, popped on the radio, and jammed its offering to my night of carefree youth.

And yes, high-jinks did indeed ensue. Among my favorites:
-told a stranger how badly I was going to kick the ass of the guy dating the girl I drove there for, only for that stranger to actually be that boyfriend (he was strangely more reticent to inflict personal harm on someone his own size than he was on his 5'2" girlfriend--admittedly, my interests in the situation were more protective than romantic, and they broke up shortly after, so mission accomplished)
-a friend gave some girls fruit juice (or "jungle juice") he told them he'd spiked with vodka, only to confide in me as we watched those girls get sloppy drunk to the point of slurring their speech and falling over, that "I actually didn't put anything in that. They literally just got drunk on orange juice."
-someone tipped off the police that underage drinking was going down in mass quantities, they arrived, set up a barricade around the field, and announced that, in the interest of keeping drunk drivers off the highway, no one could leave
-my best friend at the time hopped into his V10-powered Crown Vic, rumored to have been bought by his mom from police auction, and tore threw a muddy unblocked corner of the field. He offered me a ride, but I didn't want to leave behind my car....or sister. We joked that he would get stuck after five feet, but by the time his headlights faded to pinpricks, then turned onto the highway, all we could do was whistle
-a near fistfight ensued when it was discovered that another friend, who had arrived shortly before the police, revealed he had run by McDonalds and had a 20-count McNugget in his car. Everybody wanted those damn nuggets
-you can only stare at a police siren while sitting next to potheads for so long before feeling a little high yourself
-around 3 am, the cops finally started letting people leave. I dug up my sister, who did indeed get completely sloshed. "Nice job!" I told her as I helped her into my passenger seat. "If they ask us anything when we are leaving, just pretend you are asleep," I said
-with my window rolled down, and a flashlight in my face
"You haven't been drinking anything, right, The Nicsperiment? You're a good kid."
"That's right sir, never."
"How about your sister there? She doesn't look too good."
"No, sir. She is very tired. She normally doesn't stay up this late."
"Okay, the Nicsperiment, that's a good boy, now be careful.
"Thank you, sir."
-unfortunately, at 3 am, most rural south Louisiana backroads are pretty foggy, and this was a regular Victorian nightmare. I couldn't see five feet from the car in any direction, and back then, GPS was just a thing the military used to shot missiles at Saddam. I drove roughly five miles in the wrong direction before turning around. I don't remember how late we got home, but my mom was awake in a kitchen chair like some solemn, angry ghost. I couldn't have cared less. I slept in the next day, picked up my cousin, and drove to the LSU game. That is still, likely, the best year of my life.
Years later, I thought about that song on that drive, and picked up The Promise Ring's Very Emergency. It's a solid pop rock album.

1999 Jade Tree
1. Happiness Is All the Rage 2:55
2. Emergency! Emergency! 2:56
3. The Deep South 3:42
4. Happy Hour 3:05
5. Things Just Getting Good 4:45
6. Living Around 4:05
7. Jersey Shore 2:39
8. Skips a Beat (Over You) 2:01
9. Arms and Danger 3:23
10. All of My Everythings 5:35

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Star Fox Adventures -- The Review You Never Knew You Wanted!

Slowly following up on my promise to dedicate more time to reviewing Nintendo GameCube games (even more slowly now that I have a Breath of the Wild-fueled Switch), here's a review for the unfairly maligned Star Fox Adventures. You can check it out at either The GameCube Archives or Classic Video Game Reviews.
Also, I just realized, after sixteen years, that it is "GameCube," not "Gamecube." Poor GameCube.

Friday, August 04, 2017

So Now What Do You Think About Project 86? Well, I'll Tell You! Reflections on a Month of Reviewing the Most Underrated Band in Christian Hard Rock.

Okay, why are you so high on this band?
Project 86 have existed through plenty of heavy music fads. They came up in the era of rap-rock and nu-metal, then existed through screamo, and metalcore, through whatever it is is existing right now. They've always sounded different from the pack, no matter what they're doing. I don't think you can pin them to any of those genres. They've changed their sound from album to album. None of their albums sounds like another--not by them or anyone. They constantly experiment. When they broke up, their frontman still managed to create a great album in the band's name. They have one of the most bizarre and winding stories in modern rock history. They deserve vastly more attention for successfully pushing the envelope, particularly in the hard rock world.

Twenty-one years of existence isn't anything to shake a stick at? How has this band created music for this long?
Because Andrew Schwab is crazy. No, seriously, the guy has kept this band alive through sheer force of his will. The first decade of this band's existence is marked by the unique elements each of its four members brought to the table. All but Schwab left shortly into the second, and he's still consistently putting out albums under the band's name. One of them is even better than the majority of albums the band made with its core quartet.

Okay. That's cool. Now rank their albums from best to worst. Do it now!
How about from favorite to least being subjective and all.

I knew you would say something annoying like that. Alright, go ahead.
Well, wait this is hard.

I believe in you.

Okay, now give me the list.
1. Songs to Burn Your Bridges By
2. Drawing Black Lines
3. Wait for the Siren
4. Rival Factions
5. Truthless Heroes
6. Self-titled
7. Knives to the Future
8. ...And the Rest Will Follow
9. Picket Fence Cartel

Do you think Project 86 will ever get the recognition they deserve?
No. I think a small group of core fans will always cherish and remember what Project 86 have given us, and another contingent who only noticed who the band was touring with will remember them as "that late 90's rap-metal Christian band with the afro-singer." Everyone else, in the face of a never-ending avalanche of new music, will remain indifferent.

What's next?
Even though I've got at least another couple of years left in this "Every Album I Own" series, I feel like I'm entering the home stretch. Six years of reviewing, and I'm almost through "P." Feels pretty good. Excited about the letter "S," particularly.

Cool. Anything else you want to say?
A lot, actually, but I'll say it later.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Project 86 -- Knives to the Future


Darren King is the guitar player, and I am assuming primary songwriter, for the rock band The Overseer. I saw the cover artwork for their 2012 debut album, We Search, We Dig, and got really excited. However, upon listening, I was a little disappointed. King's guitar playing is unique, and very enjoyable at times, but it also has no recognition of the term "space." His style is angular, by which I mean if you were drawing a line to attempt to correspond to the frequently changing sounds coming out of King's guitar, you would be making a lot of angles--it's like his hands have ADD. It's like he's trying to create a tango with a heavily distorted electric guitar. This can get tiring, and it is extremely difficult to create a song in this style that can run for longer than three minutes.
For Knives to the Future, Project 86's second crowd-funded album after the incredible Wait for the Siren, frontman (and only remaining member), Andrew Schwab, enlisted King's talents on guitar. Andrew Schwab doesn't play any instruments, which left King to write Knives to the Future's music. Unfortunately, in this case, King's style is so singular, Knives to the Future ends up sounding like an Overseer album with Andrew Schwab on vocals. Added to these problems, whoever mixed this album almost completely forgot about the bass, and the low end of the drums. The first couple of songs sound like cymbal hell, trebly distorted guitar and no bass to speak of. This, after the much lower-budgeted Wait for the Siren killed it in the mix--you could feel the low end in your gut. Thankfully, Knives to the Future's bass and non-cymbal/snare drum pieces get turned up in the fifth track's bridge, and hang around the majority of the time after that, but how could the mix, overall, be so bungled? Considering Schwab got the same bassist from ...Siren to return, and that that bassist presumably has the same rig, here, there is absolutely no excuse. And there's no way new drummer, Ryan Wood, wants his kit to sound like this. In the album's worst moments, it's like someone is just spraying a hose at the cymbals and mic'ing it. Just dreadful!
I am being more abusive in my verbiage because of how disappointing all those factors are, after the absolutely perfect Wait for the Siren. After piecing together such an absolutely stunning album out of parts for that one, Schwab conditioned me for greatness. Knives to the Future is nowhere close to the level of ...Siren.
With all that said, Knives to the Future is not a terrible album. Despite the lousy mix, and the fact that King hasn't yet learned that he doesn't have to constantly strum his guitar and change chords every second, Knives to the Future is solid. A major reason for this is the consistency of Schwab's concept, lyrics, and performance. Knives to the Future tells the story of a soldier who wakes up on a battlefield, surrounded by corpses, with no memory of who he is. Schwab's passion permeates every line, going from screams, to howls, to quite respectable singing. Many times, the songs work, even if it isn't on a consistent basis. The album also get better as it progresses, peaking at the stunning eighth track, "Genosha." Schwab used some of the crowd-raised Indiegogo funds to pay for strings in a few songs, just as he did with celtic instrumentation on Wait for the Siren. While the strings aren't utilized as well, and aren't as memorable of Siren's additional instrumentation, they are still appreciated, particularly in the intro of the powerful "Genosha," which describes a dysfunctional father-son relationship.
 With the album's protagonist finding peace in death at Knives to the Future's end, the album actually feels like a fitting swansong for Project 86, even if it doesn't come anywhere close to the peaks of some of their previous work...but it's not. Andrew Schwab, with what looks like the same players featured on Knives to the Future, has crowdfunded yet another Project 86 album, in time for the 20th anniversary of Project 86's founding. He got yours truly to donate yet again. The album is coming this autumn. We'll see how it stacks up.
I wrote this review at a Starbucks.

2014 Team Black
1. Intro 1:10
2. Spirit of Shiloh 3:47
3. Acolyte March 3:12
4. Knives to the Future 3:17
5. Son of Flame 3:38
6. Captive Bolt Pistol 2:32
7. Ambigram 2:36
8. Genosha 3:38
9. Pale Rider 3:47
10. Valley of Cannons 2:55
11. White Capstone 3:40
12. Oculus 6:43

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Project 86- Wait for the Siren


What the heck? After a lackluster 2009 album, and a subsequent label-dropping, and a period where all of the members but the vocalist left, yet the vocalist still continued to refer to the band as "we," Project 86 releases one of, if not the best album under their name, Wait for the Siren. To make Wait for the Siren, that vocalist, Andrew Schwab, now missing a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, enlisted some friends to help, and created a crowdfunding campaign. I backed it, not expecting much, and feeling conflicted about Schwab keeping the band going without its original musicians. Eight months later, the CD arrived in my mailbox.
It's lovely to find that something you weren't even anticipating to be good is excellent. From "Fall Goliath Fall"'s opening seconds, Wait for the Siren shows itself to be a special album. A variety of celtic instruments play out a surprising intro, before crushing guitar and booming drums, featuring energetic fills, take over. The bass, as in Project 86's heyday, is turned up loud in the mix. Schwab's vocals are as solid as ever, lending inspiring lyrics to this inspired instrumentation, as the celtic instruments weave in and out of the song. What follows over the next twelve tracks is a brilliant mix of Project 86's heavier side, with a more diverse offering of straightforward rock, as well, and some surprisingly emotional softer songs.
The pacing is perfect, with neither side of the Project 86's sound wearing out its welcome, and the band never settling in the middle too long, either. I say "band," but here in the playing and songwriting, it's a miraculous mix of Living Sacrifice/Evanescence's Rocky Gray on drums, and The Wedding's Cody Driggers on bass, with A Plea for Purging's Blake Martin, Disciple's Andrew Welch, and newcomer, Dustin Lowery, all passing around the guitar. This shouldn't work, and it certainly shouldn't sound like Project 86, but somehow it does and it does. I won't even try to understand how.
Somehow, Schwab willed a quintessential Project 86 album into existence without the participation of any of the original band members, despite the fact that Schwab doesn't even play an instrument. His voice, though, is in top form, sounding great in his trademark yowling for the heavier songs, but belting out some surprisingly fine singing in the instrumentally lighter songs. His decision to bring in the celtic instrumentation also pays off brilliantly--the mandolin, dulcimer, and pipes only pop up on four songs, but they're done and spread out in such a way that they feel ever-present.
With that that added touch, Wait for the Siren takes on the high honor of sounding like Project 86, and yet having its own unique aural identity in the Project 86 catalogue. It might be the most diverse album to the band's name, the most interesting, the most affecting--and it's also received the best critical reviews of any album under the Project 86 banner.
Being at a crossroads in life when Wait for the Siren was released, I found the album vital (it topped my best of 2012 list--and I think that was a pretty great year in music). I still do. Sometimes you just take a miracle without question.
But there is a question. Randy Torres, Steven Dail, and Alex Albert had nothing to do with the creation of Wait for the Siren. Before it was released, I was of the opinion that the album should have been put out under a different band name. I am quite sure those three men feel the same way. However, upon listening, this album sounds uniquely Project 86. It contains an autumnal, epic feel that only that band can conjure. This is a Project 86 album. And it's a great one.

2012 Team Black
1. Fall Goliath Fall 4:16
2. SOTS (featuring Bruce Fitzhugh) 3:16
3. Omerta's Sons 3:34
4. Off the Grid 2:58
5. New Transmission 3:08
6. Defector 3:40
7. The Crossfire Gambit (featuring Brian "Head" Welch) 3:15
8. Blood Moon 4:10
9. Above the Desert Sea 4:14
10. Ghosts of Easter Rising 3:45
11. Avalantia 4:15
12. Take the Hill 5:08
13. Wait for the Siren 2:11

Monday, July 24, 2017

Project 86 -- 15. Live


In 2010, Project 86 ended the weirdest, most mysterious phase of their career with a live album performed by an anonymous band. I'm not exaggerating on the "weird" part. Project 86 recorded five albums with the same four members, announced the departure of their drummer, recorded another album, and then...the guitarist and the bassist left the band to no announcement. An album, Picket Fence Cartel, was recorded with the vocalist, maybe the bassist, and several anonymous players. And then, for some reason, remaining member Andrew Schwab decided this would be the perfect time for Project 86 to release their first live album.
I'll get this out of the way first: 15. Live is an extremely enjoyable live album, featuring rousing hard rock performances of a greatest hits melange from six of the seven albums Project 86 had released up to this point. It's an extremely fun listen, and I've spun it plenty of times. The instruments are incredibly clear in the mix, and Schwab's vocals sound solid. I love the song selection, even though it would have been nice to add just one number from the self-titled debut (it's the only album not represented here). The song order flows together almost perfectly. But who the heck is being called Project 86 here?
The album artwork features awesome stylized portraits of Andrew Schwab on vocals, a faceless guitarist, a faceless bassist, and a faceless drummer. It also notes that the album was recorded on the band's summer 2010 tour, but doesn't list any shows, making it even more difficult to pinpoint who is performing here. It's so strange that Schwab would not only want to record a live album at this moment in the band's careet, but name it after the amount of years Project 86 have been making music, when the guys who wrote all that music are no longer in the band...then again, he wrote all of these lyrics, and I'm sure he wrote them in a Project 86 headspace. He may feel just as much ownership for the songs as the original musicians.
For a fan, 15. Live is a strange, conflicting experience. This is one of my favorite bands because of the contributions of each member...all but one of those members are gone...and yet, this album sounds great. I really enjoy it. Two years later, this juxtaposition of emotions would only become more stark.

2010 Team Black
1. Sincerely, Ichabod 4:31
2. Safe Haven 3:29
3. Oblivion 4:09
4. The Butcher 3:03
5. Last Meal 3:50
6. Me Against Me 3:34
7. SMC 3:03
8. Illuminate 3:02
9. Evil 3:05
10. Destroyer 4:51
11. Stein's Theme 4:15
12. The Spy Hunter 4:20

Friday, July 21, 2017

Project 86 -- Picket Fence Cartel


2009, for The Nicsperiment, was a disappointing year in music. The Nicsperiment hated all of the critical darlings of that year--Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors--and others' interest in those bands seems to have been quite ephemeral considering none of these acts have never been heard from again. When all your fans are hipsters, they won't be fans for long. Unfortunately, a lot of my favorite bands also put out disappointing music in 2009. With little interest in the new music of the year, and my own favorites disappointing me, my top nine albums list from that year is extremely lackluster. Outside of my top three (which I think are legitimately good), I had to insert filler like I've never had before or since. With youtube making a multitude of music so easily discoverable, I don't think that will ever happen to me, The Nicsperiment, again. However, even under those 2009 circumstances, Project 86's Picket Fence Cartel barely made my list.
On first listen to Picket Fence Cartel, I had a strange sensation: This does not sound like Project 86. Yes, the music is heavy. On a pure genre level, this is more in line with Project 86's past work than their previous album, Rival Factions. However, that album still sounded like Project 86. This does not sound like Project 86.
Listen after listen, I could not shake this feeling. Vocalist, Andrew Schwab, guitarist, Randy Torres, and bassist, Steven Dail, were all in the promotional photos, but outside of Schwab's vocals, a completely generic band could have played Picket Fence Cartel's music. Where were Steven Dail's thick, dominant basslines? Completely absent. Where were Randy Torres' increasingly frenetic guitar lines and his distinct background vocals? Completely absent. What about Jason Gerken's steroidal drumming? Completely absent. Instead, it's a mix of fairly generic hard rock with keyboard adding dark atmosphere. But what about Andrew Schwab's deep, introspective lyrics? Absent. Schwab has never hidden his faith (well, maybe a little during the Truthless Heroes phase), but instead of racking up J's per-minute, he's managed to use it as a lens in which he lyrically interprets life--causing most of the band's previous albums to be deeply spiritual experiences. Picket Fence Cartel's lyrics are straightforwardly religious, and on a pretty basic "I just got saved" level. This is a disappointment not only for non-Christian fans, but for longtime Christian fans (like myself) who want something deeper, and have grown to expect it from Project 86. Lame.
So what's the deal? How did Project 86 go from a career peak to a career valley over the course of just one album? Why doesn't Picket Fence Cartel even sound like Project 86? I've spent the last eight years pondering that question, and now I finally know the answer.
I recently came across an interview of Randy Torres by Stavesacre's own Mark Salomon, for Salomon's podcast, Never Was. Turns out, Torres did not play or sing a note of Picket Fence Cartel. He left the band months before Picket Fence Cartel's recording sessions even began. He only appeared in the promotional photos for the album at Schwab's request, to keep up appearances. Outside of those who were in the recording sessions, no one knows who actually played guitar on Picket Fence Cartel. My guess is co-producer, Jason Martin. Martin's main act, Starflyer 59, is a favorite of mine, but hard rock isn't exactly his style, and the fairly generic nature of the guitar-playing would make sense--Martin playing in a genre he isn't comfortable with would produce unremarkable work for that genre. Plus, on the standout moments, like the call-and-response guitar line of "The Black Brigade," the guitar sounds like 2009-era Starflyer 59, not Project 86.
Indeed, it's these definitely-not-Project 86 moments that are truly standout. I'm thinking specifically of the aforementioned guitar in "The Black Brigade," the echo-laden guitar of "Dark Angel Dragnet"'s verses, the punk rock fury of "Two Glass Eyes," and the old southern spiritual vibe that shows up early in the album's keyboards, and pays off in the final three tracks in background vocal form. This conjures images of the devil chasing Schwab along the Mississippi bank at midnight, full moon coming in through oak boughs. The sheer force of will in Schwab's vocals is also a plus, even if his lyrics aren't up to scratch. These combined factors make Picket Fence Cartel a listenable, slightly above average rock album...but they do nothing to make the album sound like Project 86. And where is Steven Dail? His bass is completely subdued, background noise. Maybe he was busy focusing on the guitars? Who knows. So much of this album is a mystery, and will remain so until those who played on it offer more information. As it stands, Picket Fence Cartel is my least favorite of Project 86's albums, if it's even a Project 86 album at all.

2009 Tooth & Nail
1. Destroyer 4:49
2. The Butcher 3:02
3. The Spectacle of Fearsome Acts 3:12
4. Dark Angel Dragnet 3:23
5. Cold and Calculated 3:38
6. Cement Shoes 3:56
7. A John Hancock with the Safety Off 3:16
8. Two Glass Eyes 3:28
9. Cyclonus 3:46
10. The Black Brigade 2:54
11. To Sand We Return 4:35

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Project 86 -- The Kane Mutiny EP / This Time of Year EP


The Kane Mutiny EP puts a bow on the trio + Jason Gerken on drums phase of Project 86, with three previously unreleased songs recorded during the Rival Factions sessions, plus two  remixes of ...And the Rest Will Follow songs...creating an interesting, if non-cohesive five-song listening experience. Also, I've always wanted to put both a plus-sign, and the word "plus" into a sentence together. Mission accomplished.
The three songs from the Rival Factions sessions are all great, just about as good as anything on that excellent album. However, I can't see where any of them would have fit on Rival Factions. "The Kane Mutiny" is not quite on par with Rival Faction's other faced-paced songs, "Lucretia, My Reflection" is a cover song (an awesome cover song), and would have stuck out like a sore thumb as the only one on an album of originals, and "Rte. 66," though a total stunner, nevertheless features a straightforward declaration of faith completely lacking in Rival Factions' ten tracks--it just doesn't fit the theme of the full length. Thankfully, these three songs are collected here for the Project 86 fan's listening pleasure.

It's a curious choice to follow these three with remixes of songs from two albums before, but it seems the band wanted to give listeners more bang for their buck. The first is a cover of "Something We Can't Be" by Echoing Green cult legend Joey Belville, and it's just fine. The second is possibly longtime band guitarist Randy Torres' final contribution to the band (it's extremely difficult to tell exactly where in the band's discography Torres left), a remix of "From December." It's not bad, and helped launch Torres into a pretty storied sound design career.
If you're a fan, you should pick this up (it's only available digitally). If you're only a casual the first three songs...this isn't really a great place to start. Then again, if you're a fan, you probably already on The Kane Mutiny EP.


Here is where things get murky. No one knows for sure who is playing the instruments on the This Time of Year EP, outside of whoever was in the studio recording it. The drums no longer sound like they're being pounded by Gerken, and the feeling of the music doesn't bring to mind Torres work (he could have been there and phoning it in, I guess). It is known definitively that Torres left before the band recorded their next full length, but this EP is a bit of a mystery. Bassist, Steven Dail, likely played here, even though his distinctive style is absent. The band's style in general is actually fairly absent, making the prospect of Project 86 doing Christmas music less promising. What's here is murky, fairly generic sounding hard rock, with a creepy abandoned mall throughline, highlighted by plenty of haunting keyboard. Most of the songs here are originals, and none stick much, outside of "Misfit Toys," whose music and lyrical content click just right. Someone made a video for the song with footage from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer that fits its atmosphere and themes perfectly. I'd almost say this EP is worth it just for that song. If you like "Misfit Toys," you'll probably be okay with the rest. The other songs aren't bad, just a bit boring, though I do enjoy the atmosphere. I think it's at least worth a listen. Though it doesn't tickle my fancy as much as I'd like it to, this feels like one of the more subjective listens in Project 86's discography, mystery musicians or not.

2007 Tooth & Nail Records
1. The Kane Mutiny 3:31
2. Lucretia, My Reflection (The Sisters of Mercy cover) 3:41
3. Rte. 66 3:52
4. Something We Can't Be (Joey B. Remix) 3:40
5. From December (Randy T. Mix) 4:08

2008 Team Black
1. This Time of the Year 2:46
2. Wrought on This Holiday's Eve 3:14
3. Shiny Skin 3:46
4. Misfit Toys 3:26
5. What Child? 3:54

Friday, July 14, 2017

Project 86 -- Rival Factions


After listening to Rival Factions, Project 86’s sixth studio album, it’s clear what went wrong with their fifth, …And the Rest Will Follow. On album number five, the band clearly wanted to experiment, but instead of diving in, the band skittered around a sound not quite committed to experimentation or their more emblematic hard rock…crafting music that seemed, for a band known for its passion, a little half-hearted. On Rival Factions, the band, now a three-piece, dive headfirst into a deep-sea of experimentation.
The Nicsperiment thinks that most great albums have a clear, decisive palette of sounds. Rival Factions is a great album, blending an aggressive guitar tone from Randy Torres that bounces from deep crunch to high-frequency freak-outs, fluid, crunchy bass by Steven Dail, keyboard that ranges from 80’s nostalgia to Halloween creep house, and a truly inspired vocal performance from Andrew Schwab, who balances some of his most aggressive shrieking with his most powerful singing to date. However, the true star of the album is Jason Gerken, filling in on drums for the recently departed (from the band, not life) Alex Albert. Albert’s drumming was one of Project 86’s most distinctive features, so for Gerken to come in and do something completely different and have it work so well feels like a minor miracle. Gerken’s fast-paced, highly energetic drumming takes every song to an unprecedented level. The production, aided by Dail and Torres, is clear and punchy. With these weapons at their disposal, Project 86 pares the tracklist down to the shortest since their debut, with shorter track times, creating a lean, mean, unpredictable snake of an album. This sound caught many listeners off guard, causing some to dismiss it outright. Considering this might just be the definitive work of Project 86’s career, that’s a shame.
Rival Factions opens with three of the more aurally vituperative songs of the bands career, culminating with the insane “The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper into the Rhythm Section.” This latter song lyrically posits the band as an indestructible analog force in a digital world, ironic as Live Free or Die Hard premiered three days later (ten years ago…and man, can my facebook-less, smartphone-less self still relate to that theme!). This somehow segues perfectly into the soaring 80’s dance-influenced “Molotov,” a shocking juxtaposition with the last song, and yet somehow the only logical thing that could follow. The album only gets weirder from here, flirting with aggression again on “Slaves to Liberty” before unleashing the bizarre, dark, yet fun goth-pop of “Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer.” These are all true things I am saying.
The final four tracks get even stranger, with the dance-mosh of “Illuminate,” the razor-sharp riffing of “Sanctuary Hum,” the sounds-like-what-it’s-called “Caveman Jams,” and the new-wave contemplation of album-closer, “Normandy.” None of these songs should work alone, and especially not in conjunction with one other, but somehow they do, and they do so perfectly. Each song complements the next ones, the former ones, it’s like this came from some alternate dimension. Yet this strangeness is not alienating, but creates a strange feeling of intimacy. Schwab’s lyrics, possibly the best of his career, discuss conflict (hence the album title) in relatable terms, matching the conflict of the disparate sounds that make up Rival Factions. Even the album artwork, featuring a sort of decoder jewel case, is some of the best of the CD-era. It’s all too good to be true.
Randy Torres, who names this his favorite of the band’s work, left after Rival Factions. Steven Dail was soon to follow. Gerken was just a temporary, hired hand. Nothing gold can stay.

2007 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Evil (A Chorus of Resistance)3:03
2. Put Your Lips to the TV 2:49
3. The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper into the Rhythm Section 2:51
4. Molotov 3:12
5. Slaves to Liberty 3:02
6. Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer 3:56
7. Illuminate 2:40
8. The Sanctuary Hum 5:01
9. Caveman Jam 3:18
10. Normandy 5:03

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Project 86 -- ...And the Rest Will Follow


It's hard to think of anything more 2005 than (no it's not, but I needed an opening sentence, and I've been battling a virus that I'm not unsure is West Nile for the last week, so this is the first sentence of this review), a website where bands released new tracks to whet listeners appetites for their upcoming full-lengths. Now, in 2017, there are only two websites, youtube and facebook, so everyone just does everything through those. In 2005, though, I excitedly visited every week in the month leading up to September 27, 2005, to hear a new track from Project 86's then upcoming fifth album, ...And the Rest Will Follow. In each of the consecutive four weeks leading up to the album, as each of the four tracks was released (one a week, every week of the month), I was a little more befuddled. What was this sound the band was pursuing? Only a year before, Tooth & Nail had released the band's triumphant Songs to Burn Your Bridges By. Then, Project 86 had subsequently announced that they were re-teaming with GGGarth, producer of their landmark Drawing Black Lines, for a new album. All seemed to be right with the world, except these new songs from this upcoming album didn't feel like Drawing Black Lines at all.
All was not right with the world. When the band had showed up at GGGarth's studio, the famed producer was dealing with a personal matter, and had to pawn the band off on an associate. Also, that feeling of band unity from 2004 turned out to be short lived--this would be Alex Albert's last album as Project 86's drummer. I don't know how much these factors came to play in ...And the Rest Will Follow's creation. I can say that it is one of their least focused, least consistent efforts. The album adds a polish to the band's hard rock sound--in fact, the production screams 2005 just as much as does. The songs do not flow into each other. "Sincerely, Ichabod," the violent opener, which proclaims in its opening lyric, "We once drew some lines in black/right now its about time/we took them back" backs right into the Anberlin-esque pop-rock of "All of Me," which then backs into the strange, yet strangely by-the-numbers hard rock of "Doomsday Stomp," to the...I dunno "soft rock(?)" of "Something We Can't Be." Then there's the dance-metal of "Subject to Change," the lumbering rock of "Necktie Remedy," and on it goes. I hesitate to say any of these songs are bad, but together they just don't work. This is a shame, as there are some great songs here, especially the bizarre "My Will Be a Dead Man," and the swedish-metal ballad "From December," but the title of the album is disappointingly apt...there's always a feeling that something better, something that will tie things together will follow, but it never does. It doesn't help that usually winning lyricist, Andrew Schwab, seems to be facing a little writer's block--these are easily the weakest words he's put to tape. There's a part in "Cavity King" where he rhymes "crimson" with "crimson." It's not like him at all.
I think this album likely matched my confused state of mind in late September of 2005. Hearing it now, it feels like a product of its time even more than the band's Rage Against the Machine-inspired 1998 debut. But Project 86 did, can, and would do so much better than this.
And finally, speaking of 2005, here's Project 86 in their only live TV performance ON THE SHOW I WATCHED EVERY WEEKNIGHT OF THE YEAR IN 2005 IN MY OLD ROOM AT MY PARENT'S HOUSE BECAUSE I GRADUATED COLLEGE IN 2004, COULDN'T FIND A JOB, AND LIVED WITH MY PARENTS FOR THE ENTIRETY OF 2005. WOOHOO!!! I REALLY NEED TO GO TO THE DOCTOR. Also, twelve years ago, I listened to "My Will Be a Dead Man" right before entering a personal confrontation I blogged about here. Surreal to reflect on stuff that happened over a decade ago and see that I blogged about it here. Especially since that confrontation ending up being so epic and life-altering. So as much as I seem meh on this album, I am still giving it a "7/10," and it has still been integral to my life experience. Awesome.

2005 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Sincerely, Ichabod 4:22
2. All of Me 3:59
3. Doomsday Stomp 3:52
4. Something We Can't Be 4:16
5. Subject to Change 4:31
6. Necktie Remedy 5:13
7. My Will Be a Dead Man 4:35
8. From December 4:48
9. The Hand, the Furnace, the Straight Face 3:15
10. ...And the Rest Will Follow 2:17
11. Cavity King 3:30
12. Wordsmith Legacy 4:10

Friday, July 07, 2017

Projec 86 -- Songs to Burn Your Bridges By


[Editors Note: This is a review of the 2004 Tooth & Nail Release of Songs to Burn Your Bridges By, not the, by comparison, incomplete self-released 2003 version]

After the release of 2002's Truthless Heroes, Project 86 found themselves at a crossroads. Recently dropped by Atlantic Records, the band had no label. All but their core fans had deserted them after Truthless Heroes' music and lyrics seemingly signified a major shift in philosophy. A band that just a year before seemed poised to take over the word now seemed to be on the brink of disaster--or right in the middle of it. From this place, Project 86 composed Songs to Burn Your Bridges By, possibly their best work to date.
However, I also need to say, part of Songs to Burn Your Bridges By's perfection is also found in the way that it serves as a companion for its predecessor. Indeed, the bridge of its opening track, "The Spy Hunter" contains a bellowing repetition of the phrase "I do not need anymore Truthless Heroes!" Its five-minute centerpiece is titled "Breakdown in 3/4," both a reference to the chaos of being label-less between their third and fourth albums, AND the time signature of the ridiculously heavy breakdown at the end of the song. If Truthless Heroes shouted out what Project 86 didn't believe, Songs to Burn Your Bridges By is a voice in the desert calling out what they do--and this isn't just an over-emotive descriptor. The rousing "Safe Haven," with its The Matrix-esque imagery, blatantly states this.
However, one does not need any knowledge of Truthless Heroes or Project 86's past to enjoy Songs to Burn Your Bridges By. It is fun, angry, heavy hard rock, perfectly-paced, full of space, clear in its imagery and emotion, following a definite emotional arc, exploring myriad sounds and textures, while never-flagging in consistency. All instruments are given prominence like they were on the band's first two albums, meaning a song is just as sure to begin with one of Steven Dail's dirty, nasty bass-lines as it is one of Randy Torres' inventive guitar riffs.
As a fan of this band, as a fan of hard rock music, as a fan of this extremely under-rated album, which came at a time when all eyes were seemingly off Project 86, I cannot praise this music enough.
For a full picture of everything that makes the 2004-version of Project 86 so great, check out the below music video, and then the below live video, proof that a return to Christian rock festivals was all Project 86 needed to return to legendary status:

For me, the summer this album was released is a special moment in my history, and a time when I felt unique connection to this band's position. Thirteen years removed, my listens to Songs to Burn Your Bridges By are just as potent.

2004 Tooth & Nail Records
1. The Spy Hunter 3:37
2. Oblivion 4:05
3. A Shadow on Me 3:30
4. Safe Haven 3:29
5. Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy... 3:54
6. Breakdown in 3/4 4:58
7. The Great Golden Gate Disaster 3:42
8. Breakneck Speed 3:42
9. Sioux Lane Spirits 4:43
10. Circuitry 4:02
11. 3 Card 2:18
12. A Fruitless End Ever 2:58
13. A Text Message to the So-Called Emperor 1:02
14. Solace 5:02

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Project 86 -- Truthless Heroes


If you want a clear pre and post-delineation for pop-culture and 9/11, look no further than the discography of Project 86 (actually you can, and should look further, and in fact, I plan on doing a rather academic series on that very topic, at some point).
Their classic 2000 release, Drawing Black Lines, dark as it is, is still optimistic and fun, clear in its goals. Truthless Heroes is darker, not optimistic in any way, shape, or form, and if not muddier in its goals, more bleak in them as well as their delivery, mired in moral confusion. I didn't say "not fun" because it is really difficult for Project 86 to create an album without any fun moments...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Truthless Heroes is a concept album about a human who grows up attempting to find meaning and fulfillment in every aspect of human activity, particularly in American culture, and comes up snake eyes and hollow--also metaphorical for how empty the band have found the major label experience of recording this very album. After Drawing Black Lines was released, Project 86 were scooped off of indie label Tooth & Nail, for major conglomeration Atlantic, and while the band may not have been overjoyed by their time at Tooth & Nail, the experience at Atlantic seems traumatic.
However, the first lyrics of Truthless Heroes are, "Out of the playground's ashes, come little men with little games/they're playing war, they're playing new crusades like new arcades." So, yeah, 9/11 didn't have any impact on this album's creation at all...
that was sarcastic. It very much did--the societal confusion immediately after that event is very much clear, but it also dovetails with Project 86's own confusion. Amidst the label upgrade, the band's manager unwisely recommended them to completely drop out of the Christian music circuit. The band played main stage at Cornerstone Festival in 2002 (yours truly was there), and vocalist, Andrew Schwab, made a big show of declaring that this would be the last Christian festival or show the band would ever play. When 75% of your audience are Christians, that might not be the best idea. Stavesacre, another great band who played the same Cornerstone stage just an hour before, made the same blunder. This was a confusing time, and these awesome bands unfortunately made it more so. So did "Little Green Men"'s chorus,  from which Schwab belted to the huge crowd in front of main stage, "I don't need anybody/I don't need anyone!" A Minnesotan festival friend I'd made in the tent next door to mine was genuinely pained by this, lamenting the sudden downfall of the band. His tent-mate (also a new friend) and I tried to argue with him that Schwab was not singing from his own perspective. Indeed, we were correct: I've already mentioned Truthless Heroes' concept. And just two years later, Project 86 were jamming at Christian festivals again (and Stavesacre returned a few years after that). But unfortunately, the damage was done. A negative stigma spread around the band, and after they'd sold truckloads of their previous album, Drawing Black Lines, Truthless Heroes debuted with a paltry 7000 sold the first week of its release, even though it was available in Wal-Mart. A controversial new band website didn't help, either, featuring some rather edgy counter-cultural links, and a message board that at one point essentially devolved into people posting softcore and this one guy continuously spamming about the sex life of bonobos, even though Schwab himself often made appearances. Like the "no Christian festivals" declaration, the website and message board eventually bit the dust. All that remains of that period is the album itself.
Atlantic Records somehow spent over one million dollars on Truthless Heroes, a staggering figure that boggles the mind--where did this money go? And why did Atlantic spend it when they unceremoniously dropped the band months later without even promoting the album (not one music video made!)? Why does everything have to be so confusing? I miss the pre-9/11 world!
I guess I should actually talk about Truthless Heroes musical content, though. Under the stern hand of a major label, screamer Andrew Schwab is forced to sing (not exclusively, though--that scream/spoken word hybrid is thankfully still lurking), and guitarist and part-time singer, Randy Torres, is forced to sing more. The production is more polished, less heavy. The songwriting is more straightforward, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. The lyrics, once meditative, defiant, and triumphant, now remind of late 90's U2, essentially proclaiming what the band does not believe. And once you can accept that this is what Truthless Heroes is going to is actually a pretty great album.
The songwriting is strong. The performances, even though they are reined in, particularly Steven Dail's once dominant bass, are excellent. The mode is consistent, and the song sequencing, broken up by some scary new broadcast vignettes, is absolutely perfect--the emotional flow and growing desperation is incredible (from a conversation I had with Schwab after that Cornerstone set, NIN's The Downward Spiral seemed a big influence). The dark, oppressive atmosphere is permeable. And yet, amidst all this darkness, select moments are even fun: the wild verse of "Little Green Men" Schwab's sarcastic delivery in "S.M.C," the surprising sexiness of pitch-black "Bottom Feeder," the surf-guitar solo of "Last Meal," along with that song's guest appearance by Stavesacre's Mark Salomon, the medieval sounding melodies found in some of the sung vocals, further accentuating a certain autumnal feeling the album nails--fitting as Truthless Heroes came out at the end of September (also gives me a memory of the movie, Signs, which came out the month before...even more little green men). Wow, that sentence had some punctuation.
So in the end, Truthless Heroes is a misunderstood beast. Its lyrical themes are dense and myriad. Its music is more straightforward, yet oxymoronically just as well-written, as the band's past work. It isn't in any way what fans of the band's previous music wanted. It even planted the seeds of Project 86's original lineup's eventual destruction. In fact, it is most likely the reason Project 86 went from a band millions could remember fondly, to a band thousands remember fondly, even while an even smaller group of thousands actively listens, knowledgeable to the fact that music is still made under the Project 86 banner today. It is Truthless Heroes.

Seriously, this song needs a video!

2002 Atlantic Records
1. Little Green Men 3:25
2. Caught in the Middle 3:33
3. Know What It Means 4:16
4. Salem's Suburbs 3:38
5. ...A Word from Our Sponsors 0:44
6. S.M.C. 2:49
7. Team Black 3:26
8. Your Heroes Are Dead 3:55
9. ...To Brighten Your Day 1:12
10. Another Boredom Movement 3:56
11. Bottom Feeder (featuring Holland Greco of The Peak Show) 5:13
12. Shelter Me Mercury 3:09
13. ...And Help You Sleep 1:44
14. Last Meal (featuring Mark Salomon of Stavesacre and The Crucified) 3:51
15. Soma 4:12
16. Hollow Again 4:31
17. ...With Regards, T.H. 1:59

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Project 86 -- Drawing Black Lines


Project 86's self-titled debut may have its flaws, but it certainly got me invested in the band. One morning, late into my first semester of college, I decided to pick up Project's then-recently released sophomore effort, Drawing Black Lines. That turned out to be a very eventful day, as the moment I put the CD into my car player, an 18-wheeler tire spat a rock into my passenger window, and shattered it. This event was even more shocking for my sister, who was sitting in the passenger seat. I ended up dropping my car off at shop in Baton Rouge for repairs, and staying at the nearby vacant home of a vacationing cousin--who thankfully had a boombox in his room. I'm sure he was surprised to return days later, to everything being smashed.
Drawing Black Lines waves to Project 86's debut, then drives a million miles further down the road. The basic bedrock of Andrew Schwab's poetic, meditative lyrics, Steven Dail's absolutely filthy  basslines, and Alex Albert's pounding, unique drums is still there. However, the songwriting has grown by leaps and bounds, the soundscape has grown far more diverse, and guitarist, Randy Torres, has vastly increased his palette, exploring dark atmospherics and more complex ways to rock. Torres also contributes sung vocals to the majority of Drawing Black Lines' songs (even taking lead on album breather, "*"), a vital counterpoint to Schwab's raging screams and menacing spoken word. Many bands in Project 86's wake would take the sing/scream dynamic to such a poppy place, you'd wonder what Justin Timberlake album they were cribbing their melodies from. This was not a part of Project 86's sound--the singing instead feels like a sort of cerebral expression smoking around the intense, concrete emotions of the harsh vocals. There's one trick Project 86 master on this album, though, that sets it far ahead of its peers.
Creating a dark album is tough to do without making it a drag, or depressing. Drawing Black Lines is pitch black at times, and yet, there is a white hot intensity lighting the way, as if this album is being carved out by sentient fire, and a fun, tireless energy few albums in whatever genre this is have accomplished (I'm comfortable calling it "art-metal"). Also, each song is so distinct from the next, with the tempos and emotions changing before they get old, but never before they've had time to resonate. You know you've done some good work when Deftones rips you off.
I knew before I wrote this Drawing Black Lines review that I would not focus on individual tracks as I likely will for the rest of this band's catalogue. An album this good, that works in concert so well, should not be treated so clinically. This is also an album that in its last track, completely deconstructs itself, anyway. If you enjoy heavy music in any capacity, you owe yourself a listen.

2000 BEC Recordings/Atlantic Records
1. Stein's Theme 3:55
2. One-Armed Man (Play On) 3:44
3. Me Against Me 3:38
4. P.S. 5:54
5. Set Me Up 3:07
6. Chimes 4:58
7. A Toast to My Former Self 3:23
8. Sad Machines 4:16
9. Star (*) 4:53
10. Chapter 2 3:16
11. Open Hand 2:39
12. Twenty-Three 12:57

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