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Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2017

Hey, it's my list! This year's list might seem conventional at first, but it gets weirder as it goes along. 2017 is definitely an emotion-based one, but I've found that those are generally the ones I've still agreed with later...I've done them that way for every year after 2010...after I realized I was trying to fit in with the rest of the critics. I don't listen to hardly anything from that list anymore, but everything 2011 on is still in my rotation. Better to just be honest with yourself and listen to what you like, then force yourself to like something somebody else says is good.
The usual caveat: 1.3 trillion albums were released this year. I and every other music critic (no matter how definitive and authoritive they attempt to sound) did not even hear a minuscule amount of those. These are my nine favorites from that less than minuscule amount.

9. Hammock -- Mysterium

I struggled with whether or not I'd add this album to the list for quite a while. I generally hate when bands I like go fully minimalist, particularly when getting quiet and boring has been such a huge trend this decade. However, the emotional weight of Mysterium, inspired by the death of one of the Hammock duo's nephews, is so much to bear, more instrumentation may have broken it. As it is, these melancholy, yet ethereal guitar textures, piano, strings, and choral layers are enough to not only convey Mysterium's crushing sadness, but also its hopeful expectation.

8. '68 -- Two Parts Viper

Josh Scogin has realized his dream of re-imagining late 80's Nirvana as a bar band who plays in the middle of the American desert in midday to one patron seemingly asleep at the counter, who raises his glass in the air in tribute after each song. It's like punk-leaning grunge met the blues in a back alley and decided to face off in a poetry slam. It's Josh Scogin on guitar and throat-scraping vocals and Michael McClellan on drums, and it is awesome.

7. Demon Hunter -- Outlive

Demon Hunter have finally, after ten years of indecisiveness, transformed from a nu-metal band to a tech-metal one. I love the first three Demon Hunter albums, which gladly exist in the Slipknot screamy, but hook-filled percussive radio rock realm, but since then, Demon Hunter have struggled to put together a cohesive album. In that interim, they've tried to put the sound they really seem passionate for, the aforementioned European tech-metal one, into a blender with their early nu-metal sound and a never-fully-realized Pantera influence, but this has led to top-heavy albums with second halves that are generally boring and inconsistent. Thankfully, Demon Hunter have finally said, "Screw It! The album is going to sound like this." The result is Outlive, whose tech-metal sound not only seems to suit each band member's musical skill-set, but allows vocalist, Ryan Clark, the opportunity to let his voice breathe. This means Clark sings far more than he screams, and in the past, I would have thought this a flaw--the band made their original hay mostly having Clark scream his head off. It's clear now, though, those early albums work because the band picked one sound and stuck with it. That intense focus pays off here with some of the best songwriting of Demon Hunter's career, and the first time in eight albums that they've made this list (though if I could redo that 2004 list, Summer of Darkness would have a spot!). What a ramble that was, though it mirrors me coming to terms with, and subsequently loving this album! I miss still listening to a Demon Hunter album a month after it's been released!

6. Bad Sign -- Live and Learn

Making an extreme statement just to provoke a reaction is lame. Because of that, I won't say that rock music is dead, but it isn't even gasping at relevancy in the world of 21st century music. Remember the last time a rock song topped the charts? It'll probably never happen again. Who cares. South London's Bad Sign are making great rock music, and their Basick Records debut, Live and Learn, is a driving, atmospheric blast, featuring incredible musicianship and soaring vocals, all created by a classic three-piece rock band configuration.

5. Paramore -- After Laughter

Throughout all of Paramore's career. I've only felt young enough to listen to the music on 2013's self-titled album. I particularly enjoyed that album's newly diverse musical palette, and its incredible rhythm section. Four years later, Hayley Williams and Zac Farro have returned with a totally new creative vision, sans that rhythm section, with Taylor York, who played with the band back when I felt to old to listen to their music, on drums. This would be a bummer had these three not just made the best album of Paramore's career. After Laughter is a musical ode to 80's pop-rock, with keyboard and guitar textures of that era mixing with some indie sounds of today, along with Williams most melancholy vocals and lyrics. This is an incredible change of pace, muted pastels after the glowing neon of Paramore, but After Laughter is somehow even more consistent and cohesive than its predecessor.

4. P.O.S. -- Chill, dummy

P.O.S. nearly died, but now that he's back from the brink, he sounds more pissed off at current events than thankful that he's still breathing. The Minneapolis rapper lasers in on racial inequality like he never has before, and Chill, dummy features more African American guests than any of P.O.S.' past albums. There's an immediacy here that also feels new, further sharpening the edge he's always had, yet his music is diverse in sound as ever, ranging from the laid-back desert apocalyptic landscape of "Pieces/Ruins," to the electric banging intensity of the eight-minute closer "Sleepdrone/Superposition."

3. Irrelevant -- Vague Memories

While electronic music is, by its very nature, experimental, its artists rarely seem to push the genre. Four-on-the-floor, throw on some keyboard, call it a day. Not Irrelevant. His Vague Memories, a 30-minute, two track odyssey, is a unique emotional juggernaut, conjuring imagery of someone's mental degeneration, as their mind searches for familiar thoughts, cogent memory. Irrelevant mixes sampling, found sounds, original beats, and ambient keyboard textures, as he searches through chaos, finds ghosts of an early 90's dance hall, then lets the whole thing fall away into disconcertingly unfamiliar territory once again.

2. Spaceslug -- Time Travel Dilemma

This is the sound I've been looking for. It's like Saturday Morning Sci-Fi Serial, The Metal Album. Featuring a huge, expansive sound, set by lumbering, laid-back rhythms, a fuzzy guitar tone that could could kick-start the sun, shamanistic vocals that seem older than time, and stretched out songs that fully explore some brilliant sonic ideas, Spaceslug's Time Travel Dilemma is my jam.

1. Julie Byrne -- Not Even Happiness

I generally can't abide folk music, or overly quiet music in general (yeah, I think I said that already). However, Julie Byrne's Not Even Happiness won me over in a matter of seconds. Byrne's soothing voice and unique picking style (Not Even Happiness is almost entirely vocals and acoustic guitar) sound so close to water gently rushing over stones, wind lightly brushing through tall grass, sun slowly melting snow, pine-needles softly crunching under foot, I can't resist this album. Not Even Happiness is miraculously calming, like the Earth calling me home. I've never been so moved by something so small.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Songs (From Albums Not On My Top Nine Albums List)

My new Jeep Renegade doesn't have a CD player. 2017 is the year I finally went fully digital. This is liberating in some ways. I've waffled between digital and physical media the last few years, and probably bought less music as a result. Now that I've decisively gone with one form of media...
Wait, I'm lying, I still bought a decent amount of vinyl...crud, let me look through that and make sure I'm not missing anything.
Okay, I'm back. Wow, now making these selections is going to be really difficult.
Here are my nine favorite 2017 songs not found on my nine favorite 2017 albums. I'll reveal the albums on 12/31.
The songs are listed in no particular order.
Holy cow, this was hard to narrow down.

Sleep Token -- "Calcutta"
Djent hasn't had many new ideas since Uneven Structure's Februus took it to unforeseen ethereal heights. Sleep Token seems intent on changing that, introducing acrobatic singing and more highly contrasting dynamics to the embattled genre.

Unwill -- "Drifting"
I was too old for this type of screamo when Underoath did it, but something about the contrast between ferocity and vulnerability makes this deep cut on newcomer Unwill's relatively unknown debut, Past Life, relevant.

Wall of Ears -- "Floating Off the Line"
Chris Lott brought some much needed space and a love of Neil Young's dirty solos to As Cities Burn, and now that he's venturing out on his own, he's bringing these same sensibilities to this brilliantly off-kilter psych-rock project.

iiah -- "Samsara"
The amount of instrumental "post rock" albums released in the last decade which sound exactly the same is reaching critical mass--the simple idea of adding vocals to the music feels like a revelation on iiah's wintry Distances, particularly singing that sounds this pure and boisterous. The soaring "Samsara" is the album's peak. Next time, maybe they'll include singing on ALL the tracks.

Pvris -- "Half"
Pvris is another band I would have said I was too old to listen to in the past, but they take that famous pop sheen of theirs and sully it up on this year's All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. The punk urgency and grit in Lynn Gunn's voice, along with a dark 80's musical bent, makes "Half" a particular standout.

Uneven Structure -- "Your Scent"
After fusing art-metal with djent perfectly on their debut, Uneven Structure's sophomore attempt, La Partition, brings the band back down to Earth a bit. Thankfully, the album's climax, the chaotic riff avalanche, "Your Scent," nearly elevates the whole LP back to classic album status.

John Reuben -- "Age of Our Fathers"
If you are on the opposite extremes of the "I hope John Reuben sounds like this for his first album in eight years" spectrum, you will either be disappointed that he hasn't abandoned his faith, or angry that he is no longer "dippity doin'" it. Reubonic is instead full of nuanced looks at both Reuben's faith and his quickly approaching middle-age, best explemplified by career standout, "Age of Our Fathers." I don't have a link to the song (and out of respect to the man, I won't post it to Youtube, myself), so instead, here's a link to the lyrics (you can buy or sample the album here).

Trevor Something -- "Isolated"
I think this song is supposed to bring up some 80's Robocop-score-as-a-pop-song vibes, but more than anything, it reminds me of that exact moment sophomore year of college when I sighed at the realization that I might be free to do whatever I wanted...but I was also distinctly alone (it was certainly not a complete view of life). Sweet. Sorry for the esoteric nature of this description.

Vacant -- "Escape"
This song combines my old 90's love, techno, with this new moody future garage genre I've been digging on the last couple of years. The result is an incredible emotional journey taken over the course of five minutes, the exact aural equivalent of its title, with a cathartic climax to boot.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The World Doesn't Need Another The Last Jedi Thinkpiece, but Please Read Mine

I spent last Friday, like most Americans, in a dark room watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I enjoyed the movie very much, and like most of my fellow theater-goers, clapped at the end. My son enjoyed it, though he thought it was a little too long, my wife actually stayed awake through all of it, but something unexpected happened outside of the theater. The guy I usually go on adventures with (if I am not solo in a travelogue, he is the person I'm with) said, "Just what I was worried about. Now I know why the Rotten Tomatoes user reviews were so low." He didn't like it.
When I got home, I immediately ended my "no spoilers" Internet avoidance routine, and was shocked to see that a movie I enjoyed unequivocally was, despite receiving some of the best critical reviews in Star Wars history, facing some vitriolic backlash.
Did I miss something? I wondered, as I read how certain contingents felt The Last Jedi had ruined Star Wars altogether. So, I did the only thing I could.
I went to see the movie again.
The second time through, I loved The Last Jedi even more. I've heard lots of valid and invalid arguments for why I shouldn't. The invalids are the "the whole thing is feminist garbage" alt-right psychos who hate that the movie has strong female protagonists, and are apparently spending vast amounts of time and energy trying to tank the movie through nefarious means because they also apparently don't have jobs. The other contingent is reasonable, and thus doesn't have a story that features their opinions for me to link to. From that side, I've generally heard, "The humor took me out of it," or "It just didn't feel like the Star Wars I grew up with." I think the humor is subjective. I could have done without that "I think he's tooling you, sir" line, but it didn't ruin the entire movie for me. However, "It just didn't feel like the Star Wars I grew up with" is quite a statement.
Why didn't it? The filmmaking techniques used by the director and crew were similar. There are similar beats as the other seven films. The pacing and editing are similar. The same guy composed the music in the same style. Is it the characters?
At the end of the original Star Wars trilogy, the main characters were victorious and presumably rode off into the sunset.
Rode off into the sunset. Just like real life.
At some point, you ride off into the sunset and you never face conflict again, never change, never fail, never have to endure any type of challenge or have ridden off into the sunset.
Late in college, the first of three senior "year" semesters, when I passed my last Spanish class, and my life didn't miraculously become free of trials and difficulty, I came to the harsh realization that my entire life would be that way (and Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me cope with it). You finish something, complete some task that you have dedicated a vast amount of time and energy to...and then life goes on and there are an infinite amount of more somethings. You don't ride off into the sunset and live in a place in life where everything is happy and nothing hurts. More stuff happens, and a lot of it hurts!
As a kid watching the original Star Wars trilogy on new-fangled VHS, I saw a perfect fantasy in which to insert myself. I grew up on a rural farm in the middle of nowhere just like Luke. I worked there, wishing I could get away. My dad was emotionally distant, seemingly unknowable, and in need of redemption. My family seemed like a big deal to me, like it was the center of the universe. People around me, and to a much higher degree, my own imagination, propped up this idea. Surely I would rise up, like Luke, and then ride off into the sunset, like Luke.
Things looked promising. I achieved the highest ACT score in my high school graduating class and received the class award for "most likely to succeed." Luke saved the galaxy, redeemed his father, and seemingly rode off into the sunset.
Almost 20 years later, I live in a trailer at Pointe Coupee Parish's lowest elevation. I have failed at so many things, I've lost count. Luke Skywalker, also a failure, lives in exile on the most remote planet in the galaxy.
This Thinkpiece is going to be biased.
And the SPOILERS will begin here.
Here is how every major character in The Last Jedi fails:

Rey: Fails to persuade Luke Skywalker to physically leave his exile to fight against the First Order.  Finds that her parents are not important or noteworthy, but simply poor junkers, buried in a pauper's grave. Fails to turn Kylo Ren from the dark side.
Kylo Ren: Fails to accept yet another opportunity for redemption, this one the least deserved of all.
Finn: Goes rogue to attempt to save Rey. The only result of his rogue mission is that he lets the Resistance's actual plan of escape, which would have succeeded had he just stayed put, fall into untrustworthy hands. His error leads to the deaths of the vast majority of the Resistance's members.
Rose: In joining Finn instead of arresting him for desertion, she helps bring about the aforementioned deaths of all but a handful of the Resistance fighters.
Poe: Ignores Princess Leia's orders to stand down, leading to the destruction of all of the Resistance's bombers, then supports and assists Finn in his own failed mission, then leads a failed coup against a comatose Leia's replacement.
Princess Leia: All of the above happens under her watch (outside of the time she's in a coma).
Luke Skywalker: Never is able to shake Yoda's original assessment of him (and is reminded of this by the spectre of Yoda, himself), looking to the future and hyper-focusing on the possibility of the evil Kylo Ren could become, instead of the present, inadvertently speeding Ren to the darkness as a result, and accepting exile because of it. Can't bring himself to leave exile with Rey, to fight The First Order.

It is Luke's portrayal that seems to be giving the unhappy fans and even Mark Hamill himself the most difficulty. Some say Luke would have never even thought of killing the young Kylo Ren to stop him from being evil in the future. Yoda's words and Luke's actions in The Empire Strikes Back say otherwise. Others say Luke would not have given up, including, in early interviews, Hamill himself, because Luke never gave up before.
Well, Luke also never nearly murdered his own nephew before. How was he supposed to not give up in that situation? He viewed himself as a failure, just as he viewed the original Jedi who came before him. The prequels, for whatever one's view of them, show that the Jedi not only failed to stop the Emperor and Darth Vader from rising to power, but inadvertently facilitated it by their own incompetence. What did the two surviving Jedi from that era do? Immediately fight to right their failures? No. They went into hiding.  At least they had the hope that one day Darth Vader's twin children might rise up to fight. Luke has nothing. He was the last Jedi, he failed his nephew, shamed his family, and failed the galaxy--he has nothing left to fight for. Given all of this, the events preceding The Last Jedi don't seem out of character.
Is this ideal? If you want your heroes to be preserved in shrink-wrap like action figures, then no. But if you want a real hero, that hero is eventually going to fail, and fail hard. The Last Jedi deals with this on even a small scale. Just look at Rose's introduction to Finn, who she has made a legend in her mind due to the reputations of his previous acts. As soon as she looks past what she thought of him, she sees a guy with his bags packed, heading for an escape pod.
How many times this year has some random Internet person been hailed as a hero, only for someone to dig into their past to find something disreputable? But the heroes in Star Wars have to be flawless?
No. The Last Jedi diverges quite far from The Empire Strikes Back in form, but Empire's characters experience just as many failures.

Han Solo: Captured and frozen in carbonite.
Princess Leia: Loses Han, fails in rescuing him before he is taken to Jabba the Hutt.
Yoda: Fails in keeping Luke from rushing off to fight Darth Vader before Luke's training is complete.
Darth Vader: Fails in his attempt to capture Luke and turn him to the dark side.
Luke: Loses his hand in a duel against Darth Vader, then learns that his own father was not a shrink-wrapped hero, but Darth Vader himself. Rushed off to fight Darth Vader without completing his training, favoring a vision of the future where his friends need his rescuing to the actual facts of the present, just like Yoda said he would. Also, like Finn, his actions have no bearing in rescuing the person he is trying to save (both Rey and Leia do just fine on their own), and actually causes further complications.

These character flaws and mistakes make these films far more interesting and relatable. A sealed in plastic Luke is boring, and a film featuring him as a flawless human being would be just as enjoyable as playing with that kid who never wants to take his toys out of the box.
To close, there are two other camps I'd like to address. The first is one I fall into.
"Why did they have to get rid of the Expanded Universe! That's the real Star Wars story!"
The expanded universe is composed of more than a hundred novels and supplemental materials that cover what happened after Return of the Jedi. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, and announced this new trilogy, they declared the Expanded Universe to be non-canon. I am a big fan of the Expanded Universe, particularly the Thrawn books, and the nineteen-book New Jedi Order series, the latter of which is closer to me than any long-form fiction series I've read. And who cares.
Those books posit that even 40-years after Return of the Jedi, the only three people who can save the galaxy's last names are Skywalker and Solo. The books actually had to go out of their way near the end to explain that though Luke, Han, and Leia are in their 70's, the 70's are really just like being in your 40's in Star Wars' galaxy. This is ridiculously silly. Some people might think this new film trilogy is a cash grab, but what is 100 books of your main characters never really changing, never dying, and always being the solution to every galactic problem? That's the epitome of "just crank out another one, and they'll pay to see/read it!" And anyway, do we really want all those stories rehashed? I'd much rather this far more believable take that pushes those old characters, forces them to change (just like life forces us real-life people to), and lets them take a bow when there time has come and newer heroes are more capable.
After all those dynastic Expanded Universe years, where only one family is important in the entire galaxy, the The Last Jedi's revelation that Rey has no familial connection to them altogether is a huge breath of fresh air...and thankfully, it's the same with Finn, Poe, and Rose. New heroes! Someone else finally gets a chance to make a difference! I love it!
And finally, I'd like to address all those guys who hated The Force Awakens (spoiler alert, I also vastly enjoyed The Force Awakens) because it was "Nothing but a ripoff of A New Hope!" These folks said "Why can't they do something different?" but are now saying of The Last Jedi, "I hate it! It is nothing like the other movies!" I hope one day y'all can learn to like things. It's way more fun than hating everything.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Nihilistic Nu-Metal Jaunt to Poverty Point

Life is completely meaningless, and with that thought in mind, I loaded my car up with tons of Sevendust, Slipknot, and Ill Niño, then drove 200 miles to a remote corner of the state to see the remains of the greatest North American civilization created before the arrival of Europeans, now named after a no longer-existent plantation built by European-descended slave-owners on top of those very remains. Yes, life means nothing, and thousands of Native Americans could work together 3500 years ago to build the greatest structure The Americas, let alone Louisiana, had ever seen, only to disappear into obscurity, just like you will after you and your children die, as if you had never even lived in the first place, or been a point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Poverty Point is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a designation you can't just get by mailing in 500 Kellogg's Fruit Loops proof of purchases, though you can get heart disease from all that sugar, which will more blessedly accelerate the coming of your inevitable death. Around 1500 BC, Native American hunter-gatherers built a huge settlement on top of a concentric semi-circle of raised earth...also, they raised the earth themselves...also, they built several ceremonial mounds around the site, one of which is so large it required 238,000 cubits of fill in its construction...also, it is so far from modern civilization, its ruins still exist, as modern civilization is an unceasing monster that devours everything in its path without feeling, much like time will do to your soul, which is just as non-existent as an NBA Championship-winning Milwaukee Bucks team since Jimmy Carter took office.
The night before this trek, I could not sleep, but it's not like that matters, as sleep cannot save me from the cold and unending void. In the morning, I dropped my son off from school, neglecting to tell him that going to school doesn't even matter, as reality is only a construct of human ignorance, though neglecting to tell him also doesn't matter, as reality is only a construct of human ignorance.
I then took HWY 61 up past the state line, encountering a sign no rational person wants to come across, even worse than hearing the phrase, "Congratulations, you have just been drafted to The Milwaukee Bucks."

My meaningless and arguably non-existent existence soon found itself existing in Natchez, and I decided to take in that city's river-walk, before crossing its bridge back to Louisiana. I was at first inspired by the contrast of my new Jeep Renegade's form against the Greek-inspired architecture of Natchez's riverview park, then noticed that the sidewalk was littered with a dead bird who had met his end flying into that same architecture, because life is a cruel cosmic joke, if only the universe was sentient and cared enough to play jokes--SPOILER ALERT, it isn't, so it doesn't.

As the cold shiver of existence passed over me, I suddenly realized that it wasn't existence, but a need to urinate, and somehow I found myself in some museum containing this sculpture commemorating the time a man acted violently against another man, which might as well simply be titled "The Sum of Average Human Interaction Over the Course of Human History," though why even waste the effort on sculpting it, let alone titling it, when we are all going to die.

At some point in the process, I decided that my own welcome death could come even faster if I consumed several chocolate-glazed Krispy Kreme donuts and a pint of whole milk, so I stopped at a gas station that could facilitate such a transaction. While passing a group of elderly men, deep in conversation over their morning coffee, I heard the phrase, "You wait to get old, dawg, you gone die." Indeed, though you'll die regardless.
The donuts were old and did not satisfy my craving, even though any satisfaction is only temporary and will swiftly be countered by the dire farce of life.

After driving through remote and empty land, I reached a place even more desolate, known as Tallulah, Louisiana. Tallulah is known for its boarded up businesses and school, citizens who roam aimlessly through its ruins like zombies, and for some reason, the most well-managed Popeyes in the United States, featuring a manager who literally wears a stopwatch around her neck to make sure customers' orders are prepared on time.
It also features one of the most delightfully fallacious water tower slogans I have ever seen.

Instead of Popeyes, I decided to stop at a new restaurant called "Knock-Out, because its cuisine is barbecue, the only genre of food specifically designed to hasten the coming of death's sweet kiss. I found Knock-Out BBQ to serve surprisingly delicious ribs and brisket at a fair price, though it would be nice if they offered refillable water instead of only purchasable bottles. I bought one bottle, drank it, then got my waitress to refill it in the sink, hoping that Tallulah's tap water was full of death-quickening impurities. Unfortunately, it tasted clean and well-filtered.

With a stomach full of fat and smoked-meat-based carcinogens, I drove through some of the most sparse and alienating landscapes upon which I have ever set my eyes, miles and miles of grey-tan empty and untended fields and skeletal forests felled by a murderous autumn, as a thick fog of existential dread draped itself about me to the sound of Slipknot's percussionist banging on an oil drum with an oversized salad tong.
If you ever see the above sentence anywhere but here, you better cry out "plagiarism!"

Finally, aching for any relief from the monotony, I reached Poverty Point, greeted by a twisting complex of buildings and pavilions, though everything was still cast under the rich death shroud of nature's final, pre-winter gasp. I went to the visitor center, only to find it empty, just like existence, and walked over to the archaeological center, only to come upon some group of museum-employee-esque people doing arts and crafts together. They were celebrating Christmas, which is amusing, as the Earth is hurtling through the depths of space at 1000 miles per hour, and will one day be burned up by its own dying sun, though there is a 100% chance that by then all human life will have been extinguished for billions of years, likely due to negative human activities which will hardly be abated by a bunch of archaeologist and museum workers' arts-and-crafts-focused Christmas party. The on-duty employee walked with me to the visitor center, and I paid my $5 entry-fee, then gazed upon a vast-collection of spearheads and artifacts created by a group of people who, while prolific Mississippi valley traders, left no written record, and were therefore forgotten even sooner than every other ephemeral and soon to be unremembered collection of humans.

I then began Poverty Point's 2.6 mile hiking trail, following a very well thought-out and descriptive tour map, which includes facts for each of 20 trail markers, though no amount of thought will change the fact that no one alive 100 years from now will know or care about you, as if anyone alive right now even does. As if to highlight this point, I came upon the second trail-marker, two unmarked graves on a hill the brochure says belong to the husband and wife duo who created and ran Poverty Point Plantation. This couple probably thought they were doing something great for their family and generations of their family line to come, but now they are only known as the slaveholding white people who built a plantation on top of ancient, far more noteworthy Native American ruins. Hey, I guess they are remembered!

The next marker highlights not only the universe's vast indifference, but also just how lousy human beings can be to each other, as PVC pipes mark a circle around a recently discovered, but completely unmarked slave cemetery. Unlike the stone markers given to the departed humans who deemed themselves worthy of keeping this deceased group as personal property, the slaves were given not stone tombstones, but wooden ones, which have all since rotted away.

I then traversed the rest of the first leg of the trail, marveling almost more at the endless surrounding agricultural land than the site itself. The thought that people work these godforsaken fields in the middle of nowhere all day, then have to go to bed at night convincing themselves it is worth it to wake up the next morning, froze my heart in an even heavier ice of disconsolate dread.
And then I saw the mound.

Looming above all else, Mound A is an anonymously-named asymmetrical mound of earth, composed of 15.5 million 50-pound baskets of hauled and dumped dirt. Its construction involved a staggering act of cooperation from the thousands of hunter-gatherers who lived at the site, whom no one remembers, or "who" no one remembers, I don't know, and I don't care.
I approached cautiously under the weak, early December sunlight, gazing up an Escher-esque staircase to the mound's mighty apex. According to the brochure, the mound's shape may have been inspired by that of a bird, though this is up for debate, rabble, rabble, rabble.

As I began the climb, my feet felt strangely heavier with each succeeding step. I am reasonably fit at this point in life, for whatever good that will do me, so I thought this was strange, but I also felt a certain resolve to reach the top of the mound, that strange "just keep going" stimulant that all humans seem to possess, except for the ones who kill themselves.

The moment I reached the wooden platform at its apex, the still air erupted into a breeze, and a shadow passed over the sun. I looked up to see a large bird passing over, assuming it was a vulture. The bird circled back and cawed at me, and suddenly I realized that I was gazing upon an enormous specimen of my favorite animal, the crow, calling to me as I stood on an enormous structure shaped like a crow. Strangely, the crow circled again, cawing loudly, yet not menacingly, then circled again, lower and lower, until it was nearly grazing my head.

I suddenly found myself lying on the platform, rushing air cool against my cheeks, shut my eyes, exhaled, God whispering in my ear. I felt the listless dread flow out of me with the passing wind, filtered through the sound of rustled grass. Minutes, maybe hours passed, then I stood, no longer a nihilist, but an optimist, moving from a negative philosophy, to a positive mental outlook.
I hate nihilism. Nietzsche can keep his dancing.
I hope you won't think less of me either way.
I climbed down the steps invigorated, and looking forward to the fact that the next portion of the trail led through a forest. This is when I discovered that one of the grounds crew had been having a little fun with a chainsaw.

I then enjoyed the hallowed halls of resting wood and fallen leaves, taking my time, and contemplating the fact that, due to a lack of Native American written records, we will never know who exactly the people who built these mounds were, or why they even built them. However, they built them, and they're still here 3500 years later. Not to go all nihilistic again, but we'll see what's left of our modern civilization in 3500 years.

After these deep thoughts about the ephemerality of modern society, I made it back to my car, where I sat and watched a DVD on my laptop for an hour, then drove to a gas station in Delhi to get pizza and an energy drink. The first sip was good, but once I started chasing the pizza with it, it tasted exactly like my sweat. This is quite strange, as everyone's sweat smells quite specific, but this tasted exactly like mine, and I am now quite sure Monster has farmed my DNA to create their Pipeline Punch, which makes for poor taste, but long endurance. Giggity.
Considering my refreshed mental outlook, I went home on different highways, staying strictly in Louisiana this time, hoping to be in Sicily Island after nightfall so that I could
see a real werewolf see if the stars were more visible in the night sky.

According to this night sky map, in rural, industry-free Sicily Island, the Milky Way should be visible, but as a reward to me for making you read all of the soul-crushing nihilistic garbage above, someone in the area had recently clear-cut a large swath of Sicily Island forest, and was burning it in massive, ghastly piles, casting such a bright orange light into the heavens, the stars were visually mute. I was okay with this, though, because by that point I just wanted to see my family again, feeling like the endless monotony of North Louisiana's rural highways was holding my now optimistic and certain existence hostage.
This was the moment the ghost of Friedrich Nietzsche rose from the asphalt.
"Instead of seeing your family again," he said, ghostly mustache bristling in the firewinds, "you must dance. We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh."
I slammed my brakes, smoke and haunting embers wafting through Neitzsche's spectral form.
I began to think of a philosophical comeback, something to shut him up and get him out of my way, but under his fierce and ancient German gaze, I could only hang my head.
"What's the matter, The Nicsperiment? You love to make fun of my philosophy, but when faced with my apparition, you can offer only silence?" A green-wooded tree popped in the flame, startling me out of my reverie, and still, I could think of nothing.
"'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' I came up with that. People will be saying that forever! You think my philosophy is ephemeral? What have you done, paean?"
I coughed, glanced at his fierce, blazing stare, looked back at my steering wheel.
"You have nothing to live for. The best you can do now is die. Throw yourself into the fire."
Suddenly, his feet started to tap the glowing pavement, then bounce, then jig. "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn’t hear the music." He raised his face to the sky. "Dance! Dance right into it! You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame! How could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?"
I tried to press the accelerator, but my feet seemed immobile, just as his danced wildly. With his index finger he wildly twirled his mustache, bent his head forward, and looked over his spectacles into my very soul with a piercing, patronizing glare.
"To dance and to die. To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death freely chosen, death at the right time, brightly and cheerfully accomplished amid children and witnesses!" He smiled as spectral children appeared dancing amidst the flames, hand in hand, spinning, twirling, sparks swirling around them, and then the owners of Poverty Point Plantation, and their slaves, dancing, dancing in the mad fires of the night. Joining them in the dance, a spectre of myself, arms raised, dancing, burning in the eternal heedless fires of time. Neitzche cackled over the roaring endless winds of the void. "Then a real farewell is still possible, as the one who is taking leave is still there; also a real estimate of what one has achieved and what one has wished, drawing the sum of one’s life—all in opposition to the wretched and revolting comedy that Christianity has made of the hour of death. One should never forget that Christianity has exploited the weakness of the dying for a rape of the conscience; and the manner of death itself, for value judgments about man and the past."
He flared his hands into the air, but a smile spread across my lips. Neitzche cocked his head to the side. Laughter exploded from my lungs.
"What is it?" he asked. "Is it the truth? Have you seen it?"
I banged my fist on the dashboard as tears streamed down my face, laughter pouring from me as from a gorged spring after a long winter.
"Well, what is it, The Nicsperiment? Spit it out! Have you seen a truth? Ja oder nein!"
I finally corralled my guffaws to a point where I could speak, eyes alight in newfound life.
"Yes, Friedrich. I've seen a truth. A truth that makes me laugh."
His raging feet had slowed to a trickle, and now they dried to an impatient tapping. "Well, The Nicsperiment, what is it?"
"I might be wrong," I said. "I only know this from Wikipedia. I guess you have Wikipedia in hell? Anyway, you asked Lou Salomé to marry you three times, right?" I sniggered, about to burst back into laughter. "And she said 'no' to you three times. Three times! Didn't you get the hint after the second time? That must have sucked!"
He lowered his head. "Well, it wasn't pleasant. I...I...
"So what children and witnesses watched you cheerfully accomplish your death by syphilis? Was that how you freely chose to go? Syphilis? And mercury poison? And strokes? And pneumonia? You couldn't even decisively settle on one way to die!"
Neitzche grunted impatiently.
"But it's true. You really chose that death freely. You chose it hard."
Neitzche straightened his spectacles and snorted. "The Nicsperiment, I have presented you philosophical arguments, and you have not refuted them, but instead bullied me by presenting embarrassing facts about my personal life."
"Yes, I guess you're right, Neitzche." The wind danced a burning leaf through his jaw, and it crackled into the pavement. "That was a low blow. And for all I know, my wife could leave me, my son could disown me, and I could reach a low moment and visit a brothel, and come down with syphilis myself, or worse. I could die ignominiously, just like you, but ironically, in regard to your philosophy, this very conversation and day has given me purpose--to not die ignominiously."
"That's it? It almost sounds like you are agreeing with me! But what about the last thing I said to you? I've tarnished your religion..."
"You can no more tarnish my religion than you can make a man a dog by simply saying that he is. I'm not going to argue subjectives with you, as I am sure you realize that philosophy itself is just as subjective as religion. If I say God whispered in my ear on the top of a Native American Mound, who are you to say he didn't? If I say that I feel unconditional love for mankind because I feel unconditional love from the creator of the universe, who are you to say that I don't? My actions show my true beliefs, just as yours show yours, even though they neither prove nor disprove them. Now get out of my way. I've got a sleepy wife who surely wants help putting our son to bed, a son who surely has a ton of today's college football news to tell me, two fighting cats I need to break up, and a dog to kennel for the night. And even if I didn't, I'm ready to go home. Now get out of my way."
"I'm a ghost," he said with disappointment. "You can just drive right through me."

Friday, December 15, 2017

Travelogue Coming on Monday

I know posting has been scarce, as time to post has been scarce, but I've almost completed a new travelogue that will hopefully be up Monday. It is one of my more ambitious, and I hope reading it won't make you want to gouge your eyes out.
Have a great weekend!
-The Nicsperiment

Monday, December 11, 2017

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter Review Posted to a Couple of My Five Billion Blogs

You can check it out at its rehabilitated home.

Or you can check it out here.

Or you can not check it out at all, and go to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen instead. If you do all three (which would prove impossible, given my wording), do that third one last. Otherwise, your keyboard is going to get greasy, and your cats won't stop licking it. Your cats are saucy.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Roadside Monument -- I Am the Day of Current Taste


Whatever experience and skill Roadside Monument needed to pull off their musical vision, by their final album, I Am the Day of Current Taste, they have both earned it and learned it. The band's debut album, Beside This Brief Hexagonal, showed a band reaching for something beyond their grasp. They played a very simplistic emo-rock style, and yet tried to shy away from basic song structures, stretching their abilities well past their limits. On 1998's I Am the Day of Current Taste, the band stretch out the song lengths, but their playing and writing now fill the songs with good musicianship and interesting parts and shifts (hey, 1/4 of the song titles feature automobiles!).
Admittedly I picked up the bands's debut and final albums at a thrift sale after remembering that when I was a teenager, a lot of people in my circle were fond of them. I don't know about the album and EP's the band put out in between the two full lengths I have, and what kind of musical growth those showed. I do know that I Am the Day of Current Taste nearly sounds like it is performed by a different band than the one who performed on the band's debut. Perhaps the improved song-structuring and musicianship are also due to contributions from members of the band Ninety Pound Wuss, who helped out in the studio. Maybe they are due to the influence of Frodus, with whom the band previously recorded a split-EP (moments of this album certainly sound like Frodus). It's also obvious that Roadside Monument have realized that vocals are not their strong-suit, as they have mitigated their effect here, more often than not letting the music do the talking. With that said, the vocals do show improvement from the debut.
I don't know, I almost feel like it is not my place to talk about this band, like they were a part of some thing that I ignored, and now am sort of lukewarmly acknowledging. All that aside, I Am the Day of Current Taste is a solid progressive rock album with a more punk/indie feel than the heavier genres now more associated with that descriptor, and I like listening to it (not sure if emo applies here, as the hallmarks of that genre are largely abest). On to the next review...I think it's of a Roots of Orchis album...wait,'s a soundtrack?

1998 Tooth & Nail Records
1. I Am The Day Of Current Taste 7:01
2. OJ Simpson House Auction 6:29
3. Taxiriding As An Artform 3:50
4. Cops Are My Best Customers 6:25
5. The Lifevest 6:43
6. Egos The Size Of Cathedrals 4:11
7. This City Is Ruthless And So Are You 5:41
8. Car Vs Semi, Semi Wins Every Time 8:17

Monday, December 04, 2017

Roadside Monument -- Beside This Brief Hexagonal


"Emo is just rock music with bad singing." -- Jesse Smith, drummer for Zao (1994-2004)

That quote might not be entirely fair, but in many (certainly not all!) cases, I have found it to be true.  Roadside's Monument's debut, Beside This Brief Hexagonal, certainly does not break this stereotype. The vocals are harsh, nasally, and desperately off-pitch. The music is daring to be unstructured and different, and yet the kids playing it don't yet have the ability and versatility to play diversely enough to make much of it stand out (much like I don't have the ability and versatility not to end a sentence with seventeen prepositions). Much of this music is aimless, simplistic, watery noodling. Still, there are moments, like the crunchy, impromptu jam at the end of "Prozac Princess," which promise that once this band gets a little experience behind their belts, they might just takeoff like a rocket. Eh, that sounded dirty.

1996 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Oh So Fabled 3:45
2. Seed 2:48
3. A Girl Named Actually 3:17
4. Still 3:25
5. Prozac Princess 5:45
6. Lobbyest 4:56
7. Immersion 3:02
8. Greek Tragedy 3:56
9. Boasting In Weakness 2:38
10. Mothered Others 6:23

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Just Reviewed Another Star Fox Game

I figured, why not keep the Star Fox train a chugging? So I played and reviewed Star Fox: three months ago. Here it is, finally, for the viewing public.

Read it here

Or here

Monday, November 27, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

It's a Banjo Tooie Review Relaunch

Remember how I secretly reviewed an obscure video game title four years ago, then witnessed the photo-hosting site for the review go bust and take all of its pictures away? No! Well, that is a thing that happened, and I've restructured that review to mirror the format of reviews I've written after it, i.e., it has jokes now, and new pictures.
Head on over to Classic Video Game Reviews to check it out,
or experience it in its now-being refurnished old home, The Nintendo 64 Museum.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rhubarb -- Kamikaze


My favorite long lost radio tradition is the "caller number nine gets a free CD" one. CD's were once a hot commodity, $18.99 at Blockbuster music, and a free one of any quality was a fairly big deal. Anytime KLSU gave one away, I dialed them up. That's how I ended up with one of the more obscure releases in my collection, Australian alternative rock band Rhubarb's debut, Kamikaze.
Kamikaze, which was a moderate hit in Australia, features a very turn-of-the-century, few-frills alternative rock sound, mostly a couple of guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The pace is mostly chill, except for a couple of random punk songs. The relaxed feel is at first quite comforting, as is the singer's subtle Australian lilt. However, that same unrushed pace also makes the album a bit of a bore. Things pick up at times, such fourth track, "Holiday"'s fun, song-ending horns. This leads into an interesting mid-section, with vibe-changing string-ballad, "Do Do Do," and the very unexpected punk rock stylings of "Excerciser." "Excerciser," essentially a statement of faith by dissension against the secular world is fun until Rhubarb get to the unfortunate line, "Got a mom and a dad/only ones I've ever had." That's not exactly something under any child's control.
The album bogs down again on track seven, "Want Me Back," a mid-tempo drag, and track eight "Lead Me" doesn't exactly pull it out, even with its somber horns--really the two songs are interchangeable. "Waiting for Me," doesn't do anything new, either. It is at this point in the review that I adjust the 7/10 that was on top of this review to a 6/10. I can't be too forgiving to something that gets this boring. At least the last song, "Nice Girls," picks up the pace, however silly.
I won a decent amount of albums by calling in to KLSU. None of them sucked. One of them was kind of bland, though.

1999 Inpop Records
1. Zero 3:33
2. Kamikaze 5:09
3. Pennywise 3:47
4. Holiday 3:31
5. Do Do Do 2:56
6. Exerciser 1:41
7. Want Me Back 3:09
8. Lead Me 3:17
9. Waiting for Me 3:36
10. Nice Girls 2:01

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

For the first time in quite a while, I have had a perfect video game experience, and so for the first time in not quite a while, I have created a new blog to review it. Yes, in order to review The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I have created a new blog for Switch Reviews.  I think this blog will see a decent amount of action, as the built-in camera button on the Switch makes grabbing screenshots a breeze. I can't count the amount of Wii U games I have played and then not reviewed on my Wii U review blog because grabbing screenshots for that system has been such a pain. Anyway, here is my rather cheerful, yet concise review for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch. Hope it either inspires you to pick it up, or reminisce on the great time you also had playing through it...unless you played through it and somehow didn't have a great time, in which case, video games are apparently not for you.
Here's the new blog:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Coming Soon to the Nicsperiment: Gamereviewapalooza! Also, What Is the Nicsperiment?

Earlier this year, I had numerous discussions with friends about how printed media is dead.
Sample comment: "A blog is pointless because kids today don't read. They just want to watch videos."
I also had several thoughts about social media.
Sample thought: "You should re-join Facebook (after your seven year absence) so that you can promote your blogs."
Interesting points, me and friends.
On top of that, Photobucket, where I hosted every blog picture from 2004 to the summer of 2016 (well over 1,000 photos over 12 years) imploded, rendering countless reviews and travelogues I have published picture-less.
All of this got me thinking:
Should the Nicsperiment continue?
Afterall, the blog zeitgiest faded long ago. Indeed, kids today would rather watch inane Youtube banter over reading a thought-out and meticulously written piece.
Also, the years I was on social media ('04-'10) certainly saw the most blog activity, as many people encountered The Nicsperiment through links on my Facebook account, and many others blogged (where they went is up for another discussion). But do I want my older relatives, distant schoolmates, and any random acquaintance who thinks I owe them the inside dirt on my personal life just that, as seen through the lens of a mid-90's punk album review?
I don't care that kids today don't read. I like to write, and I have always written The Nicsperiment for my own enjoyment. I don't care that I am missing out on a few thousand pageviews when those pageviews would come from people I'd rather not have in my personal business.
Then there's the photobucket thing. What a great example of the ephemerality of Internet-based media. All of those pictures gone. The answer to this is more difficult. I'll take the view hits to protect the integrity of The Nicsperiment, but will I revise all of that old content to again include the visual media it was meant to be augmented by?
Yes...over time.
I have already re-pictured all of the less visually-endowed 2004 and 2005, and I (thankfully!) started Google-hosting the pics on my new posts from June 2016 forward. Thus, the bookends of The Nicsperiment appear as they were always intended. The ten years in the middle will take time, especially the insanely prolific 2012 (270 legit posts!), and that includes all of the video game reviews I have posted on my other blogs.
With that said, I started a Nintendo 64 review site in 2013. I kept that blog extra secret for a while, wanting it to stay mysterious. I have decided that, as new pictures are now needed for the first two years of reviews, and as I re-launched that blog last year with a new review format, I will just re-launch again from the beginning, posting new pics and enhanced reviews in the place of the old ones (that all have dry writing, and ugly photobucket logos in the place of where the pictures used to be).
So, coming up next in my blogging world, a review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, multiple new reviews of games on various consoles, and a hopefully consistent stream of revitalized Nintendo 64 Museum reviews (the originals of which were never announced or linked to from here!). I might also sprinkle in some music reviews to finish off the leter "R," as the last ones are sort of stragglers. Plus, I'll slowly re-visualize the rest of the blog.
I'm excited! Inane Youtube video viewers and Facebook stalkers can stick it! I don't know what they can stick or where, but whatever.
The Nicsperiment forever!...or until Google decides it doesn't want to host it anymore.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Relient K -- Forget and Not Slow Down


Forget and Not Slow Down is the best album Relient K have ever released.
At some point in 2008, Matt Theissen allegedly cheated on his fiancée, and she left him. Theissen decided to go out in the middle of the woods and write an album about the experience. The band would then record it by natural methods, forgoing a lot of the computerized tracking they had done in the past. The listener is rewarded with great, focused songwriting by Theissen, and electric performances by the band. New drummer, Ethan Luck, and his spring-loaded drumming style brings a new energy to the other band members' playing. The result is Forget and Not Slow Down, a great rock record, with shades of punk (mostly found in Luck's gutsy drumming), a little piano, and a ton of emotion. With that said, I've written in the past that Theissen's songs about the opposite sex creep me out a little bit. Not here. Theissen is completely honest about his own feelings and failings, but also open about his darker emotions, of his disappointment at not getting another chance. He also plays to his all-time greatest lyrical and emotional strength, conveying the idea and feeling of getting knocked down...or tripping, and getting up again, and that everything can and will be okay. When he does get romantic, the songs are bittersweet, conveying wishes he knows won't come true. Still, the final feeling of the album is one of catharsis.
Overall, Forget and Not Slow Down is a remarkable album, one with perhaps an unfortunate catalyst, but a therapeutic experience nonetheless.

2009 Mono Vs Stereo/Jive
1. Forget and Not Slow Down (featuring Tim Skipper of House of Heroes) 3:22
2. I Don't Need a Soul 3:51
3. Candlelight 3:21
4. Flare (Outro) 1:00
5. Part of It 3:20
6. (Outro) 1:35
7. Therapy (featuring Brian McSweeney of Seven Day Jesus) 3:43
8. Over It" 3:54
9. Sahara (featuring Tim Skipper of House of Heroes, Aaron Gillespie of The Almost and Matt MacDonald of The Classic Crime) 3:49
10. Oasis (Intro) 0:41
11. Savannah 4:17
12. Baby (Outro) 0:46
13. If You Believe Me (featuring Matt MacDonald of The Classic Crime) 3:20
14. This Is the End 2:17
15. (If You Want It) 3:18

Monday, November 06, 2017

Relient K -- Five Score and Seven Years Ago


This is a tough one for me. I really enjoyed how Relient K's Mmhmm featured some actual punk tempos, but also showed some progressive song-structuring. The album had an edge at moments, and was unpredictable at others. I didn't feel like a youth group pastor just putting on what the kids liked to hear when I listened to it--I legitimately enjoyed it. Five Score and Seven Years Ago is a definite step back from Mmhmm. It begins with a sort of fakeout--"Come Right Out and Say It" and "I Need You" almost sound like direct advancements of the work on Mmhmm, even if they are far more rock than punk. Then, "The Best Thing"'s polished pop-rock rears its head. I won't pretend like "The Best Thing" is a bad song, just a departure into a direction that I'm not overly fond of. I can easily be objective when reviewing genres I don't favor (take my word for it...hahahahahah! You have no choice!), but from there the album becomes a little bit of a drag. "Forgiven" is a downer, especially considering that forgiveness as a concept is quite joyful. "Must Have Done Something Right" is cloying, sticky sweet pop rock with a heavy Beach Boys influence.

"Give Until There's Nothing Left" picks back up on the "this is a huge drag" vibe of "Forgiven," and "Devastation and Reform" grabs that baton and keeps on running. "I'm Taking You with Me" brightens things up, but also makes clear that almost ten tracks in, Relient K have dropped any pretense of being a punk rock band. This is a piano-heavy pop-rock album. Let's start another paragraph.
"Faking My Own Suicide" is the logical conclusion to every creepy, strangely controlling romantic song Matt Theissen ever wrote. I've generally felt a weird vibe from any song he'd penned about relationships with females up to this point, but "Faking My Own Suicide" is out in the open manipulative garbage. It might be appropriating a chapter from Tom Sawyer, but the truth is, this is the kind of stuff my divorced female friends and family who were in abusive marriages have told me their ex's would say to them.

So I’ve made up my mind
I will pretend to leave this world behind
And in the end you'll know I've lied
To get your attention, I'm faking my own suicide

I'm faking my own suicide
Because I know you love me, you just haven't realized
I'm faking my own suicide
They'll hold a double funeral because a part of you will die along with me

I wish you thought that I was dead
So rather than me, you'd be depressed instead
And before arriving at my grave
You'd come to the conclusion you'd loved me all your days
But its too late, too late for you to say

I'll write you a letter that you'll keep
Reminding you your love for me was more than six feet deep
You'll say aloud you would've been my wife
And right about that time, is when I'd come back to life
And let you know

That all along I was faking my own suicide
Because I know you loved me, you just never realized
I was faking my own suicide
I'll walk in the room and see your eyes open so wide

Because you know
You will never leave my side
Until I the day that I die for the first time
And we'll laugh, yeah, we'll laugh and we will cry
So overjoyed with our love thats so alive
Our love is so alive

I can't really point the finger--as a spouse more than a decade in, I've got a hell of a lot of room for improvement--but "Faking My Own Suicide" is the worst "I'm a nice guy, you'll see, I'll MAKE you see" crap I've ever heard. I hope an older, wiser Theissen, ten-years post-writing this, has grown past "Faking My Own Suicide"'s sentiments. Also, it's a damn twee-country song, and I only got three hours of sleep last night.
Thankfully, Five Score and Seven Years Ago ends with its three strongest songs, the rocking headrush of "Bite My Tongue," the fiery, infectious enthusiasm of "Up and Up," and the staggering, eleven minute "Deathbed."
"Deathbed" is a career highlight, Theissen's best storytelling on full display. He does great character work here in service of the tale of a grizzled old man reflecting on his life at its end, and the band do a great job of keeping the music interesting for the duration. As much as I slagged Theissen above, he deserves credit for crafting a great, extremely memorable song here. The surprise appearance by Switchfoot's Jon Foreman at the end only sweetens deal.
Thus ends a record I'm not very fond of, but can't call terrible. It is merely okay, a mix of some truly lousy, unenjoyable songs, and some really good ones. Now that I've reviewed it, outside of "Up and Up" and "Deathbed," I'll probably never listen to it again.
The end.

2007 Gotee/Capitol
1. Pleading the Fifth (a cappella) 1:13
2. Come Right Out and Say It 3:00
3. I Need You 3:18
4. The Best Thing 3:28
5. Forgiven 4:05
6. Must Have Done Something Right 3:19
7. Give Until There's Nothing Left 3:27
8. Devastation and Reform 3:41
9. I'm Taking You with Me 3:28
10. Faking My Own Suicide 3:23
11. Crayons Can Melt on Us for All I Care 0:12
12. Bite My Tongue 3:30
13. Up and Up 4:03
14. Deathbed 11:05

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Relient K -- Mmhmm


I purchased Relient K's Mmhmm from a brand new Wal Mart on the way to vote for a man who didn't win. Afterward, while snacking on Wal Mart-purchased Apples, I drove through a downpour, waving to sign-holding supporters of the man who didn't win while I sat in my warm car, listening to Relient K's Mmhmm.
The fall of 2004 holds a special place in my heart. For one thing, it was (FINALLY) my last semester of college, and for another, I had recently kicked that 9-month migraine thing, and in the process, was feeling free from a lot of the chains that had been holding me down. Wow, now that I type that, I realize that migraine was sort of like a pregnancy for my own sanity and freedom.
Enough of all that personal history, though. I just wanted to get it out of the way to show I may be a bit biased in this review. However, objective is my middle name. Or maybe it's objectionable?
Regardless, Mmhmm shows vast growth for pop-punk brigands, Relient K. From the start, the guitars have more punch, the band, drummer included, actually plays a fast, aggressive punk beat, there's a punchy, tempo-changing pre-chorus, an everything but the guitars fall-out blink-182 2nd pre-chorus, and then finally, a real chorus. It's a rush, full of energy, and unpredictable. Second track, "Be My Escape" keeps the unpredictability going, injecting a healthy share of piano, as well. Even the bass player sounds like he wants to prove something. "High of 75" continues the energy blast, with a rapidly-strummed acoustic guitar, an unexpected drum-machine appearance, and a carefree attitude.
"I So Hate Consequences," a career highlight, follows. This song continues the high energy, high unpredictability streak, but takes it to a higher emotional place than the band often reach, with a particularly powerful piano bridge about religious forgiveness.

Relient K are one of the worst offenders in the "is this song about God or girl" songwriters coalition (membership requirement: "USE PRONOUNS!"), so it is always nice when they differentiate. As someone who is religious and also loves a female, I get pretty bored with that kind of vagueness. The subject of "I Hate So Hate Consequences" is transparent.
Track five, "The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on One", is a short (except in title), but sweet political ditty, and then the energy flags just a bit. "My Girl's Ex-Boyfriend" keeps up the trend of vocalist, Matt Theissen's romantic songs creeping me out a bit, as I find them possessive and strangely controlling. "More Than Useless" is synth-heavy and disposable, leaning on the "I'm a screw-up, but it's okay" trope a little too heavily. The album gets back on track with the two parter "Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet?/Let It All Out" a break-up mini-rock opera, which changes gears about a million times, features a banjo, and ends in a strange, peaceful, ethereal piano cloud that Coldplay used to live on before they got obsessed with proving that they are not old. This is wisely followed by the high-energy "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been," reminiscent of the album's opening tracks, but without as many twists and turns.
"Maintain Consciousness" is as disposable as "More Than Useless," as Theissen rails against prescription drugs or something. It always bothers me when someone who doesn't suffer from (or doesn't admit to suffer from) mental illness tries to comment on it. I think he is actually trying to say something about the public's waning attention span, but the lyrics are muddled. Whatever, it's three-minutes, and it's over. "This Week the Trend" picks things back up, though like "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been," does so pretty straightforwardly.
"Life After Death & Taxes (Failure II)," is appropriately thematically heavy for a penultimate track, setting things up nicely for epic finale, "When I Go Down," another one of Theissen's classic, "get knocked-down, get back up again," closers. "When I Go Down" changes gears many, many times, and as I tossed and turned one night after graduation, wondering what the heck I was going to do with my life, it actually brought me great peace, just like it probably did for all of those just-started-college millennials who had likely just voted in their first election because P Diddy told them to.
The end.

2004 Gotee/Capitol
0. MMHMM -0:17
1. The One I'm Waiting For 3:02
2. Be My Escape 4:00
3. High of 75 2:27
4. I So Hate Consequences 4:01
5. The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on One 1:13
6. My Girl's Ex-Boyfriend 2:28
7. More Than Useless 3:50
8. Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet? 4:11
9. Let It All Out 4:21
10. Who I Am Hates Who I've Been 3:52
11. Maintain Consciousness 2:52
12. This Week the Trend 2:59
13. Life After Death & Taxes (Failure II) 4:23
14. When I Go Down 6:42

Monday, October 30, 2017

Relient K -- Two Lefts Don't Make a Right...but Three Do


You've gotta hear this band! said every teenager I knew in the early 00's in regard to Relient K. So I did hear the band...and I was unimpressed. This is likely due to the fact that I was not a teenager, but a high-falutin college student and DJ. Goofy pop-punk songs about the evils of Marilyn Manson and Thundercats did not impress me like they did the first wave of millennials. However, those millennials were also my radio listeners, and Gotee records sent my station approximately 5,000 copies of the Relient K's 2003 release (and third album, overall) Two Lefts Don't Make a Right...but Three Do. I don't know what I did with all of those, though one copy, the blue one with the wrecked pickup, still survives on my music shelf. Without even listening, the multiple album cover concept impressed me--four different cartoon illustrations of a car wreck, each with their own hue. Unfortunately, the music, while better than the band's previous work, didn't impress me as much.
I came up on early Tooth and Nail punk bands like MxPx and Slick Shoes--Relient K felt like the diet version of that. Vocalist, Matt Theissen, seemed to not think the way that I did, and I had a hard time connecting with his lyrics...but still, there's something here.
"Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry" is a high energy opener, with a bridge straight out of the "slow-it-down" blink-182 handbook. It works. Second track, "Mood Rings," however, doesn't, and seems even more regressive and immature to me now than it did in 2003, with the chorus, "Let's get emotional girls to all wear mood rings." I guess it's supposed to be funny. One of these days, right in the kisser.
Thankfully, the next duo of songs features far more maturity, from the piano-lead of "Falling Out," to the more grown-up, "get knocked-down and get back up again" sentiments of the rocking "Forward Motion." "Forward Motion" also features a pretty rad guitar line, and some cool tempo changes.
The album then travels on the immature route once again with "In Love with the 80's (Pink Tux to the Prom). I grew up in the 80's, and this song draws far more from a lesser John Hughes film than actual 80's life. Things get worse, for me at least, on "College Kids." As a college senior who had just put a hard four years work in, the last lyrics I wanted to hear were "and that's why i say oh no! not for me not for me call it torture call it university." I loved college and 14 years later I'm still on campus--again, me and this vocalist weren't on the same page.
"Trademark" is better, if unremarkable, as is "Hoopes I Did It Again."
But what is this? "Over Thinking" is a legitimately great song. Great enough to perk my 2003 ears up from all the Radiohead, Björk, Portishead, Sigur Ros, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor I was listening to. It's got a great, unexpected piano-break 1:05 in, a jamming bassline throughout, and multiple bridges--a true wellspring of creativity on the band's part.
"I Am Understood" is a solid follow-up.
"Getting Into You" then comes as the album's ballad, the cheese a bit too soft for my taste. After a short voice recording and the brief but fun "Gibberish," comes "From End to End," one of the album's more aggressive tracks, with a nice, cathartic bridge.
TLDMARBTD closes with "Jefferson Aero Plane," proving that Theissen excels best at "despite the circumstances, I'll be okay" closers (there's more of these to come in the band's catalogue). It's a very well-written track with a carefree feel, and some nice gear changes and ping-ponging between the guitars and the piano. It, along with this album's other stronger tracks, proves that this band has promise beyond pop-punk-lite songs about Saturday morning cartoons and forcing females to wear mood-revealing rings--and also that maybe non-millennials can one day enjoy their music, as well.

2003 Gotee Records
1. Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry 3:10
2. Mood Rings 3:18
3. Falling Out 3:51
4. Forward Motion 3:57
5. In Love with the 80's (Pink Tux to the Prom) 3:08
6. College Kids 3:27
7. Trademark 3:54
8. Hoopes I Did It Again 3:12
9. Over Thinking 4:08
10. I Am Understood? 4:23
11. Getting Into You 3:24
12. Kids on the Street 0:26
13. Gibberish 1:45
14. From End to End 4:37
15. Jefferson Aero Plane (includes hidden track "Silly Shoes") 12:52

Friday, October 27, 2017

Composite Mood II

Good times stay. Bad times, stay away.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

So Now What Do You Think About Radiohead?

I really like Radiohead. I wasn't sure what to expect going into these reviews because I hadn't recently listened to many of these albums. Thankfully, they not only held up, but the band's newer work shined as well. It's time for my customary Q&A.

You say that the old albums are still good, but that you enjoy Radiohead's newer albums, as well. Rank them according to your own enjoyment.
Wow, you jumped right to the chase. This is going to be tough.
1. Amnesiac
2. Kid A
3. In Rainbows
4. OK Computer
5. A Moon Shaped Pool
6. Hail to the Thief
7. The King of Limbs
8. The Bends
9. Pablo Honey

Wait, The Bends is ranked number eight? That album is a classic! What is wrong with you?
I don't think The Bends is bad. I gave it an 8/10. However, compared to all of the albums that followed it, it is more generic, repetitive, and dated. The mid-90's rock sound isn't as timeless as Radiohead's experimentation in the late 90's and beyond. However, The Bends does have some incredible songs, particularly "Street Spirit (Fade Out)."

Amnesiac at number one? Isn't that the one everybody hates?
It's the one I like the best. Read the review.

Is there anything you feel like you missed getting into your reviews?
Actually, yes. Radiohead have one of the most impressive libraries of B-sides I have ever heard. If you are into collecting CD singles with original artwork and unreleased songs, I particularly recommend tracking down the ones from the Amnesiac era. "Worrywort" and "Fog" in particular, but really most of this band's B-sides are worth listening to from any era, if you can track them down. These little known gems definitely have more of a "the song just didn't fit with the rest of the album, but is still worthy" feel than a "this song sucked, so we didn't put it on the album" one.

Are you full of existential dread?
Sometimes. I was happy to get through the band's mid-career period, despite my love for it, just because it was giving me a bit too much of that. I do feel like what makes Radiohead a great rather than merely good band is their ability to transcend those dread-filled vibes, while lesser bands may simply say, "Hey, we're good at this sad and scary thing...let's just always hang out here." In that way, Radiohead's creative restlessness is a strength rather than a liability.

What's next for the old Nicsperiment? Looks like you've been taking a little bit of a break?
Life definitely becomes hectic in ebbs and flows, and the last few weeks have been a bit noisy. The next band I am reviewing is also quite different from Radiohead, and not necessarily one of my favorites, even though I enjoy a couple of their albums. It's taking me a little while to work up the will to finish them. Then again, those reviews could be my best work. Who knows?

Who knows indeed.

Hey, you're going to spoil who I'm reviewing next!