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Monday, February 27, 2017

P.O.D. -- The Warriors EP, Volume 2


The Warriors EP, Volume 2 comes at a strange time in P.O.D.'s career, and in an interesting time in mine. P.O.D. were now two years removed from 2003's Payable on Death, which proved the band  could make post-Marcos Curiel music that didn't suck...Marcos Curiel being the band's (then) ex-guitarist. Of course, they hadn't really proved they could release an album post-Marcos Curiel that "sounded like P.O.D, " as the band's once very-present latin, punk, and reggae influences seemed marginalized on Payable on Death for a more generic rock sound. After Payable on Death, the band, since that album featuring ex-Living Sacrifice guitarist, Jason Truby, entered a period of writer's block, perhaps stemming from P.O.D. wondering just what they wanted to be. Whatever the case, P.O.D. didn't want their fans to go more than two years without new music, and released an EP to let those fans know just what they had been up to. Perhaps wanting those same fans to know the band hadn't forgotten their roots, they posited the EP as a sequel to their 1998 The Warriors EP from seven years earlier.
The Warriors EP, Volume 2 kicks off with "If It Wasn't for You." the song sees vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, go back to a rap-style delivery in the verses, but the chorus and the song's musicality hearken to more straight-forward rock. "Teachers" continues with this sound, though the vocals, outside of some screaming, are more traditional. However, it is a catchy song, even if it isn't particularly distinctive. "Ya Mama," reimagined on next year's LP, Testify, as "Sounds Like War," is the standout of this opening trio, featuring an aggressive rap in the verse, a soaring, yet ferocious chorus, and then an atmospheric bridge showcasing Truby's strengths as a guitarist. The bridge is further explored in the outro, as Truby gets to put his classical influences on display, albeit slightly amplified. The quiet-loud-dynamic here is excellent, a reminder of the more adventurous dynamics of Curiel's time in the band.
Speaking of Curiel...
"Why Wait," is a classic, upbeat reggae song. It doesn't quite have the soaring mysticism of Curiel's work, but it is a lovely song, nonetheless. P.O.D. keep this reggae feeling flowing with a cover of the classic Payola$ song, "Eyes of a Stranger." I love the original, but P.O.D. really make this song their own. Truby sounds like he is having a blast exploring these textures, and Sonny gives the vocals a passionate reinvention. The result is a dreamy, spaced out translation of the already hypnotic original.

The EP ends with two solid live recordings from Cornerstone, of "Boom" and "Wildfire." "Boom" includes a very cool, sludgy metal intro the band had been playing exclusively live during that era (at least they did it when I saw them in '04).
By the end, it isn't clear what direction P.O.D. are heading after The Warriors EP, Volume 2, but it is clear that they aren't showing any signs of stopping. Also, I got a full-time job at the library (stayed for about the same time Truby stayed in this band), and got engaged and married (still going...) in a seven-month period. Strange times, indeed.

2005 Atlantic
1. If It Wasn't for You 3:40
2. Teachers (Palm Springs Demo) 4:28
3. Ya Mama (Palm Springs Demo) 3:10
4. Why Wait? 3:41
5. Eyes of a Stranger (originally written and performed by Payola$) 4:18
6. Boom (Live at Cornerstone) 5:14
7. Wildfire (Live at Cornerstone) 3:22

Friday, February 24, 2017

Rediscovering the Nintendo Gamecube

As far as inanimate objects go, there aren't many things I love more than video games. I'll never forget being woken up from a childhood nap early one afternoon by the bloops and bleeps of my father's Atari 2600. I knew as soon as I saw him taking out the colorful bricks of Breakout that I had found my thing. As the 2600 waned, I asked for a Nintendo, saved my money a few years later for a Super Nintendo, bought my cousin's recently released Nintendo 64 a few years after that. While I remained loyal to Nintendo, I vastly enjoyed Sega's output (I've got all their systems but the Saturn), and even enjoyed some Playstation. I waited in line on November 17th, 2001, til midnight at the Siegen Lane Wal-Mart, to buy the new Nintendo Gamecube on release night (I also went on a ten-mile hike and saw Monsters, Inc. in the theater earlier that day--it was an all-time great one!).
However, something strange happened to me during the George W Bush administration--for a short time, I fell out of love with video games.
I don't know what it was. I can't blame getting married, or having a child (if anything, having a child is what brought me back to them!). It started with some kind of general malaise I picked up in in college. It started, unfortunately, during the tenure of the Nintendo Gamecube.
I did have some genuinely great experiences with the Gamecube, but compared to those experiences I had on previous systems, they were few and far between. During the Gamecube's run (2001-2007), I only played through seven games, with short, incomplete runs on a handful of others. When Gamecube was discontinued, I didn't even buy a Wii. I skipped that entire generation of systems. It was only about five years ago that my passion for video games reignited. I then gave much love to my Nintendo 64, the system I had the most games for. I also played the heck out of my Dreamcast. However, something soon became apparent to me:
The neglected stepchild of my video game consoles is the Nintendo Gamecube. Of all the systems in my collection, I own the least amount of games and have the least amount of love for it.
But why?
By all accounts, the Nintendo Gamecube's library features a handful of the most heralded games of all time, and many other great ones. Metacritic, a review aggregation website, has a chart ranking games by an average of every major review written since the site's inception. Of the top 19 critically acclaimed games released in the 21st century to date, three belong to Gamecube, second most of any system games have been released for in that time period. This includes the PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP, Nintendo 64, Wii, Wii U, XBox, XBox 360 (the only system with more top-ranked games), Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and many more. That is ridiculously good.
And yet, my rejection of the Gamecube isn't a unique experience. Its main competitor, the Playstation 2, sold 155 million units. Nintendo only sold 21 million Gamecubes, DESPITE the fact that the PS2 is technically less powerful. Even the X-Box, Microsoft's first foray into console gaming, sold more. Why didn't the world love the Nintendo Gamecube?
Why didn't I love it? When I look at my experiences with it, I should have an incredible fondness for that awkward little box.

1. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader

I bought this title at launch, and played it as soon as I got home...which was very late. Of the twelve Gamecube launch games, I only own, and in fact, have only played one other to this day, Super Monkey Ball, which was fun, but apparently not fun enough to get me more than halfway through it. This begins a trend: in earlier days, I took beating a game I purchased as a point of pride. I beat and 100 percented (yep, just made that a verb) almost every game I purchased before buying the Gamecube. As you'll see here, as my passion petered out, I completed far less. But I did complete Rogue Leader in short order, taking away the impression that it was visually splendid, but offered little more in the gameplay department than its decent Nintendo 64 predecessor. A few weeks later, a friend showed up at my apartment with a gift: the previously mentioned Super Monkey Ball. Truth be told, it may not have been the fun-factor that drew me away from Super Monkey Ball early--it was most likely Smash Brothers.

2.Super Smash Bros. Melee

Shortly after it was released, Super Smash Bros. Melee took over my Gamecube. My cousin essentially moved into my compartment and we unlocked every character and stage. However...something was lacking in the experience. Myself, that cousin, his younger brother, and my younger brother played the Nintendo 64 original against each other until our hands were bloody--and sometimes that blood wasn't our own. Our competitions were so fierce they sometimes ended in fistfights. The Nintendo 64 owned four-player multiplayer. Something about this Gamecube version just didn't stoke the fires as hotly. Maybe it was just my life stage. Maybe the controls, and the more chaotic stages just didn't feel as right. Whatever the case, while I completed the didn't complete me. It immediately got placed back on the shelf...and then my Gamecube just sort of languished for a few months. It's not like I was playing anything else slide away from video games had already begun (and arguably started when I quit Donkey Kong 64 on the final boss...a boss I've since annihilated). That fall, I purchased Super Mario Sunshine. I was offput by the strange new "water-sprayer" dynamics of the game. I just didn't feel like the Mario I loved. It also seemed to lack the polish of previous Mario games. I've never completed it. This could have been the end of my Gamecube, but lo, on the horizon

3. Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime is one of the greatest video games of all time. tied for second on the Metacritic list I mentioned above. I wasn't the biggest Metroid fan before purchasing it, but the ridiculously high reviews piqued my curiosity, and I purchased it on release week--Metroid Prime then owned my 2002 Winter Break. My experience with Metroid Prime mirrors the one I had with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time just four years prior (in the fall of 1998): complete immersion. I quickly felt myself lost, submerged in Metroid Prime's depths, and I didn't resurface until the game was completed. That was, to this day, one of the most special and singular video game experiences I have ever had. This, if anything, should have made the Gamecube a system I revered. I am pretty sure I hugged my Nintendo 64 after Ocarina...why the cold shoulder for Gamecube?

4. Animal Crossing

If my time with the Gamecube had a "golden period," I'd say it was the 2.5 years between Metroid Prime's release and the summer of 2005...if a golden period can be categorized as a time I played through 4 games in 30 months. Animal Crossing came for me at a moment I was really attempting to lie low and chill, and it's a great game to play for an hour a night for a few months...I bought Animal Crossing shortly after finishing Metroid Prime, paid my in-game loans off by spring, and then let my brother borrow the game indefinitely. I remember having a lovely time with the game, but then immediately moving on because a sort-of-big title was being released that March: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I love Zelda games so much, but I felt about Wind Waker the same as I did with Mario Sunshine: it just didn't feel like Zelda, and it didn't seem as polished as previous titles. To the shock of my close friends and relatives, I didn't even complete Wind Waker, stopping 3/4 of the way through, during a fetch quest I didn't feel like completing (Last year, I played through the Wii U Remaster and really enjoyed it). Truth be told, at that time, a good friend gave me a PS1. I'd had Chrono Cross, the sequel to my favorite game of all time, Chrono Trigger, in my possession for several years, with no method to play it. As soon as the PS1 was in my hands, my Gamecube started accumulating dust. Chrono Cross took over my video gaming world...

5. Hunter: The Reckoning

...but not for too long, and there's a "literally" coming up in the next sentence. Literally two hours after I beat Chrono Cross, on a late summer 2003 afternoon, two of my best friends came over and a new tradition was born: Game Night. For some reason, the game of choice for this trio was Hunter: The Reckoning for the Nintendo Gamecube, owned by Daniel, one of the two friends. I'll be the first to say that Hunter: The Reckoning is not a great game. However, for a game three friends can play together while eating pizza and chugging coffee and M&M's at 3 am, you can't do much better than Hunter: The Reckoning, for the Nintendo Gamecube. The multiplayer cooperative zombie and monster-killing action might be sloppily executed, but that's almost half the fun. Those were some of the best nights of my life. Daniel's copy eventually bit the dust, but I bought a new one. All these years later, on the rare occasion that the three of us are in the same zipcode at the same time, Hunter still gets the job done. Over the rest of 2003, and throughout 2004, we played through the game many times. It seems, from my near outsider perspective, like this time period was the Gamecube's heyday. During this 18-month era, I did buy some games, like F-Zero GX, Sonic Collection, and Beyond Good and Evil, but I didn't finish any of them. However, my video game life wasn't completely narcoleptic--I did play through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PS1 a few times, and wow, what a game!

6. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

During this period, I also bought several PS1 games that I didn't complete, either. I was also watching quite a bit of X-Play and other video game programs on the then new, now defunct G4 channel. I was certainly still interested in video games...just more as a passerby than a partaker. However, when Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was released, I knew that I had to complete it. I bought it, spent several sleepless night progressing through, then found myself dead-ended by a game-ending glitch. I contacted Nintendo, and was sent a memory card several weeks later with a file progressed just past the glitch. While I appreciated the gesture, the fire was gone. I mechanically finished the game, which is great, but not as great as its predecessor, and wondered if I was through with video games. Then came the Gamecube's pièce de résistance

7. Resident Evil IV

Capcom shot themselves in the foot with Resident Evil IV. Every Resident Evil game they've released since has been negatively compared to it. It's also on the Metacritic list I mentioned above. It is one of the greatest video games every released. It is easily in my top five.
Imagine this: you are unemployed. You have no friends. You aren't sleeping. You have no prospects. Your only two friends are your cat and a video game. For me, in that exact situation, that video game was Resident Evil IV. Finding myself in the above situation seemingly without warning, I was forced to survive. Resident Evil IV is the greatest "Survival Horror" game ever made, perhaps because it focuses more on the former. That isn't to say it's not scary--those evil priests' chants still haunt my dreams. But suddenly left with seemingly nothing but Fats the cat and Resident Evil IV, I have never connected on a metaphysical level with a game like I have Resident Evil IV. I played through it over and over again, running for my life, conserving ammo, searching for sanctuary, struggling to find places to hide, and often, when I knew I had the resources, going berserk on my foes. Since the foes in my real life were intangible, it was incredibly cathartic to have evil hoards into which I could pour my aggression. In some ways, my 2005 was that damn guy holding up the chainsaw on the game cover. But as I do with Resident Evil IV, I now look back on that year fondly. You would think this would have endeared the Gamecube to me forever. However, I gave all my love to the game, at the time a Gamecube exclusive, instead of to the console itself.

And that was it. Despite another Zelda game on the horizon (also played that Wii U remaster last year, and enjoyed it, as well), and a huge back-catalogue to pull from, my Gamecube went into storage for nearly a decade. All my video games did. I felt like I didn't need or have time for them anymore. But slowly, they started coming back into my life:
A few rounds of SNES here and there.
A full-fledged recommitment to my Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast.
A full-bore obsession with my Sega CD.
But my poor Gamecube still collected dust.
I've been asking myself recently, why not show my Gamecube some love? Hasn't it given me some of my most memorable gaming experiences? It has more than a 500-game library. It carried on Dreamcast's sunny, "it's a new millennium and everything is awesome" vibe, even as our nation looked back at the ashes of the twin towers, and forward into war.
The Gamecube didn't do anything wrong, and yet I've neglected it its whole life.
It is time to finally love my Gamecube.
Now, its time to go from the passerby who saw a lot of cool games from a distance, to the player.
And thus, I am launching yet another blog, this one dedicated to the much neglected Nintendo Gamecube.  I'll be playing through and reviewing games I've never before given the time of day to, and even revisiting some old classics that I have.
The Gamecube Archives.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

P.O.D. -- Payable on Death


As much as P.O.D. were able to lift up the nation after 9/11, they suffered from the effects of it like anyone else...and inadvertently furthered the "everything sucks now" cultural meme. In 2002, at the peak of their fame, they lost founding member, key songwriter, and chief soul-bringer, guitarist, Marcos Curiel. The reason for his departure is contentious, and has never really been clear, even though it's now been almost a decade since Curiel has returned amicably to the band. Whatever the case, all the hope P.O.D. promoted in the past seemed to go out the window of despair for a moment, though that window was slightly shut when ex-Living Sacrifice guitarist, Jason Truby, was announced as the new guitarist.
Still, life seemed like this post 1/1/2000, and pre-9/11: 
Humanity and America has reached a new level of peace and prosperity, and survived the scare of Y2K. Everything is going to be sunny now!
That optimistic millennial false start crashed with the Twin Towers and was re-born as:
This new century is a time of war, terror, and economic uncertainty. 
While that point-of-view appears near histrionic fifteen-plus years after 9/11, Trump or no Trump, things sure felt that way for a while. Eventually, it seemed like even the hyper-positive P.O.D. succumbed to these dark feelings, with the release of their quasi self-titled album, one of two featuring Jason Truby, Payable on Death.

As Payable on Death begins, Truby immediately reveals himself as a vastly different guitar player than Curiel. The soul-filled mysticism of Curiel is replaced by a more no-nonsense crunch...though there are times that Truby reveals something far deeper.. This depth starts to show its head when Truby is joined by the legendary guitarist, Phil Keaggy, who makes a guest appearance on track six, "Revolution." With "Revolution," Truby reveals a more relaxed, classical guitar bent. He shows this influence again at the end of track seven, "The Reasons," at the intro of track eleven, "Asthma," and throughout the incredible closing guitar instrumental, "Eternal," where he once again teams up with album star, Keaggy. While those are Truby's stand-out moments, he does acquit himself decently throughout the rest of Payable on Death. Right before he joined P.O.D., Truby had begun to focus on more classically focused acoustic guitar work. It's obvious here that that is where his passion truly lies...everything else is a little less ardent. But what is everybody else up to?
Vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, sounds weary. His lyrics are far more downbeat than on previous albums, as he sings about rocky relationships, and even rockier life landscapes that must be navigated. He sings a sort of tribute to American forces recently sent to fight abroad on "Freedom Fighters," which borders on the jingoistic--he walks the jingoism back on an album the band would release five years later. I say "sing" here because Sonny rarely raps on this album. In fact, the punk, and reggae influences the band showed on previous albums are nowhere to be found on Payable on Death, and the hip-hop influences are scarce. Truby's more concise, no-nonsense style leaves less room for the rhythm section anyway (though, as always, they still shine), and with less space, the songs here average much shorter run-times than in the past. It would be hard for Sonny to find room to rap, anyway.
So does all this disparity between the ironically named Payable on Death and the band's former work lead to total disaster?
Actually, Payable on Death is a good album. Despite its mostly straight-forward nature, the songwriting is solid. Going full-on modern rock actually gave the band a longer lifespan in the public eye, as rap-rock had fallen out of favor by late 2003, when Payable on Death was released. However, the album does lack what set the band apart before, and for that reason, despite the songs still being of a high quality, I'd put Payable on Death below the band's two previous major label albums (The Fundamental Elements of Southtown and Satellite). Getting some distance from Payable on Death's release date has also made it easier to enjoy. It was first available in stores the day before the third Matrix film hit theaters, which I saw with many of the people I've recently mentioned in these reviews: my cousins Jessica, Rhett, Adrian. That film was a huge disappointment at the time, and, as P.O.D. was associated with those movies, having lent a song to the second Matrix film's soundtrack earlier that year (their first recorded with Truby!), they just got compounded into the whole thing--the "everything sucks now" thing, for me at least (particularly in 2003!). In recent years, I've come to appreciate artistic creations that were released during this time period that I initially disliked...even the third Matrix film, to a degree. In a couple of days, I will publish an entry about a video-game system released during this time that I also short-changed. Plus, I would be remiss not to mention that I saw P.O.D. in support of this album the year after it was released, and I must admit, in the parlance of that time, that it was sick (Also, I was starting to wrap my head around this awesome fact in 2004: Everything actually does not suck!).

2003 Atlantic
1. Wildfire 3:15
2. Will You 3:47
3. Change the World 3:03
4. Execute the Sounds 3:01
5. Find My Way 3:09
6. Revolution (featuring Phil Keaggy) 3:25
7. The Reasons 3:44
8. Freedom Fighters 4:12
9. Waiting on Today 3:06
10. I and Identify 3:15
11. Asthma 4:01
12. Eternal (featuring Phil Keaggy) 6:19

Monday, February 20, 2017

P.O.D. -- Satellite



P.O.D.'s The Fundamental Elements of Southtown expanded my mind, and taught me to expect diversity in my heavy music. While the nu-metal bands P.O.D. Were unfairly lumped in with were content just trying to be a heavier, less cerebral version of Nirvana, P.O.D. evinced a love for Slayer, Bob Marley, and Bad Brains. Their music, full of authentic soul, could be angry, but it could also be reflective, spiritual, and, God forbid, uplifting and fun. In the two years between The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, and P.O.D.'s second major label album, Satellite, I found plenty of new music, but few heavy bands could come close to P.O.D.'s wide spectrum of sound and feeling. Admittedly, I discovered Deftones before I was recommended P.O.D., and Deftones could definitely match P.O.D. in the department of diversity, but unfortunately, those were two of the first heavy radio rock bands I was exposed to, and not many bands could measure up. I enjoyed Project 86's Drawing Black Lines, but outside of that, not many other bands who got screaming on the airwaves did very much for me. I eagerly awaited Satellite.
My roommate, a heavy music freak who also shared my love of hardcore and extreme metal (which is not P.O.D.'s genre), somehow snagged a legit copy of Satellite a week before it was released. He played it in the apartment, and I tried to ignore it, preferring to wait to jam to my own copy when the album was released...on the upcoming Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.
On September 9th, I found a Wal-Mart ad advertising Satellite for cheap and made plans to head there after class on the 11th...they also had The Police's greatest hits album on sale for $6.99, and I love The Police, so I planned to pick that up, as well.
The next day wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I went to class, went to my student worker job, went back to class, took a Mass Comm test that quickly alerted me to the fact that I did not want to major in Mass Comm anymore, went back to my apartment, ate my customary four slices of wheat bread and a large glass of water for dinner (spending $20 on music for me that fall was my grocery budget for a week). I had bad dreams that night (probably due to my ongoing malnutrition), walked into the living room to hear my roommate say, “I had bad dreams last night.”
“Yeah, me, too,” I said, plopping on the couch.
“There's a fire at one of the World Trade Center Towers,” he said, getting up to finish his morning routine. He was six years older than me, and during that year of being roommates, we didn't always gel, though I love the guy to this day (and he still loves metal!).
I turned up the volume. I think Dan Rather was on by then (we only had three channels...2, 9, 44). I stared at the fire, trying to figure out what was going on. As I squinted at the burning tower, a jetliner flew directly into the building next to it. The rest of the day did not go as planned.
Yet, still, somehow, at the end of it, I went to Wal-Mart and bought P.O.D.'s Satellite...and The Police's greatest hits (since I didn't really sleep that night, I, at some point, listened to "Invisible Sun" on about a three-hour loop...and hey, I'm about to get to The Police, too!). It seems that after skipping work to watch the news, then going to my one not canceled class (that Spanish teacher was an odd one), then calling all of my loved ones to check on them, I...well, I just wanted to go to Wal-Mart to buy the new P.O.D. What else was I going to do?
It turns out that a lot of Americans needed some P.O.D. after that morning.
Satellite is uniquely equipped to deal with that kind of event. It combines the P.O.D.'s sense of realism with their unique brand of optimism. It kicks off with a huge-sounding drum beat, the production values beefed up to maximum levels, and unrolls three positive, life-affirming songs right off the bat. "RISE - Let your spirit fly/RISE- Stand up for yourself/RISE- Hold your head up high/Our time has come/Set it off" vocalist Sonny Sandoval commands in the opening song's chorus, as the band showcase all their best attributes, a crushing main chorus riff alternating with a spacier, more mystical verse. The next song, the uplifting "Alive" finds Marcos Curiel discovering more soul and feeling in two chords than most guitarists find over the course of a full album. Fittingly, the song's much-played music video alternates between footage of a man surviving a car crash with images of surfers and skate-boarders making the most of a day, and the band jamming out. "Boom" is a party song, still played in Tiger Stadium before football games sixteen years later. The band then dig into their darker musical and emotional palette with "Youth of the Nation."

The song is relatable, and I think people were craving something like this post-9/11--something that both acknowledged the darkness, yet wasn't full of despair. And as soon as this song is done, it goes to a great spacey interlude, "Celestial," before launching into the soaring self-titled track. It's almost as if the band and producer, Howard Benson, anticipated this moment in time. The rest of the album never loses track, full of energy, passion, and moments of darkness and light. P.O.D. never drop their older influences either, going into a rapid-fire punk song that explodes into a full-blown reggae jam, with "Without Jah, Nothin." The Latin influences also loom huge, particularly in "Thinking About Forever." Truth be told, though, these influences can be felt song-to-song. It's all a part of that unique P.O.D. flavor that set them apart from their so-called peers, and which encouraged the world.
For a time after this release, P.O.D. were huge. I saw them in a packed out theater in Houston in November of 2001, and they literally lifted my spirits, as literal as the metaphysical spirit can be. Jessica, my cool cousin who introduced me to P.O.D., Adrian, my best friend/cousin/champion competitive eater, and Marie, Adrian's now ex-girlfriend and possible Lebanese princess, saw them together, and hung out on the curb behind the theater after the show. Some of the band's street team came by and gave us some swag (I still have one of the posters!), and after a while, the band themselves emerged from their bus with cases of water for fans who had stuck around. Jessica and I looked and smelled gross, drenched with sweat, as we had pushed ahead to the front of the crowd during the show. Sonny did say to "rush the stage, grab the mic, show me what you got," so we did. If I remember correctly, the energy of the crowd freaked Marie out, so Adrian had to hang in the back with her. Jessica and I, though, generally two individuals of super-model level attractiveness, looked like wet dogs (and I look emaciated from my then bread and water diet (I'm not making this up, I was flat broke and living off of wheat bread and water. I lost an incredible amount of weight and was by far the thinnest I have ever been in my life), strangely like late-career Michael Jackson...I think I hadn't quite grown into my neck yet). Here are pictures of us with the band after as proof of everything I just said, even the parentheticals.

Sonny was the most approachable platinum-selling frontman I have ever encountered. A group formed around him, and he engaged everyone, together, in deep discussion, as we talked about racism in the South, how conservative the local church culture was, and how few of us fit in. When this was over, well into the AM, when the rest of the bus was loaded, and the tour-manager was pleading with Sonny that the bus had to get on the road to make the next gig--and I am not making this up--Sonny hugged everyone. I went to shake his hand, and the dude said, "Naw, ah," pulled me in, and bear-hugged me, as well. He showed a love for everyone around him, though strangers, and I think that has helped create a dedicated fanbase, which keeps this band alive into their 25th year of existence. This real, contagious love and positivity is what helped P.O.D. sell four-plus million copies of Satellite, and it is a huge reason I can throw on the album today, and instead of remembering the hopeless feelings of towers falling, and fighter jets headed across the Persian Gulf, feel uplifted. There are bigger things in life than death.

2001 Atlantic
1. Set It Off 4:16
2. Alive 3:23
3. Boom 3:08
4. Youth of the Nation 4:19
5. Celestial 1:24
6. Satellite 3:30
7. Ridiculous (featuring Eek-a-Mouse) 4:17
8. The Messenjah 4:19
9. Guitarras de Amor 1:14
10. Anything Right (featuring Christian Lindskog) 4:17
11. Ghetto 3:37
12. Masterpiece Conspiracy 3:11
13. Without Jah, Nothin (featuring H.R.) 3:42
14. Thinking About Forever 3:46
15. Portrait 4:32

Monday, February 13, 2017

P.O.D. -- The Fundamental Elements of Southtown


The introduction of my "cool cousin" Jessica to these reviews last month was very deliberate. Jessica plays a very important part in this P.O.D. narrative.
When I was a senior in high school, Jessica moved to Texas for a little while, and I lost my pipeline to coolness. Thankfully, she came back to visit for a little while in early 2000, and while taking me to a bunch of cool places, humored a question from me.
"Hey, so I've kind of been coming back to my faith lately. Musical encouragement is always nice, but lately, I've really been in a kind of Deftones mood. Like heavy music that could still be played on the radio. I haven't found any Christian bands like that. I love Deftones, but I wouldn't mind having a Christian go-to band with a similar sound."
"Have you ever heard of P.O.D.?"
I had not, but I sure went to Wal-Mart as soon as Jessica headed back to the Lonestar state, so I could pick up the new P.O.D.. My little brother, not the biggest fan of heavy music, was forced to listen to the CD with me, but he sure got used to it because I listened to P.O.D.'s The Fundamental Elements of Southtown so many times that I wore the plastic off the compact disc.
Why, though? Why did I listen to this album a billion times? Why did P.O.D. grow such a fervent fanbase? How did they manage to unseat boyband and pop-starlets from the top-spot on MTV's Total Request Live again and again?
I'm gonna go with authenticity.
P.O.D. don't seem like a bunch of whiny poseurs. They seem like four talented musicians from diverse musical backgrounds, creating a vivid musical image of the tough San Diego streets where they grew up.
World-building is not something frequently mentioned when people talk about music. This has been a singles dominated musical culture for...ever, but the albums I enjoy the most take me to another place. A couple great singles surrounded by non-cohesive filler does not do it for me.
P.O.D. set about world-building immediately in The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. "Greetings" welcomes the listener before "Hollywood" keys the listener in on a town north of San Diego that isn't where the band hail from. P.O.D. create a general feeling of darkness in "Hollywood," with dark atmospheric guitar and Sonny's under-stated vocals alternating with heavy riffs and aggressive vocals in the chorus. "Hollywood" makes a point that selling your soul to get away might be worse than staying put. The song ends with a chilling Cruella Deville-esque laugh before diving into a song about where P.O.D. are from, "Southtown."
"Southtown" describes the perilous youth of vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, as he recalls the constant feeling of not knowing if he would live through the day.. The song feels real, yet it also combines a rare combination of heaviness and catchiness--not insipid catchiness, but memorability.
The band then segue into a very important aspect of their sound. If TFEOS was all "Thank God I didn't die today" moroseness, it wouldn't be all that enjoyable to listen to. Thankfully, P.O.D. like to have fun, and "Checkin' Levels" introduces that side of the band. It's a segue track featuring Sonny free-styling over the band tuning up, which leads directly to "Rock the Party," a song about exactly what it is titled. However, even "Rock the Party" seems to have a social consciousness, as well as an outpouring of goodwill, as Sonny raps out, "to spread His love is the master plan." The band show here that their religion isn't a glum thing they want to force upon people, but simply their way of life. This was a great album for a young Christian like I was nearly 20(!) years ago, and now, even as my life has grown vastly more complex and complicated, it still feels like a spiritual oasis, its positive vibes a balm.
"Lie Down," picks up right where "Southtown" left off. To this point, the band have shown their metal and hip-hop roots, but as "Lie Down" ends, the band unroll an authentic reggae song that still sits comfortably among their best work.
"Set Your Eyes to Zion" is mystical, chilled-out to the core, revealing Marcos Curiel as a guitar player filled with soul. The song is about as good an album centerpiece as one could ask for.

This is followed by the transitional instrumental, "Lo Siento," which shows off the band's latin music influences (3 of 4 members are Latino). We then get a blazingly angry U2 cover, some more atmospheric, world-building segues, and songs that blend all of the influences I've previously mentioned. I am particularly fond of "Tribal," which posits the band at the forefront of a sort of religious and social movement, taking the misfits around the band, and transforming them into agents of positive change. For at least a decade, this band was highly capable of mobilizing its fans, creating a "Warrior" movement. I also love the emotional throughline (another underrated quality in a great album!) P.O.D. maintain across TFEOS, introducing themselves and who they are in the first tracks, introducing a feeling of darkness that builds in the third quarter, and slowly moving to a comforting, albeit, heavy catharsis through the last quarter to album-closer "Outkast," while never losing that sense of fun (and allowing the sounds they create a great deal of space...another important quality in an album!). With all this momentum, P.O.D. had nowhere to go but up.

1999 Atlantic
1. Greetings 1:29
2. Hollywood (featuring Lisa Papineau) 5:22
3. Southtown 4:08
4. Checkin' Levels 1:06
5. Rock the Party (Off the Hook) 3:24
6. Lie Down 5:09
7. Set Your Eyes to Zion 4:06
8. Lo Siento 0:33
9. Bullet the Blue Sky (originally written and performed by U2) (featuring Lisa Papineau) 5:18
10. Psalm 150 0:55
11. Image 3:32
12. Shouts 0:55
13. Tribal 4:26
14. Freestyle 3:57
15. Follow Me 3:43
16. Outkast (hidden track begins at 6:22) 9:33

Friday, February 10, 2017

Beginning Next Week: A Study on the Much-Misunderstood P.O.D.

Yes, THAT P.O.D. The not nu-metal band completely composed of minorities who grew up in an impoverished, crime-ridden area of San Diego, fronted by a reformed drug-dealer, who somehow got lumped in with a genre mainly associated with misogynist, white, upper middle class frat-boys.
The band who drew their roots from punk, metal, and reggae, but because they sometimes rapped while they rocked, were often spoken of in the same sentence as Limp Bizkit.
THAT P.O.D. I'm going to review all of their albums, starting with their major label debut.
Prepare to get educated...

There will also be an article about a video game system released at the same time as P.O.D.'s commercial peak, thrown in for good measure.
Happy February!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Plumb -- candycoatedwaterdrops


It's a road trip to Florida in the summer of 1999, and my cousin Adrian hands me a CD. As you can see, my cousins and I took a lot of road trips. "Dude, the first song on this new Plumb CD sounds like it could be the theme song from a James Bond movie." We throw it on. Spy guitar. The London Symphony Orchestra. An epic female voice singing about the world falling apart.
The song, "Late Great Planet Earth," from Plumb's sophomore album, candycoatedwaterdrops, does sound like the theme from a James Bond movie. In fact, it is as good or better of a James Bond song than Garbage's "The World Is Not Enough," released later that year, for the lousy James Bond film of the same name (Pierce Brosnan = great Bond saddled, outside one notable exception, with the worst scripts of the franchise).
It is, at this point, easy to get the wrong impression of Plumb's candycoatedwaterdrops. If you look at the cover, you see Plumb herself, looking cool, rebellious, and defiant. However, candycoatedwaterdrops is not an edgy album. It is a pop-rock album.
Pop-rock is not generally my favorite genre, however, Plumb (aka Tiffany Arbuckle) is an excellent songwriter, and this particular album finds her young and hungry. These songs are so well-written, I changed my intiial 8/10 review, which was biased against the genre, into a 9/10. These songs combine great hooks with excellent instrumentation and solid, sometimes thought-provoking lyrics. Musically, there's a great amount of variety from song to song. The Bond-esque, previously-mentioned first track, the wall of irresistible chorus-power of "Stranded," the straight-forward pop-rock of "Here With Me," "Phobic's" gentle minimalism, "Damaged's" electronic loops, the alt-country of the self-titled closer--this album visits plenty of musical locales, even if they aren't all near where Adrian described that first track.
I can't fault candycoatedwaterdrops other than to say that it doesn't necessarily break any molds, but that isn't such a big deal when the album does what it does so well.
Really, who can resist "Stranded." Not the cast of One Tree Hill, the best show featured in this Youtube video, comprised solely of clips from One Tree Hill.

1999 Essential
1. Late Great Planet Earth 3:56
2. Stranded 3:39
3. Here With Me 4:04
4. Lie Low 3:12
5. Phobic 4:29
6. God-Shaped Hole 3:50
7. Solace 2:56
8. Worlds Collide: A Fairy Tale 3:50
9. Damaged 3:56
10. Drugstore Jesus 4:33
11. CandyCoatedWaterDrops 5:25

Friday, February 03, 2017

A Plea for Purging -- The Life and Death Of...


In the winter of 2010, I lost my mother to the barrel of her loaded gun
Two weeks later my forgotten dad lost the battle of his lifelong suicidal run

He was dead to me years ago
But losing her was an eternal blow
I've spoke in the past of the broken
But now I really know

If there's one thing I've learned: we're all put here to die
So why jump your turn?
I'm living day by day
There's strange comfort in apathy
Lay cold and alone in the ground
Will it be paradise or will you burn?
This is all a gamble
Until it's your turn

Home is where the broken heart is

Son to none
No home but the roads I roam
Son to none
No home but the roads I roam

We're all brokenhearted

-Andy Atkins, A Plea for Purging, "My Song"

These lyrics sum up The Life and Death Of..., A Plea for Purging's final album. The band delve deeper into the down-tuned metal of their previous album, with the guitar even some how lower in tone than before, the drums pummeling, and Atkins bellowing his throat out. All the while, Atkins puts his heart on his sleeve, detailing a dark time in life, dealing with the death of his parents, and missing his hometown as he grinds himself to the bone on the road.
Atkins is a magnetic frontman. His deeply introspective lyrics always show a great amount of empathy, as even in the above song, which details personal events that would break anyone, he marginalizes himself, insisting that "We're all brokenhearted."
An album full of this sort of pain-filled honesty is best when it doesn't go on too long, and that is The Life and Death Of...'s key flaw. Guitarist, Blake Martin, provided sung vocals on several songs on the band's previous album, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Here, his voice is largely relegated to interludes, perhaps meant to allow the listener to recover from the heavy, soul-crushing tracks. However, these interludes instead drag out the album and throw off its pacing. I think it would be far better without them.
So in the end, this is a good, emotional album, populated by some of A Plea for Purging's greatest songs, but it just doesn't quite flow like The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

2011 Facedown Records
1. The Life 4:37
2. Music City 3:46
3. Heart of a Child (featuring Chad Ruhlig) 3:50
4. Miss Fortune 1:47
5. My Song (featuring Chadwick Johnson) 3:41
6. Skin and Bones 5:07
7. Room for the Dead 5:13
8. A Fight for Peace 4:40
9. Hell at Our Backs 1:41
10. Words Misread 4:32
11. Hands and Feet 5:39
12. Living the Dream 3:29
13. The Death (featuring Chad Urich) 5:04
14. The Setting Sun 2:25

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

A Plea for Purging -- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell


Not since golden-age Zao has a "Christian" metal band held the Christian church as accountable as a Plea for Purging do on their bludgeoning 2010 release, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
I admittedly grew up in a prosperity theology-centered cult, so I have quite an intimate knowledge of the institutions called out here--and honestly, I am being too general when I say "the Christian church." The Marriage of Heaven and Hell focuses its ire on prosperity gospel preachers who steal from their congregations on the false pretense that if those congregants give all their money to the preacher, God will reward them with Earthly blessings--namely, more money.  Evil, wicked men have been twisting the truth since it existed, so this isn't anything new--but this insidious false doctrine has creeped more and more into mainstream theology in recent decades.
A Plea for Purging aren't having it, and their Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a musically and lyrically brutal blast against prosperity theology, utilizing down-tuned riffs, crushing drums, and throat-blasting vocals. This style of heavy music came into vogue in the early 10's, but A Plea for Purging master that sound well-ahead of the crowd, and the pure, unadulterated anger behind the music keeps it fresh seven years later.
A few key touches also give this album its unique feel, including a genuinely scary vibe generated by created samples of fiery prosperity minister sermons, and freaky guitar drones. However, the most unexpected hero of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is melody. The band wait until track five, "The Fall," to employ sung vocals (as opposed to the screamed vocals found throughout), but when they suddenly hit, they're like another angle of the conversation that is cutting in at just the right time. From that point on, they occur fairly regularly, but always feel necessary exactly when they happen. Track nine, "Jealous Wings," even relies on them completely.
Overall, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a terrifying record, the voice of judgement that rings out seconds before the apocalypse. The last ten seconds still send shivers down my spine (If there's something you hear right before demons rip off your skin, it's the last ten seconds of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). Sadly, its message is still just as relevant seven years later, if not more so.
Also, this video is still the best.

2010 Facedown Records
1. The Eternal Female 3:31
2. Sick Silent America 4:43
3. Shiver 2:55
4. Golden Barriers 3:37
5. The Fall 3:45
6. And Weep (featuring Nate Click) 3:45
7. Trembling Hands 3:44
8. Finite 4:13
9. The Jealous Wings 4:16
10. The New Born Wonder 5:01