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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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

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

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

Hey, that was fun!
Yeah, it was.

Um, how you doin?

Good, I feel great!

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

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

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

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

You always give out tens!

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

Americans. Americans do.

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

People are the worst.

You're the worst!

I'm you.

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

Sweet. I love waffles.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Portishead -- Third


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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Portishead -- Roseland NYC Live


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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Portishead -- Portishead


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Tribute to Crystal, My Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, Babe.

Look at those eyes! Jeez!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Portishead -- Dummy


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

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

Thursday, May 04, 2017

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

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

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

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

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

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

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