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Thursday, August 31, 2017

So Much for P

P, you nearly killed me. Well, not you, but somebody nearly killed me while I was writing you. And my wife had major surgery. And my son caught pneumonia. And that is all in the last month. But then again, now I have a new vehicle I like immeasurably more than the last one. My wife and son are well. And you, P, are finished. On to Q. Wait, do I even have any Q's? Wait...none? Not even like a Queens of the Stone Age album or anything? Not even Queen? Nothing? Oh, well. On to R...starting with one of my favorite bands of all time...after these brief messages from our sponsors!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Public Image, Ltd. -- Second Edition


Beware the accolades of ancient hipsters.
Public Image, Ltd.'s 1979 release, Second Edition, is one of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all times. It's a: Post-punk masterpiece! Avant-garde epic!
 Public Image, Ltd.'s Second Edition is a landmark album only in that they got a major label to somehow release it. Some great basic ingredients are here. Jah Wobble (Google how he got this name, it's hilarious) is an excellent bassist for a beginner, and he lays down the bedrock of every track in a sort of punk-reggae-dub hybrid groove. If you buy this album, you'll be buying it for that. The drums are sometimes an excellent complement to the bass, and sometimes just barely passable--multiple people, some not drummers--played the drums on Second Edition. Then we get to the problems. The guitar playing, presaging new wave, and to some extent, the tone of U2's Edge, is sometimes great. Then, without warning, the guitarist will start playing bad notes. I don't know why. Is it some kind of cultural commentary--I could play beautifully...but instead I play badly...just like society?! I love the combination of dominant bass and drums with minimalist, atmosphere-painting guitar, so this could have been right up my alley. I guess my alley ain't dank enough.
Why sabotage your own songs? How can you call this album a classic when it isn't even listenable? Even the odd keyboard touches do little to help. Oh, yeah, and Johnny Rotten on vocals.
Maybe you've heard of the Sex Pistols--Rotten, nee Lydon, fronted that band, too. . In person, Lydon, though he can't sing to save his life, is a force of nature. His off key, off time vocals are a lot easier to accept when his trippy, spiked visage is blurring in and out of your vision. I really enjoy the below live performance, to be honest. I think it presages bands like Radiohead ("Idioteque" comes to mind).

But on record, Lydon's constant wailing is a lot harder to take, as is the entire arrangement.

There are few musical acts I don't enjoy that I wish I did as much as this one. The visual aesthetic and idea of Public Image Ltd. are something I should really love on paper. But yikes, in reality, I don't! What an apt name!

1979 Virgin
1. Albatross 10:34
2. Memories 5:05
3. Swan Lake 4:11
4. Poptones 7:46
5. Careering 4:32
6. Socialist 3:09
7. Graveyard 3:07
8. The Suit 3:29
9. Bad Baby 4:30
10. No Birds 4:41
11. Chant 5:01
12. Radio 4 4:2

Friday, August 25, 2017

Propellerheads -- Decksandrumsandrockandroll


Like most folks who watched the Matrix in the theater, I was most impressed with the lobby shootout scene, and my favorite musical cue from that film was that scene's accompanying track. That was a fun theater experience even before the movie began, as I had to sneak my younger cousin into the film--post-Columbine, society's badly misaimed response was to crack down on movies and video games, instead of simply trying to better understand sociopathy. But The Rabbit and I would not be denied.
I, being of legal age, bought a Matrix ticket for myself, and he bought a ticket for EDtv, which I've heard is lousy. He did not see EDtv that day, and the thrill of sneaking him into that movie makes me feel sorry for kids coming of age in the era of assigned movie seats. How are you supposed to hide comfortably in the back row of Most Recent Sex Comedy or Newest Bloody Action Movie when some old biddy is looking at her stub, then at you, then at the seat, then back at you, then telling you to move? THAT'S ABSOLUTELY INTOLERABLE! SHE'S NOT EVEN GOING TO ENJOY THE MOVIE! THE DEMOGRAPHIC IS "FIFTEEN YEAR-OLD MALE!!!"
Anyway, in the joy that I get to regale of tales of 1999 in two reviews straight, I'm happy to say we got to see The Matrix uninterrupted on the big screen, and I immediately sought out whoever did the bass-centric music for that lobby scene.
Turns out it's a duo called Propellerheads. They have one album to their name, Decksandrumsandrockandroll, a cool blend of drum 'n'bass and cinematic touches, like a big orchestra on the reinvisioning of John Barry's theme to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the most underrated Bond film of all time)." Indeed, these tracks seem tailor-made to back the cinema of the late 1990's, carrying that "detritus of the 20th century" vibe I love, also found in say the music of Portishead or The Dust Brothers, though without the downbeat feel of the former, or the dark grimy layers of the latter. This is just cool, fun, mostly instrumental music, with a great energy, timeless in its datedness...and also, very, very British.
Decksandrumsandrockandroll does get a little grating in a couple of moments, namely in the repetition of its closer, but the overall quality is surprisingly on par with "Spybreak!," the song from The Matrix that hooked me so long ago.
It's as guilt-free as sneaking your 15-year-old cousin into a classic film!

Also, for some reason, watching them Matrix hasn't yet inspired him to recreate its violence.

*movies and video games shown to cause mass incidents of run-on sentences and ALL CAPS

1998 DreamWorks
1. Take California 7:21
2. Velvet Pants 5:46
3. Better? 2:03
4. 360° (Oh Yeah?) 4:27
5. History Repeating 4:02
6. Winning Style 5:58
7. Bang On! 5:44
8. A Number Of Microphones 0:45
9. On Her Majesty's Secret Service 9:20
10. Bigger? 2:20
11. Cominagetcha 7:02
12. Spybreak! 6:58
13. You Want It Back 5:59

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Promise Ring -- Very Emergency


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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

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

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

I believe in you.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Project 86 -- Knives to the Future


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

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