Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I had, like most kids, enjoyed comics, but outside of a Spider-Man, Superman, Batman or Hulk, I kinda just let comics pass me by. My mom would occasionally let me pick one up here and there. I mostly remember those being Marvel Team-Ups. I had an issue where Spidey and The Beast teamed up. At the time, I had no idea who The Beast was. As far as I was concerned, he was big, blue and had claws, so he had to be the bad guy. Later, I found out who The Beast was and discovered that, much like the majority of citizens of the Marvel Universe, I was a Mutant Bigot.
In the summer of 1987, I had purchased issue number three of Justice League International. Later on in life, that run of the Justice League would have a major impact on me and my sensibilities about comics and superheroes. JLI was also probably among the last successful "fun" mainstream superhero comics ever published. Current attempts to create fun superhero books tend to fail pretty spectacularly, or are just dumbed down for "kids".
But at the time, I still was only semi-interested in comics, and had no clue how much Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire would mean to me in the future. Comics were comics and whatever. The comics elves churned 'em out for all I knew or gave a shit about. Then in October of that year, I went to a friend's house. Another kid who had been invited brought along a stack of X-Men comics. Seeing one of the covers (by Art Adams, another soon-to-be influence), I immediately wondered why Blue Beetle was getting shot. In my first ever encounter with Marvel vs. DC snark, it was quickly pointed out to me that the character in question was Cyclops, and Blue Beetle is a DC character and this was a Marvel book. Shortly thereafter, I was a complete X-Men nerd. Loved the book, loved the characters, and loved the concept. It was so different than any other comic I had ever read at the time (turns out it wasn't). Weeks later, that same kid - our friendship forged in the fires of comic geekery - lent me the original Wolverine mini-series. It was the first time I ever realized that people made these comics, and that I bothered to learn their names. It was also the first time I realized that I wanted to make comics for a living.
The thing about this book that had such an affect on 9-year old me was the complexity and maturity of the story. It was dark, it was violent and sexual, and still had a morality to it, and it blew my tiny little mind. And the art... good lord, the art. My friend and I would spend entire weekends tracing the covers and pages and panels of this slick, dark, beautiful art. Chris Claremont had crafted a story to rival any action/crime movie I had ever seen and Frank Miller became a fucking god to me. There is no other comic I own that I have read as many times as this book. This was the greatest comic ever made.

Then I got older and found comics better than this.

Reading Wolverine for the first time in 1988 - even though the book had been published in 1982 - I was completely unaware of the impact Miller had already had on the comic industry. By this point, he had completely revolutionized Batman with his Year One story and The Dark Knight Returns mini-series, neither of which I had discovered yet, and did not know of his work on Daredevil. When I finally did read those, I could not explain properly just how let down and disappointed I felt in seeing Miller's art in DKR compared to the work I fell in love with in Wolverine. To a very ignorant kid, it was such a drastic change in styles, I just assumed Miller suffered a stroke of some sort and couldn't draw anymore. I was heartbroken. As for Claremont, I stuck with him. I remained a loyal X-Men reader until he got booted off the book. It never seemed right to me after that, and outside of a few dips back into the stream, I never fully immersed myself back into the mutant waters until Grant Morrison wrote the book in 2001.

Claremont even made a couple returns, but he'd completely given in to his indulgences and would choke the life out of his comics with his excessive dialogue, narration and thought balloons. But to see Miller's fine, beautiful rendering in Wolverine to the gritty, sloppy mess that was Dark Knight, I just didn't understand it. That wasn't art. That's not what I had learned about art. Obviously, within a handful of years, I figured out the true meaning of "style" and learned not only to accept different ones, but also to love and embrace them as well. Miller remains an all-time favorite artist in my mind, but not for his early work, rather the later style he adopted to do Sin City and beyond. Which brings me to the distorted nostalgia portion of this clunker of a review.
For a comic that I revered for so long, by creators I'd idolized for so long, how does it hold up to 32-year old me? Turns out, not that bad actually. Certainly, the story and plot are as juvenile to me now as it was mature to me then, but it's still really solid. I think the story is as well written and tightly plotted as any great action/crime movie from the 80s, and still maintains a level of maturity that no other all-ages comic really holds today, which is essentially why I loved it so much back then. Despite how heady I thought it was back then, it is an all-ages comic that any kid could read. It maintains the illusion of being "grown-up" while being perfectly attainable and acceptable for any kid. This is the kind of children's entertainment that should be a standard and a norm, not an exception. It is never "written down" nor is it ever white-washed. Claremont and Miller knew their audience was growing older, but also knew that they needed the story to remain accessible. They crafted the perfect comic book for 1982, and with some storytelling and art tweaks, it's still an exceptionally good comic for 2011.

Claremont is at his prime, his use of dialogue, exposition and thought balloons and narration captions are all kept at the minimum he's comfortable with. He allows Miller's art to breathe and move on its own. Claremont knows he's working with one of the best sequential storytellers in the business and lets him work his magic.

However, knowing what I know now about comics and how the sausage is made, I realize that the art that I fell in love with is mostly the responsibility of Joe Rubenstein, the book's inker. Apparently the style that Miller started with DKR and refined with Sin City is how he drew comics back then as well, relying on the inkers to do the heavy lifting and "finish" the art. Rubenstein has a classic, slick style to his inks, and brought that to Miller's roughs, the same way Klaus Janson heavily influenced the look and feel of Miller's Daredevil run. Miller loves his shadows and the energy behind his art is due to his fluid and loose style. Some of that peeks through in the course of the story, but it's mostly Rubenstein giving Miller's pencil lines a polish that I don't think he's ever had since. Also, of course also knowing what I know now, Miller was most likely drunk.
Ultimately, Wolverine is not the fantastic be-all and end-all of comics that I thought it was at age 9, but at a jaded age 32, the absolute quality of the work overpowers the inherent flaws of simply being an old comic. If you've ever been a fan of the character or the X-Men and haven't read the original mini-series, it's worth the time and effort to move past the clunkiness of it's storytelling and tropes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Queensryche: Operation: mindcrime

Well, this is from 1988.  I was 13.  Even at the time I thought the music was a little cheesy & over-the-top.  But the storyline of a drug addict becoming a revolutionary that could save America from it’s government with the help of the Catholic Church seemed like if I played my cards just right it could be about me.  Even though I loved this record, I only had a dub of it on cassette & I had re-arranged the order of the tracks to make it fit on the cassette (despite the fact the songs tell a story in chronological order).  I probably haven’t even heard a song off of this record since 1990 as I started to get into speed metal & death metal at that time.  Still I have jokingly sang a parody of “I Don’t Believe in Love” on a regular basis for years, though pretty much no one ever gets the reference.
So the first thing I notice about this record is the keyboard sounds are awful.  They sound like a 1980s Yamaha & not in the ironic embracing way that some pop bands get away with.  They are just awful.  The vocal style reminds me of Iron Maiden & I don’t mean that in a good way. (Even in the 1980s I thought Iron Maiden’s artwork was way better than their music & I still think that.  Though I haven’t listened to them in 20 years now so maybe Killers is a good record?)  But I think some of the guitar arpeggio stuff on here may have sunk into my unconscious because every once in a while I hear a part of a riff that I have lifted into my own songs.  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a narrative album that wasn’t over the top & ridiculous, so I’m not sure I can fault this for that.  I just find myself wishing this was an actual rock opera with video.  I feel like I’m missing something with just the audio (I feel the same way about The Wall), but I don’t think they even made videos for most of the songs (at least I can’t find them on YouTube).
This record really does serve as a time machine for me & makes me want to go & smoke Marlboro Reds & drink beers in the woods at the park down the street & plan a revolution, but somehow I don’t think my best friend from junior high would know to show up.  Still I can’t really whole-heartedly endorse it or push it away.  I would say it’s an album worth hearing, just because the narrative element is so bizarre.  Musically it really is way over the top glam metal which is fun & funny.  I think it would be a fun album to take on tour & make the whole van listen to.  You can probably find it used for about the same price as to rent a movie & I think it is worth an hour of your life hanging around a group of folks to talk about it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

City of Lost Children

Everybody knows somebody like this or if they don’t they most likely were this person in their social circle.  You know the type,  they fancied the world beyond whichever podunk town they had been  plopped down into by a choice not of their own, either through birth, employment, romance or just sheer laziness.  You’ll see them at art house cinemas, learning foreign languages so that they may drop a phrase or a word in to conversations with other native English speakers, raving over their latest ethnic food experience, all the while looking down their noses upon the mundane things that surrounded them.  Their eyes always peering across the Atlantic.  One thing these people all have in common, especially is  that they all proclaim their love for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “City of Lost Children”.  

Thanks to the American Convenience of OnDemand,  I was able to check this movie out over this weekend and with the added insight of a few years of life experiences and growth between viewings and without shelling out my hardly earned cash.  Verdict:  File this under the what was I thinking category,  like that bad hair metal band you listened to in Junior High,  the silly haircut you had in the 90’s or smoking cloves in dark dank nightclubs during your local GothDisco nights.  “City of Lost Children” just doesn’t stand the test of time…. at all and while I didn't love it back in the nineties I did think this movie was a well crafted piece of art.   Yes, the visuals are spectacular, the set design, color schemes, wardrobe and cinematography are all breathtaking and it’s one thing that Jeunet excels at in all of his films, even that Aliens one.  Unfortunately, that’s where the pros end and the bountiful cons begin.  All of the characters are either norms struggling in this dark depressing world they find themselves in or the supporting cast of weirdos both are one dimensional, their weirdness portrayed only through physical characteristics and wardrobe, and both the weirdos and the norms dispositions have no effect whatsoever  on the souls and essence of the characters being portrayed here.  In fact, the most dynamic and best acted character in this movie is a brain that sits in a tank filled with greenish water.  That said, the acting in this film is the equivalent to a high school production of “Hello Dolly” and the action sequences are no better.  They come across as if we were watching the rehearsal of an action sequence and therefore  mostly dull and uninspired.  With so much working against this film that means the story and plot needs to be very compelling and it is here that the movie fails once again.
To quote Wikipedia: “The movie revolves around a plot by the mad scientist Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who kidnaps children to steal their dreams. Among them is the little brother of carnival strongman One (Ron Perlman), who sets out to rescue him with the help of a young, orphaned, thieves' guild member named Miette (Judith Vittet).

There’s a 1985 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano called “Commando”  with a similar yet more complex plotline and the acting is equally convincing.  Yet somehow the artsy and pseudo-intellectual kids never took to it like they did “City of Lost Children”.  During my latest viewing I was in danger of dozing off at several points and I blame this mostly on the fact that this movie had nothing to grab a hold of.  The character struggles or even the character themselves were flat, uninspiring and mostly uninteresting. They never seem to care too much about what they’re actually doing and even the little brother who needed rescuing never ceased just being a cute kid on screen and therefore never was there ever a sense that he was in any sort of danger and in need of being rescued, just a cute kid oblivious to the world around him someone to gawk at and say "awwww" to.   This film was just a visual masterpiece, but its kind of  how when a woman will overcompensate for their low self-esteem or their lack of personality by wearing clothes that leave their breasts flopping out on display to distract you,  that is basically what City of Lost Children Is doing, flaunting its visuals due to lack of substance and/or smarts.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cavity "Somewhere Between the Train Station... and the Dumping Grounds"

Twenty year old me bought this album when it came out in 1997 and it's safe to say it blindsided me like the rusty grill of a garbage truck. And that's kind of how this record sounded... like rust. Grimy, filthy rust covered guitar strings, drums and even throats belting out a melding of hardcore and stoner rock that sounded just a little different from all the other "sludge-core" or "doom-metal" or what have you that I'd been listening to around that time.

For some reason about five years ago I went through one of those purgings of my cd collection that people do from time to time and I got rid of a lot of stuff. Probably about 150 cds. I was streamlining. I was growing up. I was going through a mid-life crisis. Whatever happened I ended up with about a third of my cd collection intact. Over the ensuing years I've honestly not missed hardly any of them... but for some reason earlier this year I started thinking about Cavity. I mean, this was the band that inspired me to pay great homage (read: totally rip them off) by writing many guitar riffs in the vein of what I'd heard on "Somewhere.." for the band I was in during the late '90's-2000. They had floored me, inspired me and rocked my effing socks off. And now I missed them.

Well, living in Dayton, Ohio I of course had no options to buy the cd in person unless I drove about an hour to Columbus or Cincinnati... so I did just that. I went to a couple of record stores in Cincinnati with the singular purpose of finding this disc (or vinyl--I didn't care which)... all to no avail. So I hopped on the internet (during worktime of course) and ordered me a brand spanking new copy for around $15 and waited for it to arrive... wondering if it could possibly be anywhere near the sonic greatness I fondly remembered it as.

Now, let me just preface this by saying that although back when I first heard Cavity I was also really into slower softer music like Low and Dirty Three and Edith Frost... nowadays I'm way more so. I find myself listening much more to bands and aritists like Sun Kill Moon, Clem Snide, and Damien Jurado who most would call "sad bastard" or "sleepy-time" music (they of course are right... but that doesn't make me like them one teardroplet of artsy fartsiness less) than to Slayer or Sepultura (both of whom I also love dearly). That said, I opened up my new copy of "Somewhere..." and put it in the player.

Within seconds my head was banging and I was singing along like I was twenty again. This thing totally destroys... it's like if you locked early '80's Black Flag in a room with nothing but their instruments and the first four Black Sabbath albums (and of course some rations... I mean c'mon, we're not gonna be totally inhumane to the Flaggers are we?) for a year. This is what that would sound like. It's sludgy and heavy at times but mostly it's grindy blood boiling hardcore that makes you want to destroy something. Not in a malicious way though... more like when you watch one of those time elapsed videos of something in nature rotting away... it just feels natural. And so does this disc. Eleven tracks that singe and decay right there in your cd tray like some sort of burning robot made out of junk cars with frayed wires protruding from every crevice. Like I said earlier it's the sound of rust and filth the entire length of the disc.
And as if that's not enough there's a hidden track done in a way unlike I've ever seen (or at least yet discovered) again where you pop in the disc and rewind track one to reveal an entire live show before the track starts! How sweet is that?!?

Anyhoo... check 'em out. Cavity from Florida. Sadly they disbanded years ago (after putting out 4 or 5 albums total) and their sound changed a bit along the way ("Supercollider" ,their next release and probably my favorite of their discography, is similar to "Somewhere..." though cleaner and musically more mature and "On The Lam" was their last and smoothest sounding album although it still delves into the feedbacky rawness of their previous releases on occasion). After thirteen years this thing still holds up to be an amazing record and one that I definitely won't make the mistake of selling a second time despite any financial or space issues. If you have any interest in stoner metal and punk rock give this thing a listen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky has been in the entertainment news quite a bit lately. He and his longtime something-or-other, Rachel Weisz, are separating (I'm in!); he has been confirmed as the director of the stand-alone sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, called The Wolverine, which will reportedly be based on the classic mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller (probably my next post for N=D); and his latest film, Black Swan, is gaining accolades, making the festival rounds and opening sporadically across the world. It's being labeled as a horror movie, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. It seems more like a dark drama/psychological thriller. However, if Natalie Portman actually does transform into a gigantic Were-Swan, and goes on a gore-filled rampage, I'll fucking pay twice the amount to see that damn movie.
So all this has made me realize that even though I frequently list Requiem for a Dream as my No. 2 Favorite Film of All Time, I have only seen it once, back in the year 2001. It is a film that haunted me, and moved me, and made me feel terrible. It's a film with such power and rawness that I immediately ranked it as a favorite and decided to never watch it again. I couldn't bear to watch it again.
So, here we are. I'mma do this. I'm gonna go re-watch Requiem for a Dream for the first time in almost 10 years. Then I'm gonna come back to this draft document and review it to see how I feel. Here's the deal. I may not come back.

If I don't come back, it's because the movie left me as devastated as I was the first time watching it, and you'll know that it remains in the No. 2 spot of my Favorite Films of All Time. Also, because of that, I will have probably killed myself due to the depressed state the movie has left me in. I am leaving a separate set of instructions for my friends to post this for me after my death. If I do come back to write out my feelings about the movie 10 years later, then something must have changed. So. Let's do this and see what happens.

I'll be back. Maybe?


Alrighty... So. Yeah. This is what my friend Jason refers to as “Thundercats Syndrome”. This is indeed where nostalgia has been distorted. Or something. I'm trying hard to be clever. It never works. It also looks as if I'll be looking for a new No. 2 Favorite Film of All Time, 'cause Requiem for a Dream has dropped out of the top 10. Move on up, Evil Dead II! Juice by Bruce! Juice by Bruce!

While still a gorgeously made film, the emotional impact I remember having from my first go-round was completely supplanted by being distracted by all the “clever” cinematic editing and cinematography. The patented Aronofsky Camera-in-face-while-walking bit. The repetitive montages, shaky-cam, flickering lights, monochromatic color schemes, fast-speed/slow-downs, etc. etc. Basically every little editing trick that has been commandeered by the Saw movies.
Which is fitting, since throughout this viewing, I stopped watching this movie as gritty drama, and started watching it as a horror film. So maybe Black Swan is a horror movie? It seems as if Aronofsky has already had some warm-up playing in that genre. It's hard to label Requiem as anything else, especially now. Horrific, terrible things happen, and – even though it's a hallucination – there are monsters in the movie. And a dismemberment (spoiler). But of course the biggest monsters are the four main characters themselves. And Tappy Tibbons.

That said, it's still a fantastic movie with great performances by Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans. They all achieve everything that is asked of them by the script and direction and each one knocks it out of the park, Wayans in particular, is still a spectacular suprise in this movie, especially in light of his work before and since this was made. However, whatever goodwill he built-up by being amazing in this movie was pissed away the second he thought Little Man or White Chicks was a good idea.
In the end, Aronofsky's cleverness got the better of himself and detracted from his statement by trying to dazzle the audience with his innovative cinematography. Instead of worrying about getting the fish-eyed angle right, he should have focused more on the characters, the situations, the drama. Instead, we get a pre-Saw Saw movie about drugs and addiction, while the characters become unlikeable caricatures.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jandek: Six and Six

I didn't get into Jandek until around 2002.  I heard the song "Feathered Drums" & liked it enough that I sent in for the 20 albums for $80 deal that was going at the time (this was a time in my life where I was making more money than usual & didn't have a girlfriend to make me live a little nicer off the extra cash).  Maybe it's because the first song I remember hearing by Jandek is on this album that I gravitated towards it, but this was pretty instantly my favorite of his & clearly the one I'd listened to the most times.  It reminds me of what I like to think I would've done if I'd recorded an album in high school on LSD armed with the acoustic guitar I had with broken tuning pegs.  But at the same time it sounds out there & crazy, the whole thing feels intentional & like a letter from a friend on the brink of discovering the ultimate truth of reality.
It's probably been three years since I last listened to this album & I really have no reason why.  Probably because after seeing him live a while ago, it felt like part of the magic was gone (due in large part to the backing band he had).  Wow, this is still brilliant.  Put him next to Bob Dylan as one of the best songwriters of the twentieth century.  Just a man & his acoustic guitar & that's all you need.  When I put the record on it immediately feels like the room is turned into Jandek's home, he penetrates.  But as much as I love this record I know it's not for everyone.  The guitar is tuned to bring a degree of emotional accuracy rather than tonal accuracy.  The same with the vocals.  People want to call this a blues record & I can see it being up there with some of the Leadbelly stuff that I also like a lot.  This is generally thought of as Jandek at his most raw & that's what I want.  Some how undistilled is better than cleaned up & purified.  The lyrics here stick with you, every time I hear someone talking about going to jail I think of the lines "I've been to jail before / Been let out to" & whenever I see two spiders I remember "two spiders meet on a rock / but they're the same anyway." 
I can't really explain what makes this record special.  There is a vibe like it was made from the sole survivor of a cult that committed suicide & I think that feeling is part of what allowed the rise of the Jandek mythos.  This is the second record (or first record if you credit the first album to The Units) & if you only ever hear one Jandek record, this probably should be the one (though I am also quite fond of the much later The Gone Wait).
The strangest thing for me is on this record Jandek is presumably 35, the same age I am right now.  So it gives me a certain degree of hope that I could go on to do something brilliant & start a new career & we all need to have that feeling of hope more often.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

American Music Club: Mercury

There was a period in my life I was obsessed with this album. I have vivid memories of walking, driving and just sitting around – probably drinking, AMC is a drunk’s band if there ever was one – listening to Mercury.

Eventually I moved on to something else and it’s been years since I’ve wanted to listen to Mercury. It was imposing. It seemed too dark, bleak, too utterly devoid of hope. Not a place I wanted to revisit.

So now, 10, 15 years on, how does it sit? Well, it’s still an alcoholic’s oblivion of an album. It’s still not something I ever want to listen to with any great frequency.

Still, this has to be one of the most beautifully recorded and mixed major label albums I have ever heard, which I guess with Tchad Blake in the mixing chair and Bob Ludwig mastering should come as no surprise.

The supporting instrumentation is beautiful. The piano calls, the martial drumming, especially Vudi’s gorgeous guitar leads and textures. Vudi was later roped in as a live member of Swans, which seems like a natural progression to me. That this guy is driving a bus somewhere right now is a crime against humanity.

More than anything, though, shines lead guy Mark Eitzel’s writing. This guy makes me wish I was a better lyricist. This review really could be nothing but song quotes…

The album opens with this chipper salutation, from “Gratitude Walks”:
Why don't you be good for something
And draw down the shade
On a sign that sat up all night shivering
On a sign that sat up all night afraid

…and later…
Take a number for your big lament
They sold the rules of dreamland
in cotton, wool, and cement

…in “I’ve Been A Mess”, Eitzel ponders Lazarus’ disposition upon being reanimated by Jesus Christ:
What were the first words that crowd heard him speak
I bet he was cursing at the sky
I bet he wasn’t turning no other cheek

You know how when you were young and dumb, you could sometimes find yourself getting wasted with people you actually actively despised? “Hollywood 4-5-92”:
My revenge against the world
Is to believe everything you say
Balanced as you are on a pile of empty bottles

“Dallas, Airports, Bodybags” nails the horror of being hungover in an airport:
Shuffling through people like cards
Oh let ‘em blow around like sand
Maybe it’ll uncover some beauty in their eyes
Maybe it’ll give me a place to breathe
Maybe give me some room to stand

There’s so many more – you could pull great quotes from any song on here. Eitzel is as great or better a writer as any of your Dylans, your Neil Youngs, your Leonard Cohens. Sure, those guys are masters. Eitzel is in the same class.

The only complaint I have about Mercury is that at nearly an hour long, it’s, well, too long. But I’d be hard pressed to choose a song to cut, save maybe the instrumental “More Hopes and Dreams”, which would give us back what, 2 minutes?

I’ll leave you with my favorite line from the album, from “The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven’s 10,000 Whores”

You were a scarecrow looking for a bonfire to sleep on

...seriously. Read that again:

You were a SCARECROW looking for a BONFIRE to SLEEP ON

Blur: Parklife

Blur hasn't aged very well for me. The only record of theirs that I've played, well, since the 'end of the century' so to speak, has been their singles compilation, so I thought it was time to revisit one of the supposed classics of the era. Nothing has really changed in my opinion of Parklife. The best songs such as the the Kinks-inspired "End of a Century," the Syd Barrett rip-off "Far Out," and the beautifully glamorous "To The End" (should have been a Bond theme) still sound amazing. As does the epic "This Is A Low," perhaps Damon Albarn's finest moment as a vocalist and lyricist. Pure genius. For a record that was aiming to be a timeless concept album, however, Parklife is just too damn spotty. Village Green Preservation Society or Odgen's Nut Gone Flake this ain't. There's being clever and just plain smacking of effort and too often Blur falls in the latter camp. Here's hoping I never have to hear the cheesy Euro disco smash "Girls & Boys' ever again or "Clover Over Dover." Yuck. In contrast, I've probably played something by Blur's 'rival' Oasis every week for the last 16 years. Noise and melody never gets old.  I'm starting to think that as a scene, '90's Britpop was my generation's Studio 54—you had to be there.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

U2: War

U2's third album War was my favorite record of 1983. I had heard songs from their previous records, but "New Year's Day" really sold me on the band. Besides, they looked so much cooler posing in the snow than they did goofing around on the Dublin docks for the "Gloria" video. What really impressed me most, however, was The Edge's guitar sound. I had grown up listening to classic rock (it wasn't called that then), but as the '80's kicked in, I started getting exposed to newer sounds. U2 proved that bands didn't need to include ridiculous guitar solos to be relevant. Remember, this wasn't too long after pompous albums such as Frampton Comes Alive were multi-million sellers. As I got older, I started to like U2's 'weirder' albums like October and The Unforgettable Fire the most, but when revisiting War, I'm reminded how relevant this record still is. Sure, the Cold War is over and the situation in Northern Ireland has certainly simmered, but the world is still a fucked up place, so there is always room for a kick ass post-punk record, which makes you think. War finds Bono being political but not overly preachy as he sometimes can be. His passionate vocals still give me goosebumps on  "New Year's Day," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," and "Two Hearts Beat As One." The Edge adds to the mix with a staggering combination of effects pedal wizardry and simple, yet potent power chords, while Larry Mullen, Jr.'s militaristic drum sound adds to the icy atmosphere of this record. When listening to War again, I'm reminded how great the non-singles are, like the heavy hitting "Like A Song," or  the all-too-brief down tempo pieces "Drowning Man" and "40," which ended Sides 1 and 2 in the pre-CD days. U2 seemed to get a little silly and too much limousine rock post-Joshua Tree, though I do love Achtung Baby (at least I think I do, it's been awhile!), but their early records still remain post-punk treasures. Speaking of, I always thought it was a shame that "Treasure," the 'edgy' "New Year's Day" B-Side wasn't included on War.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Realpeople: Holland aka Beirut March of the Zapotec disc II

I bought this disc at a Beirut show in Brooklyn a couple years or more ago and naturally listened to the two included EPs on the ride home to Boston.  The Beirut portion of this two EP set found it’s way into my stereo a few more times after that but the Realpeople disc was never listened to again. That is until today.
For those not in the know, prior to Zach’s discovery of Balkan jams, he apparently had this band Realpeople that relied on synthesizers and for some reason he put together an EP for this release, possibly to prove he wasn’t just a one trick pony or perhaps he thought he had some songs laying around that didn’t fit the Beirut mold or maybe he just missed synthesizers.  It’s probably safe to say that I’ll probably never listen to it again. While it’s not a bad disc, it doesn’t do much to warrant more attention than as just a curiosity.  Basically it’s a Beirut record with different instrumentation and as the disc progresses it becomes more and more exactly like a Beirut record with the addition of horns and accordions while the more synth reliant songs just wind up making me wish I was listening to Sebastian Tellier instead.  They actually wind up sounding like dance mixes of Beirut songs more so than a separate project altogether.  Not sure what he was going for with this release, but he probably could’ve saved the label some dough with the fancy packaging and just released the single EP and included the songs that were exactly like Beirut and had a stronger release.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Cure: The Cure

I did a review of this album a few years ago for QRD and since not all memories are good memories I thought I'd revisit.   Check It Here.

Well, basically I feel exactly the same as that review back then as I do now. Although I’ve warmed up to the opener “Lost” and the closer “Promise”, mostly this album is unmemorable and in my mind it doesn’t really exist and then I’ll see the album cover pop up on the internet someplace such as Amazon or something and I remember it existed.  In the spirit of this blog this time I decided to go back and give it a listen much to my dismay.  It’s sad really, because the B-sides and unreleased songs are so much better than the actual album.  Usually there’s a balance with the Cure. “A Letter to Elise” versus “The Big Hand” comes to mind.  More importantly though, I noticed that my review/writing style (more like the lack thereof) in regards to reviews has also remained intact and that I should put more effort into spelling and grammar.  I’ve never claimed to be a writer or a blogger or any of that but if I’m going to put forth effort I should actually put forth effort.  We’ll see how that goes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Samhain III: November's Coming Fire

How appropriate. Samhain has always been Glenn Danzig's most underrated project, neither as catchy and fun as Misfits nor as mainstream as Danzig, the band fell somewhere in between. And even amongst Samhain albums, November's Coming Fire stands out as something unique. I remember being in Germany and a big metal fan just getting into punk (which is weird since most punk bands morph into metal), we would travel from our little village to Frankfurt to go to the WOM. At the time you were able to find all sorts of unofficial releases on vinyl, many coloured Misfits vinyl were purchased and eventually that lead to the purchase of Samhain. Everything about this release fit exactly where the imagery Glenn tried to keep up should be. The music was dark, morbid, intense and fit the mood of dark autumn nights lit only by open fire, sort of like a goth camping trip. The back cover photography was exactly the mood the music on the record conveyed. Having seen some bootlegs of the band during this era, it's safe to say that what they captured on tape was something more special than their live set which emphasized the energy more than the mood of the songs. It was goth, not metal, not punk and definitely not the blues rock that Danzig became. For a couple years straight I'd listen to this record what seemed like a couple times a week. Songs like "Mother of Mercy," "Let the Day Begin," "To Walk the Night," and "November's Fire" were all favourites. To me this is Glenn at his peak and it's all been downhill since then. I think the opening instrumental could have been left off but aside from that it's pretty much a perfect record. Well aside from that and the drums being overdubbed, at times you can hear where the beats aren't exactly synched to each other.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Turtletoes: Jackersville

I have a real sort of love-hate relationship with music. In the past few years, most of the new music I've been exposed to has been distastefully mediocre and homogenized, and much of the old music I used to listen to has become dry and dull. I fill my days with podcasts (, comedy, books, news and talk radio. Music can stay the fuck away. Stay away, Music! You're not welcome here. Not without handjobs and lollipops.

So, when invited to this blog and told it was to review old favorite albums long strayed, I thought to myself "Brian John Mitchell, what are you trying to get me into this time?! Goddammit!" I want no part of this. Why am I accepting the invite? What are you doing, fingerbrains? I was later told I didn't have to review an album, I could watch an old movie or read an old comic. But it was too late. I listened to something.

Here's my problem. I find all artists to be unreliable pretentious fucktards without any sense of fun or basic human decency, but I find musicians to be the absolute worst kind of artist, especially lyricists. Don't get me wrong - all my best friends are artists. They're also everything I just mentioned. Especially the musicians. Good lord, the musicians. I also think that any creative person who can become adept at their chosen outlet is an amazing human being with a fantastic capacity for mastering an instrument, be it brush or guitar. They're also just, y'know, pretentious scum. But man, lyricists (and poets) need to all go fuck themselves in the faces with a funstick.

Or this.

But back when I listened to music heavily, around '95 and '96, I was always searching for something new and different. I had a couple of friends fully entrenched in the indie music scene at the time - brothers Tim and Joe - and still are to this day. We all worked together at a movie theater, I was finishing up high school and getting ready for art school. I would often work the popcorn popping shift - 8 straight hours in a tiny hot room, popping corn. Luckily there was a stereo, and I would listen to anything and everything. Tim let me borrow a CD from a band called Turtletoes. He claimed to have gone to Ohio University with the primary musician - John Hughes III. I don't know if Tim was lying. He may have been, but it didn't matter, because that album blew my mind. I made a copy and listened to that thing 'til the tape broke. It got me through popcorn popping, art school, my night-manager job at a hotel, shoveling snow in one of the worst winters I can remember, and moving into my own place. I finally got my own copy of the CD back in 2001. It's been a few years since I last heard it all the way through, and so I made it my first choice for this blog.

Self-released from Hughes' own Chicago based Hefty Records, Jackersville was the only album put out under the guise of Turtletoes. In case you missed the connection, Hughes is indeed the son of the legendary filmmaker behind such movies as Baby's Day Out and Curly Sue. The album is a fantastic fusion of jazz and indie rock. Every song is hook-filled and memorable, while all at the same time discordant and schizophrenic. But there's not a track that doesn't have some part that will stick in your head for days. The tracks tend to switch back and forth between jazzy instrumental pieces and rockin' indie/fusion songs. There's no denying that I love the instrumentals far more than the tracks with lyrics. They all have a fantastic rhythm and composition that still reaches into my dead black heart and massages it back to life and gives me chills. Strung together, the instrumentals could be the soundtrack from some sort of Neo-Noir film in the vein of Robert Altman and Elliot Gould's version of Phillip Marlowe.

That said, the "song" songs are also incredibly listenable, enjoyable and catchy. The lyrics all reek of the ridiculousness of a musician high on his own ego and pretension, in a sort of post-Beck way, though this album hit before Beck fully enjoyed mainstream popularity (Odelay was still a year away). Hughes is also not a fantastic singer by any means, but I've never believed that a good singing voice is necessary to making an effective performance. Hell, I love Lemmy.

That guy.

I don't think I could ever go back to listening to this album as much as I did in 1996, but I still definitely love it as much as I did, if not more, due to the simple lack of music I find enjoyable nowadays. I would always welcome Jackersville into my CD player or Windows Media Player. The handjobs are little rougher nowadays, could use some lotion, but the lollipops are just as sweet.

Cranes: Self Non-Self

Like many Cranes fans,  The first introduction to the band was as openers for The Cure's Wish Tour in 1992.  They came across the stadium with Alison's helium voice over dark songs and an emphasis on piano and guitar noise whilst abstract rhythms echoed.  Immediately after the show the hunt was on for the only release available at the time in the states, Wings of Joy.  What I heard was probably the most original collection of sounds I'd heard up to that point in my life.  The subsequent albums became more pop oriented and older releases were pretty much impossible to find in US based CD shops and in an age before widespread internet usage it was a blessing when their first proper release Self Non-Self was re-released by Dedicated later in the 90's.

Unlike the later more song driven and pop oriented albums, Self Non-Self assaults you with the contrast between fragile vocals and the harsh throbbing rhythms.   Obvious influneces included the Birthday Party, but its much more controlled and not a free for all (probably as a result of the lack of drug use in this band in comparison), and I read that the Young Gods were a big influence but i've never really gotten around to listening to them to be able to accurately say it's true.  Self Non-Self is definitely an album that a.) stands the test of time  and b.) sounds like no other album I've heard which probably is why it stands that test of time.  It's not something I can listen to on a regular basis which is probably why I haven't listened to it in quite some time and as a result I'm probably going to be listening to Wings of Joy pretty soon too.   The harsh rhythms, noise guitar, and simplistic repetitive melody structures are industrial and goth influenced but not in the corny electrogoth way, instead offer something more unique that I'm finding a difficult time describing accurately.  It's a pity to hear where they wound up when you listen to where they came from.  
Highlights include "Focus Breathe" and the live version of "Reach."

The Chameleons: Strange Times

I first heard the Chameleons in 1987, right about the time they were about to break up for the first time. I was at an 'alternative' club night in Ann Arbor Michigan and the DJ had just played The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" How could you top it? The next song did. I had no idea who it was, but I just remember that creepy Gothy intro that beats the Cure at their own game before building to a U2-like epic of massive proportions. I remember asking out loud, who is this and some girl nearby saying, "that's the Chameleons, they're really intense." I ended up finding the "Swamp Thing" 12-inch and then getting the album before proceeding to find the import only first two albums Script of The Bridge and What Does Anything Mean? Basically. In those pre-internet days it took real work and luck to find certain imports. The Chameleons ended up becoming my favorite band for a long time, Strange Times being my favorite for the aforementioned "Swamp Thing" and the twin 8-minute centerpieces "Caution" and "Soul in Isolation." Strange Times captures mid-20's angst better than any record I can think of (one of my escapes from a crappy first marriage), probably no coincidence that it was produced by Dave Allen, the same man who applied the magic to other 'cheery' artists like The Cure and Sisters of Mercy. These days I'm well past my 20's and I almost never feel depressed; more often than not, I'm just pissed off. When the first two Chameleons albums were reissued last year, I spent a lot of time re-discovering them; the post-punk angst of those records really resonated with me. Yet that still didn't inspire me to go back to Strange Times. I just didn't want to go back to memories I associated with that record. Kind of like not wanting to really listen to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. You know the record is freaking good but do you really need a gateway drug to feeling sad for the sake of feeling sad. To cut to the chase, I pulled out Strange Times and yes, the best songs are as great as I remembered but a lot of side 2 isn't as good as I remembered. Very moody and introspective, which is probably why the band's set lists even back in the day largely consisted of songs from the first two albums. Weirdly enough, the Chameleons album that I like best these days is the one I liked the least back then, What Does Anything Mean? Basically.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brian Jonestown Massacre: Take It From The Man!

I was pretty wrapped up in Britpop in the mid-'90s, but as that scene started to become a parody of itself, American bands like the Dandy Warhols, and, especially, Brian Jonestown Massacre stepped up to the plate and saved the day. The BJM released something like four albums in '95 and '96 and I remember Take It From The Man! as being my favorite from that era. BJM managed to combine the grace and songwriting chops of the best Brit shoegaze bands with a fierce and scuzzy garage rock sound that made The Yardbirds, Pretty Things and even numerous Back From The Grave and Nuggets era garage rock bands look tame in comparison. That said, I hadn't listened to this record in about five years until today, but what do you know the songs still sound as tense and urgent as they did back in '96 when my old friend Nigel at Newbury Comics in Cambridge, MA told me I needed to really buy this record. Take It From The Man! is the heaviest of the early BJM albums, but manages to have a few awesome down tempo songs like the Bowie tribute "[David Bowie I Love You] Since I Was Six."

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mission UK: Carved in Sand

1988-92 seemed to be a peak in the British music scene’s output, most of the bands that formed in the late 70’s & early 80’s seemed to have released their best material during this time frame and a new crop of bands that would carry the torch were formed.  The Mission UK fell into the former category and since they formed from a split with Andrew Eldritch’s Sisters of Mercy, they’ve released a few albums all seeming to lead up to Carved in Sand.  It was probably their most successful release both commercially and artistically. I’m sure some research would prove that out but it’s not really the point of this review so I’m going to let readers google that on their own if they care.

I purchased this release on cassette at the PX based on the strength of hearing their cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” (which at the time I didn’t realize was a cover and wasn’t on this release unfortunately).  Carved in Sand is pieced together the way you’d imagine a live set would come across with songs bleeding into the other, heavy 80’s drums, a wash of reverb over the guitars and upfront vocals.  The thing about the Mission UK is that musically nothing really stands out but instead it all works together to form a cohesive backdrop for Wayne Hussey’s vocals.  Whom in my opinion sounds like Bono, if he actually cared about what he was singing.  It’s full of passion to the point that it’s almost whining.  Both a blessing and a curse for the Mission because on one hand it fits perfectly and adds a different element to the music on the other, it’s sometimes unbearable and borderline cheese filled.   The album kicks off with “Amelia” a sweet song about father/daughter relations which starts off with fast acoustic strumming and Hussey’s whine, calling out to Amelia and damning her fathers actions and for the next five songs the Mission UK delivers a strong, nostalgic and peculiar arena rock set of songs.  Highlights include “Butterfly on a Wheel” and “Deliverance”.  Things start winding down around “Grapes of Wrath,” which reminded me that when I had the cassette, I probably rarely listened to side B.  The songs on the later half of this release mostly sound like the first half but less catchy or interesting, the only exception being the acoustic closer “Lovely.”  This album would make for good traveling music, riding alone in a car for long distances.  It actually reminds me of going to Spain, probably because I purchased it around the time I took a trip there for the first time, although in reality I probably didn’t listen to it once on the trip and in all likelihood I heard Snap’s “I’ve Got The Power” and Technotronix’s “Pump Up The Jam” way more that week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Sisters of Mercy: Some Girls Wander By Mistake

I bought this CD in 1993.  Pretty much the peak of my phase of being into the “goth scene” before getting fed up with how much of it was about fashion rather than music.  A part of getting this was that a girl I liked was into the song “Temple of Love.”  I was 18, so girls could still influence the music I listened to at least to a certain degree.  Even back then I remembered thinking this was a bit uneven, probably part of why I haven’t listened to it in about twelve years now.  It kicks off with “Alice” & me thinking, “Why haven’t I listened to this in so long?”  Then the rest of the record starts.  It totally has that production vibe of all the British proto-goth bands (Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, etc.) & the weird swirling stereophonic reverbs remind me of when I used to take LSD & listen to this kind of music.  That probably is the best way to listen to a record like this.  Be 18 & depressed & lonely & intoxicated & trying to crawl into someone else’s brain to figure out how their vision of reality works & if yours is working properly (newsflash: it probably isn’t).  There are songs I like on here (“Alice,” “Heartland,” “Phantom,” “Body Electric,” “Adrenochrome”) & really take me back in time in a pleasant way.  Though it sounds incredibly like 1983 (when most of the songs were recorded), to me it sounds like 1993 & when I master time travel this might be the CD to take me back to that summer.

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