Archive for January, 2007

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The Shins – Wincing The Night Away

January 29, 2007

To be blunt, I really don’t know much about The Shins. I listened to some select songs from the band a few years ago and I remember not liking them that much. I don’t really know why, I think it might have been the vocals. Which I find completely ridiculous when I’m listening to this because his vocals sound fine. I also know that they are a Sub Pop band, which must have taken me surprise way back when I first heard the Shins, Sub Pop being the epicenter of Grunge and The Shins being nowhere close to that heavy signature sound. I do feel that this band is at home with the label though, for some reason. I also know that there is a lot riding on this record, considering all the delays surrounding it, so as far as the fans are concerned this had damn well be an awesome album. Surprisingly enough, it is great. I say surprisingly just because it would have seemed like the typical situation for a band with such a reputation to fuck it up on the album that they need to be great. In a word, I know this must be pretty good because after not really liking The Shins, it drew me in and got me interested and subsequently blew me away. That has to count for something. And god knows if I like this then it has to be good.

But seriously, talk about a frame shift. I think the biggest change to the music here from what I heard a few years ago is that Wincing The Night Away is much more produced and accessible. I know that I have a habit of reviewing very night-oriented albums, or maybe of just comparing albums to times of the day, but I don’t feel bad doing it, and god knows I’ll do it many more times. But this album is, as the title suggests, very much a night time album, contrasting a bit from the bands previous sunny pop records. Not that you couldn’t turn on this record at any time of day and still find great pop. It just feels like to get the full experience with the album, you should at least give it a listen after the sun goes down. The record is full of night time oriented effects and songcraft, and ends up being very complex in comparison to previous albums. But once again, you can only take my limited ears with a grain of salt, because this is my first real experience with the band.

Some friends and I tried to get tickets to see these guys live, but it didn’t work out. That kind of bummed me out because I now realize how cool they are, but I have to wonder what that show would have been like. A lot of these songs have great little intricacies that would be difficult to reproduce onstage, at least I would think, and these details give so much life to the songs that they would be shame to miss out on. But relax, I’m sure they are wonderful live, but some certain songs just get me thinking. The song Red Rabbits especially gets me wondering, with it’s twinkling melody and interesting water droplet effects. Another song in this category is the opener Sleeping Lessons. At the beginning it is a hazey dreamy synthesizer that carries over the vocalist as a gentle stream of water. That part is just as great as the last half of the song when it transforms into a fun, happy driving rock tune. Some songs are vintage pop though, especially the first single Phantom Limb with it’s priceless vocal chorus and Sea Legs, a nice beat driven downtown dream that pulls you back into it’s awesome groove right when you start to realize that the background drone sounds vaguely simmilar to a crappy Dido song from the nineties.

If it’s consistancy you’re worried about, put those thoughts to rest. There is really no sacrafice with the gain of a slick production, and every song is hand picked and fun pop, a lot of it reminiscent of the bands other material, so fans will love this while new listeners will appreciate the sound at it’s most radio friendly. Two of the more radio friendly songs are Australia and Turn On Me, and both deliver great loveable hooks. Songs never overstay their welcome and the album never repeats itself, putting forward memorable unique tracks just as much as it does garden variety pop. Black Wave is another strong one, a gentle guitar synthesizer combination that lulls into dreams. A Comet Appears was probably the best way this album could have possibly ended. I just love the contemplative guitars and the memorable vocals. VOCALS. They don’t bother me this time around. Why? Have I changed, or have the vocals changed?

Probably irrelevant. I can tell this is a good starting point. Once again, I respect a band that can change my mind like this. And it has, because I am now interested in the band. Maybe this will be the direction of The Shins in albums to come, appealing to a mass audience through simple decoration, without changing their sound to appeal to anyone. It’s a warm, comforting not-so-hopelessly romantic pop record and, well, I guess it’s the best album of the year thus far so you might as well start off your 2007 purchases with a completely memorable treat.

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Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels

January 25, 2007

As far as Cocteau Twins records go, the question is never whether or not it is great, but instead how great it is. The band made a point to make comforting records, at least save Garlands, and as jarring as it is, Head Over Heels is actually one of the more comforting they made. Sound-wise it is one of the bands more dark and disturbing records, although it does have it’s gorgeous moments, but what makes this record truly comforting is the fact that it lays down the foundation for even greater things to come while delivering a solid set of songs. By the time this was recorded, the groups original bassist quit the lineup and Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser were left by themselves. Setback? Hardly. It just so happens that the second Will Heggie left, the remaining duo made their first great album, and arguably their best. Instead of being as accessible or serenely beautiful as Treasure or Heaven or Las Vegas, it is a challenging and strange record that actually ends up being just as rewarding and interesting.

While Head Over Heels may seem a bit unrefined in comparisson to later Cocteau records, you need to keep in mind that this truly defined the bands sound. From the opening drones of When Mama Was Moth, Head Over Heels innovates at every turn. You can still hear an echo of Garlands’ songwriting style even in the opening track, but very distantly. The song is tame yet dark, and Liz Frasers hymns are spot on, expressing some kind of angelic mysticism in a creepy sort of way. The next song Five Ten Fiftyfold expands on this darkness in a surprisingly catchy way, staying almost even a bit bleak with it’s minor tones and guitar squalls while Fraser resounds at her absolute best. The albums most mysteriously dark and yet touching moment comes later though, with The Tinderbox (Of A Heart), a knockout performance on every level. The song has the signature Guthrie beautiful guitar drones and picking in conjunction with beautiful changs by Fraser. Don’t let anyone fool you, while people may say that Blue Bell Knoll is the bands darkest record, it just isn’t. This takes the cake in that category, if you could ever consider any of the Cocteau Twins’ records truly “dark.”

Keep in mind that this album was made before Simon Raymonde joined the group and therefore still doesn’t have their signature aching beauty. This would come soon enough with The Spangle Maker EP and consequently Treasure, but it’s not like everything on this record isn’t spot on as it is. Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser deliver on every level they possibly could, Guthrie reinventing their sound from the ground up to a distinctive hypnotic guitar-laden heaven, and Fraser giving one of her best vocal performances. Not every song is dark or anything, it just kind of seems like it. The albums clear winner is Sugar Hiccup, a lovely dreampop masterpiece. What really amazes me is how much Guthrie truly manages by himself in the song creation department. While I’m sure that Fraser contributed more than just her knockout vocals, Guthrie is the man behind the tunes themselves, and would be until Raymonde joined in and shared the weight, but considering that these songs are just as pretty as most of the bands later work, Guthrie deserves a big pat on the back for his efforts here.

There is actually a lot of variety here, at least for a Twins record. But really, every Cocteau Twins song is extremely individual and can be treated like it’s own treasure. I do feel that stylistically, Head Over Heels is particulary varied. In Our Angelhood is the most telling of the bands roots. It plays like something earlier by The Cure and almost touches on punk, in a pretty sort of way. It’s just about the most upbeat or at least the most grooving you will ever hear the band, and is truly one of the cooler songs the band made. And yet for how recognizably cool many of these songs are, the album is truly a challenging listen. Sometimes Fraser’s vocals are downright eccentric, especially on Glass Candle Grenades and the following In The Gold Dust Rush. These two songs especially take a long time to get used to and fully appreciate, but the effort pays off and at their core these two songs are truly fantastic. And Multifoiled is another tough entry, completely out of place with it’s late night bar jazz groove, and yet is a lot of fun. The album concludes a bit more conventionally though with two vintage Twins tracks, My Love Paramour and Mussette and Drums. The former is a grand hypnotic groove, and the latter is one of the albums strongest, an emotional explosion of beautiful guitars and Fraser’s always beautiful singing.

If you are new to the Cocteau Twins, you are better off starting elsewhere, but this album is classic, no question. People have complaints about it of course, but for the most part I think they are mostly due to the fact that this album jumps all over the place and was really before The Twins layed down their perfect sound, which they would subsequently do with Treasure. But as a sophomore album (and it’s usually that second one that really shows a bands talent, isn’t it?), this record cast aside all the dreary unexciting sound that Garlands was and created something completely new, using Liz’s vocals to their fullest and innovating at every turn with Guthrie’s guitars and unbelievable musicality. That is what makes this album truly comforting…the thought that there is still so much brilliance ahead of the band and that from as good of a record as this is, it only gets better. Once again, this is the Cocteau Twins not quite at the top but getting very close. It may not be as pretty and dreamy as Blue Bell Knoll or the bands swan song Treasure, but Head Over Heels is a wonderful record in it’s own right, in all of it’s dark, uneasy glory.

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2007: Big Year Ahead In Music

January 23, 2007

If anything, I have a feeling that 2007 will be remembered as the year of the reunions. It seems like tons of bands are jumping in to play again, and a lot of older bands are coming out with new albums. I have a ton of news, and I feel like it all needs to be said here somehow, so I’ll just get on with it.

Rage Against The Machine is playing Coachella. And yes, it is confirmed. To a lot of people, this is a big deal because RATM has sort of been out of commission for the past five years or so, and now they decide to play a big festival. This is Coachella we’re talking about, so tickets are limited and expensive and most of us (me included) won’t be able to attend due to the obvious circumstances of finance and geograpy, but either way it’s great to know that Zack De La Rocha has finally decided to leave his spider hole. For those of us who can’t go… This is going to be one hell of a bootleg. It’s just great to know the band has decided to play again. Will this prompt a bigger reunion or possibly an album or tour? It’s hard to say. Details are scarce at this point, but considering what we do know is mindblowing enough, I’m going to take it easy and see what happens.

As if one fantastic band wasn’t enough to make this festival amazing, The Jesus And Mary Chain has also hopped on and will be playing too. Now The Jesus And Mary Chain is a much different situation… They are an older band than RATM and disbanded back in 1998. So in my opinion, this is actually a bigger deal (not to overshadow what is already great news). Once again, this is the only show confirmed for them, but because the internet is just so great, the show will surely reach our ears one way or another. It will be great to hear one of my favorite bands playing their classics after so many years. No word on any reunion albums or tours here either, but we can be hopeful.

Air has a new one out on March 6, called Pocket Symphony. Expect a review at release.

Same for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Their new album, Some Loud Thunder, will be out on the thirtieth. I’ll review this too.

Radiohead is still plugging along in the studio. There hasn’t been too much significant news to speak of except that they are still working hard on their new album. If I had to give an estimate for release… I’d say around Summer. But don’t quote me on that. It just seems like a reasonable time. Sometimes Radiohead gets down to the nitty gritty and records really fast, but this won’t be one of those times, I’m sure of it. They sort of went into the studio with a raw set of songs in need of reworking, so I’d give them a couple months to get that sorted out, a couple more for mixing and working to find a label or decide their plan of release, and then a few more to actually release it. Or them. Who knows, this very well might not even be an album so much as a series of EPs or something.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are at it again, with a new album in…I think May? Pretty soon.

Same with The Dandy Warhols. They are recording now and will probably have a new album by summer, that seems to be their goal.

Smashing Pumpkins, or whats left of them, are still beating around the bush. I’m kind of sick of this. Don’t expect any significant news for a few more months. Whether or not the album will be any good is completely unknown, but I’m leaning towards a half decent album by the end of summer. Once again, total speculation.

Nine Inch Nails has, according to the offical site, been doing final mixing on a new album slated for an April release. This is surprising, considering it breaks Trent Reznor’s trend for an album every five years, but I’ll take what I can get.

The White Stripes are no longer on a label. V2 had a falling out and are no longer able to release any White Stripes albums, although they still hold the rights they had to the songs. The reason I mention this is because Jack White was already talking about some albums this year, either with The White Stripes or The Raconteurs. In any case, this is just an interesting tidbit for a band that has had no interesting tidbits in a long while.

If there is any more news to speak of, I’ll keep this posted.

-Red

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Super Bowl XLI: Bears Vs. Colts

January 21, 2007

I’ll admit it, I don’t really care about football that much, but you totally get sucked into the whole thing at about this time of the year.  It’s official, The Bears still kick ass and The Colts are still freaking cool.  How about that game?  HOW ABOUT THAT GAME!?  The Colts totally shamed The Patriots, that was seriously one of the better comebacks I’ve seen in sports history.

All I know is that either way this will be an extremely fun and enjoyable Super Bowl, not like past years where it has been constant returns of The Patriots or just teams I don’t care in the slightest about.  I’m from Chicago so it’s pretty obvious who I’m rooting for, but I like The Colts too, so it’s no biggie at all.

So let us put aside our differences, break out the cool beverages, sit on the couch with a feast of chips and dip, potato skins, and other great sports snacks, and watch some good quality football.  It’s the American way!

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Pan's Labyrinth

January 21, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

First off I would just like to say that there are going to be some spoilers floating around in this review, both major and minor, so if you had wanted to see this movie and haven’t yet, I’d suggest skipping this. If you haven’t heard of it, then I wouldn’t worry about it so much. Reading this wouldn’t actually destroy too much of the worth of the movie.

Anyway, anyone who tells you that Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale for adults, no matter if they are a big name reviewer from a respected newspaper, is lying through their teeth. That’s what I was told about this movie before going in to see it and I had the completely wrong idea. Although this movie does contain some fantasy elements, there just aren’t enough to consider this a fantasy or fairy tale movie. But some parent is bound to be stupid enough to see the tagline “fairy tale” and take their kid to see this while ignoring the conspicuous R rating. The kid will consequently be scarred for life and there will be no one to blame. Just be careful. Don’t go watching this movie thinking that it is a movie that only adults will enjoy buy doesn’t necessarily have adult themes. It’s rated R for very good reasons. There is excessive violence, blood, gore, strong language, and disturbing images.

But even through all of this, the previews made the movie out to be a charming fantasy. I think this may have actually been intended though, because the beginning of the movie also purposefully fools the viewer into thinking that the movie will be lighthearted. The film begins with a story sequence describing the daughter of the king of the underworld escaping the kingdom and being blinded by the lights of the world above, shocking her and taking away her memory. In this short little montage, the girl dies and the king of the underworld then waits for an eternity until she would return. Then, much like other movies like Shrek, we find that this story is in a book being read by someone else. In this case it is a little Spanish girl named Ofelia in a car on the way to a mill where her “father” is, with her pregnant mother. On the way the car is stopped and the girl does several things that happen in many lighthearted movies. She places a stone eye into a statue and meets what she believes to be a fairy, which follows the cars after she takes off again.

What happens next is almost a reality check of sorts, and the girl ends up in the mill where her mothers husband lives, a Captain of the Spanish army of fascists. This is the tipoff that the movie is not in some distant universe and the movie actually takes place a little after World War II. The Captain is a fascist officer, and a total prick in the truest meaning of the word. Not more than a half hour into the movie do we see him shoot several people, beat an innocent rabbit hunter to death with a glass bottle, and snidely chose his unborn sons life over his wifes. Throughout the movie, he doesn’t get any better either, and he only continues to make himself out to be a worse and worse person. In some way, he is the evil step-mother of this story, but that is one of the few structural paralells I could make to an actual fairy tail.

To be honest, the entire fantasy part doesn’t come in until a little later, and even then it doesn’t end up being the majority of the movie. The big theme in this movie is the intertwining of these fantastical images that Ofelia sees and the outside world of her adult companions, constantly bickering and getting in trouble. The first thing that Ofelia sees that is in this fantasy wake is the fairy, which then leads her to a mysterious underground ruin by the side of the mill, carved of creepy water-worn stone. And she then meets the faun, a mythical messenger of sorts who mysteriously has no speakable name.

The Faun

What interested me so much about the scene of introduction between Ofelia and The Faun was the tiny little details that tip off what the viewers will eventually come to realize in the rest of the film. By midway through the movie, I hadn’t even come to question whether these fantasy elements were actually real, but by the end of the film when we see Ofelia, broken and tattered looking at a creature which her evil step father cannot see, the viewer starts to question the validity of everything they have seen. Even just this first scene with the Faun can say a million things in underhanded ways. First off, being realistic, most grown adults would freak the fuck out if they saw The Faun, and their first reaction would be to smash his face with a baseball bat and run as far away as possible. And yet, Ofelia walks down the spiral staircase like many fantasy heroes would, and meets The Faun almost a bit casually, not even questioning it when he tells her that she is a princess, born of the moon, and that she must complete three tasks so that she can return to her true home. The viewers have by this point been exposed to the cruelty of the Captain and how Ofelia would most likely love to get away from all this. And yet, the Faun is creepy. Ofelia knows it, the viewer knows it, and it’s on purpose. This was never supposed to be a walk in the park. It won’t be long until Ofelia starts questioning The Faun.

As soon as it starts to be magical and fantastic, the fantasy world runs dry. What seems like a fun adventure into a tree trunk ends up being riddled with disgusting bugs that don’t disturb her at all, and a giant playful hungry frog deflates and Ofelia is left to wander out of the tree trunk into the rain, her beautiful party dress completely ruined. She stands cold and lonely in the rain, unsure of both this new world of creatures and the old one of sadness and disappointment. It’s a beautiful scene, albeit melancholy. The fairy tale only gets worse too. Ofelia’s recovering mother dies, The Faun abandons her, and this baby-eating creeper is met.

I see you!

What all this irreversable pain conveys to the viewer, and I really do believe this is on purpose, is that this world is NOT a figment of Ofelia’s imagination. If it was, then her mind would surely have created loveable and less scarey images, right? Maybe. And yet there are hints dropped constantly at these things not being real. But the whole movie is not this gnarled fairy tale, and actually the majority of the room onscreen is spent with the other characters, be it the cruel and ingeniously hate-able Captain or the sneaky servant Mercedes. What the viewer realizes after not too long is that all the negative stuff in the movie roots from either Ofelia’s fantasy world or the Captain, a power hungry cruel fascist. And even then, is it possible that these “dreams” also root from The Captain? If he was a truely supporting father and good person, these “dreams” would not need to be there to act as escapes for Ofelia, at least as far as the plot goes. But then one has to consider why these escapes are so horrible and creepy. Even then, the dreams seem insignificant compared to how horrible of a person this man is. The political edge deals with fascism and how horribly unfair it is, and how the individual can overcome what is wrong by doing what they feel is right and not necessarily what they are told to do. I won’t say too much about the last scene because if you have read this far chances are you will want to see the movie, but one wonders what would have happened if Ofelia had given her brother for the blood. But she didn’t, and this decision says tons about her character.

There are strong political undertones in this movie, but the majority of the lessons that can be learned from here are universal. It’s no fairy tale, but it says something about them and what they can teach, and how life can be simmilar and different from them. As someone pointed out to me, by the end of the movie it’s completely irrelevant what is real and what is not. You can kind of take it both ways… I think Del Toro left it open like that for a reason, but from reading interviews and such it seems pretty obvious to me that the fantasy was in fact real. But that is not something one can completely understand without watching the movie more than once. It’s not an easy movie, and you won’t like it, but you’ll learn something, I promise.

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Foo Fighters – Skin And Bones

January 15, 2007

I don’t want to say I wouldn’t have liked to have seen any of the Foo Fighters accoustic concerts. It would have been fun, just not THAT fun. I have wanted to see them in concert for a really long time, so I probably should have just taken what I could get, but they are a band that has truly evolved into an arena rock act, so the ideal way to see them would be in a big venue where they will really rock out electrically. So I decided to turn down picking up the tickets when they were available just because money was an issue and I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to see them in an accoustic setting. After buying Skin And Bones (the CD version, not the DVD version) and listening to it at length, as a long time Foo Fighters fan, I realize that I probably didn’t make that big of a mistake. While they are a great live act, an accoustic tour was really only a good idea for mindless fans not so concerned with substance over style. Of course, I never attended one of these shows, so maybe the connection with the audience was greater than I am interpreting, but as a live disk this feels overblown and unnecessary. While it is a well played show, it doesn’t reveal anything different than the original recordings do about their songs, and even fans would be hard pressed to call this essential or even that special.

I think the idea here was to strip down the bands studio sound as much as possible, hence the name Skin And Bones. However, the opposite was clearly done, an intimate down home softness being added to each song. The tour was technically a promotion type thing for the second disk of the bands 2005 hit album In Your Honor. Fans know that this ten song long disk is the most stripped down you will ever hear the band, the songs already very intimate. Listening to them almost feels like sitting in a room with Dave Grohl strumming away non-intrusively in the corner, sometimes letting other well placed instruments into the fray. This live album actually makes the attempt to dress up all of these low-key gems into something they are not. In that way, the opening Razor represents just about everything this album does and does not do. It does attempt to put a new edge on the music, but it does not come anywhere close to being effective even though the show is well done. Razor was the perfect way to end In Your Honor, and I mean perfect. In Your Honor isn’t even close to the bands best album, but what a clincher. In the original version, Razor speeds up at the end and then fades out gently, but on this live version, an arsenal of other instruments are added to sort of do the opposite, that is, unleash the power of the live album as opposed to end it, and the attempt is flubbed pretty badly. Putting Razor upfront sounds like it should be a good idea, but it’s just not. All the other songs from In Your Honor, save Friend of a Friend which is a faithful solo take, are done in the same sort of way and are made to be something they are not, and consequently the intimacy is gone.

But that isn’t the only thing that is done wrong here. Dave Grohl takes to the stage very dramatically and self importantly, which is exactly the thing he shouldn’t have done. If anyone has ever heard Alice In Chains Unplugged, some songs here bear a strikingly simmilar fate to the likes of Sludge Factory and Angry Chair, that is, they should never even have been considered to be played accoustically. Big Me was meant to be playful and electric, and Best Of You is simply a bad song to play quietly. But of course, Grohl tries it and fails, screaming out at a decible acceptable for regular concerts but very inappropriate for a small quiet venue. I literally couldn’t listen without being pained. Fortunately, My Hero is at least given a decent run in some parts, especially the beginning, but it’s a song you wouldn’t really want to hear in this setting anyway.

I don’t want to make it seem like this album does nothing right though. There are a few redeeming qualities. The rendition of Marigold is especially touching. For those of you who don’t know, Marigold was the only song that Nirvana ever did that was written by Dave Grohl, and the original version was very reserved and shy. The version here is more open, complex, and direct, which may be good or bad. It features Nirvana backup guitarist and former Foo Fighter Pat Smear too, which is a great little surprise. The transition into My Hero would be worth the take alone it’s just so fantastic. A few other songs are done well too, especially Times Like These, a song overdue for a retooling after One By One’s mediocre production. Other keepers include February Stars, a great version of Next Year, and the always chilling closer Everlong. But even Everlong is unnecessary, because there is already a solo accoustic version of the song that is much better widely available. Another good one is the b-side Skin And Bones that gives the CD it’s name, a quaint little song that is played comfortably quiet and warmly, a feeling that is not really present anywhere else here.

It’s just really not that special of a live album. I feel bad comparing this to a Nirvana, a band which Dave Grohl has understandably tried to detatch himself from, but Nirvana Unplugged did the same kind of thing flawlessly. Fans will have already heard that and will make the connection, and this is destroyed in comparrison. After listening to this album, the original versions will seem extremely comforting, and that’s really not a good sign. They tried and they tried hard, I’ll give them that. And they actually played well too. I love the Foo Fighters, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they tried to get the complete wrong angle on this than they should have. Fans will deffinitely want this in some way, but not necessarily the CD version. Even huge fans probably wouldn’t be missing too much and would be better off just getting the DVD and forgetting the CD, because it’s not something that people will really care to listen to that much.

lawlz, liek, dude, we just so gots your moneys!

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Great Gifts

January 11, 2007

Of all the gifts we receive so often and with such varied obligations and intention, the best gifts have at least a few certain undeniable qualities.  Of course, it is impossible for all gifts to contain all of them.  But the absolute best are:

1. A complete surprise.  It’s one thing to know you are getting something, but to be taken by surprise is infinitely enjoyable.

2. Personal.  Not a generic selection, but instead geared towards the receivers tastes or desires.

3. Selfless.  It’s not fun to get a cool gift on your birthday or Christmas when there are obligations involved.  When someone just decides to give you a random gift, that really means something special.

4. Fun.  Practicality may be ideal, but how much the receiver will have fun with the gift is also important.  As a side note, how meaningful the gift is often reflects the fun factor.

5. Beautiful.  Although it may seem like a trivial detail, how the senses initially absorb the gift is pretty important.

6. Comforting.  All people go through hard times, and to have something to lean back on is helpful for anyone, no matter what.

7. Long-lasting. Sugary treats, alcohol, and a great meal are all priceless on a day to day basis.  But they don’t last.

The best gift I have gotten in a long time, that is to say “the disk,” as there could surely be no other more significant, is all of these things.  It was a total shock, exactly what I wanted multiplied by one hundred, extremely fun, pretty, relaxing, and nearly endless in enjoyability.  It’s only flaw is that it probably can’t be matched by another gift given back.

Thank  you SO much.

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Mojave 3 – Puzzles Like You

January 10, 2007

Puzzles Like You

Yeah yeah, always two steps behind. I’ve heard it before. Whenever I review something that is moderately new, it is always just old enough so that people have gotten over it already. Whatever. I guess it just takes me a while to get acquainted to new stuff, or maybe it just takes me a while to get ahold of new stuff. Either way, if you didn’t know, Mojave 3, pronounced Moh-hah-vee, is Neil Halsteads band, and has been for the past ten years. And for those of you who don’t know who Neil Halstead is, he was the lead songwriter of Slowdive. Mojave 3 has three original members from Slowdive, I believe, so it is essentially the same songwriters doing things in a completely new context. Puzzles Like You is their latest work and it came out earlier in 06. I like it, I’ll admit it, but I’m still struggling to come at grips with it. Being a huge Slowdive fan, I am used to Halsteads songwriting in the shoegaze genre, and to hear this kind of thing still disturbs me, as this is a country/pop album. While even after twenty years Neil Halsteads songwriting ability hasn’t gone down the tubes, I still have some issues with this album, most unfamiliarity, but in the end if you like either country or pop, you will like this a whole lot. I enjoy the pop aspect of it, so I DO like it, but once again, I still have some gripes.

Maybe part of the problem is me, and how I personally react to the music. I can’t help but think Neil Halstead is trying to pretend he is American or something, and I make fun of him for it sometimes. There is nothing wrong with changing your style, especially when you are fricking Neil Halstead and your ability can work in multiple genres. But I just feel robbed somehow. He’s trying to write American styled music and it’s feeling kind of awkward to me. His accent doesn’t always completely fit the music, and it just makes me cringe when he sings “she likes a man with his trousers shorter” in Kill The Lights and then scurries off into an organ diddy. I’m still getting used to this stuff. That’s another part of my problem…I’m so used to Slowdive. They have been one of my personal favorite bands for a long time, and I’m really used to a completely different context of music, so when I hear this I feel like I have been lied to or am being lied to because it is so different. I think part of that is I wasn’t around to hear all of the early Mojave 3 stuff and I’d probably be able to hear the transition. I’m not so sure I have an interest in the transition anyway, though. It’s folk rock, and that’s fine, but no matter how long Neil lives in California and rides the waves and acts like an American folk artist, I still can’t detatch him from Slowdive, nor do I ever want to.

But this is good, better than the other Mojave 3 record I have heard, Out Of Tune, anyway. I’m just… I’m so not used to this shit! I can’t say it any plainer. The good thing about this record is it’s outward poppiness, wereas before the bands goal was more quiet strums and less incessant riffs. More of a sunset kind of thing. Now this is the band in full swing and as good as they have ever been as far as I’m concerned. Even if it’s good though, I feel like I can’t relate to it on a personal level like I could Slowdive. I’ve heard others say that this is a more stripped down Slowdive, with the feelings less burried. BULLSHIT. This is not anywhere close to Slowdive no matter how you slice or dice it. If anything, I feel like Slowdive is more honest and open. For that reason, I would kill for another Slowdive album whereas Mojave 3 I just don’t care so much about. It’s the style. If Neil wants to write music this way, that’s fine. I just SO don’t feel obligated to stop bitching about missing the old style.

To put it more simply and playfully, I find that Slowdive is more night music and Mojave 3 is more daytime music. From what I have heard, each Slowdive or Mojave 3 record can cover a different part of the day. Just A Day feels something like three or four A.M. Souvlaki is ten P.M. while Pygmalion is midnight. Out of Tune is maybe six P.M., depending on the season. Once again, it’s sunset music, and make what you will of that. Puzzles Like You might be one in the afternoon, or maybe just noon. That’s good. It’s a completely different angle, but it’s a good angle. Once again, I can’t come to grips with it. There are some very cool parts of this album, most of them rather Beatles-esque. Some particulars are Ghost Ship Waiting, Puzzles Like You, and To Hold Your Tiny Toes. It’s pop romance, and it’s really good. Almost every song on the album is good.

And that’s the truth of it, it’s a very good album. I’m just not used to this yet, so it deterred my listening experience. You have no idea how hard it is for me to say that this is very good and well written when I feel so naive for believing in Slowdive so much when Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell have moved away from it. Chances are, at least one of these two great bands will speak to you. I’d even go so far as to say both do speak to me. I really just need to lighten up and get used to Mojave 3. It’s a matter of personal preference. Please don’t take my complaints too seriously. They are the words of a man who is simply too touchy, and he needs to change his way of looking at things so that he can enjoy albums that are clearly good, like this. I feel like I’m sitting across a room from an old crush or something, thinking about how much they have changed. Listen to The Mutineer, the fantastic closer. That’s essentially how I feel. I’m warming up to this, and Slowdive fans surely will, but it just takes a little while.

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Nine Inch Nails – Broken

January 6, 2007

With all due respect, should Pretty Hate Machine really stand as the obelisk that it is over the industrial genre? I’m personally not so sure. It is a great record, that much is true, but if anything it should get the respect for breaking ground and being the first great industrial record there was. But by now, the record is simply dated. While the songs are mostly fantastic, the production does not quite live up to todays standards, a fair amount of industrial ideals are not fleshed out, and it is simply not the best industrial record there is. It sounds very eighties even when I listen to it now. There is a lot of echo on the vocals and snare, and the instrumentation is very programmed. Pretty Hate Machine is damn good, and it brought a vital sense of clarity to the genre, but not only is it not as good as The Downward Spiral but it also doesn’t change much or express the anger that the industrial genre can often times be all about. Trent Reznor was really getting somewhere with Head Like A Hole and proved himself by making a fantastic electronica record, but it wasn’t until his follow up EP record Broken when his ambitions truly came first circle.

By 1992, Trent Reznor, the main man behind Nine Inch Nails, was in a frustrating place. He had basically been fucked over by TVT for the past three years and was having extremely hard times with the label releasing any music. That as well as a live lineup that was hard pressed to settle and the frustration of setting up a new lable that he wouldn’t be pained by, the still active Nothing, surely made Reznor pretty upset. The freedom of having his own label prooved fruitful, because now he could move where ever he wanted musically and express anger through music of his recent problems. That’s exactly what he did. He sacrificed a bit of polish to get his feelings out appropriately. For that reason, while Broken may not be as good, important, or rewarding as Pretty Hate Machine, it at least seems to make a bit more sense and is more honest about things. This is the first of NINs records to feature outward anger and grinding guitars that would come to distinguish some of the later records. For these reasons and more, this is sort of a landmark record in NINs career.

The opening track Pinion is a bit of useless filler, but it foreshadows things to come, so it does sort of have a use. Same thing goes for Help Me I Am In Hell. Both are essentially throwaway instrumentals, but some of Reznors later instrumental creations would be in the same league and yet infinitely better. These tracks could have just been made louder and they would have meant significantly more. But if these tracks really meant that much and Reznor really had that much to say, this would have been a full album and not an EP. But theres not anything wrong with just an EP, because this one does justice. The other four initial songs are fantastic.

The second song Wish is the standout, and the one that got radio play. It’s fast, driving, and adrenaline pounding, qualities that nothing on Pretty Hate Machine had all of. Head Like A Hole had two of them but it was just a bit too top heavy to really get the listener completely excited, and at that it’s intentions were simply different and it suceeded more in being a sexual song. Wish, however, does the job. It’s flaw is a big one though that almost puts it on the line. I have never had a problem with any of Nine Inch Nail’s production other than with this song. After Trent says “This is the first day of my last days,” the guitar explosion sounds mediocre when it could sound less fuzzy and much cooler. The rest of the song is fine but this misfire that repeats itself throughout the song is a big problem for the song, and for that reason it doesn’t quite unseat Head Like A Hole as coolest and most effective song for up to this point in Trent Reznor’s career.

The other songs are just as good. Happiness In Slavery is a fantastic jolt of anger, and expresses honest feelings about a lack of freedom in the record industry (at least that’s what I think). A heavy swagger is enduced fully and effectively by Last, and is just as headbangable as Wish despite how slow it is. It broods, something that is great for industrial music. And Gave Up is cool too, but not quite as good as it’s predecessors. It does feature guitar production that should have been featured on Wish, and putting the two next to one another is very telling.

And then after Gave Up wraps up, we have ninety one consecutive one second long tracks of silence. Anyone with half a brain knows there is a bonus track in store. In fact, there are two, and they are both covers. The songs are Physical (You’re So) by Adam And The Ants (interesting choice) and Suck by Pigface. Both songs aren’t very close to the mood of the rest of the songs on the EP, but there was really no reason to hide them as they are both very good. Physical (You’re So) is a perfect vessel for Trent Reznor’s more light tastes, and yet it is just as heavy and romping as it’s predecessors. Even so, it is almost positive in a hard rock sort of way. It is a completely faithful yet strikingly new interpretation on an already good song. The last track, Suck, measures up though. I’m not completely familiar with Pigface at all so I don’t really know the origins of this song too well at all, but I believe even the original had Trent on vocals and he may have also been a songwriter. I don’t think this is Pigface’s original version, but it’s a great song.

Really, I can’t say enough good things about this EP. It’s actually one of my favorite EPs ever just because it stays completely consistant without really missing a beat save a few tiny things I could nitpick about, and it builds on Trent Reznors ever-expanding stylistic repertoire. This is essential for even casual fans, and stands tall next all of NINs full albums, even Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. If you like industrial, or even just hard rock or metal, GET THIS. Don’t even think twice.

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Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

January 1, 2007

They say that there is no such thing as a casual Cocteau Twins fan. I’m starting to believe this more the more often I turn on my iPod. I can feel myself getting sucked into the bands undeniable beauty, and I’ll admit it, it feels great. I’m a straight male, and my heart got melted the first time I heard Lorelei. I didn’t know what to make of it, it was just so beautiful. At first I felt like I could break this habit by being a casual listener, but I think I may have completely skipped that classification without even having more than a few of the bands albums. The Best Of compilation Stars And Topsoil was nice, but simply not enough. I had to have more. So I got Treasure, the bands supposed best, and Heaven or Las Vegas, supposedly the second, third, or fourth best depending on the fan you ask. I was not disappointed. I love both albums thoroughly and yet I thirst for more. It is hard to say which of those two albums is better. If I had to really come to a decision, I would probably say Treasure, but both are fantastic. While Treasure is the album for a chill winter morning, Heaven or Las Vegas is conversely the album for a warm summer night. It takes a very talented band to make music of such opposite environments work so perfectly, and to be sure the Cocteau Twins will never fail you regardless of the time of day, and that is a reliability worth falling in love with.

In many situations, first impressions mean everything. In that respect the Twins know how to give you the best possible first impression possible when presenting their work to the listener. They did it with Treasure, that’s for sure, with a near flawless opening trio of songs. And they do it here too with the utmost precision and beauty. But even before listening to the music, the band has already shown you beauty even with the cover art. In many ways, this art encompasses the album very well. The music is blurry, surreal, artistic, urban, and drenched in warm neon. Every song is hand picked, like the rest of the Cocteau’s catalogue, and every song is very individual and special. The opening track, Cherry-Coloured Funk, echoes of aching beauty and special love that most other bands could not dream of musically working out through their entire careers. The Cocteaus could do it in their fucking sleep, and the listener would be left begging for more. The talent of these people is not to be underspoken. Very few others have surpassed this beauty of this band, you have to understand that. I’m still trying to come to grips with this fact even after only having two proper albums.

The style on this album is very urban but no less lush, tame, or special. Vocalist Liz Fraser (who may just be the best female vocalist in pop music history), has changed her style a bit, leaving her musings more intelligible. On albums such as Treasure, her words were not even words so much as angelic sounds and phrases that had no real connection to any other language. On this album she sings some unintelligible vocals like these, and some that are clearly meant to be real words that are simply warped a bit to sound more pretty. You can understand them sometimes, and when Ms. Fraser sings “Is this Heaven or Las Vegas?” on the title track, you really believe that she’s wondering such things about the city that never sleeps. Even when you can understand individual words around one another, they don’t make much sense, as Fraser wisely speaks more to how the words sound as opposed to what they actually mean. The bass plays a much heavier role, especially in the flowing dream-funk of the creepily named Pitch The Baby. Of course this role is passive and non-intrusive, and it works wonders. Robin Guthrie gives a knockout performance all over with his guitar work providing sonic texture for each song. Often times Guthrie ends up being the warm blanket to the listeners ears, and while his guitarwork is never extravagant, it always sounds delicious and ephemeral. This style is something that all guitar plays should be jealous of. Mr. Guthrie has a way with making one or two guitars feel like a thousand and therefore saying huge amounts of ideas with not so much to work with. While Liz Fraser may be the heart of the band, Guthrie is the soul and has a fantastic body of work to be proud of.

And as always, the drum machine is here, masterfully worked as usual. The beats are kept soft and many times slow, yet all the more driving than usual. Great stuff. They never fail to use the medium well.

On a side note, I have never been to Las Vegas but have heard both very good and very bad things about it. I think one thing that can’t be denied, even just from looking at pictures, is the beauty of the city at night. I have always been partial to driving around at night in urban areas, just to see all the lights. Sometimes I take pictures of all the neon as a passenger and I adore the feeling that all the blurred lights give me. From a photographers standpoint, Las Vegas would surely be heaven. I could never see myself living out in the country just because the lights would be so few and far between. While I do think I’d love to see the night sky lit up over a landscape that isn’t polluted by unnatural light, I have a natural attraction to not only large groups of people but also city lights, especially reflected through wet city pavement. Consequently, this has ended up being a very special album to me already.

Once again, the opening part is the best. There is a great one-two punch of Cherry-Coloured Funk followed by Pitch The Baby, two timeless songs, and if those weren’t great enough then Iceblink Luck will hit your soft side. It is a fruitful celebration of sorts, rejoicing over a loved ones ability to heal. It is absolutely gorgeous and one of the bands absolute best songs. I think a lot of times dream-pop bands forget that romance is key to their genre, and they sacrafice a bit of meaning for the sake of not seeming to sappy or something. Maybe it is a gift that the Twins can communicate these feelings of romance perfectly, but it is also a gift that they are not ashamed to do so. Iceblink Luck is this breed of sheer bliss. But the great tracks continue to expand beautifuly with multiple listens, Fifty-Fifty Clown and the title track being just as unspeakably beautiful as their predecessors. If there is any place where the album falters a bit, it is in the fact that the second half of the album is a bit less consistant than the first. This, however, can only be complained about so much, because the first half of the album is sheer perfection, five songs worthy of more awards than can be given. To say that the second half of the album is “only great” is a crime, because the whole damn thing is great. You just have to treat every song like an individual and things unwrap very nicely. Especially the ending… Oh, the ending. You have to kind of hear that to really understand it, so I won’t tell you anything about it. Listen to it with your heart in place and you will be taken away.

It’s okay to sound sappy sometimes. I get sappy when certain music comes on, this band producting some of that music. While this may not be better than some of the bands other work, namely Treasure and other albums that some other more knowledgeable fans will tell you of, it is still a killer album, and a true classic of it’s age. It is clearly the more accessible and poppy side of the bands work, and anyone who has any urban loves like I do or a desire to listen to good dream pop will NEED this album.

By the way, if you ever needed any proof that Liz Fraser is the best of her kind, watch this and prepare to be dropped gently to the floor.

And here is a video from the album, just as another piece of the beautiful puzzle.