See You in St Louis: The 5 Reasons St. Louis Surprised Me as a Wonderful Little Haven

There was a period of time where I was spontaneously adventuring from one city to another in relatively quick succession. For the most part, my expectations were kept to a minimum or almost non-existent. St. Louis Minnesota is one such place. I almost didn’t even go. It was my journey up to Chicago that I was anticipating, with St Louis being a maybe-maybe not deviation.

What I ended up seeing was one of the best little adventures on that entire road trip, and one that earned St. Louis as an underrated gem of the kind of-Midwest I guess. After the passing of Chuck Berry in 2017, an artist I would argue may be the only name to survive in 200 years from what we call “rock,” I thought it worth a revisit to this underappreciated haven.

Below is a rundown of the top 5 places and things that surprised me about St. Louis. All of the above places have a mini story to them that make them memorable, entrancing, and welcoming for individuals looking to knock a visit to St. Louis off their bucket list. If St. Louis is not on your radar, it has the potential to be, with expansive vistas, a refreshing environment, and a music subculture worth a second look.

The Delmar Loop

There is an assortment of information on the Delmar Loop online. While looking up information for this piece, I went to the official website, and it says it is down. And then I was done.

On a serious note, the Delmar Loop is an acclaimed road (not necessarily the Loop) that runs through a major Western portion of the city. The Loop may be considered the “main area” of St. Louis- the downtown if you will. It includes the best restaurants, the best atmosphere, and all the many little attractions that draw people to the city in the first place.

Walk the loop. It is mandatory.

The Delmar Loop has captivating music venue called the Pageant, where I happened to see punk-pop group Kaiser Chiefs. Great little show, though the band self-deprecated their way towards some extra points. Maybe 100 people were there. It was a Tuesday.

The Loop is also notable for having what I determined to be three distinct classifications. The middle of the loop is the threshold of fun. The big theaters and main areas of excitement are here. Further down will turn into the auxiliary shops and interests. But, going down in the other direction (what I believe is South) will bring you over a small bridge. Once the bridge is crossed, the entire tone shifts. The neighborhood switches. As far as St. Louis has come (or not, depending on your view) the gentrification is real and hardly subtle. I asked a passing couple their thoughts on living in St. Louis, and they said it’s expensive in this area (this was near the Delmar Loop), but as long as you live above Union, you will be fine.

The conversation was a not-so-subtle reminder of cultural dynamics, something that knowing and understanding is only the first step.

2. The Central Park

My journey to the Delmar Loop was fraught with parking battles, a common theme in travel if you have a pesky car with you. But, I managed to snag parking next to what St. Louis calls Forest Park. While looking up details for this piece, I was shocked to find Forest Park as big as it is. I have seen a few central city parks, including the Central Park, but St. Louis has a truly gorgeous park right outside the Delmar Loop. It is an impressive spectacle.

Visit Forest Park and indulge in being away and seeing something new.

Join the runners. Don’t try to park at the Loop. Park here and walk. It will be a remarkable little mini-journey. Don’t try to find solid parking at the Loop and do not get caught up in the nightmare that is parking. Yes, there are many people in the world. Just soak in the place. Forest Park offers some much-needed solace.

3. The Ready Room and a Date with of Montreal

The next day, after the Kaiser Chiefs show and my trip to the Loop, I went to The Ready Room. The Ready Room in St. Louis is hardly ready to open, let alone host a band. But, they made due. The venue is behind a small record store that still tried to sell used Mariah Carey vinyl for $15. The show was of Montreal, who did what they do oh so well. If you have never seen this band, please do, for it is a visual tour-de-force that I won’t even try to explain in words. I write for a living, and it is beyond me. I shall leave a picture for you to puzzle over.

The treat of the evening was Icky Blossoms, the opening band, who had this surreal mixture of grime and dancehall that worked splendidly.

Go see a band you kind of know

When traveling, it could be a great benefit to see a show you are only passively familiar with. You get to experience the band in a place you have never been. It adds context and richness to your travels. Perhaps hold judgment on The Ready Room.

4. The Record Store, Vintage Vinyl

Chuck Berry was obsessed with sex. Seriously. His best-charting single is about masturbation or, more particularly, playing with his ding-a-ling, which is the same thing- I think. Anyways, the aforementioned Delmar Loop holds a lot of little nuggets, but one attracted the most of my attention (attracted? Is it that sex thing again?) I love record stores. I love the smell (sometimes). I love digging around and finding the traits that make up each respective store. Vintage Vinyl is a top-tier record store. It is one of the best I have been to in the country. Here, I stocked up on Wilco, buying almost their entire LP collection. I also nabbed a later release by The Juliana Theory. The record store is a bit dirty, but not like the “give it your best shot” basement-dwelling record stores that still have price stickers from 1973 and everything is priced at the register. Vintage Vinyl is certainly vintage, but it’s not obsolete and you won’t get the feeling like you stepped in a wormhole. Chuck Berry would approve.

5. The Arch

The gateway Arch in St. Louis is the de-facto icon of the city. Yes, anyone who has any passing knowledge of St Louis will be familiar with the large McDonald’s-esque arch that welcomes visitors to the city.

Its inclusion here is both a no-brainer and a puzzler. The arch is, in itself, a great big status symbol for a city that could use it. It’s the architectural version of a dick-measuring contest. But, context helps. I was driving for hours, seemingly endlessly, and was driving across an expanse of the United States that include a part of Kentucky (which is a miserable cesspool, if you happened to not know- sorry for my lack of tact). The arch appears first, before any of the skyscrapers, and it was gorgeous. The sun floated right above the arch. The highway where I first saw the arch actually peaked, as if I was cresting over the top of a hill. So, there I was, driving for months (maybe) through Kentucky, where I was introduced to St. Louis by a magnificent and awe-inspiring arch of impressive, um, length. It remains possibly the best introduction to any city.

Kanye West “The Life of Pablo” Review

6/10I have repeated the following basic concept in a variety of musical circles, and I typically stand by it. If Hitler released a great album, I would listen to it. The basic presumption is that the music is separate from the artist. And though a great artist (as a person) can elevate the music, and a bad artist can diminish the music, it’s really marginal- at least it should be.

But, we are humans. It can be hard to make that disconnect. Some artists wear their music on their sleeves, and it is entirely too personal to really make for a strong disconnect in the first place. See most folk bands.

So, this brings us to a millennial debate- is Kanye West brilliant? He may be a psychopathic megolomaniac, but his music has consistently delivered- until now.

The Life of Pablo has too much baggage to remain a complete piece of art on its own right. As much as I have tried to disconnect Kanye West from his music, which helped round out his absolutely incredible catalog of material, it bares down too heavily on The Life of Pablo. It is too meta- too referentially unappetizing to stand out amongst his, admittedly, many great past albums.

The Life of Pablo is kind of a mess. Too many songs end before they really develop on an idea, such as the 808’s and Heartbreak ballad “Waves” or the barely-a-song and interlude-esque “Freestyle 4.” The latter which could have made a great jam, omitting an ear-splitting guest verse towards the end.

The “songs” come in and out with ADD-fashion. Only a handful of songs actually sound complete. “Famous” is one, so it makes sense it was chosen as a single (with a music video that is an obvious attempt to be as obnoxious as possible). It’s a shame this gem will always be weighed by the god-awful video. This is a prime example of how West’s own insanity is hurting his music, as opposed to helping in adding depth and nuances to it.

But, West has his both puzzling and shockingly adverse production ever-present here. “Feedback” could have easily been on Yeezus, and his haunting in its approach. “Real Friends” is a stunning example, with echoing feedback lighting every line.

Is The Life of Pablo great? Hardly. It’s a fragmented effort at best, and one grossly weighed by media antics. It makes you harken for a time where Kanye was self-aware in a different way- a way where the music firmly complemented the aesthetic he was building, instead of helping to tear it all down.

Blink 182 “California” Review


5/10Nostalgia should be a facade we grow out of. Most of us can admit Return of the Jedi kind of sucks, even though we saw it at the impressionable age of 13-ish. Blink 182 is a nostalgia band in a sense, so they face the seemingly insurmountable problem of making music in 2016 and trying to appease a dedicated fanbase.

It is not nostalgia that makes California a bland, derivative, turd of a record. 2011’s Neighborhoods is a post- self/titled record from Blink 182 as well, and it was an accomplished and daring adventure with some of the band’s best material to date. No. California is mostly bad because the band mines some small moments from their past material but dulls the effect. The “whoa whoa” chants of ‘She’s Out of Her Mind” are in service of one hell of a generic tune. As a matter of fact, there are a whole lot of “whoa whoas” here. The hook of “Left Alone” is built on it. What it shows is not an appreciation for the nostalgic yesteryear. It shows laziness, particularly since we saw so much superior songwriting from the band before. It is not as if they aren’t capable of elevating far beyond this thing.

The band vies for some adolescent fantasizing again, particularly in “Kings of the Weekend” and the non-song “Built This Pool.” Late-album cuts like “Rabbit Hole” are a carbon copy of the worst from Enema, except without the snarky fun and addictive hookwriting.

The band does add a little dimension. “Los Angeles” is borderline punk/metal in its chorus. But, there certainly isn’t enough there to save the record or help ease the blandness of the previous four songs. “San Diego” may be the most thrilling hook here, though it does resort to that samey “big chorus, simple verse.” With that said, where is the creative drumwork here? There’s certainly nothing as immediately impressive in the instrumentation as “Hearts All Gone”s metallic sheen or “Always”‘s wonderful build-up.

One of the biggest problems here is not necessarily the absence of Tom Delonge specifically, but the absence of a second distinguishable vocalist. Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio (a perfectly fine band in their own right) is an acceptable vocalist. But, he sounds too similar to Mark Hoppus to make the two-vocalist dynamic relevant at all. The distinctive voice of Delonge was charming, and added an extra layer to the band’s material of the past. No matter what you think of Delonge as a vocalist, it was welcoming to hear the two frontmen trade verses and songs for the simple act if disparity. It took me five listens to even realize Matt was on “Bored to Death”- a song almost numbingly mundane if you couldn’t hear the echoes of a great song lurking beneath the surface.

California is not an outright failure. The trio are competent enough to make a listenable record. The problem is how unremarkably straightforward Californa ends up being- a runthrough of some major beats- a poor imitiation and recycling of ideas done far better only a few years earlier. The album doesn’t have a lot of creative hooks. The lyrics are derivative at best. The vocalists are tired and sound too similiar to be engaging. When this is all stripped out, what’s left is a shell of an album- one that is listenable because these guys have an idea what they are doing. They just can’t inspire more.

Say Anything “I Don’t Think It Is” Review

4/10Back in 2012, Say Anything’s infamous frontman, Max Bemis, said the band was going to put out a punk album. That album (Anarchy, My Dear) ended up being about as pop-oriented as a Katy Perry single. Barring an amazing track or two, the record was a disaster.

But, there were was a lesson learned in this moment, and maybe even a second. The term”punk” may not necessarily be a sonic quality. There is a sense of “punkness” in the lyrics that rail against Rihanna and the government. Secondly, statements made by bands about their new album are bullshit.

All this matters as it pertains to the group’s Beyonce-release, I Don’t Think It Is. The record dropped out of nowhere, and it surprised a fanbase expecting something soon around the corner. The record is chaotic and messy in mostly the wrong kind of ways, and it makes for an album that attempts to be abrasive and “crazy,” but is mostly dull.

The basic ethos of the record seems to exploit the absurd irregularities of Max Bemis as a personality. The record eccentrically switches time signatures and sounds on the fly. The dreadful “Goshua” is both dancey and obnoxious, and it fails at both. Few songs really stay in their own form for their typical three-minute runtime. It seems the band is jampacking so much into one tune, it bursts at the seams.

This can be a fantastic thing in the right context, but Say Anything hardly captures it. This is perhaps best exemplified in “Attaboy.” The last two minutes has a soft background chant uttered overtop maniacal ramblings. This experimentation was never earned, for the first five minutes was an incomprehensible muddied rant put to tape.

Say Anything may be best when they are not blatantly pop, blatantly punk, or blatantly fucking around with music conventions, as explored on “The Bret Easton Ellis School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” Aside from the pretentious use of the American Psycho author and the Fall Out Boy-inspired crap title, the song’s melancholy sound is palatable and pretty.

As always, Say Anything reaches for silly and serious in the lyrics. “Princess” seems about a girl with aspiring dreams against insurmountable odds. But, then there’s a line about Fritos Lays that is repeated more often than deserved. Say Anything don’t delicately balance the absurd with the real. They just throw the rulebook to the side entirely. The merging of electronics with guitars just doesn’t work as well because the songwriting is dilluted. It’s kind of shocking how Say Anything try so many bizarre little things without getting much of any of it right. Thye crunchy sidebar in “Jiminy” is headache-inducing. There is a solid song buried in the unnecessarily subversive and crunchy production of “Wire Mom.”

All of this remains one of the main reasons the band has such as fervent fanbase. Unfortunately, when the songs lack cohesive melodies and they reach for doing too much, you have to have the arsenal to pull it off. Say Anything jump too often, but they rarely land a moment.

David Bowie “Blackstar” Review

9/10Blackstar will go down as potentially one of the most heroic and sincere albums in David Bowie’s entire career. He has spent decades spawning innumerable alter egos, toying with the conventions of sexuality and being anything but transparent. Something happened, between the years of 2001 (upon the release of 2001’s Reality) and 2010 (where he began working on The Next Day), that propulsed Bowie to reexamine a more ‘real’ part of life. What resulted was a criminally short resurgence- a Renaissance of musical creation prior to death that began with the wonderful The Next Day and concluded with a dire cry for answers.

Blackstar will likely also remain one of Bowie’s grimmest albums. There is no coincidence here. Blackstar is rife with passages about death, questions about creative mortality, and the coming of the darkness. “Blackstar” is uninterested in charming the listener with melancholy hooks, as it drizzles seedy sounds throughout its lumbering 9 minutes. “I’m a Blackstar, I am the great I am” is matched with lyrics about being “a flash in the pan.” Bowie is begging for answers- bravely crying for a response from what rests at the bottom of this cliff.

“Lazarus” is weighted with thick instrumentation. Aside from an odd lyric about “wanting some ass,” Bowie is screaming with a very audibly worn cry. Part of the pain is felt, and knowing the real-world circumstances around the song, it’s made all the eerier. This could be partly a placebo effect. But, Bowie made sure the album’s instrumentation was as chaotic and troubled as his own voice. “Dollar Days” may be the only track here with a slight note of what would generally be called “uplifting.” But, Bowie can’t escape his own imminency. “I’m falling down, and it’s nothing to me.” But, you don’t believe it for a second.

Blackstar will never be removed from the death of Bowie that occurred just two days of its 2015 release. In many instances, this may deter the music- cause a distraction that cannot be overcome. In the case of Bowie, it is a very real haunt that drips upon every grated moaned lyric and every wail of the saxophone.

 

The Offspring ‘Days Go By’ Review

cooltext131529618670615Every music fan has that band they adored when they were young; puberty was just around the next turn or already amidst your daily troubles. You were easily influenced, grabbing for something to attach to. For me, these days involved Limp Bizkit, Eminem, System of a Down ‘Toxicity’ era, bouts of Donkey Kong on the Game Boy Color, and maybe a little surface punk rock.

Among all this was a small Californian group called The Offspring. Their slew of albums remained in constant rotation in my room. The opening spoken word piece of “Smash.” The 9-minute closer of “Americana” in ‘Pay the Man.’ Hell, even the times I stood on top of my bed rocking out to “Beheaded” from their debut self-titled. I can’t listen to any of their older albums without recalling Pokemon, homework, and those bygone eras of a kid (me) who didn’t know shit about anything except every word of ‘the Offspring’s Americana album.

I think we all have this band. A new record from The Offspring post-2002 isn’t really a huge deal, on a wide social scale. Their recent output has been less than stellar, to say the least. 2003′s Splinter was fun but short and unremarkable.

And then 2008 saw Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, which was just a mixed pot of mediocre attempts to warm to an older sound and cheesy pop ballads that caused nausea. I don’t want to remember Kristy, Are You Doing OK? anytime soon and hopefully this will be the last mention of that song ever in history. So I am in a precarious place. I can’t pretend I don’t have a self-sustained history with the group. Their albums, to me, are legendary. I see a new album by a nostalgic-infused band from my youth, and I just have that sinking feeling that they will just disappoint again. But I feel guilty. They ALREADY gave me so much?

Days Go By is much much better than I would have thought hearing a few songs leading up to the release. Lead single and title track Days Go By is by-the-books alt-rock, sounding more like a buried track 8 Foo Fighters song than old school California punk rock. The second single, Cruisin California (Bumpin in my Truck) is just ridiculously awful. You get the slight impression that the Offspring are parodying top 40 pop music, yet the song is so out of touch and obnoxiously foolish they only really end up parodying themselves.

Yet, listening through the album, my heart fluttered. It rose. My intertwined nostalgic attachments to The Offspring felt, well, satisfied. Lead track The Future is Now opens the album up well, sounding similar to The Offspring in the late-90′s. They retain some classic punk-rock aesthetics here with Dividing By Zero, a short blast of punk rock ethos towards the end of the album. Sounds a bit like All I Want, which is pure punk- if it was on the radio, of course.

There is a cheesy ballad here (oh gawd) in the form of All I Have Left
is You. It’s silly and dumb, but actually quite harmless and boasts a
steady little harmony and hook that actually sticks as opposed to
infuriates. For modern day attempts to reach radio appeal, there
could be much worse.
Perhaps the most interesting inclusion is a song called Dirty Magic.
For long-time Offspring fans, and those who heard their old material,
it is a re-release and re-recording of the track from their second
album Ignition. This time around, it’s heavier and cleaner, and uses
this odd guitar tone. I can’t possibly listen to it without hearing the
song I’ve grown accustomed to, and it sets a potentially dangerous
precedent of bands re-recording songs and releasing them on a new
album. The problem I have with Dirty Magic is that it didn’t need to
exist in this new form.

Oc Guns is actually a really bizarre little song that uses this old
school hip-hop esque drum pattern and bass line, and classical
instrumentation, making for one of the most dynamic and interesting
songs from the band in the last decade. All in all, Days Go By is their best album in 12 years. It offers a dash of experimentation, a dash of balladry like their recent output, and brief inclusions of punk rock songs that would fit in comfortably midcareer.

Everyone who is into music has that band or artist that they
just attached to in youth. For me, that is The Offspring. Now when
those artists go decades into their career, and still release music, you
tend to just look at it unfavorably. With that nostalgia self-contained in
their older material, it is also a bit fresh to hear a band from youth still
moving forward and retaining a semblance of what made you love
them in the first place. From The Offspring, and any band that is in
this position for someone, that is really the best you can expect. On
comparison’s sake, the new music will almost always lose. But as you
remove yourself from that logic and train of thought, you find
something charming and likable here, even if you aren’t twelve and
recalling the best of a band’s heyday.

The Weeknd “Beauty Behind the Madness” Review

8/10The Weeknd is our most noteworthy contemporary R&B artist, perhaps outshining Frank Ocean on sheer quantitative output. I discovered the Weeknd just like anyone currently over the age of 14- from Drake. He jumped onboard  a track for the Weeknd’s second mixtape, Thursday, after his first one absolutely decimated the underground blogosphere. Unlike other web-only buzz artists, the Weeknd’s first release was unequivocally phenomenal. In other words, he deserved the direct shot to fame.

Appropriately so, it did not exactly work like that. His major studio debut, Kissland, lacked a certain something (accessibility, most likey) to appease the Katy Perry swalloing mainstream. So when the Weeknd began appearing on tours alongside Justin Timberlake and dropping verses with Arianna Grande, you knew someone was putting a lot of bankroll into making the Weeknd’s gorgeous and sexy warble worth something- and it paid off. The Beauty Behind the Madness is every bit the Weeknd rolled into an accessible tasty format for all ages.

This is not to say his lyriccs have been fully toned down. He still doesn’t want to love or be loved. He will still give a girl everything she wants in bed only after he is satisfied. He only calls a quarter after 1, and he gets two girls at once not just in his one-bedroom apartment, but in his leased loft. The Weeknd is borderline a caricature only explored in Childish Gambino-esque web video series. But this time around his work is more expensive, shinier, and a little less intoxicating. This is the Weeknd for the fun moms and the promiscuous teens.

In the Night is the most eccentrically pop tune on the album. Reminiscent of R&B’s most deliberate crossover moments of the late 2000’s, the track pulsates with absolutely floor-dropping hook. It invalidates any fan cry that the Weeknd has gone too pop for his own good. It’s arguable whether it is any better than one of Thursday’s drug-infused moodscapes or Echoes of Silence’s “coming down from the high” contemplation ballads, but it is certainly more fun. Losers has probably the most fun lead synth melody on the whole album- a desirable tasty treat of grandiosity. One problem is a bit outside the album. He (the label) tends to overuse a lot of tracks which appeared elsewhere, such as Earned It from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack or Often, released as an independent single over a year before the album release and just recycled and adopted into the current record. Its arguably a bit lazy, made worse by the fact these tunes are humdrum Weeknd- him at his most passive.

He does try for ambiant reflection and highly textured atmosphere on As I Am and Shameless. They are songs Weeknd fans from the mixtape days will appreciate, but not enough to make up for the almost absurdly catchy I Can’t Feel My Face, which could have easily been a holdover for the new Rihanna album. Ed Sheeran pops up in a track so lumbering and forgettable I forgot the title twice before I completed this sentence.

Which is perhaps the Achilles Heel of the Weeknd post-Kissland. That respective record was a bit too experimental to hit the mainstream. The overlong tracks weaved in and out like a strong buzz, and the Beauty Behind the Madness shows what the Weeknd sounds like commercialized and watered down. Both of these things are true. The fantastic duality is that this is where the Weeknd likely belongs. Its a stage needed to get him to a creative independence. When no one buys albums anymore, you need Ed Sheeren to do his thing.

The Top 15 Music-Related Films

There are so many music-themed films that are worth viewing. This list lacks documentaries, as all these films are related to music but not necessarily a factual documentation of musical events, times or places. All these films bleed music, it is coursing through their veins, and isn’t just distantly related to music- or features a main character that is a musician but little else music related. but most importantly, they are ALL worth watching. Some are entirely true, some are largely fictitious, but each one takes the best of the medium of music and turns it into a phenomenal film where a lot can be learned- and listened to.

  1. The Doors (1991)

This early 90′s film based on the life of The Doors, particularly Jim Morrison, was directed by Oliver Stone, and met with fantastic reviews. Despite the filing being infamously dramatized and exaggerated, there is a spirit in the film, and remains relatively faithful to earning insight into the life of a true rockstar. The film is very centered on the famous front man, who arguably has the most fascinating story to tell. The Doors have quite a history to them, and are favorites in the documentary and biopic. But even if you’re not a fan, there’s enough substance here to make the watch worthwhile, something you can learn from. Consider it a book on what NOT to do if you want to live, and what TO do if you want Oliver Stone to make a movie about you.

 

  1. The Blues Brothers (1980)

This classic Saturday Night Live bit from John Belushi and Dan Akroyd turned into a classic

music film that has developed into a cultural iconic piece of history. And now, over 30 years later, we can look back at The Blues Brothers as a representation of soul, R&B, and Blues, before the 80′s even begin. The movie may see

m a LITTLE dated, but it’s relevant enough to warrant a watch through so many years later, at the very least it

gives you an interesting take of the music of the times in a way only these two comedians can.

  1. Taking Woodstock (2009)

Taking Woodstock wasn’t generally well received, or  massively popular, but its faithful representation of the Woodstock Festival deserves a mention, as it is a fantastic story that holds dear the ideological and cultural implications of the 70′s. There are many hippes, many self-indulgent mockeries of the 70′s jam session aesthetic, and namedrops of all the big acts of the era (and Dylan’s famous absence). The film is truly a trip to watch, and something to admire for its pioneering status. It’s from director Ang Lee who brought us gay cowboys and Chinese samurais. And now added to the repertoire- gay festival starters. Demetri Martin plays Elliot Tiber in this true story of Woodstock’s beginnings.

  1. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

This movie is not only hysterical, but has music in its heart and soul. It’s sort of a commentary on various music persona’s, having elements from the life and personality of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jim Morrison to name a few. It also stars John C. Reilly (opposite Will Ferrell in Step Brothers) and Jenna Fischer of The Office. Regardless of a friendly cast, some well-placed cameos, Walk Hard is breathing music and shows that sometimes it’s better to take a lighthearted approach to the art of reminiscing old school rock n roll.

  1. Amadeus (1984)

Its less contemporary than most of the picks here, it does bring to life a gorgeous story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the mid 19th century. Mozart, throughout the film, is one of the most enthralling characters in film history, and holds this film from great to phenomenal. It also has a lot of classical music.  Like all the films listed, it’s core is music. But a classical approach to the topic weaves an interesting and unique perspective unseen in many films. it’s also historically appeasing and accurate. You’ll feel as if you can play the piano better after this 2 1/2 hour story is told- and maybe a little smarter too!

  1. 8 Mile (2002)

There are very few films about hip hop, and especially good ones. but Eminem managed to do what few rappers can do well, and that is act. (50 Cent tried and god was that rough to watch). Though Eminem has admitted the film is dramatized and only partly true, it is still effective in its message and scope. And though there is a much larger story to tell, it is music and hip hop that drives the character forward through this debut acting performance by the rapper himself.

  1. I’m Still Here (2010)

This inclusion is particularly odd, because it is a fairly new film that doesn’t seem to rely on music to drive the story. Joaquin Phoenix thought it smart to, in 2006, announce his retirement from acting and begin a career in hip hop. Though it sounds absurd, it was believable enough to justify a hoax on fans and the media alike. Despite this, the movie does have a strong grounding in music, with cameos by P. Diddy and Mos Def. Phoenix pursues a hip hop career with an apparent serious intent, and it does reveal the difficulty of producing a hit- with some laughs and naked men along the way.

believe this movie will come to be respected more in later years, but for now, it remains a bizarre and intrepid account of a man who experiences in the culture of music and drugs, and flounders to an awkward reveal and a blurred message of reality.

  1. This is Spinal Tap (1984)

This “mockumentary” film truly is a classic. It has one-liners that are still said to this day, and gives you an insightful outlook on the music industry as much, if not more so, than any true documentary. Spinal Tap wasn’t particularly a real band before and during this film, but they did tour and make a follow-up album based on the idea of Spinal Tap. It’s funny, but it’s also eerily familiar for those who understand musical culture and social dynamics. The guys argue, the guys get shafted by labels, and through all the laughs and all the satirical points, there is a line of truth embedded in each and every scene.

  1. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

If you ask a music fan what period of music and place would they hope they could go to, they may say Seattle’s grunge scene, the LA glam rock scene- maybe the African tribal scene thousand of years ago. But after watching 24 Hour Party People, they may have to pick Manchester’s scene in the late 70′s and 80′s- spearheaded by Factory Records mastermind, Tony Wilson.

The film chronicles the punk rock era in Britain, and the rise and fall of Factory Records, whose turbulent nature made for an uneasy company, but a fantastic film. The film is notable for being part myth, rumors, and substantiated fact. Bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays make appearances and drive the plot. There’s also a whole collection of cameos for those in the know. Maybe for a drinking game with your musically inclined friends?

  1. Once (2006)

Being a small-time musician is a rough gig. You play sets on the street with a flipped over hat, maybe a show for 14 people at a small pub in the city. The trials and errors of a man and his guitar have never been reflected better than in Once, an Irish film released to global critical acclaim. Though the film is not based on any one individual in particular, it does offer a look into the struggles of being a musician, wrought with a love story and driving spirit of song- it’s a fantastic film that gives power to music.

  1. Control (2007)

Joy Division are popular in the biopic genre. Ian Curtis famed suicide and story has lent a whole group of music fans to wish the days of Joy Division’s longevity. And yet, with only two albums to the band’s name, they have spawned a few films- Control being the most superior. With a gorgeous visual style, impeccably acting, and a notoriously faithful story to the true events, Control offers us a glance into the band during their rise and the inevitable death of their front man. it’s a character story drowning in music, and can be argued as one of the best pictures in the genre.

  1. High Fidelity (2000)

For old school music fans, there is nothing better than a legitimate record store. The dank smell, the spinning vinyl, and the music nerds who argue about the obscurity of their favorite artists. yet in High Fidelity, you have all these attributes put together into a clusterfuck of storytelling genius. The soundtrack is phenomenal as well, and 11 years later, it reflects the dying record store and the consummation of music in a rapidly evolving culture.

  1. Ray (2004)

There isn’t much to say Jamie Fox’s performance of Ray Charles in “Ray” that hasn’t already been said. he gives a life and energy to the soul music pioneer. Crafting an indelible sound in the art of molding genres together, and having a beautifully romantic and endearing story to boot, Ray Charles truly is a legend in the world of music and the film portrays this honestly and with triumphant appeal.

  1. Walk the Line (2005)

Before Joaquin Phoenix made “I’m Still Here” and baffled just about everyone, he gave us a performance of the decade in Walk the Line, the chronicles of Johnny Cash. The man was no stranger to drama, womanizing, and the creation of gorgeous country rock music that has everlasting appeal. it was also nominated for 5 Academy Awards, and is considered one of the best biopics in history, let alone music. As for the actual story, it’s an interweaving piece into Johnny cash as a man, his struggles with writing and simply existing where his popularity and drug use nearly swallowed him whole as it has done to so many rock stars in history.

  1. Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous is just as much a film about journalism and coming of age as it is about music. Working for Rolling Stone, William Miller tours with a fictitious band, and learns as much about the world of music as the viewer. We grow with him- we witness the worst and the best of human relationships with him, and we learn it all in a shell of music through the early 70′s. It’s a beautiful film that takes the best elements of music-oriented film- learning about the culture while understanding what the character is going through and hopefully taking something away from it all. Almost Famous is surrounded in the world of music, but shows the seedy underbelly of being a musician with influence, money, and talent.

Grunge Revivalism: Why America’s Angriest Genre is Coming Back

The early 90′s were fun. Music fans wore ugly bloated flannel and punched the wall to the overtly aggressive sounds of the forerunners of the genre. It was a fun time for sure. Grunge music never really DIED per se. It was GOOD grunge music that died. When Kurt Cobain shot himself late 1994, just after releasing their widely considered best album In Utero, that could be seen as the death of quality grunge music. But when Collective Soul and Staind came around, the genre was just dilated to the point of comedy. And some even say the reigns are still held by bands like Three Days Grace and Nickelback who gave us the aborted fetus known as their entire career.

Oh and don’t get me started on boy bands- where The Backstreet Boys were just the teabagging of grunge’s legacy.

The problem with grunge is that it was always existed in some fashion because if you strip it to its core essence, you have distorted guitars, snare drums, strong pop/metal riffs, and a bass dialed up. Grunge music is a simple formula, but it’s also the cultural implications of the era that made grunge not only relevant but impacting music to this day.

The world is trying to rebound from the pop-heavy 80′s, where commercialized glam pop ruled the airwaves. Not that it was bad exactly, but bands like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears were more interested in crying over a piano and a synth hook than screaming and yelling unrecognizable lyrics to a riff overbearingly heavy.

Of course, not all grunge bands were always heavy. They knew when to turn it down, making some beautiful organic songs that still have stay power- while also playing to the grunge extremes and just distorted the shit out of everything. Alice in Chains released an almost entirely acoustic album Jar of Flies, and it remains one of the most well received (and my personal favorite) grunge albums ever.

Grunge also came about from an economic recession that plagued the times, and whether the music was a direct response to an inefficient system, or whether the calamities of outside influence had only a direct effect on the Seattle area, remains to be truly explored. But with an economic recession and riding off the back burner of glam-pop, MTV era exploitation, and an economic recession, the perfect storm of self-deprecation and heavy music can foster.

let’s break this down just so you understand. A grunge music revival is likely. The original grunge music movement came about through circumstances eerily reminiscent of the happenstance in 2011.

Riding off 80′s pop music? Sounds like Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber,and Katy Perry all released overwhelming popular pop music last year.

MTV, music videos and exploitation? Well, we have the web that was essentially non-existent during the course of grunge’s high years, and with the music industry reforming daily, it may have a place to prosper again.

Economic recession? have you seen the news?

Despite this, grunge is a tough one to recreate, simple because we’re competing with acts born out of our early listening years. Will anything top the top acts of that era- can any band really be as significant emotionally and for a now 25 year old who grew up directly influenced by these sounds? Maybe it’s just time for a new generation, younger kids now listening to HEAVY and not…well…what they are listening to.

Some of the big 90′s acts are making a resurgence as of late, which may be adding to the beliefs of a new grunge movement. But every band is doing it with a bit of laziness, it appears they are cashing in and not being artistically credible.

When Stone Temple Pilots hit the scene they were a bit late, and not even FROM Seattle. They took the grunge sound and added a layer of glam that made it more poppy, essentially pioneering the grunge power ballad. The band did released a new album in 2010 that was modestly received, and toured behind it. The album was average, but it did show an effort and made a small splash.

Alice in Chains “reunited” with a new singer a few years back, and released a tolerable new album that was as uninspiring as a new Dean Koontz novel. And they toured with mediocre bands, trying to fit into the new musical landscape while banking on their nostalgic sound. it was all so out of place, i can’t help but feel that the are damaging the grunge era and not helping it.

Soundgarden reunited years ago, and have yet to put out any new material. They played a few shows here and there, but nothing to substantiate a stake in the new grunge movement slowly evolving.

Some days are working, but doing it lackadaisically. And no one expects a Nirvana reunion of any kind, and the idea disturbs me, so their career is now summed up with Greatest Hits, rarities, and cover fodder for 90′s High School grunge throwback bands.

Pearl Jam released Backspacer in late 2009, and though it was the best album of the bunch, it was less grunge than my Aunt Helen’s pet dog ‘Scurvy.’ They are putting together a festival this summer dubbed “Summer Fest,” which is rumoured to feature many grunge acts including Soundgarden, Green River, and perhaps an appearance by Temple of the Dog?

Modern bands like Yuck and Dead Confederate are using grunge influences to gain some notoriety. As well as The Sword who using sludgy metal to add a level of distortion and grunge attitude. These bands are bringing out a new fresh style as well adding more country influences that notable in the grunge movement. There’s also a respectable amount of grunge styled music coming out of Russia, of all places. And some may make some waves in the States.

The grunge era is slow to revive. Many fans are clamoring for rock to step back into the limelight, where the top selling rock album of the last year was Linkin Park’A Thousand Suns (at #40) Rock music is hurting, and hurting bad. But until a classic grunge act grabs the genre by the balls and brings about all their new friends gathered from the last few years, grunge will forever remain in the discreet but powerful 90′s, and floundering as classic rock staples to you to show your kids when you’re 40. “Now THIS was real music, Little Billy!” Billy goes to the computer and plays Beiber’s newest single “Young 4 Eva,” from his 11th studio album- released digitally.

Nine Inch Nails “Hesitation Marks” Review


9/10I once considered Trent Reznor to be the defining artist of the 90′s. Unfortunately, many disagree, and Kurt Cobain’s death embattles my argument pretty heavily. But Reznor seems to be in a constant state of remaining relevant and sustaining the impression that he could not care less. And with that he has built a notable army of High Schooler’s who grew up with Nine Inch Nails and got older respecting Trent (Of course, these same fans made bands that attempted to encapsulate what Reznor did already and far better). But there is always that angular angst and immaturity that arises from the lyrics, as if he stole poetry written by a freshman during his latest spinning of the latest Marilyn Manson or The Cure album. It is irony, but it is the kind that has a bit of a facade.

So Reznor, gracefully aging into his 40′s, put NIN aside and embraced soundtracks to Oscar-winning films and wheedling with Kid-A inspired electronic albums. But his return in the form of Hesitation Marks seems a bit premature. Reznor has been notoriously active in the years since the last NIN release, The Slip, and the continuation of the moniker is obviously welcomed, but perhaps a bit sooner than most fans even expected (Nine Inch Nails has been known to go on five year breaks between albums).

With all that said, Hesitation Marks is beautiful. It is engrossing and trepid and drowning in tense manifestations of passive-aggressive intensity and danceable backbeats. Igniting the entire record is a sense of accomplishment, an artist finding rooting in his later years and delivering what is easily one of the most invigorating albums of his career.

But he accomplishes all this with a pastoral calmness. This record is not overt, blunt, hard-hitting and bombastic. It manages an underlying tenseness. If Downward Spiral was a bludgeon to the face, Hesitation Marks is the reflective understanding of what just happened as one slips into unconsciousness.

Came Back Haunted perhaps sums things up clearly. It is somber and rhythmic. It never derails into outward aggression and anger. All the tension, all the pain is just on the brink of outright exploding. It is Reznor toying with the idea of aggression by making a record so dense and textural but never outright coming out and unleashing the metal roots he built his career on.

Satellite runs with a soft-mannered backbeat, and as the song progresses, Reznor adds another subtle element to it (a chime, a haunting echo). But the song never climaxes. It never announces its presence. Reznor in the mid-90′s would have blown his load four times over. Here, he just reflects and sits on the music, letting them organically play out as if the entire process is as natural as resting.

Of course, that lastly leads us into the mesmerizing and eclectic production here. Reznor is not a very good vocalist, traditionally. One can’t help but wonder what this album would sound like as an instrumental (it would certainly pack more of a punch than the Ghosts set). There are elements of post-dubstep in tracks like Various Methods of Escape. Electronic minimalism crops up in Find My Way, and traditional sort of dance music arises in Copy of A. It is primed for a remix, that’s for sure. All Time Low is the perfect throwback to classically-inspired goth.

Hesitation Marks is dense and enigmatic, channeling a Reznor that has long been forming but has let to come forward with such a statement. Later career Reznor was him experimenting with the music, playing with the type of release and the emotions present. It was him finding that producers edge. Hesitation Marks is the perfect culmination of Reznor’s 90′s prime and his later day maturity. It is only appropriate that Reznor pursued the art designer of The Downward Spiral to design this record. If Downward Spiral was angst, frustration, darkness and uncoiling sadness, Hesitation Marks is the tense aftermath of realizing that life is rarely ever that all-defining, encompassing, and dark. Tranquility can be found in letting go. The beautiful, almost heavenly arrangements of All Time Low seem to reflect this, as Reznor’s distant voice slowly fades away into…

Jack Johnson “From Here to Now to You” Review


4/10I apologize in advance to long time fans of Jack Johnson. He just seems so airheaded. Life is all about roses and pretty colors, man. You get the impression that all Jack Johnson thinks about is love, his wife, pretty walks through the woods, and surfing. This is all fine and super, but it is not exactly what we call reality. In reality, pain is present. In reality, we struggle and we suffer and we find success through the toughest and most frustrating and overwhelming of courses. We find that our adventuring surfing in Australia is only attained after years of decadent self-discovery. Jack Johnson gives the impression that he was born with a guitar in his hand, and life is just trippy and fun and totally awesome. If his 15 years of making soft folk/pop balladry wasn’t enough of an indication, then you just don’t care enough.

From Here to Now to You is the latest product from Jack Johnson. It does the same thing he has done since his debut Brushfire Fairytales, and his mainstream breakthrough In Between Dreams. Jack Johnson is the safest artist in the music industry. He writes narrative-driven folk/pop love songs, and he does it so seriously (ignoring Banana Pancakes). Life is just a fun little adventure, so let’s pull out our banjos and surfboards and have a blast.

I enjoy a good dumb pop song. I like the fact that is is floaty and spacey and allows me to turn off my brain and just enjoy the rarely quirky and often by-the-books little hook. Jack Johnson certainly seems primed for a good melody, as he proves in Shot Reverse Shot and the comically soft-manneredDon’t Believe a Thing I Say.

But sometimes, I demand more from music. Johnson is probably sincere. He probably just enjoys playing music to people, and people liking its harmless attributes, non-demanding sound, and ‘turn off your brain and just sit on the beach and listen, man’ attitude. But I expect more from a musician, sometimes, especially over the course of six albums. Hell, maybe it is just my own expectations. Some people can make music and not make a big deal about the world while doing so. Sure, but it doesn’t make the music smart or good- it just seems transparently dumb. You Remind Me of You is so saccharine sweet, it even adds that ‘boowobadoo‘ following lyrics of, surprise, love from a mother. Radiate has a hook that, literally, just repeats ‘Radiate’ seven times and goes on its way. Thankfully, it is only three minutes (like every song on the album, which is, non-coincidentally, the perfect pop song formula length).

Jack Johnson is singing about a reality I do not understand. He is singing to fans which don’t like to think, or want to escape thinking. There is room for this type of non-demanding trivial music. But there is also a way to make this type of music without being so non-confrontational and sleepy doing it.You can make silly folk pop and do it with a backbone, however slight.

When I listen to Jack Johnson, I can not relate. I can not relate to the upbeat natures and wonders of the world, ignoring the grim underbelly and despair. Perhaps I like my music chockful of self-reflective angst. Perhaps I am just a cranky dweeb. Perhaps I am missing the point. Which begs the question, maybe it isn’t him- maybe it’s ME?

Lou Reed “Metal Machine Music” Review


2/10Metal Machine Music
would be the worst album ever made if it was actually a conscious sincere attempt to make music. Interestingly, it hardly classifies as music. Considering music is, by definition, organized sounds, Metal Machine Music’s hour long industrial soundscape of noise, abrasion, brutal tedium, and feedback, made for one of the most alarming, distressing, and terrible musical experiences in history.

As far as background goes, there really isn’t any. Lou Reed released a string of well-received albums in the early 70s coming off his stint with the legendary rock group The Velvet Underground. As a solo musician, he became more erratic and weirder, ultimately unleashing this sonic onslaught of what is essentially a haphazard collection of noises. There are rumors that it was all a big ‘screw you” to the label which we wanted out of, or just a big joke to all the naysayers who said his last album was ****. Regardless, Metal machine Music gives the impression that it is all just a senseless mess. One may think that everything here was purposeful, perhaps meticulously tracked and specified to build a fluid flow through the album’s duration. I am confident that this is not the case. It truly is Reed screwing with us all, adding distortions and feedback with nonchalant incoherence, grinning wide and laughing at the prospect of releasing this to the public.

There are some who claim that Metal Machine Music was influential to them. In the Noise-Metal genre, I could see this being the case. The album lacks melody, fluidity, harmony, and anything even carrying a semblance of musical attribution. Metal Machine Music stands more as a historical pinpoint, a point that ushered in a wave of experimentation from an eccentric artist, and as a representation of what a crazed artist can do given the limitations of a supposed super-artist of the 70s. it is an interesting mantelpiece, historically. Musically, it is a giant whopping monster of a turd, its score justified by the intrigue of the concept as opposed to any quality listening experience.

Panic at the Disco “Vices and Virtues” Review

5/10Panic! at the Disco seem to have been all over the place musically over three albums and six years. Their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was danceable and likable- sweet and sugary with the pop sensibilities of the best “emo” acts in the scene. It was flamboyantly awkward lyrically, but had enough charm to appease the times. And just a few years later, their second record, Pretty.Odd came about, and they largely abandoned the fifth grade lyrics,electronic fragrances, and wrought out a more grandiose 60′s pop sound, with strings, layered instrumentation, and witty lyrics more whimsical than…well…awful.

Vices and Virtues is not a similar reinvention, though it should be. Having lost  half the band, including Ryan Ross, who’s favoritism towards 60′s pop and the Beatles were well acknowledged, only Brendan Urie (multi-instrumentalist) and Spencer Smith (drums only please thank you) remain in the band. They also added the exclamation mark back in the band title, so new t-shirts and merch designs lie ahead.

And yet, Vices and Virtues is as straightforward an album as the band has released. They have obviously grown more mature in the years and throughout the drama that unfolded. Their hooks are as fresh as they come, signaling a buttery sort of rambunctiousness not seen since their first album. It’s less electronic than older material, and definitely trims a lot of those 60′s influences. Only Always and Sarah Smiles are notably more similar to those Pretty.Odd days.

But they absolutely focused their sound. Where their last album was 50 minutes, this one is barely 35. Where they pulled influences from 40 years earlier while just before being at the forefront of alternative rock and emo-pop, is a testament to their abilities as musicians. But Ross’ split from the band had it’s effects, making the two musicians (who formally make P!ATD a duo) release an infectious yet wholly unsatisfying release. But what exactly makes this album just “ok?”

Big wide chorus’? check. Silly lyrics about girls with a dash of story and wit? check. A cute yet disposable ballad? check.

Panic! at the Disco play it entirely to safe to justify praise like we have seen from previous records. Vices and Virtues is not a bad album. It’s surprisingly prototypical for the band, deciding that this safer root may bring back an audience that left them when Nine in the Afternoon became a hit and they preferred reminiscing in a lilly field over dancing MGMT- Kids style. Regardless, there are a lot of hooks in the record. Ready to Go warrants some jumping on the bed in your pajamas excited for the next day, and Let’s Kill Tonight is surprisingly aggressive for a band who sang about rabbits and tadpoles just a few years prior. We also have quite an array of musical instruments at hand here- xylophones, accordions, and to a lesser extent, the synthesizer adding that sparing electronic touch.

If you’re looking for a safer album, pulling a few key influences from their second album, and toning down the electronic charm of their OTHER album, than P!ATD has a success on their hands. But when and if they release another album, I hope that Vices and Virtues turns out to be the key stepping stone to really delving deeper into their talented breadth of musical capabilities.

Nickelback “Here and Now” Review

3/10Nickelback never seize to amaze me. Their music has been so universally disliked, and so representative of a larger, more sinister beast (the mainstream music listener) that I find their longevity shocking but also oddly acceptable. There are a lot of bands like Nickelback that could be pinpointed, but Nickelback insist on continuing to make music, so why they sort of asked for it.

I tried to come into this review as objective as physically possible, trying my hardest to keep back my distant memories of the awful hooks in songs likeThis is How You Remind Me and Animal (and Photograph and Something in Your Mouth and etc etc etc)  and I believe I did a really solid job. With that said, Nickelback’s new full length Here and Now is only slightly better than I expected.

That’s not to say that this is a good album by any stretch of the imagination, as the Nickelback formula is still very much, almost comically intact. But there are few brief glimpses of legitimate quality song-writing here. When We Stand Together begins with a comfortable little acoustic lick, and barely carries that through the song. It remains a forgettable, albeit tolerable little track stuck between drival. Lullaby is another rather somber tune that is surprisingly poignant, and probably the best song on the album. But Nickelback attempts that terrible cliche-ridden riffage, as witnessed onMidnight Queen, that sounds like Guns N Roses meets umm…awful radio rock and roll. Gotta Get Me Some has some of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard from the group. Nickelback’s inability to change in almost capacity is not just frustrating, but anger-inducing. Though, they did make a pretty album cover this time around, probably the most objectively high-quality aspect of this entire project.

Nickelback is formula driven rock and roll to its very heart and soul. There is an ingrained chemical formula to their music, that one can break down with no effort. They begin with an intro riff, break it down for the verse, and bring everything back with an overtly and ambiguous chorus until they run it to the ground. Their melodramatic bullshit is still coursing through every chord, and it tired back in 2005. Here it’s just disturbing. Though their skills are slightly better at the soft drama, Nickelback’s continuous effort to stay exactly who they are in almost every conceivable way is frustrating and obnoxious to the mass of music fans. I don’t want to say that Nickelback’s song crafting is terrible, because that’s unfair. But it does condone to a specific bottom barrel lowest common denominator aspect. It’s by no means trivial, but it is one of the eclipsing evils of music that is hard to ignore. As long as Nickelback keeps vomiting on record, we can have something to hate. Regardless, even Nickelback fans should be tired of this one trick pony running their so called “hooks” into the ground over and over again.

Vampire Weekend “Vampires in the City” Review

8/10Back when Vampire Weekend broke in 2008 with their eponymous self-titled debut, I was charmed by their inane sense of a hook. But what were they saying? I could not possibly relate to this waspy-whimsical contour waves of jangly rich-kid pop. But the hooks! They were so irresistible, despite my overall impression that they really didn’t have anything to say that wasn’t swashed in counter-intuitive bucklings of irony.

But when Contra surfaced a few years later, I found justified in saying Vampire Weekend was, in fact, a one-trick pony. Their aesthetic had little longevity, as the record was unimpressive and devoid of humor and charm. Modern Vampires of the City is so markedly different, interpretive, and dense. Where their previous trails showed a band relying on novelty, this latest record throws all that to the wind for an airy introspective work of narrative meandering. Vampire Weekend is much older, and they seem overwhelmed by thickened smog that seems to curtail the world. This isn’t party pleasantry anymore. The record is much more sophisticated in a number of ways, not just through the production but in the style choices and the helping of lyrics about death, failed love, and why our future is probably going to be kind of shitty.

Diane Young is a bright spot midst atmospheric slow jams. This marks the band’s closest rumination with their earlier ‘Horchata’- type numbers. But if Diane Young celebrates the naivety of youth before the storm, Hannah Hunt showcases the impending doom of it all. In a minimalist style, the song takes a while to take off- floating about in this actionable netherworld of self-deprecation. The last minute, a charming little piano rises above the sound and brings the track to fruition.

The album, as a whole, really strays away from that percussive tribal sound that seemed to dominate the band’s earlier material. But the band does embrace it for a moment in the drum-focused Everlasting Arms. Modern Vampires of the City is such a grower. On first blush, few of the songs have a powerful sense of pop to stick around. But the hooks that are there are spacious and melancholy. And that tends to sum up the record rather well. It is not a shining accomplishment to ruminate the year (let alone decade) but it is an effort of a band trying to do the only thing they could do to keep themselves relevant in the future. It is a smart, enchanting collection of pop-capades, experimentation, and slow build-ups that will not win over fans that left them in recent years, but it will certainly turn heads by those who appreciate substance and slow marinations.

The Killers “Battle Born” Review

5/10Yawn. I’m sorry. That was a poor opening. I am a bit tired from bearing through The Killers latest album Battle Born for the fifth time. Not fifth time consecutively. I would kill myself. I’m just a little sleepy here…Hum. Um. Ok. Well, Battle Born isn’t some sleepytime album. It is a far cry from Radiohead’s Kid A or some post-rock balladry or something, not that it was ever meant to be. Oh no, The Killers latest foray into the musical spectrum after a pretty lengthy four year hiatus is about as huge as can be. The group come pre-equipped with stadium rock epics, bombastic chorus’, and hooks and ditties galore straight out of the Billboard-topping manufacturing plant that produces some of the most hollowed out soulless music this way of the latest Fruity Loops pre-sampled track.

Maybe that is a tad unfair. The Way It Was is constructed nicely, with a huge little chorus that sticks instead of bores. Deadlines and Commitments leads with an opening synth torn right from the 80′s. Literally- it is the same synth lead from an 80′s soap opera introduction. Heart of a Girl is the perfect example of the blandness of their current sound, running through post-Hot Fuss Killers cliches that never takes off. A Matter of Time seems pulled right out of The Killers from 2004- it’s huge and silly and too much for it’s own good.

My favorite song on here is The Rising Tide. Not because it’s unique or original. And just to be clear, this isn’t being used as a criterion for the quality of a song or band. It just seems more FUN, like The Killers are actually enjoying what they are doing as opposed to running through the motions. It also finds Brandon Flowers at his best vocally, and it finds a nurturing balance between nice lyrics, synth-driven instrumentation, and a plentiful chorus’ that doesn’t seem too huge for its own good.

Yet overall, the lyrics do no favors. The album is a total step through Brandon Flowers middle school creativity, nearly every song drowning in that mellowing middle ground between young love and heartbreak, with a little rock star excess thrown in for good measure (Flowers ego can’t get away from remarking how great he is, the whole album sort of being an ode to rock star exploitation). Of course, there are those lyric lines that are so unbelievably ”what the fuck did he say?” they make you flinch. At best, their just unremarkable and immature. At worst, their distracting and terrible.

The greatest problem with Battle Born is that it’s just driveling. None of the songs hold up to the absolutely sensational rock constructs of Hot Fuss or hell, even Sam’s Town. Those songs were brilliant. All These Things That I’ve Done may be the song of the last decade if you caught me in the right mood. Yet the songs here are just empty. The stadium rock appeal has become so battered and neutered, the group is left with shameless attempts at making something so instantly appealing it backfires and ends up soulless and inarguably insipid.

By the close of the album, in the title track Battle Born, I have sort of warmed up to the band’s attempt at being so “themselves.” It’s a pretty remarkably constructed song, and makes me wish the preceding 11 or so tracks held up to its fashion of dynamic time changes and guitar leads. You find comfort in a band that just ignores the tired attempts at being different and opts for a sound that is accessible and denominator-inducing. So sure, I get it.

Boring as it is, in reality, The Killers have made something largely harmless. Battle Born is layered so thickly in production it somehow masks the band’s inadequacies, somewhat, and it relies heavily on stadium rock conventions of huge chorus’ and powerful “memorable” synth leads. The finished formula is  to make for a band at the prime of their “sound” in the most generic and lifeless way possible. It’s not that Battle Born is BAD exactly. It’s just that there is absolutely no reason to listen to something so inferior in its ability to recall emotional resonance, when there is so much more music that does so much more. The Killers aren’t asking for much. But they seem to be comforted in being “just there.” Stadium huge and as interesting as a jumble of rocks.

Leonard Cohen “Popular Problems” Review

cooltext131529644372145Leonard Cohen is an enigma. His raspy low-register voice has been ever-present since he debuted in the late 60′s with a batch of seedy cellar ballads about sex, doom, and meeting strangers that are lost and scared. So nearly 50 years later, and Cohen engages that dark synergy in all of us. That moment where mortality becomes more than just an afterthought but a serious moment of tender and foreboding reflection. Popular Problems is really about death, probably more so than any of release from Cohen. And can you blame him? Cohen is an artist in the purist sense- a man that considers his body of work in a literal sense upon his passing, and the morality of gloominess that hits when you look at your face in the mirror and notice a few extra cracks of conclusive mortality.

Almost like the Blues is not ‘almost like the blues’ at all- it is bluesy, dark, thoughtful, and sinister. but these are mostly on a lyrical level. There is no God in heaven, there is no hell below speaks/sings Cohen in a gutwrenchingly honest and riveting dissection of hope and faith. But this slightly leads into one of my major problems with popular problems. The instrumentation in these songs are a bit chirpier and upbeat, and it clashes against the lyrical content. For example, Cohen’s peer Tom Waits touches on a lot of the same tales of morality. But his instrumentation is seedier. it is not that he is more contemplative. It is that he revels in pure darkness, where Cohen likes to see the light.

It is the addition of piano work in Cohen’s material that gives it this more inspiring nature. Samson inNew Orleansis a beautifully quaint ballad and narrative, sewing a story of a lost young man facing, unsurprisingly, his own mortality. But at a young age, and through the filter of a narrative, Cohen channels his younger self. He can understand death with more clarity at 80+- but what about a young man who has yet to find love, who only sees a young woman in bed through the window but has yet to grow old with her? of course, the undertones of hurricane Katrina makes the song even more immediate and arresting.

My Oh My has a folksy chamber sound to it that is captivating. Cohen again sneaks into his seedy croon. But Cohen’s songs are hymns, the flipside of Tom Waits darkly enriching ballads. Nevermind moves with that same gritty voice. But the instrumentation seems like a very stripped down R&B dance track. It has a singular pulse, and the addition of melodic world vocals makes it so very odd- and complete.

For the past 50 years, Cohen has remained positive in the face of such horror. Cohen truthfully faces our mortal destruction, but all the time he nods and sings and acknowledges something we all understand but rarely take to heart- it was worth it. 

The Ramones ‘Rocket to Russia” Review

9/10I am a huge fan of the Ramones, so it seems about time I grace one of the most popular and widely accepted  albums the group ever put out. Trying not to recycle the same thing that people have said for decades now, The Ramones ended up being a lot more influential than anyone ever gave them credit for. Rocket to Russia seemingly exists in this perfect 5 trifecta- right smack in the middle of their first five albums ever released, and almost universally considered their best five in some order. The thing that hurts Ramones fans for those who are outside their certain circle of acceptance is that all Ramones songs sound the same. Here I go on a bit of a tangent: first of all, you are wrong. Secondly, why does that matter?

The Ramones have absolutely built this sensational and amazing foundation on past-paced punk rock jams with bubbly chorus’ and gang vocals and chugging guitars and lyrics about High School. So their evolution is rather confined, the fact that people use that as a knack against them is absurd. Some artists are meant to evolve. Their very nature is an a forward evolution and change in styles, and this is why they have some many various fans and periods in their career that people love. They are chameleons in their sound. The Ramones are one-dimensional in that their original sound is rather intact and only marginally changed by the end of their career. But they are iconic now and were iconic then by a sound they knew they just about invented  They were not the type of artists who needed to evolve to justify their relevance, nor to appease fans. They rocked, and they rocked until they all just about died. And I love it.

Rocket to Russia exists in a capsule that is untouched, so it is hard to fairly review it. I will say that the songs ARE recycled in some ways, the riffs barely interchangeable across whole albums and from one song to the next. Without an alert ear, Rocket to Russia can be heard as one 30+ minute tune.The two most entertaining tracks come in the form of the classicSheena is a Punk Rocker and the quite overlooked We’re a Happy Family. The allusions to the actual Ramones is alarmingly insightful, and the lyrics alone are just lovable. I Don’t Care wins for the best riff, and the shortest song on the album. These three songs gracefully sum up the Ramones almost entire trajectory- punk rock, happy families (ironically) and not giving a shit.

And?

Rocket to Russia and the group are immortalized deities in rock music, and they did what they did so well, you can’t possibly hurt them or detract them for this stylistic abberation. On a purely aesthetic level, the Ramones wrote some of the most hook-friendly though aggreeably repetitive music in history. But for a band to write one original hook is a great accomplishment. So what if the Ramones wrote one historical hook and then repeated it in various undifferentiated forms. But lest we forget- they basically invented the fucking pop/punk hook.

My favorite Ramones song is I Wanna Be Sedated. A cliche choice, sure.Rockaway Beach begins in just about the same way, and when the song erupts, it is impossible to hear a difference in the instruments alone. But because they sound so similar  and so many Ramones songs sound like so many others, I guess EVERY Ramones songs is my favorite. This is the essence of why the band has lasted and survived through time.

Muse “The 2nd Law” Review

cooltext131529552195520Matt Bellamy is filled with cheese. His brain, his heart, every orifice is spewing little drips of Kraft cheese that replace typical human organs. This is the only logical reason for why Muse’s new album The 2nd Law is as infuriatingly and excessively cheesy as it is. The trio of Muse- Matt Bellamy, Christopher Wolstenholme, and Dominic Howard- imbue cheese over every little synth hook, every vocal bellow, every accenting instrument that goes into making The 2nd Law as interesting, humorous, and pleasing as a bankrupt retirement home.

The Muse hate has gotten stronger since the release of 2006′s Black Holes and Revelations, and into truly epic proportions with 2009′s The Resistance. The reasons for this are glaringly obvious for anyone with an inking of musical self-awareness. Muse have embraced bloated silliness. Where their earlier material balanced somber interludes and build-ups, post-2006 Muse tried for a huge approach that ran the music into a filter of declamatory grandiosity- lyrics about the end of the world, political agendas, and just over-the-top bullshit that makes the music seethe and bubble with a awkward tension that is forced and lameduck.

Muse take this approach into stratospheric levels. The group add even more layers of electronics. Now, the inevitable ”dubstep-inspired” thing comes up. In reality, Muse don’t dabble into traditional dubstep as much as they would like you to believe given the promotion for the album. It’s here and there, in sporadic little bursts, but is tuned down to “experimental dipping” level. This is neither a strength or a fault. It just sort of is.

Front man Matt Bellamy still audibly breathes between every line. Muse still try for the large and sprawling without succeeding in either. The drumming is competent, though sometimes too rigid. The album premieres with a James Bond-inspired massiveness in Supremacy that just fumbles into a weird vocal interlude of sorts. It’s just messy and uninteresting, and shows Muse trying way too hard to be epic in the same way kids overuse the word to explain every little thing that is anything but epic.

Now, as it stands, The 2nd Law isn’t a total failure. Follow Me is actually huge but has enough strong songwriting to justify its existence, even though it detours into a ludicrous closing that just manages to end before it becomes paradoxically effective. Panic Station is the strongest song on the album. it’s funky and rhythmic, and is what I wish Muse would be more if they weren’t too busy sprinkling cheesy bullshit between every vocal break. The closing song is largely instumental, and is a nice builder that climaxes at just the right time, making for quite an interesting touch far too late in the “game.” The slower songs just flop hard. Explorers bores to tears. Save Me offers nothing invigorating, and towards the end of the album, it becomes a testament to patience and focus- something that Muse’s dominant fan base of young High Schoolers will undoubtedly not hold up to.

I find The 2nd Law a bloated mess. It is cheese-infested arena rock at its most ridiculous. The group take that step into electronics full foot forward, and offer us something that is akin to immediate self-parody. The lyrics are, at best unremarkable- at worst, preposterous and unrelatable. There are a few brief glimpses of creativity that sneak out, but the whole thing is coated in such a thick sheen of stupidity, it is hard to find where Muse were being serious and where they were just doing stuff to fuck around because they are a huge massively successful rock band. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Linkin Park “The Hunting Party” Review

6/10Linkin Park has always carved their own path in music. Ever since their debut release about 15 years ago, the band championed nu-metal while simultaneously burning it to the ground. Those albums still somehow sound non-dated, a testament to their craft of universal appeal and brilliantly approachable songwriting.

The Hunting Party finds this band seemingly reinvigorated with a heavier release than anything they have done since their mainstream opus, Meteora. But there are a lot of issues with The Hunting Party that makes it little more than a good intention going moderately wrong. One of the main strengths with Linkin Park has always been their collective ability to write these big sweeping hooks propelled by a wonderful balance of rapping, screaming, and direct singing from the two frontman. This is still present in their sound, but these hooks lack the weight of the past. All For Nothing has a hook from Page Hamilton of criminally overlooked metal group, Helmet. But it is uninteresting and stale, burned to the ground with its overt repetition.

Until it’s Gone has a lot of the same issues. The song tries to be larger than it really is, a self-built pretension in its scale that ultimately just ends up leaning on a big keyboard hook that doesn’t work. Album opener Keys to the Kingdom tries to sound bigger than life. But after breaking it down, it hits every major Linkin park trope, simply removing the keyboard melodies with a guitar line and Chester Bennington screaming an octave higher. Whoopdee doo.

The guitar plays a major part in the Hunting Party, but in very weird ways. Specifically, LinkinParkguitarist Brad Delson is actually somewhat relevant on this release. He brings out a few guitar solos which is a refreshing change of pace, for the band rarely ever leaning into intricate pattern-play. The bizarre thing is that Brad Delson, despite his long-standing presence in the band, is not a good guitar player. He is ashamedly outshined from System of a Down alum Daron Malakian in Rebellion, for example. It is so transparent that Malakian is a vastly superior guitar player on almost every level. Considering the tonal style of the tune, he probably had a solid hand in the writing as well. In other words, Rebellion is the album highlight partly BECAUSE of Delson’s presence.

The presence of a guitar is a major element here in more surprising ways. Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave veteran Tom Morello is on the record in Drawbar. Yet instead of the song being a rap-rock oriented jam or a big metal throwback, it is a two minute instrumental. This is not to say that the track is not quaint and pretty in its own right- it is just that I should never have to resort to words like quaint and pretty to explain a Morello feature. It is a shockingly wasted opportunity.

I appreciated the bombastic size of album closer A Line in the Sand, and the back to back set-up of War and Wastelands is the best moment of the record, but the Hunting Party is a lot of boasting with little substance. Its pretense of being a return to rock/metal form is a lot of calculated marketing. The Hunting Party is a competent release from a perfectly acceptable band. But Linkin Park continues floundering down their own rabbit hole, juggling what should be solid rock with ideas of grandiosity that are forced and untrue.