Saturday, April 28, 2007


I've always thought Kevin Smith was a much better writer than a director. He writes great, clever dialog, that maybe isn't too realistic, but is just fun to listen to. When he has his actors up there just saying his lines and being good actors, his movies work. But when he tries too hard to do some real complex scenes, it doesn't really work. He's not very good at directing. I thought Clerks was good for being made so cheaply, Chasing Amy was a great study of relationships, Dogma was a smart look at religion, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was just stupid fun. I've now seen Mallrats, leaving Clerks 2 as the only View Askew movie I haven't seen. Mallrats is funny, but probably the worst movie in the Askewniverse.

It's not bad, just not great. I saw the extended version, and apparently it's quite a bit longer than the theatrical cut, so I don't know if the extra length really helped or hurt it at all. Jason Lee is maybe too loud a bit too often, but he's still great as Brodie, and he's really what holds the movie together. He consistently has the best lines and is most involved in the story. His friend's girl troubles are probably given more face time, but he's much less charismatic in his role, and I didn't really care that much. I like Jay and Silent Bob when they're just being stoned idiots, not so much when they're performing stupid stunts that don't fit with the rest of the movie. It's an entertaining movie, it just has less merit than I'm used to from Smith.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Liveblog 1: A-Rod and the Red Sox

Alex Rodriguez has been ridiculously good this year. Historically good. But people still find ways to attack him, insulting the way he trots around the bases after a big home run or calling him Mr. April. It doesn't matter, he's not walking much and he's striking out a lot, but 12 of his 25 hits have gone for home runs. His OPS is through the roof. It's not even surprising when he hits one these days. In the last five games, he's hit five more homers, including two in one game against the Sox and another walk-off one against the Indians.

The Yankees won three straight against the Indians and are on the verge of losing three straight against the Red Sox, showing how much of baseball just depends on pitching. The Red Sox bullpen held up and the Indians didn't. The Walk-off Alex hit against the Indians was the last blow of a long, comeback with two outs in the ninth. Their closer is a guy who relies more on deception than raw ability, and that's the kind of guy the Yankees can definitely hit. I'll admit, I didn't want Alex to come up. I hoped Abreu would end the game with either a hit or an out, because I thought there was no way Alex could come up big again, that there was some sort of limit, and he'd be unfairly blamed for another loss. But he came through, and I have to wonder if he really has turned a corner, and if so, how much the Yankees will have to pay him to stay in New York, which they should. Watching the junk the other guy was throwing, I probably should have figured he'd hit it over the wall.

The first loss against the Sox was pretty bad. It was the only game in the series the Yanks would throw a pitcher with any real big league experience, and they had a nice lead into the eighth inning. But the wheels fell off, and Mariano Rivera lost the game. He's blown two of his chances to save a game this season without making any, since all the wins have been with big leads or walk-offs. It's definitely too early to become concerned, since Mo has had things like this happen before and he had a great spring, but I have to wonder how much longer the greatest closer of all time can still be good. I'd like for him to stay as the go-to guy in the bullpen until at least they've played in the new stadium like he wants, but you never know what can happen. The second loss wasn't as bad, it was just a poorly pitched game by a rookie.

The Yankees managed to score well off both starters in the first two games, so hopefully they can continue that trend tonight against Daisuke Matsuzaka, the most-hyped player to ever come from Japan. The Yankees are throwing another rookie out there to start tonight, so they're probably going to need offense to win. Even if they do get swept, it won't be a big deal. They'll be behind the Red Sox by four games, but it's early, and they are pretty much at full strength while more than half our rotation is injured. I'll be blogging the whole game, so hopefully it doesn't get so ugly I want to turn it off.

Top 1 - I find it odd how many people think the Red Sox bid a lot of money on Matsuzaka to keep him off the Yankees. I think they did it because they think he's a good pitcher. He has a lot of great pitches, but he also goes deep into counts, and the Yankees tend to be able to work guys like that into throwing a lot, so even if they don't hit him well they may get to the bullpen early.

Damon takes a few pitches before popping out. Jeter flies out to right after taking a couple low. Man, I wish we got this guy, it's just fun to watch. Abreu works a nice walk. If you had to pick one current Yankee to do well against Dice-K it's him. He hits A-Rod with the first pitch. Probably didn't want to try actually pitching to him, which is understandable. And Jason Giambi hits a double into the opposite gap on a pitch way outside, driving in two runs. Welcome to a real offense, Daisuke. Cano grounds out to end the inning. He's the opposite of Abreu, someone easily toyed with by a guy who's a little wild. He's a great hitter, but when he's not right on, he's pretty bad.

Bottom 1 - Chase Wright is someone I never heard of before this year. He's a middling youngish prospect who did okay in first big league start, but he could get smacked around tonight. He walks Lugo, but I think he got squeezed. He's throwing over to first too much. Just concentrate on the hitter. Lugo steals the base anyway without a throw. Good job. He started Youkilis 0-2 but can't put him away and walks him, and here comes the clutchiest clutch god to ever clutch a baseball, who flies out. It was a very clutch fly ball. Ramirez is a copycat, flying out to the same fielder in the same favorable count. Is Chase lucky or good? Probably lucky. He strikes out Drew after getting squeezed again, but he's thrown 843 pitches already and probably won't go deep in the game. The umpires really do seem rougher on him than usual in his first two starts so far.

Top 2 - Mientkiewicz usually gets out before you can finish typing his name, but Matsuzaka takes a while between pitches. Harmless ground out. Cabrera flies out on a decent catch by Pena. I think Melky should have to actually prove he's better than Kevin Thompson before he automatically gets to start before him. Nieves hits it hard right at Lowell and the inning is over before it started. That's the problem with this game for the Yanks, the good part of the lineup will make Dice-K work but he'll tear through the last three hitters in seconds with two of our good players missing.

Bottom 2 - Wright strikes out Lowell. Varitek pops out. He gets ahead of Pena but walks him. Gosh darn it. He refuses to have a quick inning. He gives up a double to Pedroida who was 1 for his last 23. That's not good. Ground out to Jeter, but Wright should have put Pena away when he had him 0-2.

Top 3 - Single by Damon, let's see how D-Mat fares the second time through. I'm glad that's not his nickname, it's a fun format but Dice-K is too good. He hits Jeter, that's the second batter. I guess he's kind of wild. Or maybe a headhunter who hates right-handers that can hit. Nice strikeout on Abreu, but no way Wright gets that call. I didn't notice it before, but the fans cheered when A-Rod got hit. Douche bags. Wow, he has 18 runs batted in with runners in scoring position on only seven hits, five of which were homers. But he strikes out, so poop. Giambi bloops a single that Pedroida, positioned there because of the shift, just misses, and the Yankees score another run. Cano misses a hit down the line by about an inch. He strikes out, making the just-miss more frustrating. At least we got one, it would have sucked to get two on with no outs and not score with Chase's two potential futures being rocked or taken out after a maximum of five innings.

Bottom 3 - Nice running catch by Abreu. Joe Morgan gives young pitchers the advice to let his fielders help him. Awesome. He also says pitchers sometimes fall in love with their changeup (or whatever their best pitch is) and throw it too much. Good advice: stop using your best pitch so much and let hitters make contact. Ortiz does him another favor, flying out on the first pitch. Manny homers, and I can stop wondering when the other shoe will drop. I guess it hadn't dropped yet, as Drew hits one too. Morgan: "I guess he DOES have to do more than just throw strikes!" Really, Joe? Your brilliant advice of just pouring your mediocre fastball down the middle of the plate wasn't actually that good? What? Lowell just hit a third home run? Oh my. And Varitek with a fourth. This is getting heinous now. Joe comments that he's never seen four home runs in a row before. I guess he missed when the Dodgers did it in the ninth inning last year to tie the game in a ridiculous come from behind victory. It was kind of big news. Wright strikes out Pena to end the pain.

Top 4 - The good news is that they're only down by one after four home runs, but it could easily get much worse. Mientkiewicz hits a ground-rule double to center. If he can hit Dice-K, anything can happen in this game. They've acknowledged the Dodger game but resort to the last time four homers happened in the American League to make it still seem historically impressive, but I don't think it is. It's unlikely, but doesn't seem that improbable when the pitcher is in his fourth start above A-ball in his life. Melky grounds out to get Mientkiewicz to third. It would be a big boost if the bottom of the order can get this run in themselves. Nieves gets robbed for the second time, and it's pretty annoying. He's still looking for his first hit this season. Damon grounds out to end it, and I am disappointed.

Bottom 4 - Colter Bean is pitching now, and Joe still claims to have never seen four home runs in a row. Did he really not see the replay from the Dodger game? Isn't this guy getting paid to follow baseball? On further listening, he's saying he's never seen a single pitcher give up four in a row, which is true, so I'll lay off, but I think that would be less amazing than off multiple pitchers. Think about it, who's more likely to give up home runs, a guy who just gave up one already, or a fresh reliever coming into the game for his first batter? Nice running catch by Melky. He's not hitting this year but he's got a great glove. Nieves hurt his hand somehow, and we came close to needing Phelps to catch, who hasn't done it in a game in years. I'm sure that wouldn't be a disaster. Lugo walks and Youkilis just beats out grounding into a double play. I didn't know this, but when a hit ball bounces over the fence and they get an automatic two bases, it's actually called an automatic double and not a ground-rule double which is commonly used. Anyway, Ortiz hits one and the Yankees are spared a run as Youkilis can't advance past third. Manny checks his swing and weakly grounds out. With a little less luck this would be a blowout.

Top 5 - They just showed a poster someone made that said "Dice-K" with a drawing of two dice, but one of them was showing 8 dots, which didn't make sense until I realized it's his uniform number, 18. Jeter hits his first home run of the year, tie game. Abreu strikes out for the second time, looking at a fastball. So much for working the count. He also gets Rodriguez to strike out swinging on three breaking balls. He shouldn't have swung at any of them. Giambi takes a called strike that would have been called a ball for Wright 100 times out of 100. He pops out foul. It sure doesn't seem like a tie game, but the pitching situation favors the Red Sox.

Bottom 5 - I wonder who's starting against the Sox on Friday, because I don't think it will be Chase. Colter walks Drew and gets Lowell to fly out. Drew steals a base pointlessly before Varitek walks too. Pena strikes out, who'd be the Boston player I'd bet on to do so against Bean. Pedroida grounds out, and Bean's walked three but pitched two scoreless innings, so I'll take it.

Top 6 - Cano tags a nice single. He has one of the best swings in baseball, in my opinion. Mientkiewicz shockingly gets another hit that falls right in front of Drew. Cano ran to third on that, and that would have been an annoying double play if Drew caught it. The Yankees retake the lead on a double play ball from Melky. The run is nice, but two outs when Dice-K hasn't looked good this inning is a bit annoying. Nieves finally gets out the way he's used to, easily, and the inning's over.

Bottom 6 - Despite a ton of luck (Sox inabilty to hit with RISP, Ortiz' auto-double, that ball falling in), the Yanks have only a one run lead. Let's hope the bullpen can stay as good as they've mostly been this year. Andy Pettitte takes the mound, and this is already his second relief appearance this year. He gets Lugo to fly out to Abreu on the first pitch. I'm enjoying the second coming so far. Youkilis walks and Ortiz is up. Double play on the first pitch, and I feel a lot better. He could even pitch another inning.

Top 7 - I doubt he will though, that would be a little weird. This will probably be Matsuzaka's last inning. I hoped the Yankees would make him throw more pitches and get him out earlier, but they got five runs so it's alright. Damon rips one just foul, and thinking about it now, the Yanks have had their share of bad luck too, with lineouts and missed doubles, so I guess it's been a pretty neutral game. Dice-K still looks pretty good, striking Damon out. Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hide game, good strikeout total and yet five runs on the board. Jeter grounds out. Varitek is great at framing the ball. A lot of catchers try to jerk their glove back over the plate for a called strike and it's obvious they're doing it, but he can make a ball that's well out of the zone appear very close with almost no apparent movement. Abreu strikes out for the third time, which I would not have predicted.

Bottom 7 - Scott Proctor's in. He gets Manny 0-2, but gives up a single. That's Ramirez's fourth hit off Proctor, but it's the first that wasn't a home run. Drew doubles off the monster, and Scott's about to blow the save, which would make the team 0 for 6 in opportunities, which is weird considering the bullpen's general success. And there's a home run, Sox lead 7 to 5. God damn it. Vizcaino's coming in. They take the opportunity to show the four home runs again, and Morgan definitely said he had never seen four in a row before, so he's still an idiot or just very forgetful. Maybe both. Vizcaino gets two quick outs. I'll really be glad when the Yankees' starting pitchers come back and everyone in the bullpen can stop coming in to every game. Pedroida singles to center and Lugo walks. Joe and Jon Miller are going on about how the Yankees have given up eight walks and how that hurts you. I'm more concerned with the five home runs. Fun fact: all of those home runs scored runs, and none of the walks did. Youkilis grounds out.

Top 8 - Matsuzaka is surprisingly still pitching. I guess I'm just used to a manager that treats relievers like they're toilet paper. It'd be be funny if he won this game, since he's lost two straight starts before that were both better in runs allowed if not length. A-Rod gets another hit, and I'm concerned, because that's four in a row that weren't homers. I guess he had to cool down some time. Matsuzaka comes out and he's relieved by fellow Japanese import Hideki Okajima. It's too bad Matsui's not coming back until tomorrow, because we'd be seeing a Hideki vs. Hideki battle right about now. This is Okajima's third game this series, maybe the Yankees will finally hit him. Giambi pops out. Another hit from Cano. Jorge Posada pinch-hits for Mientkiewicz. Or pinch-walks, whatever. Can Melky do it against Brendan Donnelly? Not really, he grounds out, and the double play is avoided by some weird, violent baserunning by pinch runner Miguel Cairo. He touched the base, but he reached out and actually touched the shortstop with his hands. Josh Phelps is pinch-hitting, and now he's going to have to catch. Oh my. Son of a bitch. He hits it well, but Pedroida makes a nice play to snag it, and I'm gonna go ahead and say the Yankees have actually been unlucky. Now we have to use the emergency catcher despite him failing to get a hit. A run scored, but a comeback is still unlikely.

Bottom 8 - I'll be genuinely surprised if there's not a passed ball this inning. Sean Henn's in against Ortiz. Another fly out. Manny makes Henn work before scalding a single to center. Drew grounds out to third. I hate it when they get those graphics wrong. They showed the last five Yankees starters, with the result and career games started. They showed Rasner as getting the win, when he didn't. The team won, but they showed Pettitte as having a No Decision, so you know they were talking about just the starters. Check your facts, ESPN. Lowell draws the walk. He's a very irritating player. He's supposed to be washed up by now, but he gets hits and plays great defense. Just look at him. He looks totally washed up. Varitek grounds out, and it's up to the top of the order against Jon Papelbon.

Top 9 - I guess I underrated Phelps' catching. He hadn't done it in the bigs since 2001, but I guess it's like riding a bicycle. Except instead of riding a bicycle, you're squatting on the ground and catching balls thrown at high speeds and often with strange, irregular movements. Ok, here we go. Papelbon has never blown a save in April. This would be more impressive if he'd pitched in more than two Aprils. Damon flies out after a nice, long at bat. Ya tired, Papelbon? Eh? Maybe? Please? He strikes out Jeter with ease. Abreu's the last hope. He draws a walk, and here's Alex again. Something's going to give. And it's A-Rod, who grounds to third to end the game.

Wrap-up - The bad: they got swept, they're four games back and back under .500. The good: they hit the Red Sox' starters, the Sox are looking as good as they probably will all season, and the Yankees are as weak as they'll probably be all season. Time to shrug it off and get back on the right track with Igawa against the Devil-Rays tomorrow. There'll be a rematch next weekend, we'll see what happens then.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Movie Update 3

This post should catch me up with all the media I've been consuming, which would make posts in the future shorter.

Children of Men

I know director Alfonso Cuaron from creating the only Harry Potter movie I'd call good. The first two were too childish, and the last just wasn't long enough to give the story the care it deserved. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was by far the best in my opinion, it had its own style and the best supporting cast. When I heard about Children of Men, I was intrigued by the idea and liked the cast and director, so I made sure to see it.

Visually speaking, it's one of the best movies I've ever seen. It's not overloaded with expensive computer generated effects, it's just beautifully crafted. The sets and locations are all perfect for the story, and set the mood well. The framing and cinematography are just brilliant, and the whole movie is gorgeous to look at despite the gloomy backdrops. It's filled with long and excessively complex single-shot scenes, and you sometimes wonder how many countless takes it took to get them just right. These long shots aren't just impressive technically, they help contribute to the documentary feel that makes it even more harrowing. You can make legitimate comparisons to Half-Life 2 with both the dystopian setting and visual style, and that kind of helps to make me like it more. The camera work can sometimes feel kind of self-serving, but it doesn't obstruct the actual movie.

The story is fairly minimalistic, it's there and constantly pushing forward but takes a back seat to the emotional struggle of the characters in an eerily believable future we don't want to see. Clive Owen is again very good as the main character, a normal guy who's faced with protecting the future of the world. The whole cast is good, but they are all secondary to the film making that would make it a good movie even if the rest of it was garbage.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Another movie for class. Liberty Valance is a Western, but not a typical one. You have John Wayne as the typical rugged western hero who protects the town from evil men, but he's not the main character. That's Jimmy Stewart, a lawyer from the east who's come and is trying to change the town for the better. It's an interesting dynamic shift, and makes it interesting if only for how the genre conventions are played with. John Ford was the master of the western, and he'd done it so many times that he began playing with it just to see what he could do.

It's an entertaining movie, it's definitely not fast paced but it's one of those slower movies that manages to avoid boring you. The characters are well constructed, and it's just intriguing to see how the relationship between the two good guys plays out. The use of black and white is interesting with color being common at the time. It helps set the mood as an old western and also serves to hide the advanced age of the principal actors somewhat. Some of the twists on the genre are less fortunate than others. Most westerns basically end on a shootout, but this one keeps going for a bit after it happens. It seems weird, and it ends up making sense, but you still think it could have been handled better.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Hey class movie. It's James Stewart again, although over twenty years younger. I gotta say I love old movies like this, with clever, fast talking characters all over the place. It's still very funny close to seventy years later, which always has to be an accomplishment. I've actually seen a lot of the actors here in other good movies, and all of the big parts are played brilliantly. Frank Capra was much more of a theatrical director than a cinematic one, and he just lets the actors play their parts without trying to do anything too special with the camera.

Like a lot of great movies from the era, it's just as funny as a comedy without being one. The story is about a guy who wants to use his position to do some good for the country, but his path is blocked by corrupt, evil men. Instead of sitting down he fights back, and it's a great, inspirational movie that was banned in fascist countries for showing that democracy can work. I was a little disappointed by the ending, when he seems to triumph more from perseverance that an actual victory, but it's good nonetheless.


You can't talk about Serenity without mentioning Firefly, the FOX series it finishes. Although finish is a bad word, since it's a rushed attempt to end a story way too quickly. For some reason, FOX seems to enjoy sabotaging and then canceling good shows that start with the letter F. Family Guy, Futurama, and Firefly all fell victim. Family Guy has been resurrected and is stronger than ever, although it's the least deserving, in my opinion. Things have been spotty with Futurama, but they're working on some DVD movies that will be aired as episodes on Comedy Central. Firefly got its movie, so all three got something, but Firefly got the least while deserving the most. Family Guy is completely random, and Futurama has some things going on but is still mostly just twenty minutes of jokes. Firefly's episodes stood on their own, but they were still driven by plot and character, and there are many story threads that will never get the chance they deserved to be fully explored. It's understandable, since it probably costs a lot more to do a live action sci-fi show than a cartoon, but it's still disappointing.

Anyway, the movie. Firefly is as much a western as it is science fiction, and it's a really interesting setting. The crew of Serenity speaks with a southern twang, and the dialog is a unique blend of informality and cleverness. It's as funny and smart as it is cool and action-packed, and the movie continues the tradition. Thanks to the big movie budget, the action is bigger and the special effects are more special. It allows for more impressive things to happen, and it makes the movie more epic than the show while keeping the same spirit.

It's hard not to be disappointed, but it's not the movie's fault. There just isn't enough time with one movie to do justice to the story. They do a good job filling some gaps and bring it to a respectable end, but I'll always wonder how it would have been handled if the series continued. Like the show, it's a fun, very watchable movie that definitely does more things right than George Lucas.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Game Update 2: Sam and Max

Telltale games have been delivering new chapters of Sam and Max on schedule (and one episode was even early) all year, and they continue to be enjoyable, funny bits of adventure.

The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball (PC)

The part of this episode is the humor. The new location is a Chuck E. Cheese's-esque restaurant owned by mobsters who go out of their way to convince you they aren't. With the guns and gambling it's a tough sell. It's also the first of three straight episodes with a musical number, which is interesting, I guess. The puzzles are pretty decent, although a little less intuitive than I'd like sometimes. The final one took a bit of the old annoying technique of trying to use your items on everything you see, but they always end up making sense in retrospect, don't they?

Abe Lincoln Must Die!

Probably the most amusing episode yet, starting with a caaricature of a certain dimwitted president who ends up being a puppet and moving on to a giant, marble reincarnation of Lincoln, who's still a good guy but is being controlled by nefarious characters. The humor is good, and the final couple sequences are clever and a lot of fun to unravel. It ends with Max being the new president of the United States, which has vast humor potential that is explored in this and continues to be tapped in the next episode.

Reality 2.0 (PC)

This chapter is seriously lacking in new locations, but it still feels fresh because of interesting visual changes and new jokes for things you've seen before instead of the same repeats. The whole game has a dualism, as you jump between the normal world and Reality 2.0, a new computer simulation that's better than real life, to solve puzzles. The look is very interesting, and the RPG and internet jokes are funny for nerds like me. The puzzle sequences are the best yet in my opinion, and the surprise ending is awesome and bizarre. Hopefully the duo's trip to the moon in May will finish off the season as well as this continued it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Music Update 1

AFI - Sing the Sorrow

AFI has been around for a while. I haven't heard anything they made before this album, but apparently it was different enough to alienate a lot of fans. In any case, I like it. They make quite capable pop punk with catchy choruses, a high voiced vocalist, and pretty normal guitars. It's not exceptional, but it's solid. Why I really like them is the bombast. Just the tone of the album is a little mightier and significant-seeming than most other stuff in the genre, starting with the opening song's war-cry esque vocals. They do a good combination of the singer's lone voice and several people shouting in unison, and it has the same feel as a general leading his troops into battle.

It could have been front loaded, with all of the singles in the first half, but it maintains quality throughout. The songs do kind of blend together as it goes on, but it's catchy enough that it's hard to care too much. It ends strongly, with the second to last track (which is oddly the first part of the two-part song that ends on the second track), which is a nice softer song, before the epic finale "...But Home Is Nowhere". It has one of the better anthems in it, than after it ends, there's a short silence before a sequence of voices progressing in age tell a creepy story backed up by a minimal piano tune. It then finishes with a stripped-down, well performed capper of a hidden track. Sing the Sorrow is a pretty good punk album helped out by elements that go deeper than the music.

Deftones - White Pony

Of all the bands stuck with the reviled nu-metal label, Deftones was one of the first, and it didn't do them any favors. They aren't like some of the other bands known for it, who inserted mediocre rap vocals and highly computerized and studio-perfected sound. They do have a bit of rap on the opening bonus track, although it's not obstructive and is pretty cool because the chorus is recalled in a different way on the album's final song. The hard rock music is decent, but the reason I really like Deftones is the vocals. The guy can sing, and his high voice contrasts in a very nice way with the crunching guitars.

He can scream as well as sing, and this is used along with the music to great some very nice shifts between hard and soft in the same song. Just listen to "Back to School (Mini Maggit)", "Elite", "Teenager", and "Passenger" to get an idea of how many things they can do and still sound like the same hardcore band. The single "Change (In the House of Flies)" interested me when I first heard it years ago, although I never got around to really listening to them until now, and I'm not sure why. Every song is enjoyable, and they manage to avoid all sounding the same which happens to a lot of bands with a similar style. It's not astounding but it's good hard rock.

Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News

I am becoming more and more of a fan of this kind of off-beat, different music. I guess I can't help myself. I liked the single "Float On" when I heard it a few years ago, but again, I didn't pursue the album until later. Good News is interesting because of its contrasting moods. The plucky guitars and catchy harmonies conflict with the cynical lyrics that attack religion and certain kinds of people. The vocals range from pleasant sounds in the background to aggressive, near shouting tirades. The singer isn't all that great at singing, but he's great at using his voice to convey any mood he wants.

"The World At Large" starts off the album about as happy as it gets, with flutes and meaningless vocals in the background. "Bury Me With It" is about as angry as the band gets musically, though not lyrically. That would be "Bukowski", which is completely pleasant musically. "The View" sounds like kind of like dance music. "Satin In a Coffin" uses prominent drums and older sounding instruments to create a very interesting sound. "The Good Times Are Killing Me" finishes off the album while perfectly illustrating the conflict of sound and message, and it's produced by The Flaming Lips, which is cool. Modest Mouse is a unique band, and a good one at that.

Nirvana - Nevermind

I like Nirvana, and I understand the influence they had on mainstream music, but I can't say I love their stuff as much as others do. Nevermind is a good album, but it's front loaded, and just doesn't have that something that makes it great. You can totally see all the ways their sound is replicated by other bands, but I don't find any of them to be terribly interesting either. Cobain's raspy vocals fit with his dark-natured guitar playing and lyrics, and he's a talented musician. But I think he's put on too high of a pedestal just because of how his career ended.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" is considered by many to be the best song of the decade, and one of the best ever. It's good, to be sure. It might just be hard for me to put it in context, having heard it for a long time without really knowing much about music when it was first popular (I had just turned four when the album was released). It's followed by four more good grunge songs I've heard before, and then six that I haven't. None of it's bad, it's just a little boring after the first half. The last track has the earliest instance I know of a hidden song after several minutes of silence. It goes with the whole album, respectable, high quality stuff, not quite what I'd call amazing.

Opeth - Damnation

Opeth is a metal band, but Damnation is not a metal album. It is the second half of a broken up double album, and is almost purely progressive rock. Deliverance, which was released about six months earlier, is supposed to be one of their hardest records, and this is quite a counterbalance to that. Opeth is known for switching between hard and soft moments, and that's part of why I liked Ghost Reveries, but without that, they are free to just let the softer stuff do what it wants, and it becomes a more enjoyable overall record. Despite his growling, he can definitely sing, and they don't seem out of place doing music like this.

"Windowpane" proves you can be good at regular guitar playing and fast-paced metal shredding. The more downplayed musicianship is combined with creepy sounding ambiance and strong vocals, and this combination is heard throughout. My favorite part is the end of "Closure" which combines different kind of music to create an awesome sounding groove that could last forever if it wanted to. The whole thing is a bit brief compared to their other stuff, which makes some sense considering it was once just half of an album. It's quite entertaining while it lasts, and shows how much range a band can have.

Papa Roach - The Paramour Sessions

I got all of these albums through BMG. They have pretty good deals, if you don't mind buying the sometimes unwanted stuff they offer you. I'm not a big Papa Roach fan, but I was willing to get their latest album if it meant 5 that I actually wanted for only the cost of shipping.

I don't think Papa Roach is that good, but they're really not bad either. I've never been that critical of rock as long as it's entertaining to listen to and has some catchy hooks, which Paramour Sessions does. The band has long since steered away from rap and is now pretty standard hard rock. Nothing they do is really extraordinary, but they're quite capable of radio-friendly noise.

The single "...To Be Loved" is a pretty solid fast-paced jam. "The World Around You" has a nice guitar line in the verse and a hard chorus. "Forever" is one of the band's better slower songs, and is matched with an anthemic refrain. "Time Is Running Out" kind of sounds like a pop punk song, and is fun to listen to. "My Heart Is a Fist" is one of the more hardcore songs on the album, and "Roses On My Grave" is a departure with a string section, and is a nice way to end it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Yankees' First Road Trip

One home run was the difference between a good road trip and a bad one. The Yankees were poised to go 4-2 against two good teams, the Twins and the Athetlics, with a two run lead in the ninth. But Marco Scutaro hit a game winning home run off Mariano Rivera, and they ended up going 3-3, still below .500 instead of above it. It's not a big difference this early, but the difference in feeling is noticeable.

The Yankees' situation has changed, although it's not much better. The starters have improved, going deeper into games, although it's hard to feel good about that situation when so many of them are on the disabled list. Of the first six starting pitchers on the depth chart, four are out with injuries. One of them (the sixth) may be back in time to start against Boston, but if he isn't, the Yankees will have to call up yet another pitcher to go. Chase Wright is pitching tonight, and he's only thrown two games above A level in the minor leagues. He's looked good in those two games, but you have to wonder how he'll fare against Cleveland's strong offense.

The bullpen has still been good, but they're still getting used too much early on. Starters did go deeper, but Mike Mussina had to leave a game early before hopping on the disabled list. He had a hamstring injury, same as young ace Chien-Ming Wang and outfielder Hideki Matsui, and with all the leg problems Yankees have had, I have to wonder if it's not the fault of their training program. The bullpen was also taxed in two straight extra-innings games, including one that went 13 innings. Thank god Jason Giambi hit a home run to win the second game, or else the sub-par road trip would look awful, with four straight losses. Giambi has started kind of slow this year, but he's showing he still has the ability to make big hits.

Most of the injured players should be back and ready by the end of the month, and hopefully the team will play well enough until then that they aren't in too deep of an early hole. With a healthy pitching staff and this offense, the team can really do damage this summer.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Movie Update 2: 2007 In Theaters

Here's what I went to see so far this year, in chronological order.

Ghost Rider

This was a stupid movie, but the people making it knew that, and they benefited because of it. It never takes itself too seriously. It's not exactly campy, it just has the right tone to it. I like Nicolas Cage a lot, I just think he's had a really weird career. He always plays odd characters, and he's rarely spectacular, but usually plays his part well and enjoyably. He makes a lot of bad movies, but it's hard to care because he makes just enough good movies to keep you on his side.

The visual effects are decent, but yet again, we have a super hero/comic book movie that has nice looking action scenes that don't have enough action. The transformation from actor into flaming skull head is well done thanks to the computer effects and Nick's acting, but once he's changed he just drives around quickly on his motorcycle and gets in very short battles with half-baked demonic enemies. They aren't that interesting as foes, and they don't get a chance to make a case for themselves because they get dispatched within moments of confronting the hero. The final bad guy makes more of a stand, but the way he's defeated is still a cop-out. The X-Men and Spider-Man movies are still the only series in this decade's wave of super-hero movies to have decent fights in them. Ghost Rider is enjoyable, but definitely a few rungs below the better stuff Marvel has done in film.


I think I should read some Frank Miller comics if they're really as interesting as the movies based on them. I thought Sin City was awesome, and 300 is just as visually interesting. I have to wonder how much of it is Frank's source material and how much is Zack Snyder's direction. Regardless of how good a comic is, putting something to film is different. I don't think Snyder's a bad director, but his remake of Dawn of the Dead, while decent, wasn't nearly this good looking. Considering that all of the sets are digitally constructed and a lot of the beauty comes from slow motion, it's possible neither are chiefly responsible for the look of the movie.

It starts off slow, but once it gets to the battle scenes, 300 really takes off. It gets made fun of, but it uses quick transitions between slow and quick motion to great effect. It adds a lot of style to the fights, and they're a ton of fun to watch. The movie is really bloody too, filled with detailed decapitations and cartoony blood spray. The movie itself is a little contrived plot-wise, but it's a satisfying backdrop for the violence.


What's interesting is how different the two main features of Grindhouse are while still maintaining the tone and atmosphere they were going for. Planet Terror is a ridiculous, over the top zombie movie filled with guns, gore, disgusting bodily functions, and horror cliches. Robert Rodriguez doesn't make brilliant movies, but he is noteworthy for how cheaply, quickly, and well he puts together his productions. His part is funny and action-packed, and his trailer segment, Machete, with Danny Trejo, is comic gold.

Death Proof is much slower paced and scaled back, but still very entertaining. The first half seems kind of pointless, as it spends a lot of time developing characters that just get killed. It's fairly enjoyable as it's happening, since Quentin Tarantino still knows how to write good dialog, but you kind of wonder afterwards why it was there. The second half starts similarly, with a bunch of girls talking about nothing, but gets better when Kurt Russel tries to do his vehicular manslaughter thing again. It's easy when you do it like he did the first time, but a little harder when two of the three girls in the car are professional stunt people. It leads into a long car chase, that's still a little quiet compared to Planet Terror, but quite good in its own right. It comes to an end a little abruptly, but it's still funny how it happens. Combining the two features with the scratchy film, hilarious fake trailers, and missing real jokes, and Grindhouse is a very fun, long experience at the movies.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters

I was curious how the makers of a show that lives off of random absurdity would stretch that into a full length movie, and it turns out, they just made a long episode. Aqua Teen was always weird, but it was funny because the characters were well acted and had a lot of good lines, so it really isn't that hard to translate. All of the most popular recurring characters return, and none of them feel wasted. There are also some funny new additions, particularly a pair of government agents who seem convinced their enemies are invisible. The movie does a good job of finally explaining the origin of the characters which is hinted at in the show's background and end credits, and while it gets convoluted, it's for comedic effect.

The best part of the movie is the beginning, where movie theater food items sing a song about how you should act at the theater. It doesn't sound great, but believe me, it's hilarious. The makers finally had free reign to have the characters say and do anything they want, and there's plenty of great stuff there without going overboard. The movie works, it's funny, and you should see it if you like the characters. It has a pretty good soundtrack too. If you do see it, make sure to stay after the end credits.

Best of 2006 Redux: V For Vendetta

I somehow forgot about this movie when making my list of the best movies from last year, and it definitely would have made the cut. I guess that's what happens when you make a list over a year since that year began.

Anyway, V is yet another movie based on a comic book. The writer came out publicly against the film, and I'm not sure why. It may not be quite as good, but it maintains the spirit of the book while updating it for the modern age. Hugo Weaving proves he can be more than a good villain, as he expertly speaks the poetic lines and manages to make a character interesting without the use of his face. The movie's evil fascist regime obviously has some parallels to Bush's administration, and the fact that some of them noticed it shows they did what they wanted. It's a smart action movie that has a good story and doesn't rely on violence, which makes the superb final fight a complete bonus. It's one of the best stylized pieces of choreographed combat I've seen in a while. A well done movie with a strong message.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Music Archive 4

This is the last of it.

Finch - What It Is to Burn

Finch is one of the better hard punk bands I've heard. The vocalist can sing as well as he can shred his throat, and they can play softer stuff as well as hardcore. Just about everything they try on What It Is To Burn succeeds with flying colors.

"New Beginnings" and the single "Letters to You" are a good one-two punch to open the album. They both of moments of beauty and anger and show Finch's ability to write a very good tune. "Perfection Through Silence" is another great one and has one of my favorite vocal parts that gets you caught up if you allow it to. "Without You Here" is probably the best example of the band's hard/soft counterpoint. "Project Mayhem" is a very random song, but I kind of like its craziness. It's a portent of things to come from this band. At this point, the album has a bit of a shift in style.

Most of the previous songs were fairly briskly paced screamo stuff, but the last couple tracks before "What It Is To Burn" are much longer and delve into some weird alternative stuff, although it all stays enjoyable. The aforementioned title track is one of the best songs ever made for the genre, with impressive vocals and an extremely epic chorus. Although Finch appears to have changed their musical direction, this is one of the genre's best offerings.

Finch - Say Hello to Sunshine

This is kind of a tough one. If this was a new band instead of another album by Finch, I would probably rate it a bit higher. Most of the songs are pretty good, I don't have a major problem with any of them. The problem is, I really loved What It Is To Burn, and I can't say I really like the band's new sound on Say Hello to Sunshine. The music is fairly good, it's just disappointing to see a band change its style so completely. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I can accept that this is what Finch is now, I'm just not that happy with it.

It's not so much the change in style that's bothersome, it's just it forces them to no longer play to their strengths, namely, the voice of the singer and their ability to write music that isn't generically tough-sounding. "Insomniatic Meat" is a pretty interesting beginning, and has one of the better choruses. "Brother Bleed Brother" is my favorite song, with a towering vocal part a little reminiscent of "What It Is To Burn". "Fireflies" has another of the better vocal parts. As you may have noticed, the music is all a little to same-y so I must look almost exclusively at vocals to determine the standout tracks. "Reduced to Teeth" has another good chorus and one of the softer verses. "Miro" is another good song with a very enjoyable bridge near the end, and the single "Bitemarks and Bloodstains" is also pretty good, and it's about vampires. Awesome.

All in all, Say Hello to Sunshine can accurately be described as "pretty good". All of it is listenable if you're into the genre, and there are some great moments. It's just that my perception of what the band is led me to expect something very different and probably better than this, so I can't shake the feeling of disappointment. Unfortunately, the band has broken up since releasing this record, so we may never know what could have been.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
is a strange record. The music is soft and pleasant while the lyrics are about evil robots coming to kill us all. There are bizarre instrumental tracks with electronic beats and the noises of women screaming in the background. The songs can sort of be described as electronic/pop/rock. There's no reason it should work besides the fact that the Flaming Lips are a talented group of guys and know how to keep it more entertaining than silly, and so it does work.

"Fight Test" is an energetic opening that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The first part of the title track is very pleasant, and is more strange goodness. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2" has a nice groove to it, accompanied by the slightly unnerving shrieking. "Are You A Hypnotist??" is a little more slower paced and is a nice song. "Do You Realize??" is my favorite song with its enjoyable musicianship and high rising vocals. "All We Have Is Now" is one of the more interesting songs lyrically, and the album is closed by another fun instrumental, "Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)".

I'm not in love with the Flaming Lips, but they've intrigued me enough to check out other albums by them. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is very enjoyably to listen to all the way through, it's just lacking that element that makes me really love it.

Godsmack - Godsmack

Godsmack's self-titled debut shows a bit of promise in terms of nu-metal rocking ability, but the result is less interesting than it could have been. It's not bad and actually starts off pretty strong, it just gets a little boring and drags more than is warranted as it goes on. The vocals sound consistently different from the way they do on Godsmack's next album Awake, they're a little higher on this and a little more obviously Alice in Chains-inspired. The singer's voice just sounds more natural on subsequent releases.

"Moon Baby" is a solid, hard opener, and one of the better songs. "Whatever" was an enjoyable single for its day, but it seems quaint and insipid now. The next three tracks are pretty consistent, solid hard rock. "Someone In London" is an interesting interlude that leads to another decent track. There's nothing horrible about the the next few songs, they just don't seem to have enough ideas to go on for as long as they do, and outstay their welcome. If you're gonna make long songs, make them long for a reason. The single "Voodoo" is a change of pace and sound, and is an enjoyable finale.

Godsmack is a decent album, and I don't hate any part of it. It's just with so many different things you can listen to these days, it doesn't do enough to make me want to play it over anything else in my collection. It's still a pretty good first try for anyone, though.

Godsmack - Awake

Godsmack does right on Awake what they did wrong on their self-titled release. The vocalist sings more naturally, in a deeper voice that sounds a lot better and less derivative of Alice in Chains. If you're gonna imitate, it's best to imitate a band like that, but not when you can sound like yourself and be better. The production values are a little higher and it allows the band to deviate a little more from the formula and come up with some pretty interesting stuff. It's more compact overall, and more enjoyable to listen to.

Although some of the riffs can get repetitive and sort of blend the songs together, the somewhat catchier (seems odd to use that term with a band in this genre) vocals pull it out of that rut, and they mix it up more later on. "Sick of Life" has a rocking intro before jumping into the song proper, with a growling, enjoyable chorus. You've heard "Awake" on Navy commercials and in Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within. They don't fit in there at all, but the song is pretty good. The single "Greed" has another good chorus backing up the chugging guitars. "Mistakes" has another good intro and has is one of the more musically interesting songs. "Vampires" is sort of weird, the only voice is excerpts from one of those television documentaries with celebrity narration, and the main guitar line sounds suspiciously similar to one from the band's previous release.

"The Journey" is a nice little musical interlude before the final song, "Spiral", which like "Voodoo" is atypical sounding for Godsmack, and pretty good. As previously stated, Awake is an improvement over the previous record by Godsmack, although I must admit my interest in the genre has waned somewhat and I probably won't be getting another album by the band. I can still listen to this and enjoy it for what it is, though.

Gorillaz - Demon Days

Some people have trouble listening to entire albums without skipping at least one track. I don't. Even if I don't love every song, if I felt enough like listening to the band to actually start it up, I can usually tolerate the weaker songs while I'm at it. I even tend to grow to like those songs on some level anyway. There are several albums I have where I do at least strongly like every song on them, though. The one thing that's pretty rare is for me to be able to specifically remember what all the songs sound like just by reading the titles. Demon Days is one of those are few.

The fact that Damon Albarn and company are able to mix such a range of genres and artists and keep all the songs unique while also creating a sense of cohesion, on top of making them all so catchy and enjoyable at the same time, is an astonishing achievement. There's rap, there's rock, there's electronica and dub and dance, there's spoken word and choir, and it's all extremely fun to listen to. My collection is almost exclusively rock, but I still find this to be one of my favorite albums to listen to. There's just something about the seamless blending of styles that makes you want to throw all your cares to the wind and just enjoy what you're listening to.

"Last Living Souls" has the most amazingly infectious electronic beat going through it the whole time. It's so good. "O Green World" has a very catchy vocal part and is another fun song. The single "Feel Good Inc" mixes a great base line and rap from De La Soul with the acoustic chorus very well. "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead" has a title that reflects the supposed darker tone of the album in relation to Gorillaz' self-titled debut, and the catchy melody reflects that in an odd way. "November Has Come" has probably the best rapping on the album. The song "All Alone" combines a driving synth part with some strange vocals that I really like. "DARE" is just a blast, with the two vocal parts coming together well to create a fun dance song. "Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey's Head" features the great Dennis Hopper reading a strange, slightly disturbing story, and leads into the last two tracks which blend together to form a very spiritual ending to a great album. Danger Mouse does a great job mixing it all together, and Albarn's vocals keep it connected and entertaining.

Hoobastank - Hoobastank

When I first saw the video for "Crawling in the Dark", the first single from Hoobastank's self-titled first album, I had a few thoughts. First, I enjoyed the song. But I also noticed some similarities to my then undisputed-favorite band, Incubus. The singer sounded a little similar and also tended to not wear a shirt. The music itself shared a few similarities, although it was quicker paced and catchier than the average Incubus song. Incubus has since gone in a completely different direction musically, but Hoobastank continues to do what they've been doing ever since that first song.

Hoobastank doesn't go out of its way to try new things, they just do what they know how to do. They make catchy rock songs that are easy to listen to and tend to be hated by real music fanatics. It doesn't bother me that a lot of people dislike it, it's not like I adore the band, I just like listening to their songs. The first three tracks on Hoobastank are all singles. "Remember Me" is another fast paced, enjoyable song like "Crawling in the Dark", "Running Away" is a bit different in style, with more natural sounding music and a different tone. "Pieces" is another good, fast song, and one of the harder ones on the album.

"Up and Gone" just might be my favorite song by the band. It's the most unique one on the CD, has moments of hardness and softness, and a good chorus. The last part of the album is generally a bit slower and less in your face than the beginning. The lyrics are also generally a little nicer in the back end. The final track goes back to the other style though, and is pretty hard, and a little dumb. Although they do interrupt it before it ends and there's a sound clip of the band making fun of it, and it's actually pretty funny. Hoobastank isn't the best or most innovative band in the world, but as long as you can accept that, they make a pretty darn good pop-rock song.

Hoobastank - The Reason

A lot of people hate the song "The Reason". I'm not sure exactly why, I can understand finding the piano part repetitive or the vocals a little annoying, but I don't think it's worth such universal ire. I'm not in love with the song, but I like it for what it is. It's almost pure pop, but the rest of the album is more rock-oriented, and like the band's previous release, might not be for everyone but is pretty enjoyable all the way through.

The first two tracks are both singles and fit very well into Hoobastank's pattern. Pleasant singing, a bit of shouting thrown in, crisp musicianship, catchy choruses. "What Happened To Us?" has a decent guitar part and is one of the band's more passionate songs. "Escape" is a pretty catchy song, like many of the band's. "Lucky" is another of the band's atypical songs with natural sounding guitar strumming. "From the Heart" is another solid song musically. It's hard to find songs by Hoobastank you can't say that about.

There's a bit of a shift in tone after The Reason's title track. "Unaffected" is one of the best songs, it's slower paced than normal for the band and is easy to get caught up in. "Disappear" is another single, and I'm not a huge fan of it, but it shows the band is trying other things. I'm not sure why many rock fans are so down on Hoobastank, it's a little poppier and more accessible to the mainstream than a lot of bands but they still put together a good rock song. In any case, The Reason is a solid follow-up to Hoobastank's first big release.

Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E.

Incubus has evolved musically over time. Nowadays they sound like an alternative hard rock band with a pretty natural sound, but on their first few full length albums they sound much more like older Red Hot Chili Peppers with a turn table. There are elements of funk, rap and metal, and a much goofier and playful feeling than recent Incubus. I personally favor the older stuff, not so much because of the style, but because it's just more entertaining.

"Redefine" is the quintessential early Incubus song, and sets the tone for the rest of S.C.I.E.N.C.E.. It has the bizarre lyrics and unique delivery, and a strong rock chorus. The next four tracks follow in the same footsteps. They're all unique sounding but are still catchy as hell and fun to listen to. "Magic Medicine" is an instrumental that samples an odd sound clip from the reading of a children's book and shows off the DJ's skill at putting together some of the most interesting interludes I've ever heard, which the band has unfortunately steered away from doing these days.

The single "A Certain Shade of Green" and "Favorite Things" are two back to back strong rock songs with good guitar work that feel similar to what the band would go on to do on their next album. "Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)" is another funky track that shows the band's range. "Nebula" is one of the more alternative, risky songs and succeeds well. "Calgone" is another great hard song that leads into a very long, odd hidden track filled with sound clips of both a humorous and sometimes creepy nature. It's one big ode to the chances the band liked to take back then, and wraps up the album in a very Incubus-like way.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Music Archive 3

And some more.

Coheed and Cambria - The Second Stage Turbine Blade

Coheed and Cambria's first album The Second Stage Turbine Blade is pretty different from their subsequent releases. It contains neither the poppy, mainstream fluff, nor the epic, towering ballads. It's simply ten tracks of solid but sometimes uninteresting (and unending) progressive punk rock. There weren't any real successful singles from this record, which makes sense, all the songs are a little too long and out of the mainstream to be played for the same market that ate up the junk from later releases.

Even this early on in their career, you can tell these guys are talented musicians. The guitar work is very good, and only gets better from here. The first song after the title track intro, "Time Consumer", begins with an extended, pleasant musical opening before it breaks into the song itself. This is the point where some people get put off, because it's the first time they hear the singer's voice. Yes, it's unnecessarily high, but it doesn't affect the quality of the music, so I'm not going to spend significant time discussing it.

There's not really a lot to say about most of the songs on the album. The songwriting and quality is consistently above average throughout, but somewhat unremarkable since they do very little to make themselves unique. "God Send Conspirator" is followed by "IRO-bot", an interesting hidden track that's a simple acoustic piece, much different from the rest of the songs. It's also a first step towards some of the very long prog pieces the band would eventually come up with.

Coheed and Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

Some people have a false impression of Coheed and Cambria. They think it's just a silly pop band with a singer that sings too high, and if every song on In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 was like the two singles, "A Favor House Atlantic" and "Blood Red Summer", they'd be right. They're both simple pop-punk and not that substantial. But just listening to the lyrics of these songs reveals the other side of this band, the one that writes sweeping, nine minute epics about science fiction stories. It takes a unique vocalist to sing things like "Pull the trigger and the nightmare stops" the same way another person might sing "I will love you forever".

Overall, I'd say this album is more interesting than The Second Stage Turbine Blade. That record had solid progressive punk, but not much of it really stood out. Coheed and Cambria does a much better job on this effort of making the songs unique and memorable. The result has a few pretty disposable songs (namely the singles), but a few really great ones too. The cool introduction "The Ring in Return" reprises the lullaby from the last album before leading in to my favorite song by the band to date, the title track. It's a huge, soaring, monster of a song with great musicianship and great sing-a-long chorus and bridge. Really very enjoyable stuff.

The next couple songs are pretty decent punk, but the next highlight for me is "The Crowing", which begins with the character of Claudio screaming in agony at the news his parents have been killed and jumps into the song proper, which is solid. My favorite part is the bridge, with a very catchy guitar hook, and it leads into one of the band's signature, infectious vocal repetitions. Sandwiched between the two singles are the three "Camper Velourium" tracks, which tell the story of Al the Killer. They're a little more progressive and interesting than standard genre fare, and I particularly like the third one, which features some demonic sounding vocals (a HUGE change for the band) and music and a dark chorus that contrasts with the regular Coheed voice singing it. The last song, "The Light & the Glass" is an enjoyable, slower, fairly long ballad, and it's followed by "2113" another very progressive and interesting hidden track. This whole album is a pretty different style from the band's previous, and I personally think it's a change for the better.

Coheed and Cambria - Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness

I had high hopes for Good Apollo going in. I thought Coheed and Cambria was on to something with In Keeping Secrets, and wished they would capitalize on the potential with their next record. They just didn't quite pull it off. On this record, they're really starting to get far from where began. The difference between this and The Second Stage Turbine Blade is a little staggering. The difference between some songs on just this album are a little disorienting too. When one band puts songs like "Welcome Home", "The Suffering", and "The Final Cut" all on the same record, you have to wonder if they really know what they want to be doing. Just listen and you'll know what I mean.

After the cool, orchestral introduction that recalls the intros to both of their previous albums, Coheed starts us off with "Always & Never", a well performed acoustic song with some of those signature dark lyrics sung angelically the band is known for. It's decent, but it's just sort of in your way before you get to one of the record's biggest treats, the huge, epic, towering, mammoth of a hard rocking song "Welcome Home". It's the first good single the band's ever had, although it's also unfortunately not indicative of most of the other songs. "Welcome Home" is just one of those songs that makes you want to get up and head butt some bears.

The next few tracks are a string of decent punk songs that don't really grab you that much. They have at least one part worth hearing, but they also all have parts that are less than fantastic. I think Coheed and Cambria spent too much time working on the prog later on and didn't make sure the more standard tracks were really a good use of time. "Wake Up" is another interesting soft song and is followed by "The Suffering", another single that sounds nothing like "Welcome Home", but at least it's got a catchy bridge. Unfortunately, it's pretty much the only such bridge on the whole album. Both of their previous works had at least a few insanely catchy, repeated lines peppered throughout that made you look forward to their arrival, yet they are conspicuously absent here.

The next two songs are the definition of forgettable (i.e., I don't remember what they sound like), but they're followed by the real creative meat of the album, the four "Willing Well" tracks, which provide about a half hour of progressive mayhem. Despite the length, these four songs remain interesting far longer than the pop-punk fluff that precede them, and are all filled with good ideas. They contain some strange lyrics "No one runs faster than you... eat?", but I like them. The last, "The Final Cut" is notably strong and has some impressive guitar work, but it is followed by a disappointingly short (although still enjoyable) hidden track. When the previous albums both had 7+ minutes of hidden goodness, a minute-long instrumental is a bit of a letdown, just like the rest of the album.

Default - The Fallout

Default is not unique. The singer's voice is somewhat unusual in how it sounds is moments of passion, but the music itself is pretty standard alternative rock. That doesn't stop it from being enjoyable. The Fallout is not the kind of album that will impress music snobs, but it's a solid effort that, if taken with a grain of salt, can be a fun listen.

"Sick & Tired" starts off the album with a kick, it's a pretty good rock song. It leads into two of the record's singles, "Deny" and "Wasting My Time", they're both good songs, and I particularly like "Deny"'s bridge. The next few songs are an adequate bridge to the next single, the much softer and better "Live A Lie", a different kind of song for the band and a good one. The only other song that's vivid in my mind is "Faded" with a pretty uplifting message.

Again, not much of the album is that innovative or of real significance. The band isn't too far removed from the sound of Nickelback, and that band's singer even helped write some of these tracks. But just because it doesn't do much new doesn't mean it can't be a simple pleasure to listen to.

Denver Harbor - Scenic

Denver Harbor is one of those bands that are usually pretty standard but they do just enough different to get you to notice them. It's usually normal punk rock, but there are moments where they dip into genres, such as some reggae/ska inspired guitars. It also helps that the standard stuff is pretty good.

Scenic starts off with a bang in "Xenophobia", a fast paced song that might give you a false impression of the rest of the album, which tends to be slower. The next three songs are all high quality punk, with "Outta My Head" featuring some of that different guitar work. "All I Want" is a good, slower tune, and after an interlude it leads into "Ride", another song with ska-type music, and it has a pretty good chorus too.

The rest of the songs aren't quite as strong creatively as the first half, but they're still a good listen. The members of Denver Harbor, originally from either Fenix*TX or F.O.N., know how to write catchy hooks and choruses as well as almost anybody. Fenix*TX may have gotten some help from Blink-182 getting started, but they are much better at mixing it up and writing songs that are memorable long after you've heard them.

Dream Theater - Octavarium

Dream Theater has been making progressive metal albums for years and people are still buying them, so I figured they must be doing something right. I picked up Octavarium without hearing any of the songs first besides the single "I Walk Beside You", and while I wasn't blown away, it's still very good.

One thing you should be aware of is that these songs are long, and I mean LONG. Not wimpy six-minutes long, more like, the final two tracks run over a half hour combined long. Dream Theater takes their time getting where they're going, and they spend significant time milking the better hooks they come up with. If eight songs that are over an hour in length combined don't sound like your thing, then don't get this record.

"Root of All Evil" is a good opening track which shows the band's metal sound, and is followed by "The Answer Lies Within", which doesn't. "These Walls" contains probably my favorite guitar line on the album. The aforementioned "I Walk Beside You" doesn't sound much like the rest of the songs, but it's still enjoyable and has a great pre-chorus. "Sacrificed Sons" is a strong track about 9/11 with perhaps the strongest rock out section on the album. The title track is an absolutely mammoth twenty four minute, five part epic. The first and last few minutes are mostly instrumental, and in between, Dream Theater manages to hold your attention amazingly well with a series of changes in style and tempo. It's a great way to end an album for a band that is primarily defined as progressive.

Dredg - Catch Without Arms

I don't generally listen to what's described as progressive/art rock, but I may have to change that. Dredg's Catch Without Arms is one of the most enjoyable albums I own to listen to. Every single song is good. Some are better than others, but this is one of the few records I know of that I really like every single song on. And they're all good for different reasons. Dredg combines strong music, beautiful singing, and hard riffs all into a formula that's hard for me to resist.

"Ode To the Sun" starts the album well, with high rising vocals and cool instrumentation. It is followed by the single "Bug Eyes", which is another strong alternative rock song. "Not That Simple" is probably my favorite song on Catch Without Arms. It has a great chorus and a tune after the second and third refrains that sucks me in. It ends strangely, with a child singing the chorus of a later song from the album in what sounds like a recording of a telephone conversation. The next song, "Zebraskin", is the most unique. It's not the kind of song I usually like but for some reason it works.

The rest of the album folds out in similar fashion. It's all fairly different sounding, well sung, well performed, quality rock music. It's not the kind of stuff that's for everyone, but I can't really ask for a more enjoyable album. I still have yet to find the perfect artist, but if every record was like this I'd be extremely happy.

Emery - The Weak's End

This was the first album by an artist on the Tooth and Nail label I bought. I saw a commercial for the label which featured Emery, Underoath, and Dead Poetic. I decided to pick this up, and at this point, I own seven Tooth and Nail releases. Some have been great, and others have been kind of bad. This one qualifies as a simple "good."

One of my friends started listening to it and stopped after a couple of songs, which was disappointing. He said so much music was either catchy, original, or well-performed that he could only listen to bands that had a combination. I understand his position. He's not generally a fan of emo or punk and Emery does sort of come off like just an average member of the genre. Although I think they really do branch off into more original and emotionally invested songwriting, it just so happens he didn't listen that far.

"Walls" is a standard screamo punk single, except for some reason, I find that I enjoy every moment of it much more than the average song. It just works for me. "Fractions" is one of the better songs for showing off Emery's penchant for multi-layered vocals between the two singers and non-traditional music. The band is sort of like alternative emo. "The Secret" has grown over time to be one of my favorite slow building, softer punk ballads that crescendos into a heartfelt, affecting, loud climax at the end, and it's an excellent way to end The Weak's End.

The rest of album is more good, well sung, and in my view original emo songs. Emery has separated themselves in sort of the same way as Brand New as a band in the genre that avoids jumping into the same patterns that so many other bands do these days. I seriously recommend a listen.

- The Question

Emery has changed their sound slightly, and although it's a bit at the cost of their originality, I think their music is better for it. As a whole, they've gotten a little poppier (without forsaking their hardcore influences) and a little catchier, and it makes their music more entertaining. I still think The Weak's End was good, but the more mainstream The Question is better. Emery has maintained enough of their originality to stand out while making their music more accessible to draw in more fans.

But just because the songs are more catchy doesn't mean they weren't able to branch out creatively too. This really stands out in the lyrics. The vocals worked for me on the last album, but I thought the words they were singing were a little iffy. The lyrics have improved dramatically on The Question, as they are used to create character and meaning and they tell a story as they make it into sort of a concept album. Besides drawing you in with a storyline, the lyrics are simply enjoyable to listen to and are accentuated by the skillful singing from the two vocalists.

I won't go through all the songs, they're all pretty good, so I'll cover my favorites. "So Cold I Could See My Breath" starts it off with a strong guitar part and a driving chorus. Most of the songs really invite singing along with the band. "Returning the Smile You Had From the Start" contains the most screaming of any song on the record, and has some of the most effective lyrics. I like it a lot. "Studying Politics" is the supposed single, and is very entertaining and also strong lyrically. "Left With Alibis and Lying Eyes" is darn fun to listen to. "In a Win, Win Situation" is the band's second consecutive very good, softer closing song for an album. It's not the kind of thing that caters to the musical elite but it's one of the most finely crafted releases I believe the genre has seen.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Music Archive 2

Here's the next batch.

Blink-182 - Enema of the State

There's not really much to say about Enema of the State that hasn't been said. It's pretty standard pop/punk with pretty standard and unimpressive musicianship and pretty standard attempts at humor. Blink-182 tries to write funny lyrics and put a bunch of jokes in their music videos, and it makes all the people who watch MTV laugh, but we all know it makes for sub-par music.

It's not really bad, the band is pretty competent at writing catchy, accessible tunes. It's just pretty unremarkable. You listen to the album (or, if you're an average fan of this kind of music, two or three songs), enjoy them a little while they're playing, and then you forget about it and move on. Blink-182 doesn't seek to blow you away or build up to any significant payoffs, they just sing about some shallow topic while playing some chords for a few minutes, and then move on to the next topic.

Some of the songs are interesting enough to warrant attention. "Adam's Song", which you've probably heard, is a genuinely affecting somber melody about a suicide, and is unfortunately followed up by "All the Small Things", one of the most irritatingly popular songs of all time. It's not that catchy and actually one of the least funny tracks. "Anthem, Part 1" is, like its title implies, an anthem, one for teenagers who don't like their parents very much. It's not that special on its own, but what's cool is that the next album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, starts out with the second part, which creates an interesting link between the two records.

Enema is fairly decent punk, but it isn't really worth spending your money on at this point. Its cultural significance has passed, and it contributes very little to music as a whole.

Blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket

Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
is a little better than the band's previous effort, Enema of the State, but not by much. The music is roughly the same caliber, although they take a few more chances, and the lyrics are a bit more interesting, but not significantly so. The first track, "Anthem, Part 2" is a continuation of the final track from the last record, and has a pretty cool guitar part.

The singles are standard Blink 182. "Rock Show", "First Date", they're catchy, they're accessible, they're forgettable. "Happy Holidays, You Bastard" isn't even a song, it's just swearing and bad jokes. Most of the album is regular pop-punk, although there are a few songs that are a cut above. "Stay Together for the Kids" is a strong ballad about broken homes, and really doesn't sound like this band. It's good. "Story of a Lonely Guy" and some songs near the end are also pretty solid steps away from the band's pattern. It's kind of refreshing, but not enough to elevate the album above an average score.

Blink-182 - Blink-182

This was a pleasant surprise. The first single off this record, "Feeling This", sounds like normal Blink-182 except with less singing. But luckily, the band broke out of their creative rut and delivered a solid, enjoyable album that deviates from their common pattern throughout.

None of the songs are really amazing or stand out that much, but almost all of them have something unique to like. The second single, "I Miss You", is an interesting acoustic song with strange lyrics. "Violence" is catchy and ends with a reading of a love letter from the bassist's grandfather to his wife. "Asthenia" contains a pretty original opening and guitar part. "Easy Target" and "All of This" share a tune, and the latter features Robert Smith of The Cure. "I'm Lost Without You" is over six minutes long, which sounds like it would be an eternity for a Blink-182 song, but it actually goes by pretty quick.

Almost all of the songs that weren't mentioned also have something about them that makes them worth listening to. This may not be your kind of music, but unlike their other albums, it still may be worth a listen or two.

Brand New - Deja Entendu

Before getting a hold of this, I had heard a bit off of Brand New's previous album, Your Favorite Weapon, and wasn't very impressed. It was fairly good punk, but it didn't really grab me. Deja Entendu, on the other hand, gripped me by the shirt collar and slammed me into the ground. It's simply the most listenable album I've ever heard. I could play the whole thing through without getting bored probably every day if I wanted to. The music is catchy. The lyrics are clever and easily sung along with. Top to bottom, it's just plain good.

Deja is a different kind of punk. Brand New were clearly trying to distance themselves from the pack, and the plan worked. A few of the songs are mainly acoustic and a couple don't introduce the chorus until a couple minutes in. It's not just a bunch of simple, repeated chords and typical lyrics, the music is genuinely interesting. "Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades" is about a kid who is rushed into sex and has a great bass line. The two following tracks, besides having long sentences as titles, have a few other similarities. They combine well written verses with catchy refrains, and are more fun to listen to than the average filler between singles. "The Quite Things That No One Ever knows" is the first Brand New song I ever really liked, and is the main reason I pursued this album. It's still a strong punk song, but really doesn't fit in that much with the rest of the album.

The next couple songs are more solid emo, but the next standout track is "Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis", which is a slow buildup with slightly disturbing lyrics which culminates into a great, angry release at the end. "Guernica" is another more mainstream song with a clever chorus, and is followed by "Good to Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have To Do Is Die", which is as satisfyingly long as its title implies and contains a great guitar solo, and "Play Crack the Sky", a big change of pace, an acoustic, quiet tune about a ship lost at sea. If you can give a band with the "emo" label a chance, listen to this, you probably won't be disappointed.

Chevelle - Point #1

Point #1
is Chevelle's first album, and undoubtedly more raw and a little different than later releases, obviously because they got onto a bigger label. I doubt Wonder What's Next will ever be supplanted as my favorite release by Chevelle, but as it stands, this debut is better than the more mainstream and less passionate This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In). This is actually the album of theirs I obtained the most recently, and its impact is probably negatively affected by the strength of the follow-up. I still appreciate what they did here though, as it shares more strengths with Wonder What's Next than This Type of Thinking does.

Chevelle is supposedly a Christian band, but that doesn't really come through in the lyrics at all. Their faith might provide them with a little more emotion in the music, which is good, but it's not really that big of an aspect. The first track is an interesting two minute instrumental intro that leads into the awesome title track, which combines the band's skill at writing very listenable hard rock with the great, soothing vocals the singer provides. The next few songs are above average, adequate rock, but the next great song is the six and a half minute "Dos." It starts off quite, but it builds up over time into an explosive, passionate climax, and has more emotion in it than most songs you hear these days. "Long" is another song that starts off slow before exploding. The band does that a lot. "Peer" is a strong closing track, again, starting off quiet and ending with a burst of high energy power.

This is a good rock album, its only problem is that too few of the songs stand out. The few I mentioned are really good, and the rest are solid too, you just have some trouble remembering them all as their own thing, preventing this from being great.

Chevelle - Wonder What's Next

Let me start by saying I can't really explain why I love Wonder What's Next so much. Looking at it completely objectively and analytically, it's not that different from other music by similar artists in the genre. It follows an obvious pattern of standard hard rock for a few minutes, culminating in a cacophonous climax with screaming vocals. It's kind of hard for me to justify such a high rating, but I can't ignore a simple fact - I love this collection of songs almost as much as any other.

As a band, Chevelle writes more than competent rock music. Most songs contain some riff or melody that makes every song memorable. But that's not why I like them. I like them because of the vocals. The singer, despite being able to destroy his vocal chords pretty well, doesn't use that skill too much like some other bands fall into. The guy can sing as well, and his soft, pleasant voice serves as a great counterpoint to the hard guitar stuff. What I like best about their music is the choruses they write with extended, melodic vocal parts that really show off that counterpoint. It just hits me in a way that's affecting unlike most other music.

I love all of the songs, but some of them are a cut above. The first two tracks, "Family System" and "Comfortable Liar" are very strong and put you in the mood for the rest before being followed by the album's three good singles. "Don't Fake This" has probably my favorite vocals of the whole record, and "An Evening with El Diablo" contains both a great chorus and an extended rock out section. Like I said, it's not really objectively that far above other stuff in the genre, but it's exactly the kind of music that I like.

Chevelle - This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In)

At first or second glance, This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In) isn't that far off from Wonder What's Next. They're both albums by Chevelle, of course. They both contain solid nu-metal music and follow similar patterns. So why is that I loved Wonder What's Next while I think This Type of Thinking is merely pretty decent? They're basically the same band, the only real difference is they do a lot less of what I like most about Chevelle, the melodic, flowing choruses. It's no coincidence that my favorite songs on this album are the ones that stay the closest to what Chevelle did on their previous effort, while the songs with more standard vocals languish in mediocrity.

The first few songs are decent, and include the two singles. They're competent hard rock, but nothing too special. The first track I really like is "Still Running", with an enjoyable guitar during the verse and a soaring refrain. "Panic Prone" is another good one, a lot calmer than the other songs, and better for it. The next really good song is "To Return", which again, features the vocals that were so prevalent in the last album but all too rare in this. None of the other songs are bad, per se, they're all more than adequate for the genre, they just don't quite do what Chevelle does best.

This is the first album Chevelle has made since getting popular, and you have to wonder if that's reflected in the quality. This record has gone gold, and I'm glad that a band that I like has had some success, but I hope they've learned some things and can get back to what they do best on the next one. This is a solid effort, but not at the level of the genre-topping Wonder What's Next.

Cursive - The Ugly Organ

Cursive's The Ugly Organ is the definition of a grower. The first time I heard it, I thought it was pretty decent, but not the kind of thing I'd usually listen to. I'm not sure why, but over time I started liking the songs more and more, and now the album is one of my favorites.

After the strange intro, the first song is "Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand", a quickly paced rock song which is somewhat atypical for this band. What it does have in common with the other songs is its brief length, despite the final track being over 10 minutes long, the entire album is barely over 40. Although I guess brevity really is the soul of wit, as the short length allows Cursive to cram all of their ideas into a really small space, making each song a pleasure to listen to all the way through. After a few more good songs and a one minute interlude, there's "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale." It's a dark retelling of the Pinocchio story, and has one of the album's better melodies. It is followed by a couple harder songs, the decadent and enjoyable "A Gentleman Caller" and more electronic "Harold Weathervein". The interesting "Sierra", which wraps up the storyline that plays out over the course of this concept album, is followed by the great, extremely long "Staying Alive". The noises at the end go on a little too long, but the song itself is very affecting and still gives me chills.

From the singer's distinctly different voice to the unusual instrumentation, The Ugly Organ is a unique and thoroughly good album that probably anyone can enjoy if they give it a listen or two.

Dead Poetic - New Medicines

I had some high hopes for this record, I really liked the single and the snippets of other songs I heard, and thought this could be, maybe not genius, but a really well done, fun punk album. What I got was something that's a little less than the sum of its parts. It's not bad, it just doesn't do anything to really make you like it. It's competent musically and decent for the genre, it's just lacking that ingredient of greatness.

"Taste the Red Hands" is a little different style from the rest of the songs and a decent opening. That's a word that comes to mind a lot when listening to New Medicines, "decent". The title track is also the single and it's some enjoyable hardcore, but it's lost some of its luster over time. "Glass In the Trees" is the most affecting song on the album, it's not amazing musically but the lyrics are a little touching.

The rest of the songs are more average rock songs. Pretty much every track has at least one enjoyable part, but sometimes you have to wonder if Dead Poetic is really in it for the music when what they do just isn't that original or fun to listen to. It's serviceable, but it's not very good.