Monday, March 31, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Album Reviews

Counting Tides & Black Crows! No, wait...
Strike that. Reverse it.

Today's album reviews are a little something old and a little something new. I'll begin with the old.
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Counting Crows are back again with Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - their 5th studio album since their debut back in 1993!

Coming almost 6 years after the release of Crows' last album of new material - Hard Candy (2002) - SN&SM is an album with 15 years of band history now behind it, but finds the band returning to an older sound - a classic gravity perhaps not heard since 1996's Recovering the Satellites. Gone is the cutesy CG cartoony band that makes songs for animated movies, and back is the band that we remember from the mid '90s. These guys just got serious again.

The album as it stands is what's left of an initial plan for a double album (and it seems they kept the title) and the single disc of 14 tracks is split into two distinctly different moods. The first six tracks are "Saturday Mornings", the upbeat, frolicking rockers, even if the lyrics suggest desperation and drunken reasoning. The "Sunday Mornings" is the sober heartache behind all the flashing lights and so far feels like the weaker part of the album (but these things often grow on me).

Adam Duritz, the musical genius behind the band's sound and direction all along, waxes philosophical and attempts to justify all of his lyrics in a video interview sold as a part of the iTunes deluxe edition of the album. I'll use some of his own definitions to describe the songs here, but personally, I feel like the music is much more interesting and exciting than anything he can tell me about the motivations behind it. (Maybe that's why he's a singer and not a noteworthy orator.)

The album opens strong with perhaps the most aggressive Crows tune ever, "1492", which uses imagery of Christopher Columbus' quest for glory and fame in correlation with Duritz's own emotional voyage, and how it "all gets screwed up along the way."

A song of self-validation in the face of rejection, "Hanging Tree" is a tune littered with "clunkily-played guitar, and pianos that are tinkling through dissonant notes" that eventually meet in a harmonious power-chorus, which hears the singer proclaim, "this dizzy life of mine keeps hanging' me up all the time... This dizzy life is just a hanging tree!" The image of Icarus, a figure flying toward the sun, falling down through the sky, is heard first in this song, but not for the last time on the album.

"Los Angeles" is a loud, bluesy roller about Duritz and his old friends Ryan Adams and David Gibbs - the story of each of them coming to L.A. from different parts of the country with dreams of musical stardom and success, and finding themselves "in this city full of dreamers." "I'm pretty sure I was drunk when I sang the ending," recalls Duritz, "and it's completely taken from the Rolling Stones' song, 'Shattered'; there's not doubt in my mind that it was inspired by that."

"Sundays" is a sad and lonely song disguised in a poppy and fun musicality that reminds me sonically of the previous album's "New Frontier." As a song of disillusionment, Duritz croons over jangling guitars and mystical chimes, "I don't believe in Sundays and I don't believe in anything at all."

"Insignificant" is a classic Crows mid-tempo rocker and definitely one of my favorites on the album. With its upbeat chorus, it's a feel good tune about not feeling so good. Duritz sings about his life-long fear of leading an unimportant, insignificant life but finding a balance between that and being too different from everyone else, desperately crying out, "Could you see me? I'm one in a million! I am Icarus falling out of the sun."

Bringing about the end of Saturday Night, "Cowboys" is a passionate and imagery-laden five-and-a-half minute sonic movie that tells the tale of a man driven crazy with jealousy and heartache. It flies and falls at a break-neck speed between loud and quiet, soft and hard, desperation and surrender. More imagery of Saturdays, Sundays, satellites, an assassinated President Lincoln gives this disjointed rocker a sense of absolute madness in the face of overwhelming pressure.

Then, things come to a crashing halt on Sunday Morning and things get really heavy. As I've said, a bit too slow to draw any immediate attention, but that's not to say, however, that they're not good songs.

"Washington Square" is a quiet, mellow, autobiographical "sad song about leaving things behind; a decision to change." It has a sweetness in the end as the character of the song realizes "that it's okay to leave some things behind... as long as you come back."

"On Almost Any Sunday Morning" is a song of the sober realization of one's foolish acts in the name of loneliness and longing. It's the songs like this one that I feel could have been left off the album all together as it slows things down to a snail's pace with long, slow vocals dripped over a strumming acoustic guitar and the sleepy howling of a harmonica.

Along with the opening song, "When I Dream of Michelangelo" was offered as a free sample of the album almost a month before its release on the band's website. Seemingly the mellowed out sister of the rocker "Angels of The Silences" from Recovering The Satellites, this song takes some of the same lyrics and images of angels fluttering around a bedroom while the singer recalls laying in bed watching them. It's "a song about trying to make something beautiful out of nothing. What's Michelangelo thinking (while) painting that picture of Adam reaching out his hand and almost touching God?"

"Anyone But You" has a nice mellow rhythm, but might lull you gently to sleep. I like the keyboard sound in this... some sort of Korg synthesizer or something, I don't know, but it reminds me of the french horn from their song "Carriage" from their last album. The lyrics depict a man trying to convince a loved one that he thinks about her, but that "it's not safe", because he'll think about anything. (Zzzzzzzzzz....)

The only iTunes single released before the album, "You Can't Count On Me" is a half-assed Crows song sung by an almost evil character, confessing about what a jerk he can be to women who want to be close to him. The chorus is very cliche - to the point that it's somewhat hard to listen to. Perfect for a single, though, in this digital day in age, as it saves the best stuff for those who really check out the full album.

A sort of turning point in the record, "Le ballet d'or" is a dark, mystical tune about what a sin it can be to let your life slip you by, and reminding you to lose yourself and just enjoy it all. The chorus seems to be building to a powerful dissent into musical mayhem, but only hints at this logical conclusion for a moment at the end. It benefits from the idea of "always leave 'em wanting more."

"On A Tuesday Long Ago In Amsterdam" is a heartbroken love song of longing and loss, painting images of slow-motion beauty now long past. Just Adam and his piano. he's always gotta throw one like this on his albums, but I say save it for a sweet moment in the live show.

Things pick up again in the end on "Come Around", the most optimistic tune of the day, and very reminiscent of their earliest albums. It's an upbeat, happy rocker with a chorus that reminds us why things will all be okay, and why we'll always come back to the places we need to be.

I think this would have been a better album if it had just been "Saturday Nights," as the latter "Sunday Mornings" half of the album just crashes it all to the ground and has a hard time picking things up again. And even as it stands, they could have mixed up the hard and soft songs a bit to give us a better ebb and flow rhythm, instead of this "ebb, ebb, ebb... flow, flow, flow" feeling.
But you can't argue with a good collection of songs, and the Crows have yet to put out a bad record. I give this album 3 and a half stars out of five. It's always great to hear these guys put out new music. Check it out.

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And now some new stuff!

Metal-heads... I give you the new kings!

BLAAAAAACK TI-I-I-I-I-IDE! (rawwwwwwr!)

None of these bad-ass rockers are, as of yet, old enough to buy beer. (Hell, some aren't even old enough to drive! The lead singer just turned 15!) But, fortunately for them - and ultimately, for all of the world - there's no age limit or license needed to ROCK!

Upon first listen (before I knew how young these kids were)I liked the heavy instrumnetal sound combined with some classic, almost 80's-style, high-end vocal wailing - something that I believe has been sorely lacking in hard rock for years! It's all cookie-monster guttural growling and lyrics I couldn't decipher if my life depended on it (- which it did, once... funny story. Remind me to tell you sometime.) An image of a big, tattooed, pierced, angry, bald guy with the microphone completley inside of his mouth always registers when I hear those bands - and they do nothing for me. This sounded different, thank God! (The God of Rock, that is... Zeus, is it?)

Their single for "Shockwave" was handed out via iTunes as the free "Single of the Week" a while back, (something I think everyone should take advantage of each week, for the obvious reason that once in a while it does indeed pay off,) and it was a breath of fresh air for my hard-rock-craving lungs. Great, solid, classic guitar riffs (a'la George Lynch, Nuno Bettencourt or Randy Rhodes), a competent rhythm section, scorching vocals (not unlike a young Axl Rose, Sebastian Bach or Bruce Dickenson) and a production that is neither over- nor under-done in any capacity.

The single alone makes their debut album - Light From Above - worth checking out. And as it turns out, the rest of the tracks do not disappoint. These kids take their cues from the greats of yester-year (Iron Maiden, Dokken, Black Sabbath, etc.) with honor and discipline, giving the likes of Megadeth and even Metallica a run for their money.

Without going into too much detail, I will just say that this is a great debut for a bunch of teenagers. But isn't this how a lot of the greats start out? Guns N' Roses? Aerosmith? Just a bunch of kids upon their debut! If these little ankle-bitin' metal-heads can keep the hits coming, they may just save rock music for another generation... and not a minute too soon!

Basically, this is what I wanted Hanson to be 10 years ago!

4 out of 5 Stars!

Monday, March 24, 2008

GIBSON = DUMMIES

You've all at least seen or even played Rock Band and Guitar Hero - two of the best-selling titles in video game history! And we've all heard of the big guitar brands, like Fender and Gibson. Well, it seems that the latter - Gibson - is run by a bunch of idiots.

First came their decision, years ago, to pull all of their guitars from the shelves of the world's biggest guitar shop - Guitar Center. One day, they were all just gone! Now, all those kids with nothing to do, money to burn and an interest in rock music who happen to wander into Guitar Center stores will have no ability to fall in love with the amazing and beautiful Les Paul guitar. (All the better, since they're pretty expensive as it is - way to price yourself out of the market, Gibson!)





And now, some bonehead in charge of legalities and/or marketing has decided that it's a good idea to start a lawsuit war with Harmonix, the makers of the aforementioned ridiculously popular video games. Gibson claims their 1999 patent on a concept for a game similar to Rock Band and Guitar Hero entitle them to loads of cash from the game makers, even though Gibson themselves:
a) are not a video game company,
b) know nothing about making video games,
c) never actually made a prototype for their game concept, and
d) are claiming infringement on a similar but not identical idea.

Great idea, Gibson! Take the greatest catalyst for creating new musicians since Eddie Van Halen hit the spot back in '78 and SUE them, demanding that they stop selling the
games, and then take your hardware out of the most accessible spot for young musicians. Brilliant!

I'm no business expert, but I have GOT to believe this is going to ultimately LOSE them money, no matter what the outcome (which I can nearly guarantee will NOT be in their favor).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another UK attack on the US!

That's right! It's another anti-American viral video from the U.K.!

This video is much more cryptic, but the message is there! Watch this!



See? Notice how the U.S. (Charlie) is on the left of England in the frame, as it would be in a map, but due the magic of perspective, this is a very revealing notion that illustrated how the U.K. thinks they are much "bigger" than the U.S. Perhaps not geographically larger, but... definitely in some way!

30 seconds into this subliminal film, a message is overtly displayed reading "a lot of eating later..." and then a lapse of time via a cross-dissolve occurs.  I take this to mean that our story begins after years of civility "at the table" (perhaps in the United Nations). This could also be an allusion to only a few minutes of real time - I'm not sure.

Now, notice that while England neatly and politely nibbles at his crumpets, "Charlie" blissfully shoves food into his gaping cake-hole: quite obviously an accusation of gluttony and greed fueled by the youthful ignorance inherent in America as a country.

"Look at Charlie's plate!" the U.K. now shouts, boastfully.  "It's all messy!  Now Charlie's hands are all messy, but... my plate isn't."  Really, England?  Are you truly stooping to THAT level?  Are we children?

Now America cries out in a moment of panic for a mother who never comes. Indeed, this is an allusion to a depression, perhaps the Great one from the 1930's, during which our great ally, England, sat idly by and ignored our woes.  Perhaps this is a warning that, should we be in such distress again anytime soon, they shan't act as their brother's keeper.

I'm not quite sure how to interpret the prophetic message at the end of this video, but England seems to be going into some sort of convulsive state - perhaps a war - while America shouts from afar but seems helpless to lend a hand.  Could this be a comment on the U.K.'s lack of faith in us as an ally?  Could they be suggesting that we are of no use or help and bring nothing to "the table"?

I don't know how long this mud-slinging campaign from this undisclosed group is going to last, but please don't allow your consciouses to be subverted into believing this rubbish. These are sneaky little videos, but while I'm on the job, they won't go unnoticed!  I'll see to that! It's lies and slander under the order of King George, but don't tread on me, brother!

God Bless America - the land that I love.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

OUCH! CHAWLEE, THAT HERT!

So maybe you've seen this video online... (comments below)



My theory is that this is a very deep political metaphor propagated by the UK through a viral campaign to politely ask America to please be nice!

You see, the "big brother" in this presentation represents England (as is subtly hinted at by the "ENGLAND" t-shirt he's wearing). The baby (named Charlie - an obvious allusion to Charles Carroll, - 1737 to 1832 - delegate to the Continental Congress and later United States Senator for Maryland and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence), of course, represents "The States", biting ungratefully on the hand that feeds it.

England seems to be making claims that we're still dependent upon them for survival and eventual national maturation (and maybe we are, since we've signed away our entire country to into their power under a super secret legal agreement that goes back to Skull & Bones and all that mish-mash undercover stuff, but that's another blog). And even when poor England cries out in great agony, we bite down even harder, making poor little England cry. And what do we young, innocent but sadistic Americans do? We just laugh about it.

But England is a good sport and they simply politely inform us that our actions had repercussions that were less than desirable for them, thinking that they may appeal to our senses of compassion and feel some sort of regret. But we don't. We just laugh again and bite the blanket.

Sorry, Brits, but if you don't like having your finger bit, quit stickin' it in where it doesn't belong! (i.e. ALL UP IN OUR BIDNESS!)

YOO ESS AY! YOO ESS AY!

AWESOME SNL SKETCH!

Starring Jonah Hill.  Loved it!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Albums

Two new albums to review.

The first is the long-awaited return of...

THE BLACK CROWES!

And their new album Warpaint

I was a bit let down by this album. It has none of the good old rock n roll tunes that made anyone fall in love with these guys in the first place, but instead, it's festered with groovy, slowish, melodic groove rock tunes that all seem to kind of blend into one another. But it's not a total waste. The songs, although mostly slow and dreary, are well performed. Great musicians playing well all throughout, so it's totally listenable. (Did I just make that word up?)

My favorite tracks are the opening/single "Good-bye Daughters of the Revolution" (as it is the only track reminiscent of that good old time rock n roll stuff), "Evergreen" (which builds to moments of semi-rockin' in the chorus and has a heavy groove all-throughout), "Movin' On Down The Line" (A lot of heavy, jangly slide guitar, and I like the piano-laced Elton John-ish parts of the verses), and "Wounded Bird" (the only really consistent blues-rocker, until we hit the sing-songy chorus).

The rest of the songs are filler between the better tracks, forcing the listener to just sit through the whole album, which in the end is actually kind of enjoyable.

I give this slow-restart to a great band's triumphant comeback 3 out of 5 stars.

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And a bit of a random find...

This is Melody Gardot.

She's only 23 and this is a Major Label re-release of her debut album: Worrisome Heart

Four years ago, she was in an accident (hit by a car while riding her bike! Ouch!) which left her leg badly damaged and her sensitivity to light and sound much more intense. According to Wikipedia:
(she performs while she) carries a cane and must wear dark glasses. She often has a little black box tied to her waist; called a TENS unit, it is used to alleviate neuralgic pain/muscle pain. She sits on a specialized chair while performing due to pelvic fractures sustained in the accident. Her pelvis remains misaligned, and she also suffers from an autonomic nervous system dysfunction, causing hypersensitivity to noise and sound.

As terrible as it all must be, once you hear her music you can tell that these "disabilities" actually add to her already unique sound with a unique look. Watching her perform (as you can just by doing some basic video searches online) with her cane and shades, you can see how unforgettable she will remain in the eyes of the jazz/blues scene for years to come.

As for the album itself: it's short (just shy of 33 minutes), but packs quite a punch. The title track is a moody, sexy, drunken, swaggering wish-list of a blues-club love song. Very hip.

After that, the album flows seamlessly from track to track with perfection and a smoothness that only the jazz genre still tends to offer on a regular basis these days. The mood of the album is light, fun, sweet, romantic, cool and always rich and vibrant in sound. Gardot croons and scats like an old soul, sounding lonely but hopeful in her endeavors to find love in her young life.

Check out this self-proclaimed "worrisome, troubling, baggage-free, modern-day dame" on iTunes right now - her entire album is only $5.99 and she even offers a free remixed track on her MySpace page to add to your collection. Quite the steal.

This album gets 4-and-a-half out of 5 stars. Very good!

How 'bout that new Fox Sitcom?


Okay, now this is gonna be a pretty predictable review, but I had fun writing it.

I was perusing iTunes this evening when I noticed that Fox has posted a free episode of their new "hit" comedy UnHitched.

I happened to have watched this show on Sunday night - only because I had been watching The Simpsons and then couldn't find my remote. What's a guy to do?

And I decided I should post my thoughts about the show in the comments section. Here's the review I wrote:

(After giving it a one star rating...)

Do I have to give it a whole star?

(COMMENCING BILE SPEWAGE, in 3.... 2.... 1....)

I watched this show last night on Fox. It was probably - and I say this without hyperbole - the WORST television show I have ever seen. Fox is known for taking pretty risky ventures, every year or so, that never pay off... (remember that God-awful "The War At Home"? And is "Til Death" still on?)... but I don't even see how this is a gamble: It is a GARUNTEED FLOP! Way to jump off that sinking ship "The Office", Rashida Jones! No one liked THAT show!

And how about the terribly cliché "East Indian friend"?!?! Way to mix it up with some race, Fox! His "accent" was an insult to bad Indian accent-impersonations everywhere. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has a shotgun in his mouth after watching this show.

Wow. So bad.

"UnHitched" = UnFunny & UnGood! (Did you like that one, Fox? Because it was a lot better than anything YOUR writers came up with. I'm available for hire.)


The End

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Be safe out there, kids.

On my way home from my cousin's place last night, from enjoying a wonderful new SNL episode - I was seconds away from being involved in a multi-car collision on North-bound I-15 in Escondido. It was around 1:10 AM when I suddenly saw a LOT of brake lights, and then motionless cars ahead of me. I think I may have noticed at that moment that there were flames rising from one of the vehicles, but before I had time to comprehend this image, I watched another vehicle, not 100 yards up the road, collide with the first set of cars, sending this one flying through the air with sparks cascading all around it. I did my best to pull over slowly, and noticed that there were already a hand-full of people standing in the road waving for me to not hit them - I think they were in less danger than they thought, because I was pulling over to stop, but that didn't mean every motorist was. I hopped out of my car, leaving hazard lights on, and tried to help slow down traffic, but that's hard to do while remaining safe, so I climbed up on the guardrail where I'd be relatively safe from any on-coming vehicles, while I and some others tried to wave at cars to signal for them to slow down. It was pretty scary to see some cars still flying down the road at 80 MPH at this point, but amazingly, no other cars collided after this point.

So then I tried to get everyone off the road and move up the road, ahead of the scene, so as to avoid any by-stander injuries that might occur behind the scene. Then, once things were a bit calmer, I helped usher some traffic through to let some of the congestion up and clear the scene so emergency vehicles would have room to come in.

At this point, everyone was very concerned with the one car that was now entirely engulfed in flames. "Does anyone have a fire extinguisher!?!?" Someone was yelling. "Forget it, bro!" someone else responded. "That car is done! Stay away from it! No one's in it - we just need to move away from that thing!" It was lighting up the highway against the headlights of 6 lanes of stopped cars behind it. We all got to the slow lane and off to that side of the road when I noticed a group of guys talking to a girl who had just been taken off the road. She was young - only 19 - and had some blood matted on her face, but she seemed okay. I came to find out that she had been driving the car that flipped over and she was trying frantically to reach her boyfriend or her mother on her cell phone.

Suddenly, one of the bystanders identified himself as a Medic, and he took control of her situation. He asked her of she knew her name, how old she was, what the date was and if she knew where she was. She seemed to rattle off this information better than even I could at the moment, so she seemed to be okay and certainly not drunk - just rattled. I helped him move her to the bed of a pick-up truck so they could examine her when the ambulance arrived. She kept yelling about how she had just gotten the car two days ago and that her dad is going to kill her, but the group around her tried to calm her down.

All in all, no one was seriously hurt and the road was cleared in about 45 minutes. But it was certainly scary to see how close we can all come to disaster at less than a moment's notice.

Here's some pictures I snapped with my cell phone after the chaos was under control.


These first two are of the car fire being put out by the fire department:
























This is the car that had collided and flipped, from which the young girl was able to escape relatively unharmed.
















And this is just some of the action as things were winding down. The guy in the foreground in that last shot is the medic who helped the girl. you can see shattered glass and random debris all over the ground. It was everywhere. And the bluish car in the distance on the right was the one that had been on fire.






















The moral of the story is this: Don't drive fast - that's what the girl did and she's lucky to be alive after this. And just be vigilant. It was certainly a big eye-opener to me.