Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Earl Greyhound Are My Masters Now

March is almost here. In fact, it arrives this week. So, it's a little late to write about an album that came out in August of last year, an album that I didn't even know about until December, and outside of the band's dedicated following and a brief mention in SPIN, an album that has received little attention.

The album is Soft Targets, the band is Earl Greyhound, and they are really, really fucking good.

Matt Whyte(guitars/vocals), Kamara Thomas(bass/vocals), and Christopher Bear(drums) form the power trio. And I do mean power. Soft Targets opening track "SOS" wastes no time getting things started. Whyte's voice soars over his grinding guitar and Bear's exploding drums. They achieve stunning depth for a band with only three members; you can listen to this album dozens of times and never grow tired.

Earl Greyhound take everything good about the golden era of hard rock, the rumbling epic sound of Led Zeppelin, the brazen yet subtle sexiness of Jimi Hendrix, the balls-out fun of AC/DC and the unapologetic glam rock posture of Queen and T. Rex. All of this without any sense of bullshit hipster irony. The play cock-rock because they fucking love it, and it shows. Soft Targets has no filler, all killer. From the ultra-catchy "Like A Doggy" and "Back And Forth", featuring Thomas and Whyte belting out a dual-vocal attack(though Thomas provides deep, beautiful howls and harmonizes with Whyte beautifully on nearly every track), to the epic eight minute stoner rock anthem "Monkey", this album...can you tell how much I love it yet...it just fucking rocks. "Monkey" and "Fashion" are hot sweaty fucks in song form. Whyte's guitar meshes with Thomas's bass perfectly. Behind Whyte's pyrotechnics Bear drums with passion and thunder; he didn't get the memo that nowadays drummers have to have ironic distaste for being flashy or showing off. J. Mascis would love the way he plays(not that he's dead, I just can't speak for him, he's busy recording a new Dinosaur Jr. album with Lou Barlow and Emmett Murphy which I can't wait for). This would have been my number one album, by far, last year if I had known better. I had their EP, but slept on the album. Few things do I regret more, possibly my first marriage, but it's close.

Go to their website, stream the album, and be converted. The buy it. If you're lucky, catch a live show(I will). As Thomas told SPIN:

"If you come to one of our shows," she says, "I promise your face will get ripped off."


Video for "SOS"

Surprise Sunday Snow

I wake up Sunday, and what do I see. Snow. All over the place.


I thought we were done with snow this year. Wasn't it just a week or so ago temperatures were climbing to almost sixty degrees? I go to New York, it's freezing, come back to DC, it's warm. I figured that meant an early Spring and no more snow for us. Nope. Can't pack away the scarves and gloves yet.

At least this time it wasn't around long, and it didn't bring bitterly freezing air with it. One day it's a winter wonderland, the next day most of it's melted away. A one day decoration, the way it should be.



Thursday, February 22, 2007

Arrive Early, And You Will Pay

As I left for my weekend in the city Friday, I listened to Block Party's new album A Weekend In The City, because aside from loving things that connect, I'm capable of astounding acts of unoriginality. Darker in tone(both musically and lyrically), Weekend is the perfect Empire Strikes Back to Silent Alarm's Star Wars. BigYawn covered it in detail already so I won't rehash, but if you enjoyed Alarm you will love the follow up. The first two tracks, "Song For Clay (Disappear Here)" and the post-9/11 society commentary "Hunting For Witches", are ripping tunes.

I also took in Menomena's Friend Or Foe, a stunning piece of indie rock with everything from power chords to saxophones. I loved the opening track "Muscle N Flo", as well as "Air Raid", "Weird?", and "Rotten Hell". Again, over at BigYawn Chris Daly does a better job exhorting the albums merits than I ever could.

I had some interesting times during the long weekend, which I'll get into later. I saw Ghost Rider.

To make up for that, I saw Breach. A gripping yet understated thriller. Chris Cooper was excellent as the walking paradox Robert Hanssen, who appears to be sincere about serving God and Country while betraying both that and his family, friends and colleagues. His final scene in the movie is chilling. Ryan Phillippe was equally excellent as Eric O'Neill, the young agent-in-training the FBI planted as Hanssen's clerk during the last two months of their investigation. Phillippe still suffers barbs from critics who hate the genetically blessed; every review I read took pains to point out his supposed shortcomings that Cooper and the script made up for. Which is a bunch of shit. I'm not saying Phillippe is an excellent actor, but he is certainly -- at the very least -- competent. Phillippe, like Keanu Reeves, could turn in a performance worthy of Peter O'Toole and it would still be shat upon by critics from the east coast to the west. Beautiful actors, when they miss, are ostracized for only having their faces and bodies to offer us. By that reasoning, if Steve Buscemi ever turned in a sub-par performance, he would have to be labeled as one of the worst actors ever.

It was fun to hear New Yorker's gasp in amazement when Laura Linney's character uses her cellphone on the Metro, something you can't do in NYC yet. The movie was almost ruined, however, by the banal commentary of a man who thought of himself as some sort of spy buff. Sitting next to me, this smelly know-it-all laughingly intoned "Welcome to the agency!" after O'Neill's first verbal thrashing from Hanssen. Too bad both Hanssen and O'Neill work for the FBI, which -- unless my grasp of the alphabet has atrophied considerably since Kindergarten -- has no word in it that begins with an "A". It's the BUREAU, jackass.

A common fixture of movie theaters today are the "First Look" shorts that run before the previews. Extended looks(ads) of upcoming movies and television shows, I find them a little more entertaining than the slide-show of ads and repeated trivia that used to play until the lights dimmed. They are at the very least just as easy to ignore...most of the time. One preview, which aired before Ghost Rider and Breach, froze me in my cushioned seat, though not exactly in a positive way.

The preview was for the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs. The host runs around with a water snake expert chasing water snakes, which I gather are non-poisonous, since one bites the host in the arm and he doesn't die. As the snake digs in deeper the host growls about how he hates his job, he cries out and the snake lets go and flayed flesh falls from it's fangs. Red strips of skin clearly fall to the ground. The camera then treats us to a close up of the hosts bloodied forearm, the wounds matching the discarded skins scraps like puzzle pieces.

This wasn't the worse part.

After that, in the safety of a lab the host forces a water snake to throw up. And, on a fifty foot screen, I and everyone else who arrived early so we wouldn't miss the previews(one of the best parts of going to the theater) were treated to watching a water snake vomit up a slimy, still recognizable fish.

"...That's just weird," the host says, looking at the glistening, half-digested carcass.

No. No, it's not just weird...it's fucking disgusting. I was trying to eat nachos, now I can barely sip my coke without my gut reeling. If I wanted to see that, I would be at home watching the goddamned Discovery Channel. Who thought this was a good idea to show a few dozen potential concession stand patrons? I haven't seen a more disturbing display of puking at a movie theater since The Exorcist was re-released, but at least that was in the movie. Shit.

I'll still arrive early, but damn, I may take an early trip to the bathroom.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Underground Gucci

Purses have a darkside I never knew existed. A seedy, sinister side as mysterious as the contents of the purses themselves.

I always thought of them as innocent little accessories, first noticed as the place Mom kept tissue, gum, and loose change for the candy hoarding vending machines. I see them now out and about on busy city streets, slung from the shoulders of every working woman from baristas to CEOs. They are where my girlfriend keeps her cellphone, lip gloss, makeup cases, and the terrifying tampon.

What I didn't know(but am now wise to ways of the real world) was that your average woman will gladly venture into back rooms, dank stairways and beyond dark alleys to obtain that precious piece dangling at her side. Your lady, if she really fancies purses, is more versed in the criminal underground then you could ever hope to be -- that little March Madness pool pales in comparison.

Now, I've been to Canal Street.

My girlfriend told me what to expect during the six train ride downtown:

"We're looking for someone on the street whispering 'Gucci', 'Louis Vuitton or just 'Purses'. Got it?"

"Got it," I replied, repeating the brand names like an oath. "Gucci, Louis Vuitton."

"Or Prada" she added.

Canal Street is in New York's Chinatown; a hotbed of illegal purse activity. It didn't take long to locate our first contact: after barely half a block a short man dressed head to toe in NorthFace apparel said "Lady, Purses, Ladies, Purse", going in and out of plurals. He said this only to female passersby; men were fodder to be sifted through. This being his day job(I guess) he looked bored(probably to attract the least attention...day job? I am so far removed from criminality).

My girlfriend parroted back his invitation. He opened one half of a grimy glass double-door, and motioned us through. We entered the underworld.

The underworld had a lot of screaming children running around. An old color TV sat atop a high-chair, serving as a makeshift obelisk surrounded by baby toys and their captivated owners. The kids shouted about stolen toys and who was a jerk-face. The man handed us off to a young, equally small woman. She led us to a glass door obscured by a black curtain hanging from the inside. She squatted to work the bottom lock, then the middle before opening the door, lifting the black curtain, and hurrying us inside with pinwheel spins of her forearm.

Inside, my girlfriend started looking over the wares. In neat organized rows -- covering every available square inch of wall space -- hung all the desired suspects: doppelgangers of Gucci, Coco Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. The room was small, barley bigger than my cubicle back in DC. The grey walls didn't reach the high ceiling, allowing the cacophony of the playing children to echo and mix with the Q&A my girlfriend was having with our host.

I was told earlier I wasn't supposed to act interested in any item, to help with bargaining. Even so, my girlfriend insisted on asking me what I thought about each potential purchase. If it was a test, I passed and failed depending on how distracted I was when asked.

A bag hanging in the top row caught my girlfriend's eye, and the woman hoisted it down with her metal purse grabber(not it's real name I'm sure, but this is the only context that I have for it). The make was Gucci and the style was "hobo", so called because of it's large size and low-slung style. What a cruel name; an urban luxury item named after people who can never afford it. If everyone followed that example, NorthFace would have "bum" style wintercoats and Urban Outfitters would sell "derelict" style loafers to hipsters who love spending hundreds of dollars to pretend being penniless. Swing a hobo bag in a Manhattan UO and you'll hit two or three trust-fund kids.

Anyway, after examining the bag my girlfriend asked if they had it in a different pattern. The woman said they did, whipping out a flip cellphone and -- after the familiar beep -- barked orders over it's walkie-talkie. Technology makes everything more effective, I thought. Even the illegal purse business. A confirmation reply came back; I could hear the echo of the man's real voice talking a few rooms over. Sure beats having to walk over there, lock the doors(you don't leave the room unlocked with only customers in it, I learned), ask about the bag, come back, and unlock the door again.

I tried to stand still and out of the way, but out of a protective habit kept close to my girlfriend. She told me she had done this alone many times. These were purses, not freshly cut kilos of fishscale. The woman and the man were physically unimposing. Wouldn't mean much if they had guns, though, would it?

After a long, fruitless semi-silent wait for the purse it was decided that the purses here were about ten dollars too expensive, and the quality was terrible. I concurred with confidence, fully ready to contradict myself if the desired purse suddenly appeared. It did, but too late as my girlfriend was out the door despite the woman's pleas to reconsider ("Hey lady, what price you pay? It's very good bag!", an ubiquitous line in the underground purse business I would later learn).

Emerging outside, we continued up the street. It was cold. The wind blew past us and froze me inside my coat, since I only wore a t-shirt under it and my scarf. I felt it was unfair trick of the coat, my girlfriend marveled that I had not died of pneumonia before meeting her. Our next contact was a homely looking lady with heavy eye make-up.

She led us down an alley, past a storefront and through a pair of huge sliding metal doors. Unlocking a large wooden door, she motioned us through saying "last door on the left". The hallway before us had four identical wooden doors on each side. The ceiling was high -- dripping flaked plaster -- and I could hear haggling over the hallway walls.

Inside the last room on the left, another short woman was already attending to two other couples. The women were both middle-aged, Long Island looking housewife types, their ballooned bottoms matching their husband's hanging paunch. They had manicured nails and trumped up hair to go with their dumpy sweats. They loved their purses, and their men dutifully waited. Outside of this potential police raid target, you would see them driving children to soccer practice, arguing with the sale's clerk at the GAP, or ordering lattes at Starbucks. Here, they were purchasers of contraband. I guess that made me and the other men accessories.

This room also proved too expensive. After two more rooms(one nestled behind a labyrinth of narrow stone stairs and halogen lit, winding white-brick catacomb-like hallways - I was certain at one point we'd fallen victim to the Western slave trade) my girlfriend finally settled on a black Gucci "hobo" bag.

My reward for being her shopping escort was warming up at a nearby Starbucks. Standing in line to order my trademark tall, skim, no-whip hot chocolate, I felt my girlfriend tug my arm. I lowered an ear.

"I don't want to freak you out, but look who is standing next to you..." she whispered. I glanced at the man to my right.

Jerry. Fucking. Springer. Who is taller than you would think.

Thus ended one of the stranger days of my life. Later, my girlfriend bought me some long-sleeved shirts and we had dinner, but nothing matched the adventure in Chinatown capped by an appearance by the Ringmaster himself.

Only in New York.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Quick Hits

Hardly anyone in the office today, though a couple more have trickled in, we are still at less than half strength. Nice and quiet. Too quiet...

Break it up with:
You could also read my latest review at Bigyawn, and some good ones by other writers . Happy Valentines Day bitches.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hey, It's That Guy! : Michael Wincott

"Hey, it's that guy!" - a declaration heard around countless television and movie screens and often followed with "You know, from [insert movie title here], he played the [insert memorable character actor role here]. You know, that guy. From that movie. Don't you remember? We talked about how great he was the entire car ride home!"

That guys get just as many blank stares as they do snaps of recognition. They deserve more recognition. That guys make movies more entertaining, believable, and memorable. Sometimes they carve out niche roles, and seeing that guy immediately centers you in a universe full of miscast superstars(like R. Lee Ermey, who started a very long that guy career with his role as a Marine Drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket), or they frequently steal the show from their more celebrated cast mates(like Henry Czerny, the that guy from Mission Impossible, Clear And Present Danger, and The Ice Storm).

Today, we recognize Michael Wincott. Please, hold your applause.

Wincott had completely slipped from my memory until I saw Seraphim Falls a month ago. He plays the same role I always remember him playing: a sinister henchman. The one that will surely die, but not until the third act.

I knew it was him before I saw him. Distracted -- situating the popcorn and the Reese's Pieces for maximum convenience -- he snapped me to attention with barely one and half syllables of his calling-card voice: deep, raspy, and deliberate. A voice with immediate character; an actor's dream. It stands every hair on your body, forcing you to swallow whatever you were about to say. And that's a hard swallow too; a lump that really fucking hurts going down. I'm a real son of a bitch, don't fuck with me his voice says.

He played Guy of Gisborne(a that guy literally playing a Guy, how poetic) in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, holding his own against Alan Rickman's wonderfully depraved Sheriff of Nottingham*. He reprised the role, for all intents and purposes, as the evil enforcer for Tim Curry's villainous Cardinal in The Three Musketeers, an otherwise forgettable film. Curry was entertaining, but Wincott's fellow that guy Oliver Platt(who is arguably no longer a that guy) was the only other source of entertainment with his boisterous Porthos. The movie helped catapult Chris O'Donnell to fame, making it indirectly responsible for the Batman franchise's temporary demise years later, and other cinematic crimes(In Love And War, The Bachelor).

Wincott's best performance was one of his only stints, to my knowledge, as a flick's top villian in The Crow. He played Top Dollar, the head of the film's eerie Gothic crime syndicate, and for the first time was given ample screen time to lay forth sadistic lines in his gravelled, yet smooth voice, the stones in his throat having been worn flat and polished by the Jack he no doubt used to wash down his six-pack-a-day habit**.

I'm not a huge fan of serial killer movies, but I'll have to see Along Came A Spider, since Wincott plays the main villain, Gary Soneji.

Today, aside from Seraphim Falls, Wincott does a lot of voice over work in video games like Halo and NARC. A perfect fit I'll admit, though I pray for the day I can watch him bedevil some poor superstar on the silver screen, and maybe if he's blessed with a cynical maverick for a director, he'll win.

A victory for that guys everywhere.

Michael Wincott, I salute you.

*One of my favorite lines of all time is from this movie, between Wincott and Rickman. After one of Robin Hood's many escapes, Rickman yells he'll cut out Robin Hood's heart with a spoon. Later:

Guy of Gisborne: Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?
Sheriff of Nottingham: Because it's DULL, you twit. It'll hurt more.

Pure Brilliance. Other great lines:

Sheriff of Nottingham: Wait a minute. Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it?
Scribe nods]
Sheriff of Nottingham: That's it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.


Azeem: How many are there?
Robin of Locksley: Twenty
Azeem: Twenty?
Bull: How many?
Robin of Locksley: Five.
to Azeem] Robin of Locksley: They can't count anyway


Sheriff of Nottingham: What a beautiful child. So young, so alive, so unaware of how precarious life can be. I had a very sad childhood, I'll tell you about it sometime. I never knew my parents; it's amazing I'm sane.


Azeem: Is there no sun in this cursed country? Which way is East?


Robin of Locksley
: And you. You travel ten thousand miles to save my life and leave me to be butchered.
Azeem: I fulfill my vows when I choose to.
Robin of Locksley: Which does not include prayer time, meal time, or any time I'm outnumbered six to one.
Azeem: You whine like a mule. You are still alive.


[after Robin Hood and Azeem are catapulted over a castle wall]
Will Scarlett: Fuck me! He cleared it.

**I have no idea if Wincott smokes or drinks. Here are some great lines from The Crow(though you have to hear them to really appreciate Wincott):

T-Bird: I got trouble. One of my crew got himself perished.
Top Dollar: Yeah, and who might that be?
T-Bird: Tin Tin, somebody stuck his blades in all his major organs in alphabetical order.
Top Dollar: Gentlemen, by all means, I think we ought to have an introspective moment of silence for poor ol' Tin Tin. [sniffs]


Top Dollar: Ya know, my daddy used to say every man's got a devil. And you can't rest 'til you find him... but if it's any consolation to you, you have put a smile on my face.


Top Dollar: Our friend T-bird won't be joining us this evening on account of a slight case of death.


gazing at falling-snow crystal ball containing a mini-cemetery] Top Dollar: Dad gave me this. Fifth birthday. He said, "Childhood's over the moment you know you're gonna die."


Eric Draven: I see you have made your decision, now let's see you enforce it.
Top Dollar: Aw, this is already boring the shit out of me. Kill 'im!


Grange: I saw him too. He had a guitar. He winked at me right before he jumped out a fourth floor window like he had wings.
Top Dollar: He winked at you?
Top Dollar: Musicians.

after shooting the crow] Top Dollar: Quick impression for you: Caw! Caw! Bang! Fuck, I'm dead!

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Year Of Music (from Last.FM)

On February ninth of last year I signed up for Last.Fm, a music service that tracks what you listen to and then recommends new music based on that data. The Last.Fm scrobbler has recorded nearly every track played in my iTunes for a year(though not on my iPod). 9,749 tracks later, and I have a lot of information that only interests me.

Here, for example, are my top 50 artists of the past year (number of songs played in parenthesis):

  1. 1. The Replacements (253)
  2. 2. The Wrens (193)
  3. 3. Pixies (169)
  4. 4. The Beatles (154)
  5. 5. Metallica , The White Stripes (153)
  6. 6. McLusky (137)
  7. 7. Modest Mouse (122)
  8. 8. The Flaming Lips , Queen (119)
  9. 9. Jimi Hendrix , Drive-By Truckers (116)
  10. 10. The Black Keys (104)
  11. 11. The Strokes (103)
  12. 12. Ryan Adams , The Redwalls (100)
  13. 13. Arctic Monkeys (96)
  14. 14. Led Zeppelin (90)
  15. 15. Eagles of Death Metal , Bob Dylan , Jesse Malin (85)
  16. 16. Broken Social Scene (84)
  17. 17. Bloc Party (81)
  18. 18. The Rakes (79)
  19. 19. Nirvana (78)
  20. 20. Yeah Yeah Yeahs , Sam Cooke (76)
  21. 21. The Coup (74)
  22. 22. AC/DC (73)
  23. 23. Johnny Cash (72)
  24. 24. Creedence Clearwater Revival (71)
  25. 25. The Rolling Stones (70)
  26. 26. Guns N' Roses (69)
  27. 27. Talib Kweli (67)
  28. 28. Elvis Presley , Sufjan Stevens , John Legend , Bright Eyes (66)
  29. 29. Aerosmith (65)
  30. 30. The Shins , Iron & Wine (64)
  31. 31. Spoon (62)
  32. 32. Pearl Jam (60)
  33. 33. Eagles (59)
  34. 34. The Spinto Band , The Arcade Fire (57)
  35. 35. My Morning Jacket , Stars , The Velvet Underground , The Ramones (56)
  36. 36. Sondre Lerche (54)
  37. 37. The Raconteurs (53)
  38. 38. Jet (52)
  39. 39. The Hold Steady , The Streets , Art Brut (51)
  40. 40. Wolfmother (50)
  41. 41. Coldplay , Iron Maiden (49)
  42. 42. Alice in Chains (48)
  43. 43. Ray Charles (47)
  44. 44. Queens of the Stone Age , The Magic Numbers , The Clash (46)
  45. 45. Frank Sinatra , Tool , Lupe Fiasco (43)
  46. 46. Q and Not U (42)
  47. 47. Ghostface , The Sounds , Destroyer , Cat Power , Kris Kristofferson (39)
  48. 48. The Black Crowes , Pink Floyd , Beck, Soundgarden (38)
  49. 49. The Killers , Pavement , Dinosaur Jr. , Young Love (37)
  50. 50. Wolf Parade , Bettye Lavette , Rhymefest (36)

I grouped tied artists together.

The top 10 isn't surprising; The Replacements and The Wrens are two of my favorite groups. The Replacements are so far ahead because I own more of their work(and they have a larger catalog, pre-dating the Wrens by about ten years) than I do the Wrens, and I play Tim and Let It Be at least once month.

It's good to see that artists from my salad days -- Metallica, Jimi Hendrix, Queen and The Beatles -- still make up a large part of my musical tastes. Outside the top ten, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Nirvana, CCR, The Rolling Stones, Guns N Roses, Elvis, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Eagles, Alice in Chains, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Tool, Pink Floyd, and Soundgarden bring a lot of memories to the Top 50.

Queen, Zeppelin, AC/DC, Floyd and their ilk were part of my typical American white adolescent "classic rock phase". During my junior and senior years of high school I worked a summer job with an older friend(he was in college), and he played nothing but these bands(plus a lot Heart, and for one week we listened to The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy on tape, as read by Douglas Adams; in many ways he was my mentor geek) in his beat up red Le Baron while he drove us to work every morning for two summers. I lived an innocent Happy Days existence to the Dazed And Confused soundtrack.

The Seattle bands felt monumentally important in the early nineties. I was thirteen when Nevermind hit, the perfect age to start buying music that you thought made some sort of statement about yourself and your place in the world. I wasn't sure what Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains records said exactly; in retrospect I think they added a stormier, grayer layer to the old rock 'n roll message that all adults where full of shit. Plus, I really dug the "Black Hole Sun" video.

Guns N Roses doesn't really fit into either of those two categories. You listened to them because they were fucking bad-ass. Up until The Spaghetti Incident, the Guns were the most Rock N' Roll of rock bands. I let a friend buy the aforementioned covers record, the entire idea seemed so fucking weird. We listened to it in his bedroom, and the next day I helped him take down his giant Appetite For Destruction poster and put up a Stone Temple Pilots concert poster and a Cindy Crawford poster in the revered space over his bed's headboard. Young idol-worship led to young disillusionment, and him sleeping with his head by the bedpost.

There are some interesting ties. Coldplay and Iron Maiden(excellent!)? I picture Bruce Dickinson punching Chris Martin in the balls and dropping him with a knee to his shiny dome.

Tool and Frank Sinatra? Sinatra may have been a little guy (5' 7"), but I'll take him against Maynard and the rest of his prog-metal rockers.

It'll be interesting to see how the list changes in the next year or so; who drops out, who moves up. I predict The Killers, Wolf Parade, Q and Not U, and Frank will all drop out for various reasons: slipping interest(The Killers), I only own one album(Sinatra, In The Wee Small Hours and Q and Not U No Kill No Beep Beep), or they just annoy me(Wolf Parade).

Who will move up? I have no idea, but I look forward to another year.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Power Trio

I'm not going to lie. My room almost froze Sunday night, what with losing power sometime around one in the morning(I gathered from the difference between the blinking alarm clock and my cellphone). The low that night was 11 degrees, the temperature in my room didn't feel any warmer Monday morning. I'm still sick and cold. The situation is dire and bleak. But I have a plan.

And now, I shall unveil it(with some help from my family for picking up some heavy duty extensions cords).

My Power Trio:

Heater One.

Heater Two.

Heater Three.

Between these three machines, I can sleep somewhat warmly. According to the digital readouts of Heater One and Heater Two, it's about 60 degrees now.

In a weird twist of fate, the next installment in my series of 2006 hidden musical gems is Mastodon's Blood Mountain, and I originally wrote this while freezing(as noted in the text). So, enjoy!

Artist: Mastodon
Album Title: Blood Mountain
Record Label: Reprise/Relapse
Release Date: 9.12.2006
Rating: 8.7
Bands Web Site: http://www.mastodonrocks.com/main.html
Sound: Heavy Metal, Alternative Metal

Similar Artists
: Killswitch Engage, Iron Maiden, Tool

Something is going to leap out of my closet,
I thought. Something is going to leap out of my dark, cold closet - a giant wolf, like the one from The Never Ending Story - and tear my throat out...and it will fucking rock. Listening to Mastodon's Blood Mountain in my unheated, cold dark apartment, these were the kind of thoughts I was having. Maybe it was a mild hypothermia induced delirium, or maybe it was just how immersing Mastodon's brand of heavy metal can be.

Blood Mountain is a concept album based around the trek up, well, a mountain, and all the scary shit you would endure and encounter. Upon first listening to the record, this might be hard to pick up. Bassist Troy Sanders' vocals are not the easiest to understand, especially when they wander too far into cliched "Cookie Monster" territory(Sanders actually sings on most tracks, though).

A feeling of eminent doom is layered throughout songs like "The Wolf Is Loose", "Sleeping Giant", and "Circle of Cysquatch". A Cysquatch, incidentally and for the curious, is "a one-eyed Sasquatch that can see into the future", according to Sanders. You know, kind of like the cyclops from Krull, only with lots more hair and a bad-ass soundtrack. One thing I love about bands like Mastodon; they take shit like this very seriously. Another thing I love about bands like Mastodon is they really, really play the hell out of their instruments. Not many bands can stand up to Mastodon's technical skill, from Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher's shredding guitars to Brann Dailor's mind-blowing drumming. They aren't afraid of diversifying their sound either, ranging from the blazing, Iron Maiden sounding epics to the eerie, melody driven songs featuring rich vocal harmonies, echoing Alice N Chains.

Even with my heat out, I was managing with a space heater. While I was listening to "Bladecatcher", though, the space heater shorted out the electricity to my room, right at the part when the song went over the edge with an assault of bizarre sharp sounding "vocals"(or at least I assumed it was the heater, maybe the fuse box just couldn't take one of Mastodon's more extreme tracks). Actually, the problem wasn't with the fuse so I listened to the rest of the album on my iPod, and as Mastodon blasted very epic, immense, unforgiving music it fit perfectly with the bleak white walls of my room, barely lit by the dim light of an overcast winter's day. I didn't know perfect music to freeze to death in your apartment existed, outside of whatever the hell was on the St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack.

Blood Mountain is a superbly constructed album. No song feels out of place, and the record not only holds up to repeated listens but actually makes you want to peel back it's dark, snowy layers. For their first record on new label Reprise, Mastodon hasn't dumbed anything down, in fact, this might be their best work

Friday, February 02, 2007

Music, Hidden Gems, Let My People Go

I've been very busy with my new side job, amateur record reviewer. You can read my to latest reviews at BigYawn: The Autumn Defense's S/T album, and "Too Young To Fight It" by Young Love.

In retrospect, I should have rated Young Love's effort a little lower. Only a third of the album really stood out - the other two thirds were one half mediocre and one half uninspiring dreck. Those four good ones I really liked, though, and it pushed the album's quality a little higher in my mind than it should have. Such is hindsight.

February may be a little late for sharing 2006's hidden gems, but punctuality has never been my strong suite. So, starting today, I'll post three albums you(maybe) and I missed out on in 2006. One of which would have been my number one album of the year - by Secretariat lengths - if I had heard it when it was released in August.

Here's the first, more to follow:

Darando, 'Let My People Go'

Artist: Darondo
Album Title: Let My People Go
Record Label: Ubiquity/Luv N' Haight
Release Date: 1.24.2006
Bands Web Site: http://www.ubiquityrecords.com/darondo.html
Sound: Soul, Funk R&B
Similar Artists
: Al Green, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone

John Legend
wasn't the only artist to release a beautiful piece of anachronistic music in 2006; little known(except to hardcore soul and funk devotees) singer Darondo's album Let My People Go sounds like Al Green circa 1972. Which makes sense since Al Green isn't just an influence of Darondo's, but a contemporary. Known only to San Francisco area musicians in the early seventies, Darondo was expected to be the next big thing in soul. Then, he simply disappeared from music. A rumored pimp and confirmed late night television host in San Francisco, it seems between Watergate and the death of Luther Vandross the man did everything but record music(even hosting a children's television show, Tapper The Rabbit).

Luckily for us, Darondo was resurrected by UK DJ Gilles Peterson when he took Darondo's single "Didn't I" and made it the opening track for his Digs America compilation. The renewed interest in the man who once rode around the bay area in a white Rolls Royce and wore only tailor made suits(a perfect man to be a musician; a player before there were playas) led label Luv N' Haight to compile the six tracks from Darondo's three early seventies singles that up until now, were the entirety of his musical output, and throw in three previously unreleased tracks. Lean without any filler at those nine tracks, Let My People Go is musical time capsule.

The title track itself is a nugget of past troubles, with Darondo's Green-like falsetto echoing the plight of his starving people, while fools in rocket ships pretend to be Superman. NASA hasn't been a scapegoat for progressives for some time, but it's still a fantastic put-down of our social priorities when forcefully delivered by Darondo, even if most of us are hearing it 25 years too late.

Darondo's social commentary begins and ends with that first track, however, and he gets right into the soul staples: lust, love, and longing. "Legs" crackles with sexiness, and whereas "Let My People Go" is more soul, this is where the funk kicks in. Throughout the record there are hints of funk, blues, and jazz. While this record does wear its influences on its sleeve(especially after 25 years to listen to Al Green and Sly Stone), at no time do you think "I've heard this before, done better". The man demonstrates himself to be a living instrument, not a cheap imitator. He delivers vocals reminiscent of not only the aforementioned Green and Ronald Isley, but also a latter day Marvin Gaye. Whatever the song, Darondo crafts his sweet voice to fit it.

Since none of the material here is new(Darondo provided backing vocals and some guitar for the unreleased tracks), this album wasn't widely considered among the top albums of 2006. A shame, but maybe that minor snub and the renaissance Darondo is enjoying will ultimately lead to some new material. Even if it takes three decades and an English record collector to emerge, I'll be waiting for that record.