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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So far away, we wait for the day

If you've ever played any of the Guitar Hero games, you'll probably be amazed by this clip brought to us by Robert Wilonsky. It's funny, I told Jason last night about how DragonForce's "Through the Fire and Flames" was on Guitar Hero III. Now this afternoon he forwards me this post. Very cool.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The New Blood

As I read Noel's rundown of all eleven (!) films in the Friday the 13th series (including Freddy vs. Jason), I thought about my days as a horror movie sequel fan. I never got to the point of seeing the Sleepaway Camp sequels, but there was a time when I wanted to see all of the movies in a series. Scream 2 had just come out and I loved it as much as the first Scream. So I figured this would be a worthwhile quest. Maybe my memory is hazy, but I think my quest began and ended with the Halloween series.

To recap: I had seen bits and pieces of the TV-version of the original Halloween (you know, with the extra scenes included) before watching the sixth entry, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. I figured I knew enough backstory from what I had seen in the first movie to get the gist of the sixth one. Turns out I was right even though I found the ending to be a big cliffhanger and a letdown because Donald Pleasance passed away before the film was released. Nevertheless, since I liked the film, I set out to see the rest of the series.

I checked out the original theatrical version of Halloween and loved it. My friend Tim told me the second film started right where the first one left off, so I hoped to see it soon. A few weeks later, in hopes of seeing Halloween II one night with my friends, I was a little put-off by the fact that we weren't going to watch it. For whatever reason (maybe it was checked out from Blockbuster), we watched Student Bodies instead and I was blown away. Still, I wanted to see II and I eventually did and dug it.

Being a huge fan of the series around this time, I even saw Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in a theater. It had to be great because it picked up right where the second one ended while completely looking beyond the Michael Myers-centric fourth, fifth and sixth entries. And I thought it was fantastic.

I think a year passed before Matt and I braved a viewing of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. We heard plenty of bad stuff about it and knew Michael Myers wasn't in it, but we wanted to see for ourselves. I think we both found the film bad and funny at the same time. A few years later, I saw it dubbed in Spanish and found it even more hilarious. I think it's the one movie out of the series that gets funnier with age.

Yet with age, the only Halloween movie that I care to watch is the original. I don't know what all works, but it still holds up very well. Maybe it's John Carpenter's angle of presenting Michael Myers as the kind of evil that never dies, I don't know. But the film is a classic to me. With all of the sequels, I find them to be repetitive and derivative of the original in some way. Once I realized this, it's never been the same.

I saw most of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers about a year ago and just could not get into them. I didn't bother seeing Halloween: Resurrection or even Rob Zombie's recent remake. Not to speak with a mouth full of sour grapes, but I just don't have the appetite for these kinds of sequels anymore.

I think the same applies to the Friday the 13th series, including the original. I saw Jason Goes to Hell years before I saw the original and I found it to be scary and gross. Then again, I was a high school freshman who had not really seen a horror movie before. When I finally saw the original (after seeing Halloween quite a few times), I saw the cheat the whole series (and most of the whole splatter genre) was: a bland take-off of a really cool movie. Maybe that's why I've been searching for other kinds of horror fare since.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gonna Fly Now

Recently taking a listen to Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino's commentary track on Hostel Part II, a lightbulb went on in my head. Discussing how Hostel Part II begins exactly where Hostel ends, Tarantino describes how he'd combine two movies onto one VHS tape and show them to friends. In one instance, he took Rocky, cut out the end credits and had Rocky II begin right away. Not only did I find that to be a pretty cool and fun thing to do, but I found something deeper with Tarantino's mention of Rocky.

If you're familiar with Tarantino, you've probably come to the conclusion he knows practically everything about almost every movie ever made. From the most obscure to the best known, he's probably seen them all (especially given his time working in video rental store). But what fascinates me is to hear a guy be so passionate about films in general, from the most commercial to the not-so commercial. And it's a good kind of fascination.

Now, maybe vocal moaners affected me more than open-minded folks, but for so long I thought most people who are passionate about film generally roped themselves off from any kind of commercial fare. For example, I'd hear about how The Matrix was a wimpy retread of Hong Kong films from the previous fifteen years. For people like myself who had never seen Hard Boiled or The Killer, I was uncool and unworthy in the eyes of the ones in the know. Once again, I have a hard time telling the difference between these conversations from the ones I heard in kindergarten.

I can understand the personal enjoyment of something when it's not so commonplace with people I don't really identify with. There's a pride in not following what the in-crowd appears to be into. Yet at the same time, there's this alienation from the world at large and it can get rather lonely.

Whenever I hear people around me talk about how they saw a really commercial movie over the weekend, a part of me wants to roll my eyes and be suspicious of their taste. It's so easy to and I must admit I have done this in the past. These days, I hear both ends of spectrum, but I see essentially the same thing: we all have our own reservations. There are those who thought Wild Hogs was a truly funny movie and could never fathom seeing Into the Wild because the main character dies at the end. Of course there's the exact reverse, but for me, there's no real formula for the kinds of films I like. I merely want to watch something I might get something out of. That "something" usually is a sense of depth. And it can come from watching The Muppet Movie, Eraserhead, Hostel or Lord of the Rings.

The peeling of onion I'm seeing is how common liking the ultra-commercial and the non- is. Looking at the queues belonging to friends of mine on Netflix, they're all over the place, just like how mine is. I think it's safe to say that I find comfort in knowing that it's not so off the wall to enjoy Undercover Brother, 28 Weeks Later and Knocked Up. Man, I wish I knew this back in college . . .

Friday, October 26, 2007

BIG book news . . .

. . . well, not so big, but I now have a MySpace page for my book. Feel free and send me a friend request. Stay tuned for more book info!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Punk Planet Reviewer Spotlights Part 3

from Punk Planet #77
Therapy?, Infernal Love
Ireland’s Therapy? was like a secret handshake in my high school. The few fans that I knew would say their name with a deepening of the voice and a widening of the eyes. This trio had something special going on, but nobody could really explain what exactly it was. Upon hearing Hats Off to the Insane and Troublegum, I think I knew what was up. Up until that point, Therapy? had a string of singles, mini-albums, and records that were very melodic and punky but also sounded like Prong and Helmet records. Yet on ’95’s Infernal Love, the cold industrial sounds were replaced by smoother sounds coupled with a wider scope of songwriting. From barnburners like “Stories” and “Misery” to the Police-like “Bad Mother” to the stellar singles of “Jude the Obscene” and “Loose” to the peaceful “Moment of Clarity,” Infernal Love is probably the band’s finest album start to finish. Also special of note is their strings-and-vocals version of Hüsker Dü’s “Diane.” Reworking the song like Nick Cave fronting the Kronos Quartet, the song goes to a much sinister place than the original ever did. The band released a handful of records after Infernal Love and is still going today. They’ve never reached above a secret handshake for many in the US, but for what they do, that’s quite alright.

from Punk Planet #78
Paul Westerberg, Eventually
I’ve come across way more people that prefer rough-and-tumble Westerberg than polished Westerberg. I’m not going to argue about which is better (“Kids Don’t Follow” is as great as “World Class Fad” in my book), but Eventually is one of Westerberg’s most consistent solo albums. Ten years after its release, it doesn’t sound a day old. The guitars, drums, keyboards and vocals still pack a punch and that’s pretty remarkable. Though the album gets a little dodgy in the middle, tracks like “Love Untold,” “Angels Walk” and the Byrds-like “These Are the Days” are killer. Fellow ’Mat Tommy Stinson makes an appearance on the funky party that is “Trumpet Clip.” “Good Day” is a heartfelt tribute to fellow ’Mat (and Tommy’s brother) Bob Stinson, who had died only a year before. Eventually is not adult contemporary schmaltz, but it’s definitely not drunken anarchy either. Westerberg’s critical hosannas as a solo artist came years later when he started making records in his basement. I can’t say this approach has made for the most qualitative material, but he hasn’t lost his knack for writing a heart-tugging rock song.

from Punk Planet #79
Stereophonics, Word Gets Around
In late ’97, I had enough of bands being praised as the next Oasis, Verve or Blur. So that’s my best excuse for why I rolled my eyes at the Stereophonics when I saw their “Traffic” video on 120 Minutes. I thought, “Here’s yet another band with a singer singing into a microphone positioned at his forehead instead of his mouth. Coupled with an anti-climactic ballad . . . No thanks!” Thankfully, when the band’s second album, Performance and Cocktails, came out stateside, V2 sent out a college radio sampler with tracks from both albums. Being immediately struck by Word Gets Around’s “Local Boy in the Photograph,” I wanted to hear more. Despite some lackluster records in the last few years, Word Gets Around and Performance and Cocktails are still really strong. But it’s Word Gets Around that I think of in the highest. Songs like “A Thousand Trees,” “More Life in a Tramps Vest,” “Not Up to You” and “Same Size Feet” tell of tales from small working class towns. Subjects like suicide, murder, affairs and pub life aren’t really that pleasing to hear about, but the band has a way of making them work in their tuneful songs. Frontman Kelly Jones has a raspy/bluesy voice that can turn people off, but I just can’t picture this stuff working with anyone else. This is definitely a record worth trading your copy of Be Here Now for.

from Punk Planet #80
Texas is the Reason – s/t EP
Consisting of three songs originally recorded as a demo, this is a fine introduction to this lauded New York post-hardcore band. In my case, it was more than just an introduction to a new band. When it came in a shipment at the big-box retailer I worked at, I was very curious. So curious that I bought it without even hearing a note beforehand. The liner notes, complete with its triple-photo band portrait on the back, didn’t look like anything I had seen from Revelation at the time. I thought they only released shout-y hardcore and fast pop-punk. So, somebody like Texas is the Reason was truly unique in its day to me. That led me to labelmates Sense Field and many other bands like them. This music was never hard, angry or bratty; it was something else. What exactly made up this “something else” category would have simpler names in later years, but the feeling remains whenever I go back to the source.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Punk Planet Reviewer Spotlights Part 2

from Punk Planet #73
Handsome – s/t
In a time well after grunge had lost its bite and before nü-metal became moronic and contrived, anything could go in major label hard rock in 1997. Comprised of ex-members of Helmet, Quicksand, Iceburn, Murphy’s Law and Cro-Mags, Handsome had an incredible amount of potential in this vacuum. Mixing the moody, detuned heaviness of their older bands with poppy melodies, Handsome presents a band with a lot of bang. With a blow-out-your-eardrums kind of mix, Handsome sounds very modern by today’s standards. The notable exception is that instead of the standard, sing-through-the-nose vocal technique that so many bands embrace today, vocalist Jeremy Chatelain projects a clear and aggressive voice devoid of sap. Plus, thanks to Terry Date’s production, the band sounds incredibly heavy, but not sloppy, muddy or cheesy. Though the band’s career was doomed early on (various band members made no bones about not getting along with each other in interviews), they held it together long enough to make something fantastic.

from Punk Planet #74
Tripping Daisy, Jesus Hits like the Atom Bomb
There was a time in the mid-’90s when industry insiders thought Dallas was going to be the next hotbed for alternative rock in the mainstream. The Toadies, Rev. Horton Heat and Tripping Daisy had hit records on major labels, but a citywide takeover (thankfully) did not happen. Though commercially ignored in its day, Tripping Daisy’s final record for Island really stands out as a highpoint of their career. In ’99, I had the pleasure of seeing the band perform for free on a sunny spring afternoon outside at TCU. Showcasing a number of songs from Jesus Hits like the Atom Bomb and songs that would eventually make up their final, self-titled album, Tripping Daisy won me over big time. Previously, I thought they were another goofy alternative rock band with one big hit. Seeing them play in this setting with this material convinced me to at least check out their then-new album. Utilizing keyboards, trumpet and multi-part vocal harmonies, Tripping Daisy hits a number of homeruns throughout these fifteen tracks. As far as some of its relevance today, if you want to understand how Tim DeLaughter went from fuzzy guitar rock to the symphonic circus that is the Polyphonic Spree, check this one out.

from Punk Planet #75
Chomsky, Onward Quirky Soldiers
Of all the bands I followed in college, Chomsky was a Dallas-based band that had a sound that was truly sans identifiable reference points. Though you might hear slight influences like XTC and the Police in spots, Chomsky’s music had flair of eccentric originality. Though the band had a few line-ups over the years, this era of the band was them at their best. Hearing Onward Quirky Soldiers now, I’m still not exactly sure why they are so special to me. This was a band I saw at least thirty times and never got tired of them. They could be a little goofy but that never got to the point where they were cheeseheads. With their dense melody lines and solid drumbeats as their meat and potatoes, Chomsky had a special formula that worked for this album and the one before it, A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life. They followed Soldiers up with Let’s Get to Second, an album that lacked the spark of yesteryear and as of this writing, the band is on indefinite hiatus. Not to sound defeated, but even if the band never reforms, at least they have two fantastic documents of this spark.

from Punk Planet #76
The Dambuilders, Against the Stars
Like a lot of records I spotlight in this space, Against the Stars is another criminally ignored album that you always see in the bargain bin. Other than some nice rotation on 120 Minutes with their “Burn This Bridge” video, Against the Stars disappeared as quickly as it arrived. I say that’s too bad because the band made a fantastic record that is smooth, catchy and rocking and is as relevant today as it was in 1997. Writing simple rock songs with nice augmentation with violin and keyboards, the Dambuilders were a band that could fit well in the Alternative Nation, but they weren’t as easy to grasp as the more teen-friendly bands were. Despite recording most of the record in drummer Kevin March’s basement, Against the Stars doesn’t sound like it was. Sure, there are moments where the guitars sound they came from a demo tape (see the chorus to “Break Up With Your Boyfriend”), but I’ve heard way worse. The Dambuilders would never make another record after this, but at least they went out with some sense of a bang with Against the Stars.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Overthrow Cock Rock and Idolize Your Girlfriend

Sad news to pass along about Lance Hahn, vocalist/guitarist for J Church. He passed away over the weekend. Here's a post on PunkNews.org with more information. Kyle posted the following bulletin on MySpace:

Hey everyone,

Word is rapidly spreading through the grapevine that Lance Hahn, founder and frontman of the beloved J Church, passed away today after a long illness. As a fan and friendly acquaintance of Lance's for 15 years, I'm crushed. J Church is one of my favorite bands, and their music occupies more space on my iPod than anyone else's--it should considering they released 10,549,420 albums.

Snd On Snd was truly honored to release a split 7" with J Church this year. While we're helping plan a memorial/benefit show, we want to help NOW. So, 100% of the proceeds from any order of our split will go to Lance's memorial fund. Send $6 (postage paid) via PayPal to Info@CMYKyle.com. You can also donate $$ directly at vulcanvideo.com. Please help!

We're already missing you, Lance...

Kyle & snd on snd


J Church was one of the most prolific bands of their time. In addition to seven proper albums, they released an astonishing four collections of songs originally appearing on vinyl singles. Hahn was the main songwriter and led the band through various line-ups. Truly a big loss.

UPDATE: Kyle wrote a very nice piece over at the AV Club.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Punk Planet Reviewer Spotlights Part 1

(Note: A regular feature for Punk Planet reviewers was a Reviewer Spotlight. The record had to be at least five years old, could be on a major label or indie, and could only be spotlighted once. With Punk Planet shutting its doors earlier this year, I figured I should preserve some more of my contributions by reposting clips on this blog. Enjoy!)

from Punk Planet #68
Ash, Nu-Clear Sounds
The Fair Warning/Ignorance is Bliss of their career, Ash’s Nu-Clear Sounds stands apart from their other records. The band’s pop-punk-by-way-of-grunge-upbringing took on a dirty lo-fi sound for their third LP, but Nu-Clear Sounds is still very worthwhile. Rockers (“Jesus Says,” “Wild Surf,” “Projects,” “Fortune Teller”) give way to pretty ballads (“Folk Song,” “I’m Gonna Fall”) while also boasting pure raunch (“Numbskull,” “Death Trip 21”), but it works. When the record was released stateside on DreamWorks (while the label also had Elliott Smith, Creeper Lagoon and Rollins Band on its roster), Ash fans I knew didn’t like it. Nevermind the fact that the sublime “A Life Less Ordinary” is a bonus track on the US edition, people told me that this wasn’t the Ash they loved. I’m not sure if my friends gave the record any more plays but I think they should (especially since Nu-Clear’s follow-up, Free All Angels, is very similar but with a more polished gloss). Ash continues to elude the masses in the US and their records get US distribution well after their UK release dates, but they are definitely worth hunting down. Highly recommended for people annoyed by kiddie-centric pop-punk.

from Punk Planet #69
Centro-matic, Redo the Stacks
Already a legend of sorts in the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton area, Centro-matic’s debut album demands more attention outside of the area. Boasting 22 tracks with songwriter Will Johnson playing almost all of the instruments himself, this is statement in lo-fi indie rock. The songs were recorded on a variety of things (from small tape recorders to multi-track machines) in a lot of different places (from a home studio to a small bedroom). You could complain about the crusty sound quality of some songs, but just like how people praise Guided by Voices’ lo-fi material, sound quality is second to song quality. A song like “Cannot Compete” offers a very intimate feel with just a ragged voice and acoustic guitar, drowned in tape hiss. Then there are full-on barnburners like “Parade of Choosers,” “Tied to the Trailer,” “Am I the Manager or Am I Not?” and “Hoist Up the Popular Ones” that recall the wild and fuzzy days of the Flaming Lips. Everything in between these extremes is represented on this disc and it laid the blueprint for Centro-matic’s music. While the band and its side-projects have released a number of solid releases, Redo the Stacks is the one that got the ball rolling.

from Punk Planet #70
Errortype:11, Amplified to Rock
Errortype:11 was only around for a few years in the late-’90s/early-’00s, but their second record is still a pearl. The funny thing is, I discovered this band purely by a mix-up of names: I thought they were Isotope 217. When I saw ET:11’s Crank EP in my college radio station’s “crap” box, I picked it up thinking I would hear some wild electronica. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by this rockin’ kind of hardcore. Amplified to Rock showed up at the station a few months later and I was even more impressed. The band delivered on the title track by avoiding rock and hardcore boundaries. (Yes, those are acoustic guitars, effects-laden guitar solos and gang handclaps that you’re hearing.) At only nine songs, most on-lookers could cry about sense of being short-changed. Well, when all nine songs slay, would you really want a couple extra songs that don’t? Vocalist/guitarist Arthur Shepherd’s strained voice perfectly fits in with the music: it’s not very abrasive nor is it very clear. John Agnello’s pristine sound quality gets high regards too: it’s glossier than the average hardcore record but it’s not glossy by major label standards. Amplified to Rock would be ET:11’s final album before the band essentially morphed into Instruction (who released their debut, God Doesn’t Care, in 2004). Compared to ET:11, Instruction is a cockier and angrier version of their former selves that is, unfortunately, less than desirable. Regardless, if you want to hear some great rock anthems, check out Amplified to Rock.

from Punk Planet #71
Kara’s Flowers, The Fourth World
You know the four ex-members of Kara’s Flowers as 4/5s of Maroon 5 these days, but before you groan about Maroon 5’s white-boy pop-funk, give this record a chance. Released well after the post-Weezer major label signing binge, Reprise unleashed this well-polished record that evokes the tuneful pop of Weezer and Superdrag. They say overproduction kills records but in this case, Rob Cavallo’s production raises the quality of these already snappy songs. Organs and strings augment the bright guitars, drums and vocals all for the better. The band did some touring and made an eye-catching video for their first (and only) single “Soap Disco” but then they disappeared. Though Kara’s Flowers were set to record a follow-up to The Fourth World, they found themselves label-less and decided to finish college. Apparently they fell in love with funk, soul and R&B in college and thus became Maroon 5, a band that my friend Nick once perfectly described as, “a boy band with instruments.” Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane is soulless funky pop right up the alley for those that think that music is a throwaway commodity. For me, The Fourth World is a great non-commodity in the world of alterna-pop rock. Hearing the same band that went from The Fourth World into Songs About Jane reminds me of a quote by Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall: “Everything our parents said was good is bad: sun, milk, red meat . . . college.”

from Punk Planet #72
Red Animal War, Breaking in an Angel
I always hear stories about how people feel drawn to go out of their way to help a band out because of a certain record or show. For me, that draw came from seeing Red Animal War play live in a renovated car garage in 1999. Seeing them play a powerful blend of post-hardcore and punk so convincingly inspired me to go out of my way to help them out in any way that I could. I had a radio show where I could have bands as guests on the air so I asked them to come by a few weeks later. It was something to at least to get their name out there. Luckily, Deep Elm signed them a short while later and released Breaking In An Angel in 2001. While the band went on to make strong efforts with Ed Rose and J. Robbins, I keep coming back to their first, self-produced album. I don’t think it’s because of nostalgia – it’s because these songs are still really fuckin’ good. While there are traces of Jawbox and Hot Water Music in their sound, the important distinction is that Breaking In An Angel isn’t stereotypical emo or post-hardcore of the day. Sure, there are jumbled rhythms, half-shouted vocals and non-traditional chords, but there is a vast amount of smooth, effortless approach in the delivery. This stuff isn’t too primal for post-hardcore categorization but it definitely isn’t disposable emo cheese.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Within Your Reach

Pretty much every one of the thirteen bands featured in Our Band Could Be Your Life deserves a full book devoted to them. The entire career of the few that never signed with a major label are well covered, but for the bands that did, I argue there's way more to tell. Not to make light of Azerrad's focus on the bands' independent label days; rather, certain bands' stories go in some interesting directions post-major labeldom.

If I were to narrow down the list, it would be Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and the Replacements. Sonic Youth's career was documented in Alec Foege's Confusion is Next, a book originally published in 1994. I've always thought there should be an update to Sonic Youth's story since a lot has happened since publication. But I strongly felt there was a need for books on the band formerly known as Dinosaur and the band often known as the Mats. Well, sometimes wishes get granted and proper books come together.

Jim Walsh, a friend and fellow musician that knew the Replacements from inception, compiled a book called The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting. Told in an oral history format, quotes were gathered from magazine and fanzine interviews from back in the day as well as new interviews. Band members, friends, family, neighbors, fans and the like are covered in what I hope will be a definitive account of the band. Judging by a recent excerpt in Minnesota Monthly, this looks very promising. Balancing stories about the band members' lives and experiences as well as talking about the music, Walsh definitely did his homework.

So here's to a noble effort to document one of the greatest bands of all time. Now, how's about a book detailing Dinosaur Jr's post-Lou Barlow years and miraculous reunion of the classic line-up?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Door in the Floor

I recently paid a visit to the new location of a Deep Ellum staple, the Door. Taking over the building where the Gypsy Tea Room once was, things weren't that much different, which was fine by me. I will say though: a few weeks before going to this show, I saw the rubble of the old Door location and kind of felt like Ben Kenobi when Alderaan was zapped in Star Wars. Nobody was killed in this case, but it felt like a lot of memories had been reduced down to almost nothing. And that is, for a lack of a better term, draining.

The old Door was the place where I saw the Get Up Kids attract a crowd that was double the venue's capacity. When I interviewed various members of the band for POST, they still remembered that show (especially the heat in the room). This was the venue where I saw Braid on their reunion tour and interviewed half of the band for my book. These are just some of my memories of the place as I saw plenty of great shows between 1999 and 2007.

Now, as mentioned in many local publications for the last couple of years, Deep Ellum is slowly transitioning into something else. What that is exactly, I'm not sure, other than a lot more lofts and office spaces are being built. With the home-buying market in a crisis, I'm wondering how much this is an effect on all these new spots people apparently want to buy. All I know is, my trips to Deep Ellum have been less and less for the past few years.

The way I see it, it is a shame to see one big hotspot be split up into various parts of town, but I've seen worse. In the town where I grew up (Houston), there's never been a centralized location of great bars and clubs for live music. Pretty much the places to go were Fitzgerald's and Numbers. So I was lucky to see the tail-end of Deep Ellum's heyday when I moved up to the D/FW area in 1998.

As far as I know, there's never been something like Seattle's Teen Dance Ordinance, where all-ages shows were, for the most part, banned city-wide. So Dallas has never been that bad. But the redeeming (and seemingly vanishing) value of Deep Ellum is its history. People have legit fears seeing historical places be surrounded by vacant yuppiedom. I have them too. And it gets scary sometimes, but at least there are still places to play in town and national touring bands still stop here. Maybe Dallas was just spoiled for a long time and it's been a slow and painful process of phasing out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Digital Ash

Last week, an extensive entry about the future of the music industry appeared on the New York Times' Freakonomics blog. A college professor, an author, a music producer and two label owners chimed in with their opinions for a refreshing and very well-done piece.

One quote by author Fredric Dannen really touched a nerve with me though. And I don't mean this in a negative way. Rather, it was the realization about a trend whenever there is a new, major advance in technology:
. . . consumers of recorded music will always embrace the format that provides the greatest convenience. No other factor — certainly not high fidelity — will move consumers substantially to change their listening and buying habits.

Amazing how this simple explanation explains the popularity of the eight-track, the four-track cassette, the Walkman, the MiniDisc, and the iPod. It even explains the popularity of the CD, but there's something I've never understood with those that, even after all these years, still prefer vinyl over CD.

As far back as I can remember, I started listening to music right around the time CDs came out. I heard vinyl records before CDs and frankly, I couldn't tell a difference in sound. Only years later did I tell a difference, but still found the compact disc the preferred format for a variety of reasons. Namely, even though the sound of a CD doesn't cut as deep a vinyl, I don't have to worry about pops and crackles with a CD. Plus, I can listen for 74-80 minutes straight without having to get up. The way I see it, it's a minor con with a lot of major pros.

Since my first CD purchases, I have been surrounded by CDs in my living situations. Frankly, I couldn't see myself selling off my CDs for the convenience of digital. The twenty gigs I have on my computer devoted to music are nice, but I don't have complete faith in digital just yet. Just a simple error with a computer could wipe out thousands of songs. And that's scary. Plus, it's hard for me to imagine listening to music all the time on the computer. Believe it or not, I find it hard to write while I have my iTunes going. But for some reason, I can write while I listen to a CD in my den's CD player. Hell, I even wrote the bulk of this post while listening to a Scott Walker mix CD.

Rounding back to the point at hand, yes, the convenience is what the consumer goes for. But in the case of the CD-to-digital conversion, I'm still very hesitant. But at least I don't have to worry about buying the same music again like when vinyl albums were phased out for CDs.

Monday, October 15, 2007

When Bland Questions Get Bland Answers

Word spread last Friday afternoon about an apparently bad interview with Sigur Ros on NPR's The Bryant Park Project. Prefaced that the interviewer still loves the band's music, he went on to write this:
. . . the band showed up promptly at 11am (EDT) and commenced to give what is possibly the worst interview in the history of electronic media.

Seriously.

It was that bad.

Right away, I'm thinking this is not going to be good. Didn't matter how bad the interview actually went; the claim about being "possibly the worst interview in the history of electronic media" rubs me the wrong way. It's just like whenever someone says anything is the "worst ever." Meaning, an exaggeration that makes something seem the worst of the worst when there has been way worse in our society's long and rich history. Besides, anytime a claim like this is made, there is usually a counter claim that this wasn't so bad after all. (I still stand behind the fact that there is nothing worse than terminal cancer, but I digress.)

So I watched almost three minutes of this five minute interview and found it to be a tough listen/watch. But I realized that the fault of this bad interview was not necessarily the band or the interviewer: it was the questions themselves. Here's a sampling with answers:

Did you start out playing this kind of music or did you start out as a more, regular sounding band and then did you go here as you experimented?

I dunno. I think we started playing out like this.

How do you guys create a song?

We sit down and create the song.

More questions rendered short, hushed answers:
Did you think you would be [a] band that would sell 2 million records?

Could you ever have imagined it would become this kind of phenomenon?

Are you enjoying life as a successful band? . . . Is it fun?

These are the kinds of questions that interviewers ask all the time, but I think they are a little bland. As a matter of fact, they're too bland. Softballs or even baseballs aren't being thrown here; they're set up like a T-ball game where the batters have to do most of the work.

I've heard interviews -- hell, even conducted interviews -- where the questions were very general in nature, but the interviews turned out fine. The band/band member played with the questions and was polite even if what we talked about just skimmed the surface. Yet ever since my college radio days, I've wanted to do more of a conversation that digs deeper into the person's life. That's just what I prefer to know and hear about.

Now, some people have sided with the interviewer saying the show was more for a "general audience" on NPR. I beg to differ. NPR carries such shows as Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion and Sound Opinions -- shows that are not for a general, lowest common denominator audience. In other words, it wouldn't seem far-fetched to ask Sigur Ros what kind of violin bow they use or how old their studio is.

I've come to realize that not everybody I interview is not going to be the most engaging person in an interview setting. No matter how extraordinary their work seems to me, some people just don't have a lot to say about it. With Sigur Ros, their music is way more interesting and it speaks for itself.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Light the candles . . .

. . . because this blog is three years old today. Regular posting returns next week.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hunting Bears

Following up on yesterday's post, I thought I'd share my feelings about another way of hearing In Rainbows: a web stream. Hearing a couple of tracks via NME.com's media player, I was reminded of how effective this can be. Seems archaic these days, but it can be a great alternative to all the endless hunting for a .zip file.

Sampling an album this way eliminates the worry about taking up precious hard drive space. Yes, I'm stingy about hard drive space because I don't have 250 gigs just waiting to be filled up. Though the bit rate is usually lower than 192kbps (the Radiohead tracks I heard were 128), I have an idea about whether or not I like the song. If I like what I hear, I'm more than likely to search for a CD-quality version of the album or even buy the CD itself.

And just to make myself clear: I don't mind previewing a song at a lower bit rate. I simply prefer to listen to a CD-quality version if I want to hear the song or album over and over again. But what factors into wanting to hear a song or album over and over again? All it takes is something to grab me. Sometimes it's just a small portion of a song. Sometimes listening to half of an album is enough for me. That's been the case with Wilco's last three albums and I bought every one thanks in part to the streams.

Yet in the case of bands who choose to stream their albums on MySpace, well, that's a different story. Maybe it's the MySpace player, but almost every song I've heard on there sounds like I'm listening through a wall with an aquarium in front of the stereo. In other words, the little nuances that make a song pop aren't there or heavily covered up.

All this said, I want to hear In Rainbows soon, but preferably in a CD-quality format. As much as I like almost everything the band has done, I don't listen to them as often as I used to. This isn't a situation of the band's music changing into total perplextion; I just don't find myself pining for it as much as I used to. Maybe now is a great opportunity to revisit.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

They say the future's beginning tonight . . .

I've been rather silent on the blog in regards to Radiohead's recent announcement about their seventh proper album, In Rainbows. To recap: if you want it in digital form, you name the price on how much you want to spend for it (and that includes $0). If you want it in double vinyl, you pay $81 after taxes and conversion fees and should receive it well before Christmas. If you want it in double-CD form, you'll have to wait until 2008.

As those who pre-ordered the album digitally await the e-mail that includes the album in a .zip file, an e-mail has circulated about the stats of the MP3 files themselves. They are DRM free, but there's a catch: they are at 160kbps, 32kbps below the standard, CD quality of 192. Now this makes things rather polarizing to me.

I think it's great how the band has given fans a lot of options. Servicing the ones who like the album in physical and digital formats, this plan beautifully bucks the way albums have been released. But the word about the 160kbps is a bit of a setback. And it's an annoying setback.

I know people who listen to a lot of music claim they can't tell the difference between 160 and 192, but I can. I've been aware ever since college as I took a listen to a CD-R combining Errortype: 11's Crank EP and Amplified to Rock. Comparing the sound on my CD-R with the CD I ripped the songs from, I noticed major fluttering/distortion when the band kicked into high gear. The guitar tone wavered more than usual, as did cymbal crashes. So, I've been a stickler for CD-quality MP3s ever since.

Yet there is the attitude that this is no big deal. Not a lot of people can tell the difference, so does this really matter? Well, it matters to me. Normally my stubbornness is based out of fear, but in this case, it's more about hearing an album the way the band wanted it to sound. What are your thoughts?

Monday, October 08, 2007

You can't be a spectator, oh no, you got to take your dreams and make them whole

A large piece of advice I'd give to anybody who wants to write a book, direct a film or write a screenplay is this: not everybody is going to "get" it. What's there to "get" and what's this "it" I'm referring to? Well, I'm referring to the non-believers who could really care less about what you're doing and the people who suggest significantly changing what you're doing in hopes it makes sense to them. There in lies a test to see how strong you feel about your material.

I wouldn't suggest saying such things as "Over my dead body." Rather, politely consider what he or she is saying, but still stick to your gut and your heart. It may seem scary to want that, but hear me out. Something about life in general keeps me going back to that line in Hot Water Music's "It's Hard to Know": live your heart and never follow.

I'm sure almost all of my favorite books and movies encountered numerous skeptics in the birthing process from idea to finished product. So, to frame this stuff in my mind, I present to you possible feedback some of my favorite authors and writer/directors probably received:

"Gee George, a space action movie that's kind of a throwback to the serials from the Forties? Nobody watches those anymore. Hell, nobody remembers them. Besides, heroes in movies these days aren't heroic; they're dark, crooked and have major weaknesses. Anyway, is this a kids' movie or a movie for adults still acting like children? Seems like that audience isn't very wide at all."

"Jim, why can't you make a feature-length movie just like how
The Muppet Show is? I mean, keep it on the stage and backstage with all the celebrity guests. A road movie with the Muppets just won't work."

"Jon, I think the script is funny, but could you make it more action-packed? How about setting it in Vegas? Does it really have to have all that mushy stuff in it? This is a gambling and partying movie, right?"

"Well Michael, these bands make for an interesting read, but none of them really broke through to the mainstream. How can you expect people who came in with Nirvana to really care about the bands that inspired them?"

This imagining can go on and on, but the point remains: get in touch with what your project is. You know the subject better than anyone else, so don't be surprised when someone -- who doesn't really know the topic at all -- suggests something outlandish. Besides, this is something you are attributed to with authorship, so you best well fight for what you want to fight for. It's worth everything in the long run.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Clap your hands if you want some more

Just a public service announcement: the Pipettes' We Are the Pipettes was released in North America this week. To my eyes and ears, it's proof positive that pop music 1) can still sound like it was cut by real human beings in a real studio, 2) be fun but not fluffy, and 3) be sexy but not slutty. It's worth your time to check them out if you agree.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on

A post on Idolator yesterday fueled more rumors about Journey's possible new frontman, Arnel Pineda. Reposting a picture of Pineda with the current members of Journey, this looks to be more than just a snapshot of a fan with his favorite band. Though no official statement has been made about the vocalist situation, speculation is running wild online.

Jess's Idolator post attached a clip of Pineda covering "Don't Stop Believin'" with his band the Zoo, along with the classic Journey line-up doing the same song back in the day. I must say I'm impressed with Pineda's abilities. Checking out other clips online, including this version of "Faithfully," I think he might be the right guy for the band.

Pineda clearly has the vocal chops and has paid his dues on the tribute band circuit. The deal is, for almost any other band, reaching a point like this is ripe for ridicule. Bands like Judas Priest and KISS have carried on in the past and present with people from the tribute band circuit. No matter how much it sounds like it was in its heyday, it all seems like a phoned-in paycheck. But in the case of Journey with post-Steve Perry vocalists Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto, the songs seem to overshadow whomever is singing them. How or why, I don't know, but it just does to me.

Journey's greatest hits still ring true for me even after all these years. I've always had a soft spot for the power ballads and rockers despite enjoying other kinds of music that were made in direct contrast of the so-called Seventies/Eighties corporate rock. No amount of cynicism, goofy-looking outfits or man-perms can really change that for me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Like sand through the hourglass . . .

Annie Hall: It's so clean out here.
Alvy Singer: That's because they don't throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.

As I've written before, I haven't had cable TV installed in my place of residence since '02. Even after all these years, I like not having the temptation to endlessly channel-hop. The amount of time that frees up to read a book, surf the Internet, watch a DVD and exercise is immense. And I'd like to keep it that way.

While there is plenty of great stuff on TV, so much else is -- not necessarily terrible, but -- easy to get hooked into. And that's where things really touch on a weakness I have.

Nevermind all the hours I spent watching cartoons as a kid or MTV as a teenager, but I distinctly remember watching USA one summer almost every single weekday. What was the hook in their mid-morning? Superior Court, Divorce Court and a similar-themed show whose name eludes me now.

Unlike The People's Court, these shows did not pretend to be real, although they positioned themselves as inspired by true events. Divorce Court even had a real-life judge named William B. Keene, so there was some sense of real justice being at work. I knew these shows were not the most enlightening, but hey, they were on. And they were very easy to watch and mock.

Much like watching Days of Our Lives while Marlena was possessed, the hook was it was so bad, but funny and hard to stop watching. Very similar to how I feel about most "reality" shows today, there's a reason why I don't watch this kind of stuff. I care more about John Belushi's career while reading Belushi or David Lynch's career in Lynch On Lynch than wondering which girl will win Rock of Love. Besides, that form of presentation often creates a false sense of caring. Frankly, that's not something I can fathom spending much time, energy and money for.

Am I missing something or are my views sounding more like Woody Allen's views on TV circa Annie Hall?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Half a million dollars will always be missed

The topic of Jackie Brown was recently brought up in a conversation I had with Nick. With his praising of the film after a recent viewing (on pan-and-scan VHS, no less), I got to thinking about filmmakers' careers. Moreover, the film that follows the career-making film and seems destined to disappoint and be tossed aside by fans and critics. This is beyond the simple premise of "the sophomore slump" as I've seen it with third, forth and fifth films. I'm simply trying to understand how the playing field can get manipulated and overshadow any follow-up, whether the film is good or bad.

Jackie Brown followed Pulp Fiction, the movie that -- in case you forgot -- elevated Quentin Tarantino from ace indie movie writer/director to the pop culture stratosphere. Releasing Jackie Brown in '97 after the Pulp Fiction buzz died down, the movie seemed to be quickly tossed aside by the public at large. It seemed as though the mass audience had written Tarantino off until '03's Kill Bill Vol. 1 arrived in theaters.

I've never seen Jackie Brown, but I do distinctly remember people close to me enjoying it when it first came out. Be it my Best Buy co-worker James coming into the store really pumped after he saw it or the large poster hanging up in Matt and Tim's apartment in Austin, this proved to me this was no "meh" of a movie. It wasn't the pop culture lightning rod that Pulp Fiction became, but so few films are lucky to ever become that.

Does it seem cruel to dismiss something this way? I think so, but I think it's very important to remember the context before passing judgment. It's easy to forget how high the stakes are raised. And it's easy to forget how any follow-up that's bigger or smaller isn't going to measure up with the vocal critics and fans.

As evidenced in a recent post, Richard Kelly's Southland Tales has been on my mind quite a bit. No matter how well (or poorly) it does theatrically, I guarantee there will be a mindset that will find it falling short of expectations. That's perfectly fine and understandble, but I should remind people that Donnie Darko was not a well-embraced movie right out of the gate. Playing theatrically in the US for only a few weeks, it gained its cult status after a healthy foreign box office and repeated viewings on DVD. Like the stories Kelly tells, there's a lot of zig-zagging going on, but the document on film is the pearl. Love it or leave it, the film's future home is on DVD and the format won't be vanishing anytime soon.

Rounding back around, Nick was the one that sold me on Donnie Darko. Maybe I should look into finally watching Jackie Brown.

Monday, October 01, 2007

To avoid fainting, keep repeating, 'It's only a movie'

I recently watched the theatrical version of The Exorcist (aka, not The Version You've Never Seen) with William Friedkin's commentary track on. Even with Friedkin's voice drowning out most of the dialogue and music, the film still terrified me. Those fast cuts, spooky lighting, and demonic images still make for one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. But I still think the movie is fantastic for its look at religion and good versus evil. Thus leading me to a weird spot: do I really want to watch a great movie even though it's rather unsettling to watch? I say yes, but with reservations.

The AV Club compiled a list of 24 films that, while great, are painful to watch again and again. For the ones I have seen (Requiem for a Dream, Straw Dogs, Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple and The Last House on the Left), I concur. Seeing the lives of protagonists worsen because of drug addiction, innocent women be raped and/or murdered, and hearing audio of people dying from poisoned Kool-Aid is not what I consider criteria for an enjoyable movie-watching experience. (There's a reason why Requiem is the only movie on that list that I've seen a few times.)

Yet I'm not someone who thinks movies should only entertain and make me to turn my brain off. Quite the opposite: I like movies where I feel something -- from sadness to happiness -- and not in fluffy, cotton-candy ways.

Jonestown in particular makes me wonder what scares me more: fictional horror films or tragic documentaries. I can suspend disbelief when there's an unkillable monster on the loose named Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees. I can't with seeing the few Jonestown survivors describe the final hours of the temple.

I boil my movie-watching down to movies that I can watch at any time and in any mood and those that I can't. Most of the aforementioned movies fall into the latter. For example, I can't watch The Exorcist at night with the lights out because I will have trouble falling asleep. In addition, I can't have much food in my system as I watch green vomit come out of a possessed child (not to mention that scene where the syringe goes into her neck).

The average movie-watcher does not want to feel challenged with a movie. I don't think that notion is something to frown upon; that's not how every movie is made. In my case, some of my all time favorite movies are Star Wars, The Muppet Movie, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Student Bodies, American Graffiti, American Splendor and Kevin Smith's movies. So I doubt this attitude will change in the foreseeable future.