Friday, December 14, 2007

Facebook applications: into the 17th century and beyond!

"Friends for Sale?"
"Rate my Friends?"
"Human Pets?"

All of these Facebook applications are getting a bit tiresome, increasingly profoundly ridiculous, and now even offensive.

I was invited by a "friend" (the term itself is beginning to lose all of its meaning I'm afraid, due to this social networking conglomerate) to install an application that lets me assign a monetary value to other "friends" and, in turn, buy and sell said friends. "Hmmm," I pondered, "as fun and entertaining electronic human trafficking seems, I think I'll pass." Another application allows you to collect, and trade "friends" using "Human Pets." I don't feel I'm being indulgent or over-dramatic when I think it's this and other applications like this that are becoming truly offensive when they share certain damaging, extraordinarily shameful qualities with the pre-Civil-War United States South.

That being said, I do enjoy some of these seemingly harmless, borderline-intelligible applications, so theoretically you could go calling me a hypocrite. (You'll notice I added the "Philosophers" application moments ago, enjoying every moment of it.) Am I in a negative, pessimistic mood as I'm writing this? On the contrary. (I just finished an exam in which I mopped the floor with Enlightenment philosophy and the French Revolution. Take that, HIS 2336!)

However, I feel it is difficult to refute there is something truly sad, and wrong about these mind-numbing human-objectifying trafficking applications. So please don't go rating, trading, or purchasing me.

In other, music-related news: Listen to Serge Gainsbourg. For the love of all that is sacred, LISTEN to Serge Gainsbourg.

- Zotch

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

MUSIC: Gazette Review - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

This is a highly advanced album.

Josh Ritter’s follow up to last year’s The Animal Years does it all. It jumps, flips, jabs, prods, pokes and plunders the brain in ways you never thought possible. The only thing it does not do, fortunately, is disappoint.

Ritter’s lyrics remain sharply honed, examining affairs both political and of the heart, from lovers (Or are they?) in a bomb shelter at the end of the world [literally] (“The Temptation of Adam”) to a bareback riding Casanova of the old west (“The Next to the Last Romantic”). The lyrical theme of the album seems to be “love is sometimes tough for a genuinely nice guy,” although that could just be part of Ritter’s natural charm that comes through in his songs (or my penchant for singer-songwriters who seem vaguely Irish).

Musically, things have never been weirder. It’s difficult to write on a specific point of comparison, not only because of the musical diversity on the record, but because of the fresh perspective Ritter brings to all of those familiar classic rock and roll influences. The only thing that any of these tracks have in common is how different (and entertaining) they all are.

If anyone ever refers to this as a “concept album,” please take this author’s word for it that despite any presumptions you have about that sort of thing, it will be one of your top musical purchase of 2007 (unless you happen to buy a Bouzouki, which would be pretty damn cool.).

The only possible label to put on this music, to borrow a phrase, is “Classic Rock of the Future.” (But I’m sure they’ll still file it under “Folk-Rock”)

Friday, August 17, 2007

MUSIC: Growing Pains

I will assume for the purposes of this writing that at least a few people who are reading this that collect records (AKA CDs/Tapes/LPs, whatever). The mindset of this kind of person (and I include myself) is that when you find an artist that you like, you will purchase most records that they put out, regardless of any inconsistent critical favour. This habit for me started in high school, at the outset of my first McJob when I realized I could spend all this money I was getting on music. If I liked The Colour and the Shape by the Foo Fighters, I had every reason to buy One By One and every other record by them. (However, that example is perhaps a bit "cooler" than was typically the case, for the purposes of not embarassing myself.)

Since this happened in high school, and I have grown a bit in terms of maturity and taste (as you all have as well). The artists that wrote all of my favourite songs, as strange as it may seem, have also grown, albeit through different life stages (This is not always the case, as Billy Corgan always believed he was a fucking genius.). Consequently, they're going to keep putting out records that reflect their current emotional state. In some unfortunate cases, these emotional states are motivated primarily by money, but this is not the case that I am talking about specifically.

So, you go off to college and a band you liked in high school comes out with a new CD. But since their last CD, you've discovered tons of new material that is much more artistically challenging, and better reflects your current existence. You like this band, but they're not your holy grail.

It's like buying Weezer's Make Believe (Which I haven't yet, partially prompting this writing) after you've gotten into Tom Waits. There's nothing particularly bad about the album, but they no longer occupy the same space on your "My 50 Favourite Bands" list (Come to think of it, I should write one of those, just to satiate my own curiosity in 20 years.).

(Speaking of Weezer, what the hell is with them claiming that they are either breaking up or 'have written and are demoing 8000 new songs' after every album?)

There are however, bands whose output changes drastically with time. Or maybe it doesn't, but you change the point where their current artistic (irony-quotes omitted) output is kind of alienating, and maybe even insulting to your past associations with them. It's like being friends with a quasi-outgoing sort of person who liked intelligent punk rock, and was maybe a little too much into Chomsky.

You meanwhile leave town, and eventually come back for Thanksgiving/Christmas/Etc., and decide to call this person up. They have since stopped reading altogether, don't really listen to anything worth noting and do nothing but smoke pot and play GTA all day in their parent's basement.

I will buy bad records by artists that I love if I think they are going to go somewhere interesting eventually. But there comes a point where you have to sever ties with crappy music from your past. I have a few bands that I'm still toting around in my head, thinking "I still don't have their newest album...", with part of me knowing that it will never happen. It's the equivalent of "taking a break" in a relationship, or falling out of touch with old friends. It's most likely not going to start up again, and I'll probably never buy another Unwritten Law album.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

FILM: There's a 9 Dollar Hole In My Head

The following is a list of movies that someone made this year, expecting someone else to pay to watch...
This year, I'm approaching September a lot like how I approach the hours between 9 and 10 AM after a night of drinking: groggy, sweaty, and hell bent on never, ever, doing that again. Why? Because this summer's blockbuster movie season has, for all intents and purposes, left me with a giant gapping hole where my brain used to be. The mere fact that my cranium now resembles something like an empty (and hairy) punch bowl is of very little consequence to Mr. Warner or his rat-bastard brother, Mr. Bros. As they light their money rolled cigars with money wrapped lighters which emit money-based flames, I wonder if they realize that now, more than ever, they completely, and utterly, suck.

I say this because I believe movies have no soul. Not that they ever did. In fact if ever there was something that was completely bereft of a soul, it's the miles and miles of celluloid we make race for us for 9 dollars. But now when I slip comfortably into my Coming Soon mode at the local Galaxy, I can't help but feel that there's something even less in the movies than before. I watch the previews and find myself getting unbearably angry at the dribble, the faux-sensation, the "one-ordinary-man-in-extraordinary-circumstances" this and "isn't-it-funny-how-these-two-characters-are-so-unalike-but-damn-they-better-
get-along-or-else-they'll-never-_____" that. I can't bloody well take it much more to be honest. I find myself not only witnessing a thing without a soul, but feel my own dying - slowly at first, and then as the not-so-clever pun above the release date winks it's smarmy asshole at me, it speeds up and my everything crashes all around me only to be built up once more for the next trailer. Except each time my soul is weakened, vulnerable, and can't stand as much punishment. It'd make a pretty epic movie if that story line weren't so god-damn-beaten to death.

It's the concept of the Swiz, really; one of those old fashioned phrases you'd expect to hear someone in an old-fashioned movie (hey...) say. By definition (who's exactly, I'm not sure), a Swiz is something that appears to be giving to you, but is in actual fact taking something away. A useful hint here would be to picture a cow at a milking farm. To the cow, they are being provided with shelter, grain, and although it has never been witnessed by farmer eyes, a wicked spot to rave when the humans go to bed. But for the farmer, they're getting a sweet deal. They're taking the milk, making mad cheddah (monetary and dairy types alike), and won't stop till the cows come... oh...

A crude analogy, perhaps, but you get the idea. When you strap yourself into the movie theatre expecting to receive all the wonders the dude with the voice in the trailer promised, you realize he is a liar. And liars get their nads kicked.

So, fellow cows, let's think about our situation a minute. Movies today have no soul, meaning that they are bereft of meaning, provide no substance, and enrich our lives to the smallest degree that I've enjoyed mosquito bites more. They're sequels and carbon copies of originals which are adapted screenplays themselves. They're not artistic, they're made solely to make money, and are completely unconcerned as to whether or not you remember them. Most frustratingly, they leave you feeling like so much more could have been done with your time. The grain, per se, sucks.

Does this mean that there aren't bad movies every year? No, of course not. Does this mean that there won't continue to be bad movies in the future? P-lease! But was 2007 ESPECIALLY bad? Yes. Dear God Yes it was, and I hope you're nodding your head in agreement right now thinking back to that time you bought a ticket to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and heard a tiny scream emit from somewhere deep inside you. That was your soul, and the movies have killed it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

MUSIC: Hospital Music Review

Matthew Good's long awaited Hospital Music is finally here. Surprisingly enough, it's not doing too bad on the charts already. Why is this surprising, you ask? (Please take note at this time that I am a devoted Good fanboy who has followed his music and writings since 2001's The Audio of Being. So, SPOILER: I dug it.)

Mr. Good has created a starkly honest record about the tumultuous last year of his life. Dealing with all of those terrible things that start with "D" (namely divorce, drug addiction, disease, death and general despair) had taken a toll on him that needed to be expressed. The record itself can be primarily described as cathartic, to say the least.

Sounds like it could be shaping up to be a Roger-Waters-esque rock-opera? Not entirely, although it does contain some bits that resemble other works like that.

Although many of the songs are based on very specific incidences, they speak to larger more universal themes that I can imagine will have a profound effect on those who have been through similar circumstances. What I can't imagine is the alienation that one goes through during an ordeal such as this.

Dealing with his failing relationship with the former Mrs. Good, the artist is surprisingly revealing (and has been in other forms for the past year) in the songs Metal Airplanes and She's In It For the Money. The former song is one that plays on the eventual realization in many relationships that you may not be as righteous as you think, and I think that's a particularly far-reaching and powerful statement to make. And although many will take the latter's lyrics at face value ("She's a money grubbing whore"), that could apply to anyone who dates/sees/marries someone with a condition like this. I can't imagine looking up from that hospital bed and seeing the look in her eyes that says "I didn't sign on for this."

While most of the songs deal with the aforementioned "D" word, that's not to say that it's all depressing. When I said that there were parts that resembled a rock-opera, I was thinking in particular of The Boy Come Home, which seems to be about Good returning to his parent's home for a period of time. There is a definite change in the album at that point, with a shifting tone moving more towards optimism (The Devil's In Your Details (although I could be way out to lunch on this one)).

I would have assumed that the two cover songs included on the record would stick out like a sore thumb, but I am happily mistaken. The Dead Kennedy's Moon Over Marin and the late Daniel Johnston's album-closer True Love Will Find You In The End fit perfectly in the framework of the record.

Production wise, the album is a complete departure. Self-produced and (mostly) self-performed, Mr. Good manages to make the rough-around-the-edges aesthetic work to his advantage, and it's something I look forward to in the future.

All in all, this is the kind of record that separates an artist from his contemporaries. If this doesn't translate into album sales, then that is a shame.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

MUSIC: The Saddest Music In The World

As my introduction to the blog, instead of telling you my favourite t-shirt or the last fast food meal I ate, I decided to take a cue from Guy Maddin's film The Saddest Music In The World.

What is truly the saddest music in the world?

Now there's a difference between sad and bitter. Sadness, in my eyes, is about loss. A sorrow that cannot be hidden or "forced". To a musician, such unhappiness is usually a blessing and a curse.

We have lost many a beloved depressing idol (Nick Drake, Jim Morrison, Elliott Smith) and have nearly lost many others such as Matthew Good, Cat Power and Trent Reznor.

The goal of this post is not to dwell on how much of a bummer Nine Inch Nails are at their best. Nor am I here to tell you my favourite Nirvana songs.

I have selected 25 essential depressing cuts that speak to me on some previously unheard of level. Now before I begin and people start to disagree with me, I want to state that these are cuts from my personal collection.

My selections tend to favour North American artists; however I've tried to keep my search as wide as I could given certain limitations.

I would love to hear about the picks of everyone who visits here, so simply email me or post here with any suggestions. Being an avid music fan, I will likely (as long as you put it nicely) listen to your recommendations.

And because I'm in an extra good mood I have available here a podcast which includes the Top 10 Saddest Songs on my list.

Enough said. Let the countdown begin.


25. I've Been Thinking (Handsome Boy Modeling School feat. Cat Power)

This collaboration between Cat Power and Dan The Automator (Gorillaz, Deltron 3030) proves one of the most fruitful ones on Handsome Boy Modeling School's latest LP White People. Chan Marshall contemplates the state of her relationship in such a sexy, suave way that it would make Feist jealous. The rainy-day vibe, a la Riders On The Storm, guarantees this song's inclusion on this countdown.

24. Non-Zero Possibility (At The Drive-In)

Being the last cut on At The Drive-In's last album Relationship Of Command, this song gets me every time. How I wish I had written this song. The punk attitude gets a literate treatment and as much as people knock Cedric Bixler Zavala's lyrics for being too nonsensical, the line "let's just paint you a pretty face" should be as well-known as Trent's "I hurt myself today". Even though the band was falling apart during the making of this album, that fact allowed them to reach ever greater heights.

23. Dead Meat (Sean Lennon)

I'll be the first to admit Lennon's latest album Friendly Fire was certainly not worth the 8 year wait. This being said, being the son of the ridiculously talented John Lennon and Yoko Ono, some talent's bound to rub off. "Dead Meat" is Lennon's send-off to his ex-girlfriend Bijou Philips, who weirdly enough, sings back-up vocals on the track. This is an expertly constructed song filled with passion and is one of the best songs of 2006.

22. Take You On A Cruise (Interpol)

I'm not exactly sure how Interpol can be completely engaging yet a tad bit disappointing at the same time. Much like Damon Albarn of Blur fame, I believe these guys still haven't written their best material. Their live shows often boast identical setlists for months on end, but they weather the criticism and Joy Division jokes to make incredible rock songs. "Take You On A Cruise" is a beautiful lullaby drowning in guitars and reverb that is better than any drug.

21. Parting Ways (Pearl Jam)

Here we go, I'll say it. Eddie Vedder is the emo artist of the 90's. And what happened to one of the 90's biggest icons when the decade came to an end? His relationship with his then-wife Beth Liebling came to a bitter halt. And although he's "too big a man to say" he knew they'd soon be parting ways.

20. Asleep (The Smiths)

I'm sure this song could bum even Andy Dick out. Mr. Self-Deprication (a.k.a. Morrissey) is the poster boy for these kinds of lists and it just wouldn't feel right without him. What was the B-side to "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" turns out to be the real winner and one of The Smiths' best songs.

19. Afraid Not Scared (Ryan Adams)

Not being as big a Ryan Adams fan as many of my friends doesn't stop me from recognizing the genius in much of this man's work. I recently read his celebrity playlist for iTunes which was loaded with hip-hop. I first thought this was really weird, but after giving Love Is Hell another listen, I realize that Adams probably listens to agressive music to allow himself to write the many haunting ballads he is arguably best known for. The man sums it up best himself; it sounds "like someone possessed".

18. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)

Forget all the Sgt. Pepper's hype for a minute. I believe The Beatles self-titled "white album" captures them at their best. After watching the film Concert For George that captures an all-star tribute to the songs of George Harrison, I was reminded of how much of a gem this song is. Paul McCartney on piano. Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Songs shouldn't be allowed to be this good. It depresses the rest of us.

17. Seule (Patton / Kaada)

This short-lived collaboration between Norwegian icon John Kaada and the schizophrenic musical mastermind Mike Patton (ex-Faith No More, Peeping Tom) produced a song so potent with death that it sounds like a 3-minute funeral. And I'm inclined to have this play on repeat for a while.

16. The End (The Doors)

Without even having seen Apocalypse Now, this song should still be able to resonate with all music fans. All it took to ensure The Door's legacy is a story that includes references to the oedipus complex. This song shows us why The Doors still matter today. Now if only I could shake the memories of Ian Astbury singing this.

15. The Slaughter (John Frusciante feat. Flea)

I just wanted start by saying if I were to ever pick a favourite song, this might be it. A depressive vibe isn't the only thing it has going for it. That explains its place here at number fifteen. This song represents what the Red Hot Chili Peppers would sound like without their weakest link (Anthony Kiedis). I take this song literally as John's explanation of his breakup with actress Milla Jovovich. But its greatness is not contained to the reality of John's situation at the time. John sounds more emotionally complicated than I've ever heard him. And he's certainly not one to shy away from sharing his feelings. Brian Wilson-esque harmonies, Depeche Mode synth parts and standup bass. Oh, and this song has both real drums courtesy of Chad Smith and a programmed beat. I could go on forever so I'll just stop now.

14. Concerto De Aranjuez (Francis Goya)

It's weird how I came upon this guy. It was mostly by accident. I was looking for music that sounded Mexican and this Belgian artist came up. I was blown away by the passion he plays with and the emotional highs he can reach given only a short time-frame. I dare you to find a song this sexy and sad.

13. Grapefruit Moon (Tom Waits)

"Everytime I hear that melody, something breaks inside
And the grapefruit moon, one star shining, is more than I can hide."

Along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits has to be one of the greatest living poets. Here's the thing though, he's also a incredibly skilled musician. "Grapefruit Moon" appears on his debut album Closing Time, and even though I enjoy all things Waits, this song should have been way more popular. Maybe it's just best as a secret in the Waits community. If you haven't heard this, you don't know what you're missing. Even though you'll feel like a moping regular in the local piano bar, you'll be hearing some of the finest music there is to hear.

12. Avalanche (Matthew Good)

I don't know what it is about avalanches. They inspire the best of us. A total of three artists on this list have all written songs with Avalanche in the title (in case you're wondering, the other two are Ryan Adams and Sufjan Stevens). Matthew Good has recently shed some light on his emotional state during the making of his debut solo album Avalanche on his blog. It's a depressing read, but it's good. Matt has taken the time to shed light on bipolar disorder as it affects many people who don't even know about it. Back to the song "Avalanche"; this marked a new complexity in song-writing for Good. The song builds and then dissolves to come full circle back to the first line and melody. Based on a few listens, Good's new album Hospital Music (which is available everywhere July 31st) proves even more promising than this.

11. Battery In Your Leg (Blur)

The last song Blur's original lineup ever recorded together. Guitarist Graham Coxon (also an accomplished solo act) wrote a haunting riff that digs the band's grave. Since Think Tank, Blur have decided to record again (with Coxon), but the skeptics insist that Think Tank will never be lived up to. Lead singer Damon Albarn has said the lyrics to this song are written about the state of the band, a kind of ceremonial love song saying goodbye to Coxon after they grew apart.

10. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead (Stars as remixed by Final Fantasy)

This first Canadian entry on the countdown hits with twice the emotional punch. Final Fantasy (a.k.a. Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire fame) puts his subtle, melodic touch on a song that was already great. This song eliminates the grandiose feel of the original with sparse piano parts and carefully crafted violin harmonies. This is a remix that works, which is a rare occurance. Too bad Final Fantasy is the only one Stars should have trusted to remix their songs on their album Do You Trust Your Friends?.

9. Poke A Pal (Mugison)

Icelandic singer/songwriter Mugison is part of a dying breed. Pop musicians that make albums, not just filler noise. Mugison's story is engaging in its own right (he was considered "handicapped" because he couldn't write things down logically) but his music stands above any image that could be created. Thanks to Mike Patton's recommendation on a French radio show, I checked out this man's catalogue. If anyone is interested, most of his stuff is available as a free download on his website. I don't know how he makes money, but I don't think he cares. For Mugison, it's all about the songs, and "Poke A Pal" is outstanding.

8. The Needle And The Damage Done (Neil Young)

Harvest to this day remains a folk gem. "The Needle And The Damage Done" makes me proud to be Canadian. Neil Young can do more with a guitar and a microphone than most current bands today. A song that touches on the abuse of drugs, as is fairly obvious, it hurts to hear Neil Young hurt.

7. Already Dead (Beck)

Look only at the title and you'll know that Beck is a mess in this song. The end of a tumultuous 9-year relationship must be a bummer. I can picture a bed-ridden Beck calling Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) and asking him to come over. The "bendy" guitar solo in this is also haunting as hell. Sea Change is Beck's singer/songwriter album and while I don't wish a breakup upon anyone, I wonder if Beck will ever be this good again.

6. Twilight (Elliott Smith)

In case you didn't know, Elliott Smith took his own life. Perhaps the 90's answer to Nick Drake, it was apparent Smith felt really out of place. You can't argue with the appeal of this song, released posthumously on his album From A Basement On The Hill. I have a friend who, according to his iTunes count, has listen to this song the equivalent of over two days. That's impressive longevity.

5. Crowd Surf Off A Cliff (Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton)

The Metric front-woman's side project seems to matter so much more than her day job it's weird. Critics like the Toronto Star's Ben Rayner will probably disagree with me, but this is Haines at her best. She doesn't need loud alt-rock riffs to feel at home. The daughter of the acclaimed poet Paul Haines, Emily's literate side really rears its head here.

4. John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (Sufjan Stevens)

Ambitious is a word often associated with Sufjan Stevens. But writing a pretty song about a child-rapist that makes us feel his guilt? That's damn near unheard of. This ballad off Sufjan's award winning Illinois album is so creepy but brilliantly arranged and written most will love it, but won't want to listen again. The thought is just too scary.

3. One Hundred Years (The Cure)

What would a list like this be without The Cure, one of the most influential bands of the planet? It's a shame they mostly influence shit like Fallout Boy, but they are truly Gods at what they do. A song that includes the lyrics "waiting for the death blow", "it doesn't matter if we all die" sung over a bass-heavy hypnotic riff is a winner in my books. And don't think The Cure have gotten sick of this song. This first track off Pornography has been played on every tour since its release.

2. Street Spirit (Radiohead)

Thom Yorke says to "immerse yourself in love" at the end of this song. What's the point, Thom? I can't even think about love when listening to this song. Yorke has said "Street Spirit", unlike their other depressing material, "has no resolve". Maybe it's good I don't listen to this too intensely. They lost me at "cracked eggs, dead birds".

1. Fire And Rain (James Taylor)

What could be more depressing than Radiohead? James Taylor? Before your write me an angry email, consider this. James Taylor tells the story of his friend Suzanne's sudden death. Unlike the other songs on this list, this song actually has a twist of optimism looking back on its meaning. Taylor was so distraught by losing a close friend that this taught him to appreciate every day even more. He never wanted such an unfortunate circumstance to get the best of him again. In the end, James Taylor's best song has shed some light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Friday, July 27, 2007

MUSIC: Silver Bell

Okay, as promised, here's Patty Griffin's unreleased "Silver Bell" album. Despite the label's insistence that this wouldn't sell, it contains a few songs that were made hits by other country artists in the last few years. Enjoy!

01 - Little God
02 - Boston
03 - Perfect White Girls
04 - Truth #2
05 - What You Are
06 - Silver Bell
07 - Driving
08 - Sooner or Later
09 - Top of the World
10 - Sorry and Sad
11 - Making Pies
12 - Mother of God
13 - One More Girl
14 - Standing

Friday, July 20, 2007

MUSIC: Taking a Look at What's Around

What's going around the web these days, you ask?

-Aquarium Drunkard does an excellent post about Gregg Allman, with a bit of a subpost of one of my favourite Jackson Browne songs, These Days. "Do not confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten."

-The Jefitoblog re-posts the unreleased "Silver Bell" album by Patty Griffin, and rips apart some 90's Top 40 hits in their latest Chartburn. A hilarious read.

-Heather at I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS posts some interesting alternate versions to everyone's favourite new Ryan Adams album, Easy Tiger, as well as musings on classic Springsteen (avec bootleg, yay!).

-An interesting article on the Hardest PC Games ever. Come to think of it, I never did finish AVP...

-PopMatters has an absolutely spectacular article on the 65 Greatest Protest Songs Ever, that I recommend to any music fan. One thing that I can commend this article for is that it isn't a Rolling Stone article where the word "GREATEST EVER" means "1960-1975 and maybe some stuff from the last five years."

-Some clips from the new Dylan biopic I'm Not There have recently leaked online. Not being a level 18-Dylanite I wasn't entirely psyched about this until now. The clip features a spectacular Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, and the inimitable David Cross as Alan Ginsberg.

EDIT: Dammit... Jefito took down the Patty Griffin link. I'll re-post this in a few hours.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

MUSIC: My intro to this blog

I decided this would be a good introduction to me as a blogger on here so I filled out this little questionaire that I also stole off of travis. I hope to do some Film and/or music reviews this week.

Of all the bands and artists in your collection, of which one do you own the most albums?

My top five would be The Beastie Boys, Nine Incah Nails, Bjork, Tom Waits and The Jam.

What was the last song you listened to?

Litigation Mania by Clock Strikes Music

What are your favorite instruments?

It's a tie between my 8 piece Pacific LX drum set with a royal blue fade and my Ovation mob acoustic guitar.

Who’s your favorite local artist/band?

Clock Stirkes Music (although technically they live in Ottawa now they are from Owen sound originally) or Richard Laviolette

What was the last show you attended?

Tool in Hamilton, mind blowing.

What was the greatest show you’ve ever been to?
Tom Waits in Akron, Ohio. The single greatest moment of my life, when he played Chistmas Card from a hooker in minneapolis I was in tears.

What’s the worst band you’ve ever seen in concert?

Hot Hot Heat, I actually didn't mind them until I saw them in concert. What a terrible live band.

What band do you love musically but hate the members of?


What is the most musically involved you have ever been?

I'm a band Slut, at one point I was the drummer in 4 active bands.

What show are you looking forward to?

The Roots July 29th and Bjork in september at V-fest.

What is your favorite band shirt?

My "kind of like spitting" shirt.

What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

Ben Barnett he is the singer/guitarist of Kind of like Spitting.

What musician would you like to be in love with you for a day?


What was your last musical “phase” before you wised up?

Slipknot in grade ten (shut up)

Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

Sabbath for the most part but solo Ozzy is good sometimes too.

What was the greatest decade for music?

I can't narrow it down at all.

What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

If we are talking about a score the score for Taxi Driver or The Fountain. If we are talking about a mix of songs by different artists then it would be The Big Lebowski or Clerks.

Who is your favorite artist who is much better live than on a recording?

Tom Waits or The Roots.

Do you have a hidden desire to be a popular musician?

I'd like to be in a popular band however only if I was making music I enjoyed and I'd probably like to be the drummer so I can still hide out behind the kit and not get noticed as often.

Have you ever used drugs to enhance the music experience?

I haven't done drugs for that reason however some music is just more awesome while on drugs. I remember the first time I did mushrooms I listened to The Suicide Machines and it blew me away.

Friday, July 13, 2007

FILM: Die Hard with a Sidekick

Possible spoilers follow.

Summer is really isn't the place for films that challenge you. It's a place where explosions and action heroes and bright costumes can make their appearance, where transforming robots and boy wizards can strut their stuff without the viewer having to think about possible dystopian futures or international economic and social disparities (I hear that David Lynch just stays indoors all summer.).

That being said, ass kicking doesn't take a summer holiday.

This year seems to be churning out sequels to films that ended their original franchise runs many years ago, as well as some announcements that this trend will continue.

(Speaking of which, it's Harrison Ford's birthday today.)

Die Hard is one such example where you really don't need to know what happened in John McClane's life before the opening credits. Although I haven't watched the original series for a few years now, I seem to recall this being the case with the other three. You can just assume that a long time ago, he kicked some ass.

"Eeet eeez McClane! Keel him!"

The story starts with a very typical "computer hacker terrorist guys are fucking up the world" scenario. Of course, the young computer hacker (the kid from Jeepers Creepers) that McClane is escorting has some inside information on all this new age techno-babble. Whatever.

Explosions, chases and peril are not in short supply throughout the movie. As ridiculous as many of the scenes were, I found my palms to be a bit sweaty during a particular sequence involving an elevator shaft. I can't handle heights, and wouldn't survive three minutes in this movie.

As much as a few people whined and bitched at the film's PG-13 rating, the intensity is no less than the original films (from what I can recall). The only time that it becomes glaringly obvious that they have lowered the rating is when he spouts the inevitable catch phrase, "Yipee Ki-Yay Motherfucker."At the end of the day, the lesson learned is that John McClane can kill, drive or fight anything, and win. You don't stand a chance, and certainly neither do these terrorists.

McClane's badassness is such that I felt like he was going to come through the screen and kick my ass for looking at his smoking hot daughter (who bears a strange resemblance to Jenny Lewis.).

If you're of the appropriate age, go see this movie with your Dad. I'm almost certain he'll love it as much as mine did.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

MUSIC: Covers are Fun

Especially when it's Whiskeytown.

Whiskeytown - Dreams (From Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album)

Apologies for lack of posting. This should increase in September, as I'll be writing these entries directly from my home music library.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

FILM: Transformers

I've said this a few times now, but this was the biggest damn movie I have ever seen. Like, huge. Bigger than your house and mine put together.

That being said, this review may contain spoilers. Any huge ones I will try and black out, and you can highlight the screen to see them, but I think you get the gist of things. For example: Giant Robots FIGHT!

This is Michael Bay at his finest. It's like if you distilled the plot of Michael Bay's Armageddon, and upped the action about 300%.

However, there have been many negative reviews of this, from people that either thought there wasn't enough of the human story, or from people that thought the human story was contrived and unnecessary. Honestly, it's just a Michael Bay template being put onto a franchise. There's nothing unique here, and even Sam's quest for a car doesn't seem like it's trying to fool me into thinking otherwise. A friend and I were joking that John Voight probably just wandered onto the set.

"Oh shit, it's John Voight!"
"The guy actually thinks he's in charge here! Just start rolling!"

There are plenty of signals so that you can start paying attention for when the action starts. Slow motion shots of pilots getting into jets is a surefire bet that you're going to see some robots fighting something or other soon. And honestly, unless you're one of the uber-fans who spat hellfire at Bay for putting flames on optimus, who gives a rat's (I'll be kicking myself for that when Batman comes out, I'm sure of it.)? This quote pretty much sums up those people:

"There’s a chance that the film could grow on me, but this isn’t elegant, classic storytelling… and ordinarily I wouldn’t hold that against Bay… but goddamn it – this is classic iconography that he’s playing with."

My opinion: BumbleBee isn't fucking Superman. (Then again, Bumblebee never cut off some poor kid's feet.)

The only issue that I really had with this is that the military seem to flip-flop on their stance on the robots. In the third act, John Turturro's character seems to know everything about the robots. I mean, they've been studying Megatron for about a hundred years, right? I mean, if the audience has already bought into that (since suspension of disbelief is very important for something like this), and he's captured BumbleBee, then we believe that the government (or at least Sector 7) has cast a blanket condemnation over these transforming robots from space. Right? WRONG!

The minute shit starts to go wrong (ie: something they seemingly have been planning for for untold years), Turturro loses his shit. Like, it's the end of the world. He's willing to compromise with anyone over anything. At that same time, the government planes (who now has almost zero communications capability) seem to somehow know which of the transformers are evil, and which ones are helping.

I suppose they just shot at the ones with more pointy edges and sharp corners. It's a logical conclusion.

The other thing was that the ending seemed to reek of something from a cartoon. Not that that's a bad thing, it just seemed a little strange to have a conclusion ripped from a kid's cartoon after two hours of robot intensity that the MPAA almost deemed R-Rated worthy. It seems to leave room for the inevitable sequel, which I'm sure will be announced in the coming days/weeks.

For all the tripe that's in this movie, I can't say I expected anything more. Overall my opinion is thus: THEY FIGHT AND IT IS FUCKING AWESOME! GO SEE IT!

Friday, June 29, 2007

MUSIC: Hospital Music

For those interested, Matthew Good's new record is available for some advance listening goodness at his official site. I must say, it's pretty fucking rad so far.

Easy Tiger pickup today as well. This just seems to be my lucky day. I'll report back on that later.

Update: It's here, and it's spectacular. My personal favourite on the first listen is "Halloweenhead," in which the guitar solo is actually announced (something that made me burst out laughing when I heard it). Interestingly enough for Ryan fans, is the inclusion of "Off Broadway" and the reworked "These Girls" (AKA: Hey There Mrs Lovely) from the Suicide Handbook album. So, everyone go buy it. There. That's the review.

I somehow managed to spend a bit more than anticipated on that trip to music world, grabbing Paul Westerberg's soundtrack to "Open Season," and the Best of Sam Cooke (The greatest soul singer that ever lived).

Happy Canada Day to all! Hopefully all of the camping and debauchery in the woods will do everyone some good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

MUSIC: Easy Tiger

Ryan Adams' new disc came out yesterday, and I still haven't got it. This pains me more than I can write in words. Payday will be sweet relief.

I haven't been posting much lately, because I have been knee deep in lyric sheets, preparing for a possible gig coming up. If anyone has requests, or at the very least, ideas, I'm more than happy to hear them.

In other news: The Damnwells are incredible. "Assholes" is about as infectious as any summer song can get, and it kinda reminds me of Primal Scream (At least the good parts of Primal Scream.).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

BOOTLEG: Matthew Good @ CFOX, and a bit of catch up!

Since Pseudo-Friday (AKA: Thursday) rolled around a bit quicker this week for me, I was a little surprised to find that I hadn't written anything. Today's shitty-cram-post(tm) will hopefully make up for that.

Keeping with the summer theme, Heather has uploaded a spectacular summer mix-tape. Unzip, burn and listen, NOW! Featuring an excellent cover of Kokomo by Ben Kweller (and a bunch of other neat songs I haven't heard before), this is definitely a perfect companion for the summer evening drive.

If you're more the literary type, I suggest you check out Pajiba's list of This Generation's Best Books. Sadly, I've only read one so far, and none of the others are on my reading list. Perhaps someday this will be corrected.

But for now I will settle for re-listening to Matthew Good's set from last year's CFOX "Uninvited Guest" special to support his greatest hits compilation. Short, but sweet, and it was all I could afford the time for today. Enjoy.

Matthew Good - 2005.09.13 - CFOX Uninvited Guest

01 - Intro
02 - Strange Days
03 - Interview
04 - Tripoli
05 - Interview
06 - Generation X-Wing
07 - Commercial Break
08 - Interview
09 - Oh Be Joyful
10 - Interview
11 - Can't Get Shot In The Back
12 - Outro

(Also, don't forget that the Ben Gibbard show is still online.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

MUSIC: Because blogger originality is overrated...

Of all the bands and artists in your collection, of which one do you own the most albums?

My big three at the moment are the Beatles, Tom Waits, and Van Morrison. Honourable mentions to Paul Simon, the Stones, Ryan Adams, and the Kinks.

What was the last song you listened to?

A live boot of "I Taught Myself to Grow Old" by Ryan Adams. Easily my most anticipated album of the year.

What are your favorite instruments?

I really dig my Epiphone 6-string acoustic. It's got a big sound, and it looks like something Van or Ryan, or even Hank would pick up.

Who’s your favorite local artist/band?

Thanks for the mention, Trav, and I'm honoured. Right backatcha. I'm in Ottawa right now, so I'll say I really dig Kathleen Edwards. One of my guitar-heroes was born here as well (Bruce Cockburn).

What was the last show you attended?

It's been far too long. Might be Matt Mays back in January. Sweet Jesus. I've got butterflies for seeing Van Morrison next month, so that might help make up for it.

What was the greatest show you’ve ever been to?

Dylan last November hands down. I don't care what anyone says, he's always reinventing himself and messing around with his standards, and that's really cool to me.

What’s the worst band you’ve ever seen in concert?

I had an unfortunate experience with My Chemical Toilet at Warped one year. *Chills.

What band do you love musically but hate the members of?

Hmmm.... Broken Social Scene, and a lot of the T.O. Arts & Crafts scene have mad talent, but have always seemed a bit pretentious and snobbish. I wouldn't use the word 'hate' though. In the end, we're all just trying to make sounds.

What is the most musically involved you have ever been?

Agreed on the "strange question" remark. I would say the creative process, and musical opportunity for me right now is at an all-time high productivity wise, but that's not to say that somehow when I wasn't writing anything or playing at all I was "uninvolved."

What show are you looking forward to?

Easily Van in July. I'm also really stoked about seeing the White Stripes, Randy Newman, and George Thorogood with my parents. (!)

What is your favorite band shirt?

I really dig my Neil Young "After the Goldrush" shirt, as well as my Sufjan Stevens shirt.

What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

Lennon during his drunk phase would be fun, but Ryan would also be on my list. I'd love to hang out with Van and Paul Simon, or Jesus (he played bass, right?).

What musician would you like to be in love with you for a day?

Joni Mitchell, circa 1970. I'm not saying it would be easy, but I'm pretty fucked up so she might get another "Blue" out of it.

What was your last musical “phase” before you wised up?

Hmmm... "wised up?" Let's see... I listened to some Korn in Grade 8.

Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

Now and again I get a taste for early Sabbath.

What was the greatest decade for music?

Jazz wise, the 1950's. Everything else it's pretty close between the 60's and 70's. But there are a lot of great records being made today, so I just might be completely full of shit.

What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

I immediately think of the Royal Tenenbaums, as well as any Wes Andersen film, but Forrest Gump is also right up there.

Who is your favorite artist who is much better live than on a recording?

Although I've never seen them, I'd take Counting Crows live over the studio any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Do you have a hidden desire to be a popular musician?

It's no secret.

Have you ever used drugs to enhance the music experience?

Yes. A little grass and a lot of Miles go a long way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

MUSIC: "Web memes are for little girls and housewives!!!"

Of all the bands and artists in your collection, of which one do you own the most albums?

According to Windows Media Player, it's the Beatles, followed by Tom Waits.

What was the last song you listened to?

Record Time by Steve Key, and it was the first time I've heard Mr. Key. I'm planning on looking into him in the near future.

What are your favorite instruments?

At the moment, I dig listening to Banjo, Wurlitzer and Folk/Celtic-ish Violin.

Who’s your favorite local artist/band?

Most of of my local artist experience comes from playing with them. I'll say that Paul Danard and Carey Worrod were the funnest to jam with. And of course... Zach Stockill.

What was the last show you attended?

I believe it was Stabilo/Tommy Swick/The Suits at call the Office in London. Stabilo wasn't as good as when they opened for Matt Good, and Mr. Swick was actually a very cool cat, and busted out an excellent cover of Graceland by Paul Simon.

What was the greatest show you’ve ever been to?

Reel Big Fish really knocked my socks off at the time, since it was a free show. They seemed to be having more fun than anyone else that showed up that night at the Kool Haus in Toronto, and put on an absolutely wicked show.

Other than that, Matt Good put on a few solid performances from the times I've seen him, particularly the acoustic show.

What’s the worst band you’ve ever seen in concert?

I looked after the "Homemade Jam" tent at the local Summerfolk music festival here, which consists of 70% open stage acts, so I've thankfully blocked most of those from my mind.

What band do you love musically but hate the members of?

I would never want to meet Oasis, and if I did, I wouldn't want to talk about music with any of them.

What is the most musically involved you have ever been?

This is kind of a strange question. On one hand, I've recorded little things on my own for fun and I've recorded a band or two, but I've never done anything professionally, or even semi-professionally. On the other, I've played with and for quite a few people, and would really like to do so again. I may try and get a restaurant gig doing covers around here this summer just for fun.

What show are you looking forward to?

Matthew Good's next acoustic tour. The only show I am planning on in the immediate future is Blue Rodeo in Wiarton, if I remember to get tickets soon. Should be a blast if Keelor isn't plastered this time.

What is your favorite band shirt?

Used to be my REM shirt, but it grew too many holes. At the moment it's my "Recovering the Satellites" Counting Crows shirt, but it's due for the dumpster any day now.

What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

I would spend a day watching Ryan Adams record something. That, or have Henry Rollins be my bodyguard.

What musician would you like to be in love with you for a day?

Neko Case or Kathleen Edwards. I've got a pseudo-creepy preference for alt-country redhead chicks, from what I've been told.

What was your last musical “phase” before you wised up?

Post-Garage-Noise-Metal-Baroque. Truthfully, it would've been 1990's era alt-rock, but you can't ever really throw away what you grew up on.

Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

I don’t really know about or care for either.

What was the greatest decade for music?

This is a ridiculous question. You could easily take 20 or 30 great artists from each decade, but the problem is recognition. I only recently started listening to bands like the Pixies or the Replacements, and seven years ago I would've told you that the 1980's was a terrible time for music. Perhaps this is better saved for a later entry.

What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

I want to say "Magnolia," but those songs were mostly culled from a single Aimee Mann record, so I suppose it doesn't count. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is very good as well, or perhaps "I Am Sam."

Who is your favorite artist who is much better live than on a recording?

Sam Roberts.

Do you have a hidden desire to be a popular musician?

It'd be kinda cool, but financially it is not feasable. I already have a hard enough time dealing with fame and notoriety as it is. (You think I'm famous, right?)

Have you ever used drugs to enhance the music experience?

No, but alcohol has been an interesting thing to have present while music is on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MUSIC: Ben Gibbard on NPR in Washington

After a few weeks of promising to several friends that I would upload it, I finally remembered to bring it to work with me. A great sounboard recording, with Gibbard doing DCFC and Postal Service songs solo along with a few great covers. My personal favourite from the set is Couches in Alleys, originally from a slip EP that came out several years ago. The original can be heard here.

They'll only be up for a limited time, so download them and enjoy. Remember: Live recordings are meant to be listened to loudly.

2007.10.10 - Ben Gibbard - Washington DC, NPR Radio

01 - To Sing For You/Brand New Colony
02 - Title and Registration
03 - Crooked Teeth
04 - We Will Become Silhouettes
05 - Photobooth
06 - Banter
07 - Why'd You Want To Live Here
08 - Passenger Seat
09 - Soul Meets Body
10 - Recycled Air
11 - Farmer Chords
12 - Couches in Alleys
13 - A Lack Of Color
14 - Banter
15 - The Sound of Settling
16 - Such Great Heights
17 - Encore Break
18 - Blacking Out the Friction
19 - All Apologies
20 - I Will Follow You Into The Dark

Friday, June 8, 2007

BLOG: Design

Since the web design is basically a joke around here, I'm willing to take suggestions. Apparently you can export an XML file from Blogger with the blog template on it, but I have no idea how to edit it. If any aspiring web designers want to take a crack at it, be my guest and drop me an email.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

SPORT: Positively 4th Street...

It seemed appropriate that my city was a dreary, rain-drenched oasis of disappointment this morning.

Apologies for the pretentious wording of the previous sentence. Any way you word it, however, this was one depressing city this morning, basking in the glow of a Stanley Cup hangover that will inevitably persist until at least the last week of training camp this fall. Even if you have no interest in, or don't understand or appreciate the game at all, on this side of the border, it seems impossible to remain unaffected when your city's hockey team makes a playoff run like the Senators did this Spring. The daily newspapers, for weeks, featured a cover story related to the Senators every day of their Stanley Cup run (even days with no games). In a city which is the capital of the country, where decisions are made and Conrad Black scandals come to a head and Steven Harper appears more Darth Vader-esque by the day, it seems that the only redeeming story lately in this city has been the Sens playoff run, and good on them, so to speak.

I'm a Leafs fan, and I got drunk with the rest of the city and supported and enjoyed this Cup run to the fullest. Ask any Leafs fan in the 613, and you'll receive a similar response - under just about any circumstances, cheering for the Sens is simply sac-religious. But I believe you'd be hard pressed to find any Leafs fan, or Habs fan for that matter, in Ottawa who didn't support the Sens and get caught up in the excitement that is the Stanley Cup Finals. I also believe you'd be hard pressed to find any non-hockey fan who didn't party with the rest of this city, and get caught up in the romantic notion of being the greatest hockey city in the world, if only for a few months. Fan of the game or not, in this country, there's just something about a Stanley Cup run that is just... well... fun.

And that's why I cheered for the Sens in the playoffs this year. And for the record, I was still cheering for the Leafs this spring as well (I believe Darcy Tucker was 4 strokes under par the other day.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

FILM: Knocked Up

A friend of mine who watched Freaks and Geeks during it's original run encouraged me whenever I saw her to watch her DVD set of the show. To give you an idea of the time period this was in, my reaction had more to do with the fact that TV on DVD was a concept that absolutely bewildered me. I wouldn't participate because I assumed this was some attempt by Satan to lure me into a quicksand pit of temptation which I would never be able to get out of. (I actually can't think of the reason that I didn't watch it.)

When I finally did watch it this past year, it didn't really make any sense to me why more people didn't watch this show. Granted, it was no Saved by The Bell, but Freaks and Geeks really felt like high school. Not that I identified with particular characters, but the interactions between them seemed genuine (or at least culled from Apatow's own experience).

Knocked Up does the exact same thing. There are elements of people you know, and a sincerity in the way they act that hasn't really been seen in comedies of this ilk before. It seems almost similar to the Kevin Smith phenomenon after Clerks came out, that characters in mainstream film begin to talk in a different way. Many comparisons have been made to "frat pack" movies like Anchorman or Wedding Crashers. The latter was on it's way to being some kind of redemptive vehicle for Owen "The Nose" Wilson' character, but managed to lost any convincing motivation in the second act. ("I think I love her" for no real reason).

One thing that got to me about Knocked Up was the little things that Julia Roberts wouldn't necessarily talk about in a simlar role, or at least not as convincingly. Should Ben propose to Alison? How to you approach sex in a relationship context after something like this? And, while pregnancy-sex is expected to be brought up in a supposed gross-out comedy, it seemed to be handled with a frank honesty that I wasn't entirely expecting.

Interesting tips of the hat to Apatow's friends like James Franco (from that spider-thing or whatever project that he's doing). Also: Keep an eye out for the Topher Grace poster that says "FAMOUS PEOPLE AROUND TITS."

I was extremely satisfied by this movie, and they even managed to make the inevitable conclusion have a convincing effect on the characters without making it jokey. There were some downright shocking shots in the climactic sequence, but I think it was necessary to get across the effect of the birth. (hilight to reveal spoilers)

My expectations were high, and Knocked Up still managed to exceed them. This just heightens my excitement for Superbad, coming in August.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

GAMES: The Importance of Play

Rainbow Six Vegas (RSV) is a pretty good piece of software; controls are tight, the cover system works well, there’s plenty of innovative and fun ways to clear a room of a terrorists. That being said, RSV is not a good game. A good game is a toy. A good game is something to be played with. A good game allows players to find enjoyment in whatever way they want. Unfortunately, RSV isn’t so much a toy to be played with as a challenge to be played against. The reason for this is the lack of any game-saving function outside of checkpoints. This makes the game artificially more difficult and frustrating and almost completely eliminates the ability to use RSV as a toy.

The most enjoyable part of RSV is that any situation can be handled a number of different ways. One level gives the player a choice of crashing into a room full of tangos through a skylight, rappelling down a building to breach through a window, hanging upside down and sniping with a silenced handgun, blowing open the door with an explosive charge or dropping white phosphorus grenades from the roof. The incredible variety of different ways to clear the room makes the checkpoint save system that much worse. If I want to replay that section to try a different strategy, I have to hope that there was a checkpoint right before it. Sometimes there is, but sometimes I have to shoot my way through three or four hallways to get back to the part that is actually enjoyable.

The heart of playfulness is giving players choices and options to enjoy a game the way they want to. This can be anything from branching storylines to adjustable options to various difficulty levels to customizable characters to alternate paths to success. RSV’s checkpoint system eliminates the feeling of play by arbitrarily forcing players to repeat portions of the game. Each encounter, rather than feeling like a fun scenario to play with, feels like an obstacle that must be eliminated.

The most successful games, both critically and commercially, embrace the principle of play. They try to accommodate a variety of playstyles. The Grand Theft Auto and Elder Scrolls franchises became runaway successes because they presented the player with a wide open world that they could simply play with. The Sims almost completely favours play over work. Deus Ex and Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines let the player character and storyline develop in many different ways. World of Warcraft beat out other MMORPGs by accommodating solo, small group, raid, and PvP playstyles. Neverwinter Nights shipped with a distinctly un-playful campaign, but wisely allowed the modding community to create a wide variety of high quality adventures. Even genres with more rigid rules have embraced their role as toys to be played with. The most recent Soul Calibur incarnation featured the ability to create custom characters, compete in matches with non-standards rules, and carefully pick their battles in a strategy mini-game.

While there are some exceptions, such as the Devil May Cry series and highly competitive multiplayer games like Starcraft and DotA, the future of gaming seems to be playful. Spore and Portal are heavily hyped games that embrace playfulness and the fun-focused Wii is poised to win the current round of console wars. So developers, when you’re planning out a game, ask yourself: “is this a toy?”

MUSIC: Let's Get Out Of This Country

Camera Obscura are a band that I discovered last summer at work while listening to the web feed of WYEP, a radio station out of Pittsburgh. I can't recommend the station enough to people, as it provided me with enough new music throughout the summer such that I didn't go on some kind of ill-advised spree at the Keg.

While the Scottish twee-poppers have been around for a while, the first song I'd ever heard by them was "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken," a response to Lloyd Cole's tune "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?" What initially caught my ear was the fact that it sounded just like a 1950's pop song, a trait that continues throughout last year's album "Let's Get Out Of This Country." There's a certain charm to that kind of aesthetic, but I think it goes beyond that with this band.

Although I can't really name all of the specifics as far as the instrumental arrangement is concerned (not that it would make a difference for this post), I tend to really buy into the timelessness of these tracks (Discerning readers may assume by my use of the word "timeless" that I'm a grey-haired old man with a hatred for sugary cereals, skateboards and loud metal music.).

Without making a slingshot around-the-sun, we're taken back to a past that never existed with this CD. Until about halfway through high-school, the word "pop" was a dirty one within my musical vocabulary, and for good reason. For a young boy struggling to figure out who was telling the truth, and who was not, there was simply no way that many of these leather-pantsed video-boys were on the side of the angels. It's like a kid inherently knowing that Skittles are bad for you because they go down just a little too easy.

Tracyanne Campbell's songs make you want to believe that a time existed when all our popstars told the truth. These little ditties that grab your ear with their little surf-guitar lines and Campbell's soothing voice really are all about self-doubt and frustration, but not necessarily in some all-consuming fashion. Someone once noted to me that whenever a girl sings about these sort of things, you fall in love a little bit with her. Not to take away from the band's instrumental efforts, but this is definitely true with Camera Obscura. It's like she's a friend who you've secretly been wanting for years, and she comes to tell you all of her little problems with the boys in your school. She tells you that she's ready to give up guys altogether, although a week later she's fallen for someone else.

Fed up with girls in pretty dresses
With boys who want to teach them a lesson
Sick of the sight of my old lover
Went under sheets and covers to get away from him

They also own one of the best summer-escape songs I've heard in a while, the title track "Let's Get Out Of This Country." To me, it's an homage to a road trip that John Hughes maybe forgot to film.

We'll pick berries and recline
Let's hit the road dear friend of mine
Wave goodbye to our thankless jobs
We'll drive for miles maybe never turn off

Although there's much more that can be said about this album, I'll leave the rest up to you. Go buy the damn thing, I've gotta go to sleep.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BLOG: Listen Up

Okay, so I think I've figured out a file hosting situation for this thing. However, I do need to test it, so if anyone wants to please download the song below, that'd be great. It's a direct link, and if you're running Firefox with the QuickTime plugin it should play right in your browser. Leave a comment to let me know how it went.

Neko Case - Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Friday, May 25, 2007

BLOG: Birthday Time

Today is the esteemed Brent Barron's birthday. He's turning 103.

You may know Brent as the inventor of the wristwatch, the fire escape, the pager and time. Brent briefly masqueraded as Christ for a while, later discovered to be the original copy of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Brent can be viewed here.

"Happy Birthday to Me."

Also, for a bit of geek trivia, today is the 30th birthday of the original Star Wars.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

COMICS: Adam Hughes vs. Womankind

Big news from the front lines!!! Hang on to your hats kids, this one is going to knock your socks, shoes, teeth and face right freaking off due to the life-altering message that I have to bring to you to-day!!! It's huge. Big. Pearl Harbour has been invaded, JFK has been assasinated and we've found life on Mars (and they've already sent AN INVASION FORCE!!!), but you won't give a hot-damn about any of those things after what I tell you!!!

Feminists are pissed at the comics industry.

In the immortal words of Martin Lawrence, "This shit just got real."

So, we've come across another example of an industry that is perhaps not as progressive as it should be, or even as it claims to be on some days. Women are objectified, brutalized and otherwise disrespected within fictional narratives in sequential graphic (and in this case, statue) form. Perhaps these predominantly male artists really do hate women. Perhaps they have an agenda to destroy the minds of our children (someone please think of the children), with all respect between the genders gradually dissolving until an all-out war of the genders consumes this planet (someone please think of the rainforest), ironically mirroring a comiclike dystopian storyline.

Artists Adam Hughes (the guy that made the statue in question) had some things to say on the subject:

"My idea was pretty simple, I thought – classic Mary Jane, from the days when Peter and MJ were boyfriend and girlfriend, and she’s found his Spider-Man costume in the laundry basket... She’s not [actually] doing his laundry, because I don’t know anybody that does laundry in a basket on a table. Even if you don’t have a washing machine, you’d do the laundry in the sink."

But what of the sexually suggestive pose, Adam?

"Well, Mary Jane isn’t a superhero, so you can’t really do anything with her that’s not some version of her just standing there... That’s pretty much all I was shooting for. Yeah, she’s sexy, yeah, she’s dressed like a sexy chick…but look at her history – that’s how she’s been portrayed for years, even when she’s not doing chores. Mary Jane is a bit of a bimbo. She’s been a supermodel and a dancer, an actress and a model…so I gave her a cute, sexy moment."

To be entirely honest, it's nothing that we haven't seen before. Frequenting local comic shops, I see things like this all the time, and don't think much of it. These statues aren't marketed towards kids, and they're certainly not marketed to reflect the sum perspective on real women from those in the comics industry. I don't personally know anyone that owns these sort of things, and I imagine that Hughes' reasoning makes perfect sense to those hardcore fans that collect
statuettes and the like because of an aesthetic preference (which I assume is tied to some kind of historical or nostalgic appreciation).

However, playing the Devil's Advocate, one could argue that a historical appreciation for a particular cartoon aesthetic amounts to the same as having blackface statues in your yard. Frank Miller is no-freaking-torious for using a film noir aesthetic in his comics, and I'm honestly never sure if this is because he thought those things were cool when he was a kid, or if he actually thinks all women are whores.

Hughes comments on the typical portrayal of women in comics:

"You draw what you like and I like beautiful women. It's weird because I did a poster of Heroines of the DC Universe for DC Comics a few years back and I was up there looking at proofs of the poster and this one woman who works there came up and said, 'Oh, my God! Look at that. No woman is built like that.' She was pointing at the way I drew Catwoman. 'No woman has a waist that small! Totally unreal.' This must have been a low blood sugar day for me. I didn't have my Wheaties, I don't know. I was just in a pissy mood and said, 'You know what, I don't look like Superman, but I don't go around bitching about it.' [laughter] And it's true."

Taking the human form to an extreme has been the hallmark of comics illustrations since the idea of the superhero originated (something that comic-based films have struggled with). This enhances the narrative because these characters can't possibly be real, and neither can most of the situations they encounter. There are exceptions to this, where a semi-realistic human form is used for characters encountering the difficulties of the real world. However, how many kids want to read about the real world?

(I seem to be coming back to the idea of children and comics perhaps a little much for this post, but be sure that I do have a larger point about that for a later entry.)

I believe that the majority of the mass-media-attention seeking "feminists" are not really seeing the real problem (and I never denied there was one). They criticise the human form as it's represented in comic books, but the real issue is in the narrative. The devil is in the details my friends, and I don't believe that anyone who talks about comics on Oprah or The View hasn't read a comic book since puberty, if that. (For those of you curious enough, there are certainly many female fans who are actually comic readers asking for a more progressive industry who have many good points to be made.)

For those of us who do frequent the local comic shops, maybe we are sick of the grisly fate that many a female companion has suffered. It has been the stuff of legend within the comics industry since Women In Refrigerators came around, and maybe enough is enough. If not because girls don't want to see it, then because at times it's simply not compelling storytelling. Why kill female characters? Hell, why kill any character? A big reason is that readers haven't responded well to characters that are, for lack of a better word, shite. Many characters of questionable quality tend to be women, unfortunately.

The real issue, I think, is not that the (primarily male) comic writers hate women, it's that they don't have a clue HOW to write compelling female characters. I'm not a woman, and I have no idea what their internal motivating factors would be in a fictional context. There are a scant few male writers who can write a female character as well as thier male ones, and I believe this to be the problem.

Joss Whedon is one of the few writers around today with a very progressive attitude and the actual ability to write Kitty Pryde such that girls (and guys) can identify an sympathize with her on the same level that young boys have felt about Spider-Man for the last forty-five years. He seems to get that to write a flawed female character, you do not necessarily need to paint her as "the victim" or the polar-opposite "woman warrior." After all, what kind of range would real people (in tights) have if this was all they were allowed to be? Brian Michael Bendis' run on Ultimate Spider-Man is of a similar situation, with absolutely compelling female characters supporting Peter Parker in a way that has never been done in the mainstream Marvel Universe.

In short, the problem is always less than what you've been told it is, but more than nothing. Maybe someday Stephanie Brown will get a memorial in the bat-cave too.

For some more discussion on this, check here. As always, let the comments be your battleground.

Monday, May 21, 2007

TV: Heroes Season Finale

Spoilers Follow.

As is par for the course for Heroes, the latest, and final, episode of the season manages to surprise almost everyone watching, although this time not in a good way. For anyone that isn't watching Heroes, it's a show about 'ordinary people with extraordinary powers' that manages to include every single superhero power ever created and create Dallas quality cliffhangers every week. This is the type of series that season finale writers dream of their whole life. This is the series that makes children want to grow up and write season finales. Superpowers give you the ability to make anything happen and the comic book style that the series pays homage to makes even the most ridiculous plot elements completely acceptable. In short, this season finale was a pitch right over the plate. Underhand. From an 8 year old. With a basketball.

And someone missed.

The moment that everyone was waiting for from this indulgently epic series, the battle between Jedi-like characters Peter and Sylar, never materializes. To put so much effort into creating subtle and no-so-subtle superhero references throughout the series and skip the traditional ten page final battle is disappointing to say the least. We're teased by the possibility of a truly climactic struggle between good and evil when Peter tells Nikki/Jessica to leave Sylar to him...and then...nothing great really happens.

The comic book cock tease continues: Nathan appears. Does this herald the creation of a new villain, or perhaps the revealing of Sylar's spectacular counter-plot? No. No tangled webs are woven. Nathan and Peter make a beautiful and noble sacrifice sprinkled with brotherly love. Families are restored. More noble sacrifices. Hugging. Viewers wonder if this was only intended to run for a single season. The 'cliffhanger' that finally materializes is unsatisfying and can be reversed with two lines of dialogue (maybe it still is like Dallas).

For everyone's benefit, here are some traditional and satisfying comic-book style endings.
1. Nathan grabs Claire and flies away. Claire shoots. Blackout.
2. Sylar finds an unconscious Candice (the illusion girl) and absorbs her power. Sylar's 'death' is simply an illusion he creates to force Peter to explode.
3. A new power is introduced, preferably from the Patrelli matriarch.
4. Future Hiro stops Present Hiro from killing Sylar, telling him that the future becomes much worse if he does.
5. Sylar and Peter both explode when they touch; it turns out that only their combined powers could destroy the city. Discussion of destiny ensues.
6. An epic battle. Between anyone.

Make some alternate endings for the DVD release, just make sure to credit me as an executive producer.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

FILM: Brokeback Batman

So we finally have a picture of what Heath Ledger will look like in the next Batman movie. Through one of the more genius viral marketing campaigns, Warner Brothers launched a campaign website for incumbent District Attorney Harvey Dent with a title taken from one of the best mystery-oriented comics I've ever read (The Long Hallowe'en), showcasing a poster of Aaron Eckhart (you may remember him from Thank You For Smoking) as the esteemed candidate.

Later in the week, another site popped up called I Believe In Harvey Dent Too, featuring a similar campaign poster, although marked up a bit. The webmaster challenged browsers to submit their email address (Some kinda pyramid scheme?), and one more pixel would be revealed of an image underneath.

Naturally, it only took about a day for the image to become clear, showing our man Ennis del Mar with the white makeup and a hideous scar across his mouth. Now, although the picture isn't really showing much at all, it really gives us an idea that we won't be seeing Chris Nolan's new Batman franchise delve into the land of rubber nipples and brain-ray stealing machines anytime soon. This keeps fanboy happy.

However, there has been a bit of skepticism about the picture since and the number of fake Joker pictures on the Internet has been about the same as the number of biological warfare scares in 2002.

Regardless of it's authenticity, whoever orchestrated the image reveal is a genius.

Since the release date is over a year off, I'm sure we'll be treated to a number of other surprise marketing-based revelations about the film. Word on the street is that a teaser trailer will premiere sometime this summer, perhaps attached to the latest adventures of everyone's favourite boy wizard (I think I'll just watch it on the tubes, thanks).

UPDATE: The Joker picture site is now been taken down, and replaced with textual laughter. They did leave a note, however, saying "See you in December."

MUSIC: Rage Against the Rage Against the Machine

Get out your dreadin' wax and Che patches - everyone's favorite funk-metal protesters are making a come back, and they's bout to git outspoken on yo ass. And no, we're not talking about Linkin Park, although with the new "What I've Done" video they too seem to have developed a social conscious about... everything, I think...? Seriously, ever since Jay-Z taught them how to really rap, forcing the brown dude to quit his day job and play guitar, what social movement DON'T LP support? Another topic, another post.

BUT no friends, no, we're talking the original (ha!) renegades themselves, Rage Against the Machine. Realizing that Chris Cornell is, well, Chris Cornell, Tom Morello and Co. ditched the cock rock pleasantries, retrieved Zac Dela-whatever from the forest mud hut he was told to wait in until they got back from 'fixing the car', and made a B-Line for the summer festival circuit. Two headlining dates have been set on top of their Coachella appearance, and speculation knows no bounds when it comes to a... whisper it... new Rage album.

Now, Rage is considered THE legitimate protest band of the 90's, speaking for millions, and inspiring millions to speak. When they went away, there was a massive Iraq shaped void left to be filled by bands who seemed to lack the authenticity, sincerity of conviction, and, let's face it, sheer talent to articulate youth aggression and protest quite like Rage did - Please sit down Billie Joe, everyone knows you tried your best...

Well, 7 years, two towers, two phony elections, and a crater that used to be a country later, the new millennium is being graced by the band's presence once again...

... Does anyone else feel kind of embarrassed? I get the distinct feeling like they're the parents coming back from vacation and we're the good-intended teens who had a few friends over whose older, richer, and drunker friends ended up trashing the house. I can picture it now: we're standing in the front lobby, desperately trying to frebreeze the patriot act out of the constitution as the door nob is slowly turning. And of course we're sweating uncontrollably because we know that on the other side of that pretty white suburban door awaits a very public, very catchy scolding.

Really though, we have to admit the place is kind of a mess. And the general assumption about Rage coming back is that they are now going to provide for us a flash point from which change can once again occur in the face of corrupt governance. The sentimentalist in all of us imagines a conversation where the band members sat down at their Justice League-esque table, realized the world needed them, and slipped on their power rings once more to finally rid the world of evil. It's exactly like Disney's The Incredibles. Except instead of spandex stretching over newly developed guts, we've got a white rapper from the 90's trying on new lyrical topics like blogging, Connie Rice, and Seagway's (note: not actual new lyrics from Zac... but a boy can dream).

Whether it is true or not, whether the band saw a need for themselves and decided to act, matters little. The point is: they're back, and they're important. This ain't no regular comeback, folks because unlike other bands whose only importance ever was to produce good tunes (here's looking at you, Smashing Pumpkins), Rage Against the Machine's legacy was beyond their music. They bring with them a gathering point from which angry youth and passionate protesters find strength.

Unfortunately, Tom Morello doesn't seem to understand this. In a recent Spin magazine interview, he said that he realizes people are trying to make the connection between the world being in a such a bad way right now and Rage coming back to make it right, but he doesn't think that way. They're back to make music and while they definitely wish to inspire change, the political climate now had no barring on them getting back together. Modesty is fine, Tom. No one likes a self-important asshole (again, here's looking at you Smashing Pumpkins). But what bothers me here is that Rage do not seem to understand their own importance. There are few, if any, bands in their position, and once, just ONCE, I'd like to see something happen because the stars aligned and someone seized the moment. Like I said, whether we or they like it, they're are an important band, and now that they're back, someone should remind them that it's Rage Against the Machine, not simply Mehh Against the Machine.

... man... that was bad even for me. ah well.