Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oscar in Review

So my picks didn't exactly go as planned, a fact that resulted in my first loss against my friends in the four years we've been making predictions. All in all I went 15 for 24, a decent but disappointing performance. All of the risks I took went terribly awry, and I was over-reliant on everyone drinking the King's Speech Kool-Aid. Even worse, the telecast was easily the most boring I've ever witnessed. Anne Hathaway really seemed like she was trying, but she certainly wasn't gelling with James Franco, who clearly already knew he was losing to Colin Firth and got super high (Pineapple Express style) to numb the pain beforehand.

I've already posted my projected winners, but I want to take a moment to go over how I would have voted should someone have mysteriously allowed me to do so. I'm only going to do this for the major categories, as I'm not really qualified to say anything about animated shorts or sound editing.

Best Picture: My vote would have probably gone to Inception, as it brought forth original thought while exhibiting solid performances across the board. Nonetheless, the movie had no shot whatsoever against a British period piece and a film about a social phenomenon. I also felt as if Black Swan and 127 Hours were sorely underrated despite their innovation and powerful performances. I also would have personally nominated Shutter Island and Rabbit Hole while getting rid of The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter, but that's just me.

Lead Actor, Male: All of these performances were especially solid (well, I wasn't able to see Javier Bardem's in Biutiful), but for me James Franco had the most difficult assignment and passed it with flying colors. He truly raised his game to a new level, and I hope he continues to challenge himself.

Lead Actor, Female: The voters got this one right, as Natalie Portman's performance as a stifled ballerina was spot-on. She was able to show a lot of emotion throughout without getting over-the-top or pandering to the audience.

Supporting Actor, Male: Once again, the voters hit the nail on the head with Christian Bale. His performance in The Fighter represented yet another reinvention of his abilities while once again reminding me how ridiculous it is that he had never received a nomination prior to this year. I expect them to come at a much quicker rate from here on out.

Supporting Actor, Female: Melissa Leo was great, but my vote would have gone the way of Hailee Steinfeld, the 14 year-old who murdered her role as Maddie Ross in the Coen Brothers' rendition of True Grit. She played the role with a determined toughness and powerful tenacity you just don't see on the screen from anyone, let alone a girl who can't legally drive.

Best Director: I would say Christopher Nolan, as he really had his work cut out for him with his 10-year Inception project, but he didn't even receive a nomination. With that in mind, I would give the award to the long-deserving David Fincher. The Social Network was an excellent movie with Fincher's style all over it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Picks, or Pix If You Prefer Misspellings

I don't have time for a full write-up right now, but I'll give you all my picks in the 24 "major" categories. (Who cares about animated shorts?) Tomorrow I will return with my opinions, which will almost certainly be wrought with complaints.

Best Picture: The King's Speech
Leading Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Leading Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Director: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Sound Editing: Inception
Sound Mixing: The Social Network
Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland
Makeup: Barney's Version
Art Direction: The King's Speech
Cinematography: The King's Speech
Art Direction: The King's Speech
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Animated Short: Day and Night
Live Action Short: Na We We
Foreign Film: Biutiful
Documentary: Inside Job
Original Score: The King's Speech
Original Song: Toy Story 3
Visual Effects: Inception
Film Editing: The Social Network

Now it's time for pizza.

Friday, December 24, 2010

2010: My Favorite Albums of the Year

As usual, I've summoned my desire to write non-technical material in order to present you with my favorite 15 albums of the year. To be fair, my desire to write technical material stems largely from my desire to eat and pay the mortgage. If I could accomplish this by conjuring up word blocks about fun things, I'd be all over that. So here they are, the 15 best records (according to me, the best person there is) of the past 12 months. Oh, and since it's merely Christmas Eve, I reserve the right to fuck with you and make changes for the next week. That's right.

I know I said I was starting the list, but I have to interrupt myself once more. Very quickly I just wanted to say that picking a favorite out of this lot was extremely difficult. The top handful were all really neck-and-neck for me. All of these albums are ones I care a lot about for one reason or another, though picking a winner was not as easy as last year.

For realz:

15. Wild Nothing: Gemeni

This record's sort of sad, sort of blurry. The first time I listened to it, it was a dreary afternoon. I left it feeling pretty dreary, but that doesn't change the fact that I enjoyed listening to it. It touches on quite a few things I like about indie rock, but it does so in throwback fashion. Gemeni would almost feel more at home two decades ago, but the emotional impact its capable of lowering remains important today. Like other albums on this list, the tone and aesthetic of the album is a big part of what makes it work so well.

14. Girls: Broken Dreams Club EP

Girls rifled their way onto my list with their full-length debut a year ago, and I'll be damned if they didn't make something worthy of getting them back here. Broken Dreams Club is mostly the same sort of stuff that the band tried the first time around. You'll hear gently strummed guitars, heartbroken lyrics, and all sorts of purdy instrumentation. You'll get that summer kind of feeling. You'll feel a little embarrassed for the singer. But Girls are working their way into a successful career of carving a nice little niche for themselves and opening it up wider to suit their own purposes. Just contrast the pitch-perfect stop and start of 'Heartbreaker" with the horns of "Thee Oh So Protective One" with the sleepy steel of "Carlolina". None of these moments feel out of place, but they don't really feel the same either.

13. Sleigh Bells: Treats

I had a blurb of shit written here, but then I tried to pull the ol' "CTRL + C" to move it to its appropriate spot and fucked the whole thing up. No, I don't know how. Yes, it's six in the morning. Whatever. I'll deal with it later and rewrite it.

12. Beach House: Teen Dream

Perhaps the thing about Teen Dream that impressed me most is how often in ventured in directions I honestly didn't expect. From the start of "Zebra," I felt like I knew the drill. But things got turned a bit upside down and the whole thing wound up feeling bittersweet. "Silver Soul" ventures into Band of Horses territory (the good way!), while "Norway" is just made but the shimmering vocals and bending, fading chords that populate its sound scape. "Walk In The Park" is just great; it gets stuck in my head all the time, and ironically the line that wedges itself in there is 'you would slip from my mind/in a matter of time'. All of "Teen Dream" really does have a dreamy quality about it, and as a result the album has lasting power. But back to the theme of expectations for a moment. I really thought I had Beach House pegged as an act I could like but not really like. I think I was wrong, and I think they got better.

11. Massive Attack: Heligoland

This band was among the best in history at the game they play. They specialize in effortlessly shifting moods, dropping earth-shattering bass lines in the middle of what once seemed morose, using tones and textures to get their point across. They make electronic music that actually comes through at more than an academic level. But then they lost a step, and then they fell out of the public eye. To me, Heligoland is something of a return to form. The opener is a moody meditation that features some perfect vocals from TV On the Radio's frontman, while 'Splitting the Atom" drives forward thanks to a nice leading organ part. "Paradise Circus" is slow but elegant, and "Rush Minute" builds itself up with one purpose in mind. And then there's that ephemeral feeling I get from "Saturday Comes Slow" and that bass and organ combo that dominates "Atlas Air". Panned by most, this is one I continue to enjoy after a whole lot of listens.

10. Deftones: Diamond Eyes

I mentioned this in my full review of The National's High Violet, but there are some really strange parallels between that record and this one. Both Deftones and The National can be considered veterans of their respective genres. Both bands have a long track record of doing mostly the same thing but executing it well. And, well, both Diamond Eyes and High Violet sound a little too familiar after only a few listens. The thing is, both records also get more and more addicting as more time is given to them. The pure energy on Diamond Eyes isn't something I've really consistently felt with this band for a couple of releases. Hearing the viscera Deftones have to offer on this one is downright refreshing. This album is a breeze to listen to, a collection of songs that could fit almost anywhere in the band's catalog but still manages to be something more. This isn't White Pony or anything, but that would be asking a lot. Just because Diamond Eyes sounds familiar doesn't mean it isn't one of the better releases of the year, one of the records to which I consistently return. Riffs are riffs, fellas.

09. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I never do this. I literally never include a mainstream hip hop album on any sort of list I make. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) I typically don't enjoy the genre enough to give an album confined within it more than a couple of listens, and 2) I don't honestly listen to hip hop much at all. Whatever, call me narrow-minded, punch me in the tits. I don't care; I don't have the time. I have, however, always had a soft spot for Kanye, and (as you will notice) I really don't care, at all, about an artist's personality. That's why when I first heard this record, I was pretty sure it would crack my list. The opener is a perfect mixture of beauty and brawn, and "Power" is like the best thing on the radio ever. "All of the Lights" is probably my favorite track; those horns just kill me. "Monster" is just badass, a song that constantly feels like its on fire, charging through me. "So Appalled" saves itself with what I swear is SNES-era Donkey Kong instrumentation. "Runaway" gives me the rare treat of hearing a rapper legitimately tell his audience that he's a piece of shit, a guy who doesn't deserve the women that populate his lyrics. Perhaps it's because My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sheds a lot of traits about its genre that I typically don't like that I actually love it. Perhaps it's just because it's a really good record.

08. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz

This isn't Illinois and it never made me cry or anything. Still, though, it's quite a beast. I didn't think so at first; it took repeated listens during late-night work sessions to get me to see the light. There are plenty of Sufjan staples here, be they the fluttering brass or the seemingly impossible song lengths. Push all of that aside though and you get the lovechild of Sufjan's orchestral pomp and electronic circumstance. "Too Much" is the weirdest kind of single, a fairly lengthy track with a few dynamic shifts that are appreciated the more you listen. "Vesuvius" gets all sorts of beautiful as the singer and composer addresses himself, something you just hardly expect in his work. For me, though, the crown jewel is "I Want To Be Well," a song that uses a chunky bass and the kitchen sink to get things started and then climaxes in what seems to be, um, rock 'n' roll. For God's sake, I swear I hear crazy drums, minor chords, and this guy literally singing the word 'fuck'. And those backing vocals are haunting. The Age of Adz isn't Soofy's magnum opus, but that happened five years ago, so let's just be happy with another album of jaw dropping grandiosity, limitless ambition, and boundless prowess.

07. The National: High Violet

After what has to be, um, a lot of listens, I'm almost ready to call this one the band's most accomplished effort to date. To me this is an album that manages to match its relatively dark lyrical content with relatively dark music, an album that certainly has a distinct tone. Strangely enough, it doesn't depress me when I listen to it. Sure, if I'm feeling down I'll throw it on, but the strange thing is that High Violet is just as effective for relaxation, for kicking back and just being. It's like the National know they're a bit formulaic, but rather than sweat it they shrug and try to refine themselves until they're a perfect diamond. Some songs ("Sorrow" and "Anyone's Ghost") stay pretty low key, while others ("Bloodbuzz, Ohio," "Afraid of Everyone," "England") decide to build into something of a confined frenzy you don't even notice until you realize you were tapping your foot as the silence hit you. This is an accomplished album by an accomplished band, and (I say this every time) it may represent a pinnacle they cannot again reach.

06. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

Right up until I heard Halcyon Digest, I was mostly convinced I liked the singer's side project (Atlas Sound) better. But then "Earthquake" kicked in, its atmospherics almost suggesting Pink Floyd or even straightforward Ween. "Don't Cry" sounds like some sort of pop song that wants to be happy but just isn't. "Desire Lines" starts out all Arcade Fire and then becomes its own shimmering thing. But if I had any doubts that this was a hell of an album, it was the perfect "Coronado" that quelled them at once. The saxophone line, the jaunty chords, the completely transcendent feel. And that's the key here. Halcyon Digest has such a distinct feel. The vocals are clear but distant, and the guitars sound a little dusty. The whole thing sounds a little dusty, like a dream you had but don't remember all of. Two thumbs up.

05. Kylesa: Spiral Shadow

I can really get behind all these metal bands that throw blistering riffs in a blender with eastern influences, organ play, and whatever else they found lying around. I love me some Baroness, I love me some Torche, and as it turns out, I love me some Kylesa. After all, metal doesn't have to stick to just being metal. The fuzzy bass and churning organs on "Cheating Synergy" make me smile with giddiness until the riffs kick in and I feel forced to grimace and start chewing on my desk rabidly. "Don't Look Back" should totally be what I hear if I turn on a modern rock station, and "Back and Forth" is just, um, appropriately weird. I mean, really, is this even a metal record? What is this thing? Whatever it is, it appeals to all of my senses, demands all sorts of repeat listens, and makes me glad I invest so much time in trying to stay on top of music today.

04. Superchunk: Majesty Shredding

They may have been all up in the music scene for the better part of two decades, and they may not have altered their ideas about music a whole lot over that span, but that doesn't mean Majesty Shredding isn't still a great listen and one of the year's finest. Take the opener, "Digging for Something," as fine an exercise in sharp power pop as you're likely to find these days. It's got hooks, candy sweet vocal melodies, and an unabashed willingness to rock it out fun-style. I miss this kind of thing. Thankfully, Superchunk has made a career of doing this (well, and owning Merge), and they don't bother to relent for the full running time of their latest. "My Gap Feels Weird" has this great bridge to the chorus that just feels a little off, and that's why it's perfect. 'Rosmarie" swaggers with its particularly, well, majestic two chord and kick drum stomp. "Crossed Wires" is a terrific pop songs, and "Fractures in Plaster" uses string accompaniment the right way, something I rarely find myself saying. It's hard to believe this is a record made by a slew of middle-aged protagonists. Here's to hoping it isn't another decade until another one.

03. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening

I'm still constantly surprised by the detractors of this record. I'm not surprised that they don't like it; I'm surprised at the reasons given. The anti-Murphy crowd are always well-versed in the things he's said, in the lyrical content they claim to be empty and vapid. I, like the other proponents of this record, see it as a masterfully produced collection of great pop songs, a record about wanting to be liked, wanting to do the right things to appease everyone while still holding true to yourself. It's perhaps the finest thing LCD's produced to date, the album that finally delivers on that age-old promise to blend rock music with electro-leanings until you can't tell your Daft Punk from your classic David Bowie. So let me just say this: I could give a fuck about how pleasant James Murphy is to interview. I simply don't care how pretentious he is, how much he tries to appeal to the kids or whatever. If I like his music, if I find it enjoyable on multiple levels, then why should I care? Besides, I'll never interview the guy anyway.

02. The New Pornographers: Together

If the good-but-not-great Challengers sort of bummed you out, I have the perfect cure: Together. This is exactly what I wanted, an album of unbridled pop that splits the difference between the caffeine-infused Mass Romantic and the big packet of mild sauce that drenched Challengers. It's hand claps ("Crash Years"), barb wire hooks ("Your Hands (Together)"), pure triumph ("A Bite Out of My Bed"), and reassurance ("Valkyrie in the Roller Disco"). It's going to put you in a good mood, and it doesn't give a shit if you're in the mood to stand with your arms folded. The songwriting here is just so strong, so confident, and it proves that whatever misfires Challengers had were by design. The most joyous band working today didn't drop that aesthetic, they just tried something new. There's no shame in that, but I'm still a big fan of this sort of return to full-blown exertion.

01. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

I've written this one up royally, but there's still plenty more to say. I can't stress enough how well The Suburbs encapsulates fleeting youth, the sudden emergence of capital-S Serious responsibilities, the desire to be something. Win Butler's always written better when his subject matter stayed close to home, and he proves that in how much more solid this record is than his still-good sophomore effort. The opening track sets the tone, but it doesn't touch on all the ground the band want to cover. "Ready to Start" is a bomb waiting to go off. "Rococo" improves steadily with each listen, its climax delivering the explosion it claims it will. "City With No Children" details a sinking depression, while "Month of May" reclaims a desire to make a change. The pair of "Half Light" tracks steal from '80s indie in drastically different ways. And "Sprawl II," that's beauty personified. If there's a complaint to be had, it's the fluff. Cut 10-15 minutes and I honestly feel the cohesiveness here makes this a near-perfect release. Nonetheless, this is the rare record that looks its hype squarely in the eyes and conquers it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

League Championship Series Extravaganza

I think extravaganza was probably too strong a word. I really only have time to quickly make my LCS predictions before returning to writing for dollars. I was nearly perfect in my first round predictions, but the Rays wound up on the wrong side of the fifth game I called for. That said, the Rangers are interesting and kind of fun to watch, so I'm pretty pumped about seeing them advance.

ALCS: New York Yankees (95-67, +166) versus Texas Rangers (90-72, +100)

Unlike the NLCS, I haven't already predicted this one. My head tells me the Yankees win this thing quickly, but I'm going to go ahead and say they don't punch their tickets to the World Series until the conclusion of the sixth game. I have good reason to assume the Rangers could take Cliff Lee's start in the third game, and I'm going to go ahead and say they take another one somewhere in there. In the end, though, the Rangers surely must fall short. The Yankees looked pretty invincible against the Twins, and they simply have too much firepower.

Yankees in 6

NLCS: San Francisco Giants (92-70, +114) versus Philadelphia Phillies (97-65, +132)

Like the gigantic turd I am, I'm going back on my initial prediction and saying that it'll take the Phillies six games instead of five to dispatch the Giants. Lincecum and Sanchez were both so nasty in the opening series that they persuaded me to believe their team will lose less brutally. In the end, though, the difference in the offenses tells me the Phillies aren't losing this set. And how about that first fucking game? I mean, wow. TIM LINCECUM VERSUS ROY HALLADAY. How's that shit for a billboard marquee? This thing better be some sort of 1-0 masterpiece where the only run is scored on a solo home run by Dracula (Chase Utley) and everyone else strikes out. I don't think I've been this excited about a non-Cardinal game in a while.

Phillies in 6

And yes, as of now I'm sticking by my World Series prediction. The Phillies look (and are) great. That front three showed exactly why they're going to be so hard to beat.

Eduardo Perez is talking on my television, and his throaty voice displeases me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Playoff Preview

It's time to preview the playoffs, even if I'm a little bit angry and a little bit bitter. After all, my dumbass Cardinals will have just about as active a role in them as I will. I'll preface this by reiterating that predicting a short series, or multiple short series, is pretty much akin to playing pin the tail on the donkey. I can say anything I want, but such a small sample size pretty much means that a great deal of luck will be involved. Whether I nail all of these or whiff the whole thing, it doesn't mean a whole lot. The odds aren't really in favor of the best team winning. After all, there are no odds. Other than giving the edge to teams with a strong group of starters at the front of their rotations, there isn't a lot I can do. And I guess there's the home field advantage thing or whatever. And seriously, why couldn't the Cardinals have just not been so mediocre? If they had simply gotten in, I'd be a lot more excited about 2010's edition of Horsehide Crapshoot.

But don't take this completely the wrong way, I'm still a little pumped. The playoffs always feel different, and there are plenty of elite players and teams on display for the whole world to see.

NLDS: Atlanta Braves (91-71, +109) versus San Francisco Giants (92-70, +114)

For me, this series isn't super exciting. Most everyone seems to like the Giants simply because they have a nice pitching staff, and I'm not going to disagree. I might disagree if the Braves weren't a tad hobbled and a tad underwhelming, but that just isn't the case. Lincecum+Cain+Sanchez+home field advantage=Giants winning this series.

Prediction: Giants in 4

NLDS: Cincinnati Reds (91-71, +105) versus Philadelphia Phillies (97-65, +132)

So I sort of hate the Reds now, but that is by no stretch of the imagination the only reason I'm taking the Phillies in this one. They've got Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt fronting their rotation, their lineup is at least somewhat healthy now, and they simply have fewer glaring question marks than their opponent. That said, I could totally see the Reds taking a game or two thanks to offensive outbursts. Votto's my pick for the league's MVP and Jay Bruce has really started to come around for real.

Prediction: Phillies in 4

ALDS: New York Yankees (95-67, +166) versus Minnesota Twins (94-68, +110)

Late season struggles aside, the Yankees are very much the better team. I might be a little more wary of picking them if the Twins weren't short Morneau and Joe Mauer wasn't aching. To win this thing, Liriano's going to have to dominate a couple of times and the Yankees are going to have to not score a billion runs against the rest of the surprising staff. I'd love to see the Twins take this, as it seems they just never make a deep run. That said...

Prediction: Yankees in 4

ALDS: Texas Rangers (90-72, +100) versus Tampa Bay Rays (96-66, +153)

This is my favorite match-up of all. Two very interesting teams loaded with interesting players. The Rays have been fantastic all year, and they are the better squad. The Rangers put runs on the board, they've got playoff hero Cliff Lee, and they have a couple of other nice starters behind him. I foresee some close games, and I think this is the only series that runs the gamut.

Prediction: Rays in 5

Now I have my League Championship Series match-ups set. Might as well go ahead and predict the whole thing!

NLCS: San Francisco Giants (92-70, +114) versus Philadelphia Phillies (97-65, +132)

This one would have sexy pitching duels galore. The Philadelphia offense gives them the nod, but honestly their rotation is in the lead too. I'm not going to give this much thought, as I don't think that it demands it so long as the universe is fair and just.

Prediction: Phillies in 5

ALCS: New York Yankees (95-67, +166) versus Tampa Bay Rays (96-66, +153)

This should be fun. The Rays have the better staff, but the Yankees have the firepower to make that not matter. With some of New York's shortcomings on the mound, I think this thing goes the full seven games, and I think some of the contests will be on the high-scoring side.

Prediction: Yankees in 7

World Series: New York Yankees (95-67, +166) versus Philadelphia Phillies (97-65, +132)

God, again? Whatever. This time the Phillies are going to get the best of the Yanks, though I think (and hope) it'll be a long and fruitful series. Largely due to the three-headed beast that will surely start all of these games for the Phils, I'm taking them in seven.

Prediction: Phillies in 7

So there you have it. Someone should disagree with me in the Comments section. I love it when people comment. It really gets me going. After I'm completely wrong about all of the divisional series, I intend to re-pick the LCS match-ups. It's not that I'm going to go back on my word, it's just that I'm desperately trying to hold on to baseball as long as I can before it descends into winter slumber.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seeing Built to Spill is...

...amazing. As a long-time fan of this long-time band, it was gratifying to see them perform such quality material at such a high level. My wife and I saw them on Sunday, September 19 at the Beaumont Club in Kansas City. We shared a hell of a time together and saw a hell of a show. Also, the Beaumont Club's honestly a pretty nice little venue to hear music.

Songs I know (for certain) were played:

"The Plan"
"Center of the Universe"
"Carry the Zero"
"Big Dipper"
"The Weather"
"Twin Falls"
"Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" (This song is originally by Halo Benders, another Doug Martsch project, though the Built to Spill version appears on the band's live LP.)

Obviously there were others, and there was one cover song I was not familiar with. It was a great night, though we did have a misadventure through eastern Kansas on the way home. Just one gas station in a 50 mile radius, for God's sake. I'd love to see them again sometime, as I was pretty much floored by the band's professionalism and energy. Doug Martsch's guitar heroics and frantic head-bobbing only served to make me love this band more.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ten? Seriously? Ten?

I'm guessing that anyone who writes reviews of anything has a certain conundrum on their hands when trying to assign a rating to what it is they're reviewing. Whether you're rating someone's creation on a scale of one to four, one to 10, or three to 8,112, you have to have some basis for what you're doing. For some critics, it seems like a maximum rating is awarded fairly frequently, and I get that. As a longtime fan of Roger Ebert's, I know that he's going to hand out four stars if he thoroughly enjoys a movie. Other critics hardly ever give out a perfect score, as they reserve such ratings to only the very upper echelon of what they enjoy.

It occurred to me recently that I fall into the latter category. The stingy one. While I haven't really written that many reviews, I also haven't ever given out a perfect score. A lot of this has to do with timing. As a relatively young individual, I've missed the timely period in which to write about certain films and albums I would give perfect ratings to. With all of this in mind, I've decided to spend a few entries waxing poetic about some pieces of art that I would (and will) assign perfect 10.0 ratings to. After this sentence, you can read the very first perfect review I've ever written.

Aenima (1996)
Rating: 10.0

If you take a good hard look at the two albums that form the bread of the sandwich that Aenima is the meat of, you'll realize even more why Tool's second proper record is a masterpiece. Undertow is a great album, a towering achievement of musicianship and progressive thinking. Lateralus is a technical wonder, an album that offerings ass-kicking and atmosphere in equal parts. In between them, though, is Aenima a work of art that performs an impossible balancing act between the two. I mean, why sacrifice the raw energy of Undertow or the precision of Lateralus when you can have both?

To hear "Stinkfist" in 2010, you'd never know it was a song penned a decade and-a-half ago. Aside from sounding fantastic, Maynard's parallel lines about our society constantly wanting more, needing something better than perfect, are dead on. You know you've peaked as a writer when you can honestly claim to have successfully used fisting as a metaphor. And Maynard's right; just as soon as life is perfect, we all go searching for something else, something to make everything even better. And as we all know, that's when we ruin what we had in the first place.

So what does it say about Aenima that the followup to "Stinkfist" is probably even better? "Eulogy" is just all over the place, brooding and burrowing and begrudging Jesus in equal parts. But is Maynard really begrudging anything that has to do with religion, or is he calling us all out on our bullshit? Raise your hand if you've ever wanted to throw up because someone close to you decided to play the martyr simply for the attention. Exactly.

The emotional climax of "H" is a killer. The song begins calmly enough, but it's not hard to hear that something is simmering beneath the surface the whole time. And then it comes, that emotional heft, the slam dunk. "Forty Six and Two" pairs a jittery guitar part with a thick bass line, and things get suitably out of control. Never have Carl Jung references sounded so meaty.

"Hooker With A Penis" reminds us all of how silly labels really are. For anyone who's ever been involved in music, or honestly been involved with anything, this song should make a lot of sense. Can't we all just grow up and like what we like? It should be all about the art, not the delivery, not the aesthetics. But this song would fall flat if it weren't for Danny Carey's power and Maynard's raw fervor.

"Jimmy" is another classic progressive rock track, mixing proficiency with thick black drizzle in a way no other band really ever could. And "Pushit," I don't even know where I'm supposed to start. Should I mention how the song weaves in and out of different ideas, how it simultaneously makes me want to punch someone in the head and bawl my eyes out? As for the title track, that one's another complete winner. Maynard's wailing about how much he hates bullshitters, how much he hates Los Angeles, and he's doing it all to the sound of the whole world falling apart underneath his feet.

Aenima is perfect. It's the culmination of something Tool was destined to do. They've always been excellent, but only this once did they pull off the impossible and make something immortal. The random nose tracks, they don't even feel out of place here. They exist to move us forward into something more meaningful, to tease us a little bit. Because Tool does that; they've always done that. They're going to fuck with us a little bit before we get the payoff. Thing is, all of that tomfoolery usually feels a bit unnecessary. On Aenima, it feels important. And I think that about summarizes it. Aenima feels, and is, really important.