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.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Well, I Might As Well Do Something

I've been drinking again. Read what I think about things.

Arcade Fire
The Suburbs (2010)
Rating: 9.0 (out of 10)

I wish I was in Arcade Fire. If you watch any of the band's live performances, whether they be on TV or in person, you'll feel inspired. Quite frankly, they give a shit. You might think they're overrated, you might think they're too safe, you might think they're whatever. Thing is, if you watch them play any of their songs you're going to realize that this is a band that believes in what they're doing.

Three albums into their career, Arcade Fire are untouchable. As good as Neon Bible was, its political bent seemed a bit immature and short-sighted at times. This is a band that works best when examining the rot that incapacitates us in everyday life, and that's the sort of thing they focus on in The Suburbs.

Let's start with the opening track, a lock-step piano number named after the album itself. Good luck getting it out of your head. And if you're moving forward with your life, if your starting to become an adult with a capital A, you're going to pick up on some other things. Win Butler's pleas to have a daughter before he's too old to show her joy, his desire to let others feel the ephemeral sensations he's barely clinging on to, those are feelings I can't help but admire. Putting this sort of shit into words is nearly impossible, but I'll be damned if this dude doesn't figure out a way.

And fuck, "Ready to Start" is a beast. That bass line dominates my brain day in and day out. The song sounds like it was made 20 years ago, but the themes resonate now. The energy behind it is incredible. "Month of May" is the same way, an effort by a band specializing in the grandiose to make a short, perfect pop song that people like me will lose their shit over. Guess what? Both attempts were unquestionably successful, and "Ready to Start" makes me sad, angry, and happy all at once.

If "Rococo" annoys you at first (it did me), let its climax take you over. If "Empty Room" channels Bowie, you shouldn't care. If "City With No Children" makes you a little bid sad, you're going to have to come to terms with that. "Deep Blue" is gorgeous, "We Used to Wait" is appropriately jaunty, and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is goddamned perfect. This record is meant as a statement, as a collective unit of songs that lets us know that life isn't ever going to be a picnic. We're all going to be fighting through this shit for as long as we exist. If The Suburbs is anything, and it is, it's the sound of growing up and realizing the damning truths that haunt all of us every single day.

Neon Bible was a really good record, one of my favorite of the past decade. Funeral, it's even better. The reason The Suburbs leans closer in excellence to Funeral than Neon Bible is its reliance on personal narratives, its dependence on the bullshit we all go through every single day. I'm 25 years old now, and I'm married. I lost my father in May. I've got gray hair and I'm getting increasingly chubby. I have debt, and a lot of the time I think my family resents me. It's because of all this, my aging, my fears, my perspective, that I am able to appreciate The Suburbs even more than I normally would. Yeah, this record sounds great, but if you listen to what Win Butler has to say and you're anywhere near the same position I am, you're going to get an added bonus.

Funeral , all full of youthful idealism and excitement, it's the band's crowning achievement. But The Suburbs, this is a close enough second, an album so sad that it's confident. This is a record I will happily stand behind no matter what. This is a record I'm going to hold dear when I have children of my own, and I can't say that about most of the discs I listen to on a daily basis. For the third time, Arcade Fire have crafted one of the year's best.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dance Yrself Dirty

LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening (2010)
Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

For those unaware, LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy has created something of a debate among those who fill their free hours by listening to music. To some, Murphy represents the real fucking deal, the guy who blends beats, rock tendencies, and bizarre electronic noises better than anyone. To some, Murphy is a producer at the top of his game, a true titan of the music scene as it stands in 2010. However, for all the critical acclaim that has been shoveled LCD's way over the past half-decade and change, there are certainly still detractors. There are plenty of negative (or middling) words to be read concerning Murphy, and there are plenty of folks not ready to adorn his latest (and reportedly last) work as LCD Soundsystem an unqualified success.

Now it's time to announce my own stance. Me, I'm in Murphy's corner all the way. No, I'm not going to ever list LCD Soundsystem as one of my top handful of artists ever, but in the here and now there aren't really many better acts going. Even more impressive is the fact that each of the three major LCD records have shown improvements. The self-titled debut was impressive but occasionally uneven, but Sound of Silver and This Is Happening are both just about flawless. And when I say that, I mean it. Neither album is bound to elicit a whole lot of track-skipping.

I also don't fault Murphy one bit when it comes to his socially self-aware lyrics. As a guy who's spent a long time in the music game, he's obviously concerned about how he and his work are viewed to some degree. Does that make him come off as arrogant at times? I don't really think so, but others do. To me, as a creative-type person, you're always at least minimally curious to see what others think of your creations. To deny that is to embrace ignorance or feign some sort of cool that just doesn't (and shouldn't) exist. So if Murphy wants to talk about his reluctance to go certain directions with his art, his tendencies to worry about critical opinion, or his own poetic doubts, I don't see how that's anything but open and honest. If you want to bitch about the oblique nature of lyrics in indie music, LCD Soundsystem shouldn't be your target.

Having officially put my arm around Murphy, let me also say that I realize the guy is influenced by others. You don't have to pull my arm to get me to admit I hear some Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Brian Eno on Happening. Thing is, if we're going to start bitching at artists who take some of their creative notes from others, who are we not going to bitch at? So if you're me, you don't give two shits that "All I Want" sounds somewhat like Bowie. You just care that it's awesome, and you care that the lead guitar and random bleeps and bloops get the job done. You also don't care that Murphy takes almost three minutes to get into the meat of "Dance Yrself Clean". You care that once he does, it's totally worth it, and you literally can't stop different body parts from sporadically twitching.

"You Wanted A Hit", that's a great song, too. Nearly nine minutes of constant buildup about the artistic process are always welcome here. Over the course of the nine tracks on This Is Happening, boredom isn't going to ensue. As I alluded to earlier, there isn't a particularly weak track in the bunch. Oddly enough, the weakest is probably either lead single "Drunk Girls" or the slow, meandering penultimate "Somebody's Calling Me". Honestly, though, I wouldn't refer to either as weak. As my rating suggests, this is an excellent record I'll be listening to early and often. If this is the last thing we get from Murphy under his current nominal existence, I'm cool with it. Way to go out on top. Regardless, the 40 year-old is among the best and smartest producers working right now, so we'll be hearing from him again one way or another.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pearl Harbor

Here is a self-serving, dramatic poem thing I wrote. Hey, we all deal with things in our own way!

When I was younger, I used to think things were going to be okay. My head used to hurt. But me, I thought everything was going to be okay. My mom, she started to take drugs to make it all go away. My dad, he started to drink more and hope it would go away. My mom, she started to dream things she never saw. My dad, his chest started to hurt. When I was young, I thought everything was going to be okay. My mom, she started to cry alone in the bathroom. My dad, he started to put his head in his hands. Me, I started to take a dozen pills at a time. When I was young, I thought everything was going to be okay. My mom, she started to burst blood vessels. My dad, he started coughing up blood. Me, I started cutting holes in my arms. My sister, she tried to ignore it all. When I was young I told everyone we were all great. My mom, she started to feel things she shouldn't. My dad, he never saw a doctor. Me, my face started to burn, My sister, she had to hold her past so tight. My brother, his fists started to clinch. When I was young, I looked the other way. My mom, her eyes were so red. My dad, he fell apart so fast. Me, I wished he could see me. My sister, she stood on such a pillar. My brother, he only told his wife. When I was young, I lost my father. My mom, she was so embarrassed to feel how she did. My dad, he's somewhere else. Me, I'm so goddamn numb. My sister, she works it away. My brother, he doesn't believe it. None of us believe it. Us, we're all asleep. Us, we're all dead. It's just a matter of time. But please, please don't give up before it's over.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Somber Situations

I'll talk about music as much as I want. Fuck yourself.

The National
High Violet (2010)ItalicRating: 8.5 (out of 10)

The National have been a go-to band for those up late with nothing to do but drink for a while now. It's those baritone vocals, the gradual impact of the band's sound, and those jittery drums. It's the feeling you get when you try to imitate the voice yourself after too many drinks, it's the high you hit once the band reaches their own climax. For those familiar with what The National do, High Violet isn't going to be particularly surprising, but that isn't always a bad thing. This is an incredibly dependable band releasing its third consecutive eyebrow-raising record. This is acute professionalism cloaked in doom and a little bit of guarded optimism. This is, in many ways, the culmination of what The National have been hinting at for some time.

Is High Violet as good as Boxer or Alligator? Maybe not, but does it matter? All three records are exercises in precision and restraint. The National are good because they aren't going to beat you over the head with how epic they (sort of) are. If you're listening to a Broken Social Scene song and it gets epic, it's going to blow you the fuck out of the room. You're going to hear more instruments and vocal tracks than you can count. You're going to get overwhelmed, and that works for them. But The National are a little bit trickier. Take "Afraid of Everyone," for example. The song builds gradually around a haunting melody. The back-up vocals (in part provided by Sufjan Stevens) coo while the instruments swirl. And as for that baritone voice (it's Matt Berninger for those not acquainted), it does a lot of work. By the end of the song, you're going to be shitting your pants, but you're not going to be sure how you got to that point. And once you pass "Afraid" on the track list, you're going to have a similar reaction to the stellar "Bloodbuzz, Ohio".

So if The National have been doing pretty much the same thing for three straight albums, why do I praise them? Why the kind words? Well, things keep changing slightly. On Alligator the band lost their shit sometimes. Berninger would start to freak out and things would get a little bit out of hand; that's what worked for The National five years ago. A couple of years later on Boxer, the band grew up a little bit, mastering the art of tension and subtle release, captivating audiences with a dark aesthetic and antsy drums. High Violet follows this trajectory logically, offering the collective cool executed so perfectly on Boxer while beefing up the instrumentation and giving Berninger more room to breathe. Those unimpressed with what High Violet are probably disappointed the band has yet to craft their real masterpiece. For me, it's enough that the band consistently dabbles in excellence.

If there's a complaint to be had, it's that High Violet doesn't feature anything that could really be considered up-tempo. It might have been nice for a couple of energetic songs to find their way in both the first and last half of the album, but to demand it would be foolish. The National know what they're doing, and because they do they've been able to rise near the top of the indie-rock world as we enter a new decade. Smack dab in the middle of their career, this is a band that even has some room to grow. Just as I felt after Boxer, the best may be yet to come.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Joy! Joy! Joy!

It's time for you to read about the newest of The New Pornographers. Don't want to? Then I hate you.

The New Pornographers

Together (2010)
Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

Since I started writing songs myself, really writing songs, I've always had something of a power-pop bent. There's something magical about big chords, sweet hooks, and choruses you just keep wanting to return to long after a first listen. Despite my love of quality power-pop, I've run into some issues when searching for artists to fill this particular musical void. Scratch that. Really it's just one issue. Most power-pop bands are shitty. It's because of this fact that I so readily latched onto The New Pornographers, a band that includes folks like Carl Newman (once of Zumpano), Dan Bejar (of Destroyer), and Neko Case (she has a prominent solo career).

After three truly excellent albums to begin their career together, The New Pornos sort of faltered on their senior outing. It's not that 2007's Challengers was bad or anything, it just wasn't up to standards. Quite frankly, it felt like an album made by a talented collective that lost their steam and was ready to fall into Veteran Indie Musician Mediocrity. Three years later, I know all of that to be complete bullshit. Challengers was a little bit of a misfire, but it had very little to do with the career path the band had in mind. This is crystal clear right out of the gate on Together.

"Moves" is the sort of Pornos song that litters 2005's Twin Cinema. It runs around, ratchets up the happy, and rattles between the ears. As soon as I heard it for the first time, I felt abundant relief and excitement for the rest of the album. "Crash Years" is catchy as hell, and even if it isn't "Letter From An Occupant," Neko Case really tears it up. And then comes "Your Hands (Together)," another song with a big hook and some unforgettable moments. Let's just say Together has a powerful triumvirate to start things off, and things don't get much worse the rest of the way. "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" feels pretty triumphant, and "Valkyrie In the Roller Disco" offers a temporary and effective change of pace. "A Bite Out of My Bed" is a real pop gem, while "We End Up Together" fits perfectly as this album's closer.

Things aren't completely flawless on Together, but they're reasonably close. Once again, Dan Bejar's contributions feel a little bit, um, annoying sometimes. "Silver Jenny Dollar" is pleasant enough, but Bejar's exaggerated pronunciations are starting to wear thin on me. "If You Can't See My Mirrors" has sort of the same effect; Bejar just sounds creepy sometimes, and not in the good way.

The overall package presented to us as Together is a really good one that falls just short of the band's very best moments. Together is aptly named. For me, it's a record that you listen to with someone you love, something you have playing while your windows are down and you're driving somewhere exciting. Appropriately enough given its release date, it's a fantastic group of songs to listen to as the flowers bloom and spring gives way to summer. I'm pleasantly surprised by this one, and I've learned my lesson. Quit doubting immense talent.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Wish I Had Created Mythology

Clash of the Titans (2010)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos
Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)

What's really strange to me is that despite serious plot similarities, the 2010 edition of Clash of the Titans doesn't begin to resemble the 1981 version. The 1981 version featured some interesting and campy special effects and animation, a tin can owl, and some shaky acting that almost lent to the movie's feel. As for the 2010 version, we get CGI monsters oozing from every direction, decent-enough acting, and an ending that feels rushed. So yeah, the events are pretty much the same, but the manners in which they are depicted are worlds apart.

Just like the original film, Clash of the Titans tells the story of Perseus, a half-man, half-god fellow who has to find a way to stop the gods of Olympus from unleashing a beast upon the town or Argus. Perseus is played by Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator Salvation), who isn't really given much to work with in terms of dialogue or character development. If Perseus is to save the day, he and his merry band of monster killers must get through a slew of challenges while avoiding the wrath of the gods. Greek mythology is pretty badass, so this should be interesting, right?


In my mind, the original Clash of the Titans worked well because it gave time to the correct elements of the story, and the jittery, stop-and-start effects worked because the story itself is one that requires such enormous suspension of disbelief. The 2010 Titans reboot simply beats viewers over the head with action, only nodding at many conventions of the original. And as for pacing, the new Titans contains a boring and unnecessary "Perseus coming of age" intro before getting into the real story. Plus, there's the scorpion fight scene that lasts roughly 500 times longer than the ultimate battle against the legendary Kraken. Oh, and if characters matter much to you, don't bother seeing this movie, because no one in it is given time to turn into more than a two-dimensional cardboard cutout of a character.

Speaking of dimensions, I saw this thing in 3D. I should tell you that I've only seen two 3D movies, and the other one was Avatar. Seeing as how you're now privy to this information, you ought to know without me telling you that I hated the 3D presentation of Clash of the Titans. Virtually nothing in the movie really took advantage of the 3D format, making me think that the movie was rushed into a 3D version to cash in on the reputation Avatar carved.

On a side note, we didn't even get to see the real previews for Clash of the Titans, as Campbell 16 Cinema in Springfield, Missouri decided they were going to show us the kid-bait trailers that normally air before How To Train Your Dragon. Oh, and if that's not enough, you should know that we actually had to watch a couple of minutes of the Dragon movie before the issue was corrected. And we didn't get to watch the credits to the movie we paid for. So yeah, fuck Campbell 16.

So in closing, Clash of the Titans is a merely average-ish action romp, and it's only that because of the strength of the source material and the decent cast. If you do decide to see Titans, just do it sans 3D or you'll leave the theater with nothing but a headache and unanswerable questions.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Don't Need Synergy in My Music

You want a review, you say? Fine. Read up.

Coheed and Cambria
Year of the Black Rainbow (2010)
Rating: 5.5 (out of 10)

My first experience with Coheed and Cambria came while I was still a teenager. That's the sort of statement usually used to form an excuse for liking an artist that, well, doesn't deserve to be referred to as an artist. That's not my angle here, though, so I'm getting back to my story now. When I was a teenager, I first heard Coheed and Cambria on some awful MTV Road Rules compilation disc by accident. The song I heard was "33", a jaunty, fun little bastard of a track. I heard catchy melodies, impressive instrumentation, and vocals that I wasn't sure were made by a male, female, or dolphin. The overall package interested me, so away I went to CD Warehouse to purchase the band's debut, The Second Stage Turbine Blade. I grew to love the aforementioned debut album, a furious combination of all of the elements "33" embodied and then some. To this day, I hold the album in high regard despite the fact that most people who know a good band from their asshole would scold me. Hell, I even loved the sophomore album, and I went and saw the band play three times. I've just described how my love affair with Coheed began; now that it's mostly ended (we give in to our mutual attraction every now and then still), let me detail how far things have fallen.

The problem is, Coheed and Cambria got so full of themselves and started treating me like shit. They knew how I felt about them, so she used it to their full advantage. First there was that third album and it's pointlessly-long title. They teased me with that one, giving me things like "Welcome Home" and "The Suffering". But they also got all bloated and fat, content with doing whatever. So then my love began to wane; I began to question things. But it was just one album, so I persevered. Well, I persevered until they dumped another long-titled pile on me, one with even less to appease my pathetic devotion. That's when I left them and went elsewhere, letting The Hold Steady make love to my ears instead.

Now that you have the back story, I need to tell you that Coheed and Cambria showed up on my doorstep with something called Year of the Black Rainbow, a peace offering. Turns out, though, they're still just a big fucking tease, but they at least hint at a future together. Black Rainbow starts out in pompous fashion with a big, dumb block of atmosphere before launching into "The Broken", a track I actually enjoy. The band goes back to sensibly approaching melody, and it pays off. But then I'm stuck with more filler before getting to "Here We Are Juggernaut", which itself only has moments of real coherence. The next song, "Far", may be my favorite on the album because it really throws me off the typical trail. Rather than just wank all over an overused riff, Coheed takes the time to build a cool song using moody, giant percussion and weeping guitars.

Things slow back down until "Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)", another stomping percussion song with a nice, simple lead guitar part. The chorus missteps, but not so much that it tanks the song. "In the Flame of Error" has its moments, but moments alone cannot carry a five-and-a-half minute song, and they can't cushion the blow of the superfluous album closer.

Despite Black Rainbow's ultimate failure, there are some good signs present. The band clearly feels more comfortable embracing a moodier, more subdued sound at times, and a lot of the punchier, early-day songwriting skills manifest themselves from time to time. I'd like to say I now feel as if the band is maturing and can shed their huge, shit-rock tendencies in favor of honest-to-God well-written songs. But that's not how I feel. After all, the electro-tendencies of singer Claudio Sanchez's solo project (Prize Fighter Inferno's My Brother's Blood Machine) have only barely been realized in his full-time band's work, and that album gave me false hope already. I hate to say it, but I think they might be gone for good. If only I'd learn my lesson.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

There's All This New Music Coming Out

All the music sites I frequent keep telling me about new albums I really, really want. And I want them now. First off, we have the upcoming Deftones release, Diamond Eyes. Then we have an album I am cautiously anticipating: Coheed and Cambria's Year of the Black Rainbow. (Yes, I'm aware of everyone's opinion of C and C, but I remain a big advocate of the band's first two releases). Later on in the year my ears will also be graced by new material from Brian Vaughan favorites The Hold Steady (Heaven Is Whenever), Broken Social Scene (Forgiveness Rock Record), and The National (High Violet). So anyway, go music!

Two of these records, Diamond Eyes and Year of the Black Rainbow, have already made their way to my ears. Reviews of these two albums will now proceed to make their way to your eyes. We'll start with Diamond Eyes first.

Diamond Eyes (2010)
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)

If the world were a nicer place, Diamond Eyes might not even exist. Deftones initially began working on a different project, an album called Eros, before a car accident sent bassist Chi Cheng into a coma. Cheng still has yet to fully recover, and while the band doesn't name Chi's condition as a reason for delaying the release of the Eros material, surely the tragedy that befell their friend and fellow musician held some sway over their decision.

While Deftones singer Chino Moreno alluded to Eros as something a bit removed from the band's general direction, Diamond Eyes feels a lot closer to home, and maybe that's what the band needed during such a turbulent time. Fortunately, Deftones happen to be a band that (for me at least) are still plenty enjoyable when they don't venture far from their wheelhouse. Sure, the one time when Deftones really tried to venture away from their tendencies (White Pony in 2000) they struck utter gold, but that doesn't take away from efforts like Around the Fur that mostly just bring the fucking pain. And I guess that's really what Diamond Eyes does and does well: it brings the fucking pain.

Things start off in punishing fashion with the burrowing, low verse of the title track. Thing is, that dark verse gives way to a deliciously smooth chorus that works well to create a sonically-pleasing duality. A lot of times, when bands (even this band on a couple of occasions) try to shift from mass to melody, things feel a bit too saccharine, but "Diamond Eyes" avoids any problems. "Royal" doesn't leave any openings for issues, as it starts out pummeling and doesn't relent until a brief pause with 45 seconds to go that gives way to even more ferocity. "CMND/CTRL" and "You've Seen the Butcher" are fairly standard-order Deftones songs; they don't offer anything new, but they're pleasant enough.

The middle section of Diamond Eyes offers a little variety in terms of anger and tempo. "Beauty School" boasts a chorus driven by jittery drums and guitars, as well as a wise to decision to head up rather than down on a key bass note by band friend and temporary Chi Cheng fill-in Sergio Vega. Unfortunately, the song's chorus gets a little too airy: think "Minerva" without the hook. "Prince" sounds incredibly like an Around the Fur outtake, and as such it succeeds wildly. "Prince" lets its wavering verse build into a big, buzzsaw guitar chorus. It's a tried-and-true Deftones tradition, so why fuck with it? Speaking of fucking with things, Chino implores us to "fuck with him" on "Rocket Skates," one of the album's most kick-ass songs and its first single. So yeah, the lyrical content of "Rocket Skates" isn't ideal, but it's hard to care, especially when Chino's shredding his vocal cords.

The last section of the album feels like its weakest. "Sextape" comes off as a bland attempt at lightening things up, while album closer "This Place Is Death" doesn't really go the places it feels like it should. It sounds like it's supposed to be the last song on the album, as if it fits that bill solely because it's kind of slow and moody. "Risk" and "976-EVIL" work better than the rest of the late album fare as a result of better songwriting, but neither holds up to the strongest material here.

Looking at Diamond Eyes as a whole makes it a little but underwhelming, though it's still quite an enjoyable listen. At its best, the album really kills. Some moments are so fiendishly badass that it's almost easy to overlook the fluffier songs that pollute the album's conclusion. And it's not like the material near the end of the record is pointless; with a few directional shifts, those songs could become infinitely more interesting. It's in these moments that it seems like maybe Diamond Eyes was rushed, which it probably was. What we're left with is a good record that I know I'll be listening to from time to time. What we don't have is any sort of definitive statement. We don't have the unsettling gaze of White Pony. We don't have the crush of "Beware"'s ending or the swagger of "Hexagram." But we do have a new Deftones record, and I wasn't sure we ever would. So cheers to that, and here's to hoping for plenty more.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Death Doesn't Always Equal Greatness

World's Greatest Dad (2009)
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore, Evan Martin
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)

Here is yet another example of how much better Robin Williams functions as a dramatic actor these days. World's Greatest Dad is funny sometimes, but it is by no means a full-on comedy. Shit goes down here, and Williams' performance is a very solid one as a father put in a very strange position.

Williams plays Lance Clayton, a failed writer who winds up teaching poetry at his son's high school. Lance's life really isn't anything close to what he wishes it could be. He's written several books, but he's never been published. The woman he's dating (another faculty member named Claire) seems more interested in a fellow teacher's basketball games. His son Kyle's only desire in life is to demean him in between masturbation sessions. One night, following a date with Claire that Kyle also attended, Lance sends Kyle home while talking with Claire for awhile. Upon returning home, he discovers Kyle has inadvertently killed himself in an unusual manner.

The following scene is a good one, as we get a look at Lance's emotions and thoughts without Williams having to utter a word of dialogue. We see Lance just completely lose it, and then after a long take of his emotional outburst, we see him write Kyle's suicide note for him in attempt to create depth for his son that was simply never there. All of this takes place while Akron/Family's "You're Already Dead" reminds us that "love is simple." It's probably the most effective scene director Bobcat Goldthwait could have hoped for in such a stark moment. While Lance was perpetually disgusted with his son, this scene makes us privy to the love he felt nonetheless, and it doesn't feel forced or fake.

Upon returning to his school to resume working after a leave of absence, Lance finds that things have changed. For once, people are reading something he's written, but it isn't a book, it's Kyle's suicide note. The note became public domain, and the school's students and faculty alike begin to romanticize Kyle's life and intelligence despite not ever really knowing or liking him. Before long, Lance finds himself penning Kyle's journal, a well-written account of a tortured soul. The problem is, that tortured soul never existed. Nearly every student in the school begins to almost worship Kyle, dedicating their every move to his memory. All the girls want him post-mortem; some even carve his name into their flesh. Suddenly Lance has become a successful writer, but he has done so by using his dead son as a vessel for his work. The only person who thinks anything strange is going on is Andrew, a timid student who was Kyle's only true friend and knows none of this can be real.

World's Greatest Dad does an excellent job showing how the mirror of death often reflects a different image than we saw during life. Regardless of anything a person did while alive, death almost always washes away the negatives. The truth is, Kyle was something of a repugnant person, and no one gave a shit about him while he was alive. This is the same kid who was sent to the principal's office after shouting "that pussy isn't gonna eat itself" to a girl passing by. And yet that's not the Kyle anyone remembers. Death has turned Kyle into a saint and Lance into a martyr. Lance is left to decide whether the attention is really worth it when it comes like this. While Dad stops short of completely going for the throat, it's still a jarring film with some very dark undertones. It's funny, but in the saddest possible way. Not widely released, I hope this movie gains some backing now that it's on DVD.

I Can't See Anything

Most movies based on Stephen King's work suck. This one didn't.

The Mist (2007)
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden, Frances Sternhagen, Andre Braugher, Nathan Gamble
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)

Horror movies have long been abusive to me. I know what's going to happen, but I just keep coming back. Shit pile after shit pile, I return to the genre with false hopes of unique and/or useful entries of work. The Mist, on top of being a horror movie, is also based on a Stephen King novella. Most adaptations of King's writing are poorly orchestrated, but The Mist manages to do a lot of things right while avoiding the obvious temptations that most movies in the genre readily give in to.

Much like any other horror effort, things start out relatively calmly. The morning after a visceral storm attacked their home, the Drayton family is in need of supplies to bandage up their dwelling. Father David (Thomas Jane) and young son Billy decide to go in to town to pick up what is needed, leaving the family's matriarch behind. Along with them for the journey is their neighbor Brent, who the family has been feuding with over property for some time. Fortunately, it looks as if the disagreements can be put aside in a mutual time of need.

Once at a local supermarket, things start getting weird. A strange mist envelops the store. A man runs in the store screaming that the mist has taken his friend. The store shakes and rattles. Needless to say, everyone inside is confused and terrified. Whatever lies in the mist is a mystery; no one in the store can see anything more than a few feet away. We get introduced to several characters here, including Ollie, a nerdy supermarket employee, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), an evangelical woman who believes this is the apocalypse, and Irene, a spunky old woman who isn't to be fucked with.

From here, things only get tougher for the store's occupants. An accident on the loading dock reveals to a select few that some sort of creatures are residing within the mist, but many of the townspeople refuse to believe it. David becomes something of a leader, trying to warn everyone of the true danger they are in, while Mrs. Carmody wars against him, telling everyone this is God's will, and that they need to pay in blood for everything to be as it should. As things worsen outside the store, things worsen inside as well. Mrs. Carmody's fire-and-brimstone sermons begin to convert others, and instead of joining hands to combat the unknown, everyone is busy fighting each other. By the film's climax, Mrs. Carmody and her followers are just as horrifying as whatever might be lurking in the distance.

The Mist threatens to get dumb early and often. We're given a group of characters that seem to embody the stereotypes we often see in this type of movie. We've got the David as the mentally-stable leader, Mrs. Carmody as the foil, Ollie as the nerd-turned-badass, and Brent as the non-believer in denial. But all of these characters are portrayed well, and their actions serve to plunge the movie into depths that horror films often don't go. The movie also wisely steers clear of trouble in terms of explaining where the mist came from. An interesting enough explanation is given, but rather than trip all over himself trying to explain it, director Frank Darabont (who also successfully tackled King's The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) has the mist's origin come from the mouth of a character who knows the truth, but doesn't know everything. Doing this enables our minds to wonder and prevents us from having to second-guess any hard science that might have been presented otherwise.

The Mist isn't just a simple monster story with jumps and screams, it examines mob mentality, religious fanaticism, and human nature. It's a reminder that in the worst of times, not everyone is genetically inclined to be a hero, and not everyone has the best or clearest of motivations. As if all of this wasn't enough, The Mist provides an ending that won't disappoint. Rather than go either of the truly traditional routes, Darabont (and King, really) opts to head down a different road entirely. If only more horror films would try the paths less traveled.