Sep 12

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I should preface my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with a few facts so you can decide whether you want to try taking this review at all seriously:

  1. I hated “Man of Steel.” I feel like the only things that movie got really right were Henry Cavill and Amy Adams, whose Clark and Lois respectively were remarkably solid.
  2. I only rented this movie because I’m cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Wonder Woman solo film and wanted to see Gal Gadot’s part in this film first.
  3. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the three-hour “full” cut of this movie. Devoting two-and-a-half-hours-plus was already a big commitment considering how badly I didn’t like the movie that came before this movie.

If the above facts render my upcoming thoughts invalid to you, you’re welcome to stop reading. There’s a whole rest of the Internet for you to explore. Thanks for dropping by, have a lovely day!

Oh, and below you’ll find spoilers. Big unsubtle spoilers, even. Be ye fairly warned, mateys. This review is long, sprawling, and badly in need of an editor. Like the movie. Ba-dum-PISH!

Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 31

Capsule Review Roundup

We’ll round out this summer run of music (and related products) reviews with a handful of most-recent-album selections which I just couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm for to devote a full entry’s worth of time & effort…

  • Apocalyptica, Shadowmaker – So they’ve got a dedicated singer now. “Cold Blood” is good, the rest of the record left me… cold. Pass.
  • Giorgio Moroder, Déjà Vu – Two of the three instrumentals (“74 is the New 24” and “4 U with Love”) are pretty good, but what’s really weird about this record is that my favorite song is sung by someone I’ve never really enjoyed before (Britney Spears) and is a cover of a song I utterly loathed in its most famous incarnation (“Tom’s Diner”). Yeah, I dunno either. Overall, a so-so record.
  • Muse, Drones – I’m not a mega-fan of Muse. I tend to really enjoy three or four songs per album and can leave the rest. (Except in the case of the previous album, The 2nd Law, which I mostly hated.) This one is… okay. It’s a concept album, which probably doesn’t help.
  • Queensrÿche, Condition Hüman – QR has a new singer as of the album previous to this one. He sounds… ridiculously like the previous singer. I mean it’s really uncanny. So the good news is, if you like QR, you’ll probably have no trouble enjoying this album. I’m… not a huge QR fan. (That would be the other member of my household, hence why this is in my library to begin with.) A few songs work for me, the rest leave me underwhelmed.
  • Seabound, Speak In Storms – VNV Nation and mind.in.a.box led me to this band via vague musical association. If you like either of those other two acts you probably already know about Seabound. If not, well: it’s dark, dance-y European electronica. I generally like this album. The lyric content seems a bit grim, and sometimes the music goes along with that and sometimes it’s distinctly contrasted, upbeat. If you’re curious, I recommend hunting down the tracks “For Another Day,” “Everything,” and “When She’s Hungry.”

That’ll do for now. What do you think I should try next…?

Aug 24

ABC – The Lexicon of Love II

You’d think with my musical identity being formed in the mid-1980s and with ABC being a popular UK-based band (and boy howdy was I into that sort of thing back then) that I wouldn’t have missed out on most of their discography. And yet, I only listened to one of their albums a few times (at a friend’s house) back in the day and never went looking deeper in the decades since.

At this point, ABC is a band the same way recent incarnations of Jethro Tull is a band. In this case it’s Martin Fry instead of Ian Anderson who’s surrounded by whichever players meet his needs for the project.

It wasn’t until friend Wonderduck nudged me in the direction of their second album, Beauty Stab (reviewed previously), that I started paying much attention at all. When the latest record was announced, a “sequel” to their debut at that, I found myself intrigued.

So, can I review The Lexicon of Love II without actually being particularly familiar with its breakthrough predecessor? Sure I can. The sequel conceit can be taken or left as the listener chooses, as far as I’m concerned. My concern is whether this music stands on its own.

Generally speaking it does. Most of the album hits the “good but not great” mark, to my particular tastes. The lead single was “Viva Love,” which is plenty solid enough (and is on my portable playlist, months after release, so make of that what you will). Many of the other tracks like “The Flames of Desire,” “Confessions of a Fool,” “The Ship of the Seasick Sailor,” and “I Believe In Love” are fine. They’re plenty listenable. “The Love Inside The Love” should be used as an insert song in a high-quality James-Bond-like movie. Only one song (“Ten Below Zero”) is what I’d consider a loss. You can put this record on and bask in three quarter of an hour’s worth of well-produced and clever pop songcraft. There’s kind of a lounge-act quality to the synths-and-strings-and-crooning results, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just not for me, mostly.

There’s one truly standout song here, though. One four-minute-or-so piece where everything Fry’s bringing to the effort just gels. That is “Singer Not The Song,” and if you pick up only one track from TLoL2, make it this one. It’s not markedly different in style or tone, mind you. Somehow, though, it’s the place on this album where Fry and his collaborators make a song work perfectly. Maybe it’s that it’s the least (blatantly) about-love piece in the track list? Maybe it’s that here’s where Fry sounds like he’s really putting a lot more of himself into the words and performance? But as the song itself declares, he’s the singer, not the song. One seems discouraged from speculating. Whatever, it just works.

Should you buy this album? Generally, I recommend it. My quibbles with the album are entirely to do with what I get out of music personally. It’s smart, it sounds good, it’s enjoyable and lush and energetic. Unless you’re averse to upbeat pop music in kind of an 80s-throwback vein, you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.

Aug 17

S. Alexander Reed – Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music

There’s an old line that goes, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” (The origin of the phrase is, apparently, a subject of considerable debate.) We’re going to take a brief break from writing about music, this week, and instead write about writing about music.

Okay, I’m done with that riff now.

Growing up, I was pretty much a child of the pop music scene, with a bit of dinosaur rock in my upbringing. i knew of bands like Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 but they weren’t part of my musical awareness other than “bands whose names appear on binder covers and studded leather jackets around school,” really. Later on, Nine Inch Nails hit and I heard somewhere that they were “Industrial,” whatever that was. I heard Depeche Mode tagged as such a few times as well.

Cut to a few years ago. A couple of folks I met on Twitter pointed me toward bands like VNV Nation and Apoptygma Berzerk, and I bounced off of terms like “EBM” and heard that “Industrial” tag again. I never had, at any point, much of a sense of what Industrial was supposed to be.

Mind you, with all the people who have claimed not to be involved with Industrial who have been “tarred” with that brush, getting a clear picture of what (if anything) the genre really encompasses can be quite a challenge.

Tying this all together, now, is a book by S. Alexander Reed wherein the philosophies, personalities, styles, stories, and contradictions wrapped up in the term “Industrial music” are collated, analyzed, compared, and rationalized. Assimilate is a dense, challenging, scholarly read chock-full of annotations, citations, and footnotes. That’s not to say it’s entirely dry stuff. Humor abounds, and the anecdotes and quotations make for compelling and interesting reading. The meat of the thing, however, is the thorough background and analysis of the environments, philosophies, and other underpinnings of what became the first wave of Industrial acts followed by the permutations and revisions that came later.

Before even detailing the origins of the first acknowledged Industrial acts, Reed gives us a primer on things like Futurism, revolutionary politics, William S Burroughs, and “cut-up” culture. Later chapters alternate between history and sociology, detailing what happened and following with what those happenings meant to the scene. No kid gloves here, as the triumphs are shown alongside the glaring missteps. (If you dress up in fascist garb to make a point, but the scene kids miss the message while glomming onto the presentation, how badly did you miscalculate?) And as technology marches on, production methods change, and the nigh-inevitable urge by some to mix message with profit means that folks are accused of “selling out” at many stages along the journey.

Assimilate stays on task throughout the book, questioning and analyzing the inspirations, results, and effects of each new warp and ripple added to the oddly-shaped body of music over the years. Key individuals are highlighted, and generally treated with a very even hand. One might have expected Trent Reznor to take a lot more flak, for instance, than he does in this work. The book isn’t concerned with demonizing or lionizing. The point is always, always to talk about causes and effects above all else. Nine Inch Nails had an effect. Skinny Puppy had an effect. The rise and fall of WaxTrax! Records had all kinds of effects. And so on.

What’s astonishing is that, at the end of it all, Reed ties the current state of things right back to one of the key concepts at the beginning, offering a way forward for a movement that may seem to have monetized and synthesized itself entirely out of relevance. And he does so by choosing neither the “noise for noise’s sake” or the “noise for music’s sake” path but a third blended option entirely.

Not sure what I mean? Well, if you’re at all intrigued, I recommend picking up a copy of Assimilate to find out. It fascinated me, and it added a slew of new artists to my list of music-to-look-into. (Mind you, I’m also now more aware of bands I won’t want to check out, but that has value as well.)

It’s the sort of carefully detailed dance about architecture I never imagined could exist.

Aug 10

Queen of Hearts – Cocoon

Yes, this album is over two years old. Since it’s technically the most recent release from the artist in question, I’m going to rule this one a valid choice. So there, my site my rules, neener neener et cetera.

Now. I feel the need to provide backstory on this one.

Friend Wonderduck and I trade YouTube links from time to time. (Okay, he’s much much better about it than I am.) Usually it’s to a piece of music we each think the other might find relevant to our interests. So, a while back he sent me a link to a track by The Sound of Arrows, one which is strongly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys. The song was okay but didn’t quite sell me on the band. Out of curiosity I clicked on some of those related links that YouTube provides. And I ended up listening to a song called “Shoot the Bullet” which The Sound of Arrows produced for an artist who goes by the name, Queen of Hearts.

That I bought her EP and then her full debut album in rapid order might tell you what you need to know about Cocoon, but it wouldn’t be playing fair to leave it at that, now would it?

Up to this point in our little weekly review project I’ve been showcasing artists with some kind of previous track record that people are likely to be familiar with. I can’t tell you “this is (or isn’t) like her last album” so if you pick up a song or the EP or this album, what are you getting yourself into? Dance music (for the most part), of the electronic variety, with a strong and clear vocal presence right up front. While a lot of electronica acts hire a woman to sing and then bury her voice under synthesizers and drum beats and effects, Queen of Hearts is the focus here. This is her show, and we’re invited.

The album opens with The Arrival EP’s closing track, “Freestyle,” and follows that up with “Neon.” It’s a strong start, and the head-bopping toe-tapping energy rolls on, song after song, through “Like a Drug” and “It Isn’t Enough.”

It isn’t until the halfway mark, 7 tracks into the 14 track run of the album, that the tempo calms down for “Surrender” and then the memorable and marvelous “Warrior.” Afterward, “Shoot the Bullet” finally shows up, a reminder of where this whole journey started (it was The Arrival‘s opening number) and still one of the high points here.

Toward the end I do find that some songs don’t quite gel for me. Honestly, I’d be amazed to find fourteen entire tracks on one album that really “wow” me, so this isn’t a serious knock against Cocoon. Besides, you have to stick around for “Overcome By the Rhythm” and the closer, “Tears in the Rain.”

Now, if you didn’t wander off when I said “dance music” and “electronica” earlier, if I’ve piqued your interest at all, then let me tell you: Go get this record. It has four songs I absolutely love, several more that I play quite frequently, and really only one track, “Suicide,” I could do without (more due to lyrical content than any problem with the song’s other attributes, and that’s mostly a quirk on my part).

Anyway. Go forth and acquire. You’ll thank me later.

Oh, and then go pick up The Arrival EP, or at least “Where Are You Now?”. Just sayin’.

Aug 03

Pet Shop Boys – Super

There are three bands that I consider the core of my music fandom, bands that I got into heavily during my initial teen-aged self-propelled exploration of what pop music had to offer. Genesis and Midnight Oil are no longer active, yet the Pet Shop Boys endure. In all three cases most folks only know them for songs released in the 1980s. (That would probably be “Invisible Touch,” “Beds Are Burning,” and “West End Girls” respectively.)

Recently, Pet Shop Boys released Super and right off the bat let me be clear: the title is somewhat optimistic. It might have been more accurately titled More, in keeping with many of their trademark one-word album titles fitting nicely before or after the band name, such as “Pet Shop Boys actually” or “very Pet Shop Boys.” This is… “more Pet Shop Boys.”

Now. More PSB is generally a good thing! And this album is generally good. It falls short of super(b), though. The first four tracks are bright and upbeat and clever and engaging. You’ll probably end up with “Happiness” or “The Pop Kids” in your head for a bit, or maybe “Groovy.”

After that it’s… more Pet Shop Boys. “Pazzo!” is sort of like the old “Paninaro,” “Inner Sanctum” and “Into Thin Air” are decent little pieces, and so on. The only real downer on the album is “Sad Robot World,” and I guess the title warns you right up front what you’re getting. Your mileage may vary.

I think what’s going on here is establishing a return to form for a while after a few albums of trying more down-tempo tunes and some stylistic changes with mixed results. Nothing on this record is actually bad, and I can’t say the same for previous records like Elysium and Electric.

So, can I recommend Super? If you’ve ever liked a Pet Shop Boys song (or album) and want a bunch more songs like that, then yes, go forth and pick it up. It’s not a groundbreaking record, but it performs the job of “being a new PSB album” in solid, workmanlike fashion. After a career like Tennant and Lowe have had, I’m grateful they can still pull off the trick of crafting a dozen songs as good as these.

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