Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: 3WA (page 1 of 17)

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3WA 2018 #45: – Crossroads

And now for an artist who I found through a video game demo, lost track of, then found again by accident not realizing until a while later that the new project was run by the guy who did that video game music years ago.

There isn’t too much; I’ll sum up. But first:

What is it?

Crossroads is the 2007 release, the middle part of a series of concept albums, by the oddly-named which is the brainchild of Stefan Poiss.

How does it sound?

We don’t lose a sampler mix, we are always right behind:

Why this pick?

Because it includes “Stalkers.”

Every now and then, someone on Twitter or other social media outlet will link to a video or suggest a song. One particular semi-stranger, who had linked some good selections (they helped point me at VNV Nation) previously, pointed me at “Stalkers.” I listened. And I listened again. And then I listened again. And then I bought the record it’s on.

So, here we are. Years later, “Stalkers” is still my favorite track, by far.


The funny part of writing about this record is that it’s not only a concept album, it’s part of a series of five connected concept albums, joined lyrically in one grand tale. What am I, a man who has a difficult time parsing lyrical meaning, doing listening to this thing at all?

Well, it sounds good. I know I’m not getting everything out of this project that I could be, but what I’m getting is enough. I like it! What more do I need?

Which songs are the highlights?

Three of the first four tracks are quite strong: “Introspection,” the seven-minutes-plus of “Amnesia,” and “Identity.” My favorite thing here is, of course, “Stalkers.” At nearly eight minutes long, “What Used To Be” manages not to wear out its welcome. And to close out the record there’s “Run For Your Life.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Into The Night” starts moderately strong but wanders aimlessly for the middle part of its seven minute runtime.

While the vocal effects (Stefan sings all the parts, including the female characters, with a lot of distortion effects processing) are more or less effective overall, on “Fear” they’re more distracting than complementary.

“The Place” is trying for a style and an effect and it misses both, unfortunately.

There are a couple of short spoken tracks, “Lucid Dreams” 1 and 2, which I only mention because they contribute to the song count and are probably story beats of some kind but otherwise are skippable.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I have three of the other four “story” albums, and given the general arc of improvement over the course of the project I nearly went with Memories, the final installment. There’s a lot of good stuff on that record. Problem is, I would feel weird if I recommended starting at the end then working your way back up the storyline. It’s bad enough I’m suggesting that a new listener start in the middle. But… I don’t like as much of Lost Alone or Dreamweb as I do Crossroads. So there you have it.

Any final thoughts?

Let’s talk about the Parsec demo, shall we?

In the late 1990s, fancy 3D computer graphics weren’t yet all that fancy. But some folks decided that what the world needed was a space-fighter shoot-em-up game, and decided to build one themselves. (You can see the current state of it at the OpenParsec site. You can also see a snapshot of convincingly-1990s web design while you’re there.)

Oh, and the guys working on Parsec were also dabbling in music, and posted MP3 files of the bits of soundtrack they’d been working on. I downloaded and played the demo (yes, back in the 1990s, it took a while) and also the music, which I liked more than the game (such as it was).

The game never went anywhere, but as a launchpad for Stefan Poiss and and such? Hey, whatever works!

3WA 2018 #44: Rush – Presto

Sometimes, what an established band really needs is a change of scenery to shake up the creative flow a bit.

What is it?

Presto is the 1989 studio album release from Rush. It’s their first under the Atlantic label and with a different producer from their previous couple of records.

How does it sound?

Girls and boys together, play the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

Rush is another of those bands of whom I’m never going to be the biggest fan. My enjoyment of their stuff is definitely far more casual than it is devoted. Like Garbage’s Bleed Like Me last week, Presto is the first (and only) Rush album to fully click with me. Most of the albums before and since have all had a song or two (maybe three) that I like, but as a whole the albums have left me somewhat cold. This record, though, I enjoy all the way through.

Go figure.

Which songs are the highlights?

You get no points for guessing that I like a lot of the uptempo songs like “Show Don’t Tell,” “Red Tide,” “Superconductor,” and “Scars.” I enjoy the title track’s mellower vibe just as much, though. Same for “Hand Over Fist” and especially the closer, “Available Light.”

You do earn bonus points if you get the joke behind the title of “Anagram (For Mongo)” without Googling for it.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I don’t actively dislike anything on this record.

Having said that, “The Pass” and “War Paint” are… merely okay, I suppose.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I considered going with one of the post-millennium releases like Vapor Trails or Clockwork Angels, but other than a couple of big tunes I’d have struggled to find anything to say about either one of those. So instead, I could probably have made a good case for Roll The Bones, the follow-up to Presto which features a couple of my all-time favorite Rush tunes (the title track and “Ghost of a Chance”).

Any final thoughts?

The mix for Presto is brighter, almost shimmery in its use of the higher sound frequencies, compared to earlier records. This is appropriate given that the lyrical content seems mostly positive and upbeat. Insofar as I can parse it, anyway. Is this why I like Presto the best?

If you’re a Rush fan who, for some reason, hasn’t tried out Geddy Lee’s solo record My Favorite Headache, I can at least recommend giving it a listen. (It was a freebie from the radio days. Would I have paid full price for it? Maybe, maybe not.)

… Hey, can you believe we’re getting close to done with this year’s project? Wow. Time flies when you’re playing oodles of music.

3WA 2018 #43: Garbage – Bleed Like Me

I double-checked this website’s archives to make absolutely certain that I haven’t reviewed this Garbage record before.


What is it?

Bleed Like Me is the 2005 release from Garbage, a band everyone insists peaked with their Version 2.0 album seven years previously. (They’re still going strong, by the way.)

How does it sound?

Come on baby, sampler mix like me:

Why this pick?

Weirdly enough, this is the first album of theirs I listened to where the band’s style really gelled for me. Not that they’ve actually changed their style all that much over the years, which is why I say “weirdly enough” here. Bleed Like Me clicked into my brain in a way the first three albums… didn’t.

No, I have no idea why. All I can do is roll with what my brain does, sometimes.

Which songs are the highlights?

Out of the first few tracks, I like “Run Baby Run” the best. Toward the end we get “Boys Wanna Fight.” The real core of the record, though, shows up in the center stretch: The outcast anthem “Bleed Like Me,” the political anthem “Metal Heart” (which is remarkably appropriate to 2018), and the sex-positive anthem “Sex Is Not The Enemy.” That trio of songs is worth the album’s purchase price, right there.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“It’s All Over But The Crying” is a quieter breakup song which doesn’t do much for me.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Since I already reviewed their latest record a little while ago and there’s nothing I could really say about Version 2.0 which hasn’t already been said… I’m not sure. Not Your Kind Of People, possibly?

Any final thoughts?

For a while there, back in the radio days, there was a divide between the No Doubt / Gwen Stefani fans and the Garbage / Shirley Manson fans. I like to think that I’ve always been on the right side of history on that debate, as to my mind there’s never been a contest.

3WA 2018 #42: Daft Punk – Tron: Legacy (Soundtrack)

Was it a great movie? Maybe not. Did it look amazing? Mostly yes.

Did it sound fantastic? Oh, indeed it did.

What is it?

Tron: Legacy (Soundtrack) is, as one can surmise from the name, the soundtrack to the sequel movie released in 2010 that nobody really expected to ever get made. But if it had to get made, it’s best that they did so while Daft Punk were at the height of their powers, the better to provide the absolutely ideal music.

How does it sound?

I haven’t a CLU.

Why this pick?

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but there’s only one other Daft Punk album I like as much as this one. (More on that, later.) It was always going to be that one or this one if I picked a Daft Punk record for this project at all. I went with the soundtrack because there’s just so much to choose from here. It’s basically the same ratio of hits to misses, but since there are more shorter pieces it works out to a greater number of actual tracks I like.

I’m weird. I know.

Which songs are the highlights?

As previously stated: When talking about soundtracks, what you get out of any given piece may rely entirely on how you felt about the part of the movie where that piece was used. We must also keep firmly in mind that a soundtrack is basically an exercise in weaving several distinct motifs together, in slightly different ways, over and over. With that said, I have a few highlights to point out and some general thoughts overall.

The most recognizable track here is, ha ha, “Recognizer.” It’s been used for Tron: Legacy‘s own trailers and a few others besides, not to mention popping up in a game trailer or two. Following close behind is probably “Derezzed,” from the party scene in the movie where Daft Punk themselves make a cameo appearance.

In terms of more standard-sounding soundtrack fare, “Adagio For TRON” and “Flynn Lives” and “Solar Sailer” count among my favorites.

Interestingly, while at no point do you find yourself thinking “Daft Punk didn’t make this song,” when you hit the end titles track you realize that they were holding back on their inherent… Daft-Punk-ness… the entire time.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Some of the pieces, such as “The Game Has Changed,” rely on a drum beat laced with a high-frequency buzzing effect that is far too annoying for my tastes. Similarly, “End of Line” devolves into electronic noise a few times. (I still, um, actually like that song. But fair warning is fair.)

“The Grid” is really just a speech with a bit of music behind it. (It’s a cool speech, mind you.)

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Discovery, absolutely. I mean, it has its own anime film. Correction: It has its own anime film produced under the supervision of Leiji Matsumoto! How cool is that?

(Too bad I no longer have a copy of the DVD. Lost it in the divorce, sadly.)

Any final thoughts?

If you pick up this record, also do yourself a favor and grab the Reconfigured remix set as well. Its remixes of “The Grid” and “The Son of Flynn” are superior to the regular versions, at least for casual fun value. Note that the remix of “Derezzed” on the actual official remix album isn’t that good, but there’s a standalone single for a very good “Derezzed” remix available.

And if we’re going to talk about the different versions of this release, well: If you want all the possible tracks you get to buy the Deluxe Edition (which I did) and the Reconfigured disc (yep) and the “Derezzed” single (uh huh) and the Amazon-exclusive bonus track, “Sea of Simulation” (check) and the iTunes-exclusive track (…no) and… you get the idea. The release for this record makes some AAA video game titles look tame by comparison with their Day One DLC shenanigans.

Daft Punk’s greatest strength, that ability to find and set a supremely groovy hook, is also their greatest weakness: Many of their hook-iest songs wear out their welcome far too quickly. “Around the world around the world, around the world around the world, around the world around the world…” And this is why I’m only ever going to be a middling fan of their work.

But I’m still a fan. And they made an anime film with Leiji Matsumoto, so they’re super cool in my book.

3WA 2018 #41: Living Colour – Biscuits

The first single by The Damned, “New Rose,” featured as the B-side a double-speed rendition of The Beatles’ “Help.” I think about that, sometimes, when I listen to this album.

What is it?

Biscuits is a 1991 previously-unreleased-tracks not-an-actual-album by Living Colour, the band best known for the hit song, “Cult of Personality.” More importantly, my CD copy is the Japanese import which features a bunch of concert recordings as well. So, basically it’s an EP with a concert album bolted on.

How does it sound?

I don’t need a mix, I need a sampler solution:

Why this pick?

To my discredit, I as yet own no other Living Colour records. I’ll remedy this some day, honest!

On the upside? Folks seem to think that Biscuits is a poor entry to the band’s work. I suggest otherwise, at least if you have the import version. This is a great mix of covers and live renditions, totally worth owning.

Which songs are the highlights?

The EP portion leads off with “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” and “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” both excellent cuts.

The revved-up rendition of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (which is why I think of The Damned doing “Help”) is worth the price of admission all on its own, though.

Getting into the concert recordings we get excellent renditions of “Final Solution,” “Type,” and “Solace Of You.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

The last song in the EP section, “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” is a remix (“Soulpower US Mix”) that, like many remixes, wears out its welcome far too soon.

Concert material is often hit-or-miss by its very nature; “Desperate People” doesn’t quite work well here, for instance, nor does “Memories Can’t Wait.”

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Had it not been this, it’d have been something from another artist entirely. I love this record but it never led to me pursuing the rest of the band’s catalog.

I need to acquire Time’s Up and probably also Vivid at some point, not to mention giving their latest record a listen.

Any final thoughts?

I wish the band had hit bigger than just a big single or two, and that they’d been the vanguard of black artists entering the heavy metal scene instead of ending up a historical curiosity.

3WA 2018 #40: U2 – War

Please allow me to present to you an exercise in saying nice things about a record while saying unkind things about the band.

Remember the “parabolic enjoyment arc” thing last week? Here’s the other case of that problem I mentioned.

What is it?

War is the 1983 release from U2, who at the time had not yet become the biggest thing since The Beatles.

How does it sound?

Push the sampler and pull the mix:

Why this pick?

It’s simply the one I like best out of their catalog. And yes, I know that there are albums held in higher critical esteem than this. People want to insist that Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby are the peak of U2’s creative output, but the problem is that I don’t like very much of either of those records. In fact the later you go in their catalog the less interest I have and the less enjoyment I derive.

So we go back, closer to where things started. And War started the big-time fame thing for them, really. Deservedly so: This is a deftly made record for the most part, angry where it needs to be and gentle when it suits the mood. Since the point of this is to highlight albums which bring me joy, I can think of no better U2 choice than this one.

Which songs are the highlights?

The big politics-heavy hits play well even now. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” are only dimmed by virtue of having survived 35 years of near-continual airplay, so one can be a bit tired of them if one still listens to the radio. In between those is “Seconds,” which holds its own quite nicely in such company.

My actual favorite songs here, though, are the quieter, downtempo “Drowning Man” and especially the album’s closing piece, “40”.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Like A Song” kind of unfortunately lives up to its title. Meanwhile, “The Refugee” tries to be pop and punk by turns, succeeding at neither.

“Surrender” isn’t bad, but it kind of wears out its welcome after a while. It’s the same length as “New Year’s Day” but unlike that song, you start paying attention to the time-remaining indicator while listening. Not a good sign, there.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I briefly considered Rattle and Hum, mainly because it was my first real U2 experience. One of my friends during my senior year of high school was a U2 superfan and that was right around the time the band was hitting superstardom levels. Rattle and Hum came out that year and I thought it was a heck of a thing, blending the studio and concert material while also blending several type of visual showmanship.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized the whole album/video/event was also a chronicle of a band in the act of starting to believe their own press releases, as it were. The bigger U2 got, the less interesting they became for me. I kept getting the feeling that while they were operating with tongue firmly in cheek, the band also kind of believed that they were Just That Cool, and… man, if you think you’re cool, you’re probably not.

To calibrate your understanding, here, remember that my all-time favorite band is basically five (then four, then three) complete dorks who stumbled into prog-rock success.

Any final thoughts?

While I’m thinking about what’s cool and who’s not, I think I now know what I’ll pick for next week: A record by a band who really should’ve been more than a one-hit wonder, who were for a while really damned cool.

Also: I want to be crystal clear on the fact that U2’s War being entry number 40 for the year while containing a song titled “40” is a complete coincidence. I didn’t realize it until I’d written the first draft of this post.


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