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The Next Day

March 2, 2013

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    A recent critique I read of this album was that it ought to be considered the “Bowie Sampler” due to no clear thematic path. The problem with this opinion is that Bowie hadn’t written a “themed” album for many, many years. The stark electroshock Earthling, the romantic ode of Black Tie White Noise, and industrial concept storyline of Outside are all far behind us; Bowie could have easily ended his career after any one of those albums. His body of work would have stood the test of time even if he retired after Scary Monsters (ever the eternally cliched benchmark from 1980 onwards), which was more of a “goodbye” to characters and a life lived in stark, drugged-out excess than any other album. After Scary Monsters began the downward spiral into “commercially viable” Niles Rogers productions and the all-time low of Never Let Me Down.

 

The Bowie of Hours and beyond would be the so-called “neo-classicist Bowie,” adapting to modern pop music and reinventing it in his own image. None of the past 3 albums ever really had an underlying theme, either–it was simply Bowie being Bowie, writing what he felt like, nothing left to prove besides his own artistic desires. That, thusly, is where The Next Day originated from: a release that was just barely kept secret for years, and then dropped without warning. An album which, it seemed, was created simply because Bowie wanted to start being creative again. In this case, The Next Day feels like the rock album Tin Machine wanted to create, or at least the “true” next step that Hours ought have been.

 

 

   David Bowie has always been a grand observer of the current trends and changing times; it’s allowed him to play chameleon well after his glam rock days were over and his wall-of-mirrors speculations were used up. Though not admittedly one to become a political commentator, Bowie has at times offered both scathing and empathetic responses towards currents events—past tracks like “New Killer Star” or “Fall Dog Bombs The Moon” have more than just a passing chance at being about post-9/11 New York and America at large. It comes as no surprise to me that Bowie has become more in touch with political dreck and adapted to a seemingly “American” paranoia, infected with celebrity worship and ultraviolence. From this soup, we get perhaps the two most anti-war lamentations in any Bowie collection, “How Does The Grass Grow” and “I’d Rather Be High.” If there is a truth to the objection of this album as a sampler, it does a fairly agreeable job in being a reaction to the decade or so Bowie saw unfold.

 

   From a purely objectionable standpoint, I find it difficult to gauge what specific tracks will become the standouts in the long run; general consensus has been mixed to a bewildering level, though I expect it’s due to the hodgepodge of elements Bowie covers in one record. In doing so, it’s possibly one of the most accessible albums in his catalogue now. Sonically, his choice in musicians doesn’t touch upon the guests of old—barring classic partner in crime, Earl Slick, and King Crimson’s bassist Tony Levin—but everyone involved has at least been working with Bowie for quite some time. Tony Visconti, mastermind producer behind Space Oddity, the Berlin Trilogy, and the last two efforts, gives excellent groundwork and mixing to Bowie’s overall writing.

 

 

 

 

    A few more interesting track-by-track notations grant us some wondrous callbacks to “previous” Bowies of yore: there’s a glimpse of the Nathan Adler droning on “If You Can See Me,” a solid retrospective on his Berlin days on “Where Are We Now,” and even a little bit of Iggy Pop glitz and grime on the sultry “Dirty Boys.” Perhaps the most mind-boggling contribution is the albums closer, “Heat,” which ebbs and oozes a kind of Scott Walker dread. Walker, Bowie fanatics will recall, was covered in Black Tie White Noise’s “Nite Flights,” and a man perhaps even more experimental than the former Thin White Duke. After the overall high-octane rush of the latter half, it seems unexpected to crawl back into the house of mirrors for a bit of nightmarish reflection, usually reserved for that of post-Berlin Major Tom in works like “Ashes To Ashes.”

 

 

Greatest comeback of all time” is a statement I’ve read many times in the past few days since the album’s unofficial release via a livestream event. In terms of comebacks, a successful one should encompass why the phoenix act in itself is actually relevant. David Bowie’s last record was about a decade ago; the largely agreeable Reality, which was a decent followup to Heathen, but not exactly something that set the world aflame with ruminations. The Next Day features all-original writing and finally a David Bowie that picks up the scrap metal from his tin machine, engineering it into a most unusual flare gun. We took notice, like moths to a flame, eager but wary of the past “Bowie is back” routines. Is David Bowie still relevant? I’d wager yes, and mainly because Bowie has embraced his new style with a fuller, rounder ambition. There are no covers, no Rebel Rebel reworks, no grandiose tour, no record company pressures—there was a purity in the composition, which certainly helped David Bowie craft some rich new statements.

 

 

8.9/10

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Django Unchained

February 28, 2013

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Revenge—best served cold—is not especially a well-suited meal when the table has been to set to accommodate the USA’s torrid affair with slavery.

Do I think Quentin Tarantino is racist? Hardly. Do I think his motivation in creating Django Unchained was a political one, intended to create real, honest discourse and conversation about a terrible blight on human history? Not really. Though his original idea may have been to start a “true dialogue” about the atrocities of a shameful era, Quentin Tarantino is still Quentin Tarantino; his history is rooted more along the lines of the hypermodern, the comic violent, blaxploitation, and razor-wire vengeance. The concept of slavery takes a backseat, factually and thematically, to the revenge plot centered around Django and King Schultz. That this should come to a surprise to anyone is amusing.

  One of the first things I thought about after viewing the film was comparing it to the characterizations from Tarantino’s previous historical effort, Inglorious Basterds—that is, being the way African-American characters are handled, both in the background and in the center. In Basterds, an entire troop of nameless Jews seems to be a focal point of the film. They exist solely as the antithesis to the film’s villainous Nazis. Thusly, it is “justified” that the heroes are those who have been historically victimized. In Tarantino’s world of cinema, the victims of history do not merely wait to be saved; there is hasty, violent rebellion. Vengeance is the name of the game, and it must be slaked without question or even sensible action. Similarly, Django Unchained takes advantage of this trope, casting a black man as the instrument of justice against the trappings of the cruel Southern slave ethos. The treatment of black characters other than the titular character as part of the background differs very little from the way many of the nameless Basterds followed in step with Aldo Raine. There is, however, a disappointing lack of agency with the way certain slaves are written. After literally receiving the keys to freedom in one scene, a group of freedmen take priority in first doling out judgment on their former master, rather than undo the shackles of their containment. Slavery, in Django Unchained, is more of a plot point to move along certain emotions and junctures than an actual, consistent overbearance on humanity. There are gross missteps in who is really able to do what; some slaves are given guns, some are allowed to dine with “the 4th meanest plantation owner in the state,” and yet some are simply cast aside to be ripped apart by hunting dogs.

   Although Django is, after all, the titular character, I did find that a great deal of the story happened to follow Dr. King Schultz, seeking to tell me more about his own personality rather than Django’s. Django is a character who tends to grow and evolve due to Schultz entirely—it is King Schultz who frees Django, trains him to be a bounty hunter, and tells him the crux of his fated heroic journey. Thusly, it is in fact a white man who takes up the titular black hero of the movie, “unchains him,” and brings him to his imprisoned wife, Broomhilda. How then, can we even say Django is strong and independent—or even in direct control of his destiny? How can we shake off the idea of the benevolent white man who, partly out of fascination and partly out of duty to his mercenary contract, takes up arms with the brash Django? King Schultz, though not racially woebegone or entirely ignorant, appears more or less an observant free agent in America’s struggles, espousing “the way of the gun” and his own brand of rogue justice. He is, for all intents and purposes, the Western outlaw with a new spin; a stranger in a strange land who intends to make the most of a dirty business. However, it is also this unfamiliarity with these customs which dooms him entirely. Curiously, Schultz’s inexperience with the flesh trade and the ignoble acts of antagonist Calvin Cande are what drive Schultz towards a pithy, premature death—one which actually hinders more than helps the quest of his protege, Django. In his fiery murder of Candie, Schultz represents a “sudden, shameful white guilt” that this film perhaps might inadvertantly cater to: hasty, self-indulgent sacrifice to wash one’s hands of what one has glossed over, leading to an even bigger mess to clean up. King Schultz realizes too late that his selective sense of justice will not let him ever walk out of Candieland alive.

   The film may have chiefly followed the journey of Schultz, a white man with a wild gun and a general ignorance of the measures of Southern American brutality, but the story still does cast us with at least a parting view from the eyes of Django, as well. There is proof enough of this in how Tarantino wrote the casual branding of “nigger” at every which way Django turns—but it is here that Django Unchained becomes a bit different from Inglorious Basterds. Inglorious Basterds prefers to use other terms to describe the oppressed, and in another role played by Christoph Waltz, the comparison of Jews to “rats and vermin” is made. Jews are characterized as those who must flee, hide, and disguise themselves under false names; in Django Unchained, there is only one, consistent term, and it is universal among every plantation owner because there has been no colossal war (at least, not yet) and thus, no uprising. In the South, the “battle” has already been won and there is little to hunt; men of power already hold the cards and will not let African-American slaves forget it with every utterance of this word. There’s additional umbrage to be taken with the utterance of the casual, modern “nigga” by Django and lead house slave Stephen in the final confrontation. I’d have to say that kind of writing, while absolutely ridiculous, was merely shoehorned in to fit the newfound cadence and cockiness of Django. In fact, it is so blunt a reminder of this film’s “historical fiction merged into snarky revenge fantasy” bullet point that one might feel as though they have been given a concussion.

   I haven’t touched upon the character (or issue) of Stephen yet, but his presence alongside Django is by far one of the more interesting parallels in the film. It is for certain that Stephen is, in fact, the true puppetmaster and caretaker behind Candieland; his regular sass back at Calvin, along with his sagely appropriations about Dr. Schultz’s true intentions, provide enough evidence to that. And yet, even in spite of this power he wields over the general household, it is revealed that his affliction—his crippled leg—has been a facade all along, only just walking normally on two legs as he stares down Django for the last time. Here, we see two starkly different characters: Django, who has been taught how to act, even to a fault (as he silently refuses to protest against Candie killing an escaped slave) but all for a “greater good” to rescue his wife and exact revenge….and Stephen, who has faked his true capacities in the foreground for most of the film. Stephen carries with him not only this secret, but a hatred—of Django, who is allowed to ride horses and talk back to white plantation owners and carry firearms without proper allowance. Django is a complete oddity in Stephen’s existence where there are rules and harsh regulations. For Stephen, his way of life is the only way he knows; though it has rewarded him with a degree of power, it is not without letting others perceive him as frail, weak, and a mere manservant. To see the “one in a million” Django turn this table is inconceivable. The way in which a black man is actually utilized as the penultimate villain for Django to overcome might be explained twofold: One, that Django is effectively killing the symbolic symbol of self-repression and acceptance of one’s life being born into servitude, and Two—casting aside Candie as the true oppressor in order to achieve total neutrality in this last, grand death.

   Earlier this year, Quentin Tarantino posed for a photoshoot in W Magazine with Django Unchained actress, Nicole Galicia. Tarantino is stolid and draped in a handsome robe, hand over the hip of the nude Galicia—who played the role of Calvin Candie’s black concubine. Reading deeply into this photo, one could infer any number of things—not all of which might be necessarily true of either person in the snapshot. However, what we can rightfully infer is that the film carries an overall nature of spectacle and brashness and swagger over a dire need for a historical truth or definitive statement on the backdrop we’re given. Tarantino is the kind of guy who has told people that he loves writing strong, black characters because “black people are cool.” While this notion probably does stem from his experience with old, gritty blaxploitation flicks directed by men such as Gordon Parks and Mario Van Peebles, it does not really offer anything of historical or moral merit to the situation at hand: that of the American Pre-war South, relegated to a shallow grave for the gun of Django. Django Unchained ultimately offers many questions and interesting parallels between characters of both races—it also offers cool, terse dialogue, superb acting, and visceral thrills. It does not, however, offer us any progression in terms of how African-American people view slavery. However much I do actually enjoy this film and the collected works of Quentin Tarantino, it is my sincere hope that he does not lazily use yet another historical minefield of horror and brutality as a plot contrivance in the future.

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Blunderbuss

June 24, 2012

Jack White is a curious fellow; precisely the kind of fellow I wasn’t surprised to hear used to scribble poetry into the corners of the furniture he used to sell, thereby getting into trouble for this charming behavior. Similarly, Jack’s been putting his signature on the good ol’ dirty blues for quite some time now—from his White Stripes garage band days of sweaty, simplistic, and splendid tunes, to his ensemble Raconteurs sideproject that transformed the genre into some kind of strange yet wonderful amalgam of conventional rock and forgotten lore. More recently, he had joined The Dead Weather, somehow further distancing himself from both of those established sounds and alienating himself from his trusty guitars and pianos. It’s sort of like how Bowie tried to get on with calling himself merely a “piece of the puzzle” in Tin Machine—you can’t fool us, Jack; we know you’re the main attraction. So lo and behold, after all of these groups dissolved and he was left standing, Jack decided to get back to his roots and create his first solo album, returning to the basics of what made him Jack White. But, here’s the thing with Blunderbuss: an album with just Jack White’s sentimentality and no filter of “dirty Detroit rock” or “Raconteur neo-blues ensemble” is pretty much a bare-bones affair.

I love Jack White; let’s get that out of the way. I think he’s a dynamite guitar player and his predilection towards DIY aesthetics is great in world full of power-punk garbage. Lyrically, he’s not that great; anyone who’s heard “The Hardest Button To Button” or “It’s True That We Love One Another” can attest to how wonky his songwriting can be. Jack excels at minimalism, but it helps if he has a partner in crime to reel him in. Vocally, the dude is dirty as hell, but he’s got a trademark howl that’s pretty great and I’ve come to admire. So why don’t I like Blunderbuss?

Blunderbuss is an Album; it is a music Album with Songs on it. I listened to it and decided, “this sure is an Album with Music on it. This sure is Music.” What I mean to say is this: Jack White hasn’t created an awful album, but I don’t think his solo effort is quite as memorable as anything else he’s done. Many of the songs take on a very plodding, serenading pace, and rarely will you here a guitar break through—probably one of the biggest mistakes was cutting his strings out of many songs. This is a Piano album with Jack White for sure, which is still by all means a better album than most…but I can’t say I remember many songs on it. It just made me miss The White Stripes more. I felt like listening to Icky Thump again, the genesis of White’s creativity. See, with Icky Thump, we were given evidence of two things: One, White was rapidly moving past the simple 2-instrument deal and was beginning to incorporate horns, clavicles, and bagpipes; still keeping the dirty souf sound and the rapidfire wallbanger structures, though. Two: we all knew that White was ready to pack it up because he was ready to evolve. However, the structure of Blunderbuss seems a bit meandering; almost as though White doesn’t quite know where to go on his own. The one irony here is that the songwriting, of all things, is the best its ever been—but there are very little quakes and tremors felt by way of the instruments or Jack’s erstwhile style.

Blunderbuss is a good album, but it’s also makes me miss Jack’s collaboration days, when he could still be in the forefront of a “thing” and his relevance could be supported by one or two or three other people. Much like how Ric Ocasek (another fantastic songwriter and singer) isn’t quite as good on his own as he is with the rest of The Cars, Jack should probably seek out to do another Raconteurs album (which is, in all honesty, Stripes 2.0).

In conclusion: Jack White has created something neither here nor there. It exists in a zone of negative energy where anger and happiness don’t teleport into my head easily. Jack White’s new musical project elicits only feelings of normalcy and realization that I am not imploding or even swelling up into darkness. I would rate Jack White’s new solo album with a solid ‘Yes’ out of ‘No’ which is to say, you will feel the same when you take it out as when you put it in to your stereo. It is my hope that Jack White continues to Make Music or maybe not. I can’t say because right now my brain struggles to recall if I even listened to his initial album at all. So, good job, Jack White, you certainly are able to put music on a CD and I certainly can use this CD like a human being and hear the sounds you have made. At least, I think I did.

Rating: One content and puzzled smile out of One

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Priapism

April 30, 2012

Do you get bored of being the sinister one?”

Satan winced as the question was posed to him for the umpteenth time this century, taking a drought of his gimlet with one hand while feeling for the bar’s oak finish in the other. He turned and stared into the gnarled, wart-laden face of the lesser imp with his own half-moon beauty; sweeping black hair covering the shine of a quartz eye on one side, charred head with gilded horn on the other. From his other eye burned infinite galaxies, black hole of incandescent souls that writhed in a peculiar storm. Satan felt them, grasped them in his brain, and usually let their hate fuel his own until the routine mid-day purging of souls into the Abyss (where a painfully long wait for Processing began.)

Boredom has nothing to do with it. People who are bored don’t know how to work properly,” he proposed matter-of-factly, with only the mother-of-pearl wisdom the Hated One could profess as truth. “You get older and you find more things to take care of. I suppose He thinks of it the same way.”

Satan tapped his glass, signaling the wyrm for a refill. It could have taken a mere wave of the crooked tree roots on his hands to summon more alcohol, but he found more delight in the subservience of this toothy reptile as it struggled to handle the task. Its dragon-like claws slipped and coiled over the jug until it finally stumbled towards the glass, Satan gesturing back to the previous conversation slowly.

Do you get bored of being sinister?” he countered to the imp.

Well, no,” the imp muttered, nursing his long-dead beer. “We’re winning, aren’t we?”

It’s not an issue of winning,” Satan mused, almost allowing a grin, “If it was, we’d be losing.”

But we—”

We aren’t. You realize that the human race hardly brings me up anymore, don’t you? All people wanted to raise up from the depths was the vindictive Christ. It’s He who gets his name lauded and cursed on a daily basis…at least, that was the case. Until now.”

Satan felt his spine unfurl, grow furrowed with philosophical fury. It was true that he had been more or less a parlor game for heavy metal music and teenage ecstasy; no one seriously paid tribute without a derisive snort at the thought of a dark lord controlling them. Nowadays, the Satanist way eschewed even its namesake; a life lived in sin without any god or monster to worship.

What made us truly great was that we offered only the answers; not the questions,” Satan went on, even as the lights dimmed for First Day’s Closing. “God challenges you; I always gave you a free swing, didn’t I? Always an option, really. There are no options when you worship God. You do as you are told.”

But,” the imp interjected, its sharp nose poking in, “There’s the compromise of eternal damnation–”

Damnation, feh,” Satan drooled, waving it off again with his glass, “Pain and pleasure in excess, really. It’s no different from Earth. You get the blowtorch and the blowjobs on alternating days; it’s no different than Earth. I’m just as much of a bastard as any man alive.”

I’ll drink to that.”

A new, spritely voice came from the dank corner of the bar; it raised a single wineglass to Satan, rising from a seat and joining the two demons.

Leave us be,” Satan ordered to the subordinate, allowing Christ to take the imp’s former stool.

Through the dimmed radiance of his diamond shell, Christ merely smiled sardonically and toasted his demonic counterpart once more.

To your reign, of course.”

Puh,” the demon said, shaking his head, allowing his dark locks to partially mask his displeasure. “What do you want? Did you come here to try and gloat? Neither of us have anything to celebrate.”

Not at all,” Christ claimed, leaning his snakeskin vest upon the bar and swirling his wine, “we’re both in the same position. Times have changed. We’re in closer competition.”

Closer,” Satan sniveled. “You are aware, of course, that the reptilian brain is more susceptible to tricks than the mammalian brain? You won’t win. You cannot possibly promise salvation to a race of animals who act upon impulse. Sex, murder, power—these are all instinctual things. There’s no place for your words in this new world.”

New?”

Christ merely downed his wine in one gulp, as both of the celestial beings thought back to the past few years: Man lived, man died, and man generally was stupid about the eternity beyond their comprehension. But, man had also used up resources and melted the ozone, making it imperative to seek colonization elsewhere. Through the invention of the Relay, mankind had upped and left for Mars; the last of humanity leaving only their plastics and television sets behind.

All that remained were the flora, the fauna, and the world before man’s dominion: those that crawled and stalked and struggled to evolve. And beneath the tough crust of this world flowed the magma rivers of Hell, the demonic hands itchy with frustration as the last human soul withered away.

I’ve swallowed up the last of your kind,” Satan shrugged, feeling a sigh of indifference rise up but quelled it with another quaff of his drink. “We’re at a new junction in an old game. You don’t think you’ll win by showing them a crucifix or healing the lame, do you?”

Aside, the choking cough of laughter erupted from the scaly throat of the barkeeper wyrm; Christ smiled, shaking his head and folding his hands. Satan felt his eye grow empty, the screams softening, and the rumble of the netherworld being evidence of the last relic gone dry. Above them, a wealth of new prospects crawled and creeped under the baking sun, all of them striving for cooler climes and favorable mating grounds. None of them had a concept of time and space; they simply did as their instinct dictated. They had no desire for spiritual matters or salvation because the concept of sin and goodwill did not apply to the food chain. There were simply hunters and prey.

You must know, as much as I do, that there was a reason why evolution chose only certain mammals to gain sentience of the cosmos,” Christ offered, letting the prism of his rings shine across Satan’s dark mop of hair. “An infinity of second chances. A new breed of brains that will, in time, bear fruit: supreme intellect, apex predators, and finally—cognitive reasons for doing what they do. The ability to ask, ‘why’ in nature of their exploits. That is what humanity did, and this is what the rest of the animal kingdom will do—in time.”

You say so. But, time will not be swift. It will not be kind to us. We will keel over in boredom and speed up the process, making errors. And even gods make errors, because they are vain enough to believe they are gods.”

You are no God,” Christ responded, beaming.

Satan only shook his head again, rolling his one consistent eye, already feeling the hunger pangs. God and all His Angels would bide their time until God grew bored and petitioned His Son to arrive on schedule, effectively casting the Earth in a new Light. From there, the freewill of these old animals might sway, but it would take time. Satan, meanwhile, would stand in the shadows, hexing their minds with these new freedoms; with every attempt to throw down the shackles, he would ensure that new pleasures would replace those bindings. Desire and laziness and envy of power would take hold—eventually. Satan thought about this for a few seconds before placing his glass back at the bar, rising from his stool and gazing up at the cracks through the ceiling; there, the tunnels towards the surface revealed the tiniest speck of sunlight.

And you are no God to take hold of destiny and bend it to your will,” Satan countered, gritting his teeth into a haggard grin. “How long, I wonder, until lizards command the ships to destroy planets in the name of their lizard-god?”

Are you proposing I would take such a biased form?” Christ asked.

Satan laughed, his voice turning into a hiss; his eye became yellowish, and his tongue, forked.

Not at all.”

And thus began the thousand-year hard-on.

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Lulu

November 1, 2011

Normally, when I write a review on an album or a particular piece of music, it’s because I like it or I think it’s overlooked.

This time, things are a little different.

When Metallica and Lou Reed were reported to be collaborating on a new, experimental album, my first reaction was rather stupid and illogical: I was overjoyed. I thought, “hey, one of the most talented metal bands is teaming up with one of the most influential alternative rock icons in the world! This is going to be sweet, bro!” I failed to stop and realize that Lou Reed and Metallica have absolutely nothing in common and this was probably something to be fearful about. Just because a few musical acts are top-tier in their respective areas of expertise doesn’t necessarily mean it warrants a supergroup.  Honestly, I love scrambled eggs and I love potato chips; but I’m not about to pour Cool Ranch Doritos all over my omelette. And that’s exactly what Lulu is: a breakfast sampler stuffed with Slim Jims, basted in 4Loko, and served au jus the kind of pretension that assumes this kind of unholy union is nothing less than sweet nectar to the ears of both fanbases.
Very seldom does the whole idea of a “supergroup” pan out to be more than just cashing in on your own bloated ego, or last beyond one convoluted album. One of the only exceptions to the rule that comes to mind is Them Crooked Vultures, which was essentially 3 megastars coming together—but it was a melding that carried a great deal of common interest and generally cohesive songwriting. Being able to bring together each musician from differing backgrounds and form a cohesive theme is, unfortunately, not one of the prevalent ideas at work in Lulu.

Describing what Lulu sounds like is sort of difficult. I mean, if you can picture the aural  pish-posh you get with Reed’s Metal Machine Music / later 90’s tripe mixed with perhaps the worst of St. Anger, that’s what it is.  Instrumentally, all the tracks are pretty uninspired; they meander all over the place and go nowhere. It’s depressing to hear Kirk Hammet noodle about on a guitar as if it’s the first time he’s ever picked one up. Listening to the same riff drone on and on, as it does in the second track “The View” might make you want to fall asleep, if not for Reed’s mumbling nu-order prose.
Oh, right: I forgot to mention Lou Reed’s part in this debacle. This is, after all, Lou Reed’s vehicular manslaughter charge; Metallica is merely the passenger.
I’m a fan of Lou Reed and all—I own all his records—but I can admit he’s gotten a little cuckoo as the years waned on. Some of his worst work was on “The Raven” and everyone knows it. But the writing he commits to Lulu is a special kind of Pandora’s Box of shitbird delusions and nonsensical warbling. It’s the kind of garbage that not even the most melodramatic Tumblr-landscaping Livejournal shepherd-of-none would owe up to.

Despite all this degradation, I must say that I feel that Lulu is a very special album; thus, it deserves a special track-by-track review in order to give you the full diorama of what terror, disgust, and hilarity await you.

1) The very first lines in the very first track “Bradenburg Gate” are as follows:
“I would cut my legs and tits off when I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski; in the dark of the moon. It made me dream of Nosferatu, trapped on the isle of Dr. Moreau.” What immediately follows a second later is a slow, rusty guitar riff accentuated by Hetfield wailing “SMALL TOWN GURL” as if he’s trying to ape Billy Joel with distortive fuzz at the rear. The rest is just Lou Reed pounding the pulpit like a rogue preacher in an acid flashback. What the hell is going on.

2) The second track, “The View,” is, like I mentioned before,  home to a mind-numbing guitar riff that sounds like it was dragged off a demo disc circa “The Butt Attack EP. 1980” or something. I can’t even believe that Lars “Need More Bass Drum” Ulrich, the crown prince of percussion “improvision,” is being collared to the most rudimentary drum beat you’ve heard since “Sample 1” on your synth keyboard. What’s that I hear in the foreground? Oh, it’s more pointless diatribe from Lou Reed. What the fuck is he talking about? Oh, who cares. He tunelessly floats lazily o’erhead, just before James Hetfield launches into a fleeting solo and declares “I am the table! I am a table!” Ladies and gentlemen, this man is a fucking table.  Somebody get him some fucking chairs and set the table; tonight’s supper will be comprised of rot and woe, courtesy of maitre’d Lou Reed.

3) “Pumping Blood” begins with some very poignant, non-Metallica string arrangements, evoking a bucolic…oh, wait. Here comes the boring riff and drumline, paired with Lou Reed moaning “pumping blood” like a grandmother on her deathbed. God, when will this riff end? Does Lou Reed have a mandate against solos? Or any kind of lick that differentiates itself from a single chord? A soliloquy halfway has me in tears of laughter, something about “trickling of blood; will you adore the river!? If I’m pumping blood like a common state worker…if I waggle my ass like a state prostitute, will you think less of me!?” Aside, Lars Ulrich does his best retarded Neil Peart impression; I sit listlessly but nod in affirmation. Yes, Lars; that is what Neil Peart would sound like if he had one arm, one eye, and half a brain.
One thing I can’t figure out is the identity of the “Jack” or “Jane” mentioned repeatedly in the lyrics. One part of me wants to go through Lou Reed’s back catalouge and decipher the meaning of this seemingly random beseechment. Another part of me doesn’t give a shit and wants this track to be over. Yet another, stronger sentiment is to strangle Lou Reed and drown out his meaningless story.

4) You know what? I lied. I can’t do a full review of this album.

To go in-depth with each and every song would be excruciating to both the reader and myself, for two reasons: first of all, I assume by what I have described for you, you’ve already tasted a portion of the tancrid pie Lulu truly is, and your appetite for artsy sludge has been satiated. Second of all: you are all sick people, and people know that if something is bad for them, they’ll do it anyway. Lulu is like that one sickening exploitation film your mother told you was no good—but you watch it anyway, and guess what? It sucks and it’s gross. Lulu is no different; to be truly understood, it must be experienced. It is out of morbid amusement and general psychopathy that I own this album on my iTunes. Just as the jerks that came before me with their “hey, watch this YouTube video,” I too hold a terrible secret.

Before I complete this horrible cavalcade of nonsense, I leave you with the knowledge that Rolling Stone gave the single “The View” four out of four stars.  The Telegraph stated “it’s the sheer sense of unrestrained folly throughout that makes Lulu feel like an important album.” Now, we can all agree that Rolling Stone is worthless when it comes to musical criticism; their flip-flop via “popular opinion” to grant bands like Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, and Rush favorable reviews show how much integrity they have. However, we can  agree with the Telegraph’s statement. Yes; this album is important, much in the way a tragic airplane crash is important. Lulu is a marvel solely because a group of seemingly-legendary men went into a studio, recorded these songs, and nodded generously to the fact that they had birthed unto our ears a gold standard. That, I believe, is total “unrestrained folly.” Lulu is a complete mess, but it is also a hilarious one. A hilarious, torturous, arduous mess that pretty much easily wins my approval for Worst Album 2011.

5/10 (for the laughs)

2/10 (for serious)

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Kontroll

October 22, 2011


Admittedly, being introduced to this movie was one of the mitigating factors of a crazy ex—I wouldn’t have discovered this marvelous film in any other way, given its native language is in Hungarian, something she was intensely devoted to. My picks in the realm of foreign movies are few and far between; not because I have any problems with subtitles (I know some people just cannot stand them) but because I’m not exposed to them very often. All personal oddities aside, Kontroll is a fantastic story from first-time director/writer Nimrod Antal, who would unfortunately go on to merely direct a few forgettable American flicks like Armored and Predators. I hope he gets to flaunt his creativity more often in the future, because this movie is unlike anything you’ve ever seen—mainly because of the Hungarian subway system

The story takes place entirely underground, in the bowels of a Hungarian Metro line. It is here that the system is dependent not on Metrocard swipes, but a task force of ticket-inspectors who are widely reviled and disrespected by the underlings who rocket to and fro their daily motions.  The company is beside itself in striving to handle the reckless mobs aboard the trains, and hold meetings akin to war rooms—especially now that a mysterious chain of suicides is growing in number every week. Our main protagonist, Bulcsu (BULL-chu) used to be a man of some worth back on “the surface,” but no more. He eats, sleeps,and works in the Metro station hubworld, wandering the lonely tunnel network each night as the service slows and the tension of his workday comes to a dimly-lit death. And it’s in the gloom of Bulcsu’s routine that confines us to the sickly green glow of this winding, arterial world of dirtywhite fluorescence and flat colors. Antal did a fine job communicating the feeling of a hopeless existence lurking just underneath the city limits; this is clearly a place no one wants to be and it has already claimed the sanity of many a ticket inspector. The supporting characters who work alongside Bulcsu are quickly introduced but wane in their  appearances after the first half of the story, which is mainly an introduction to the bleak, dystopian realm of the Hungarian Metro.

The second half deals with Bulcsu’s waxing attitude towards his choice to lurk from the light, along with his continued dementia about a horrible stranger who seems always be present at the sites of the so-called “suicides.” It quickly becomes clear that these jumpers are actually being pushed into the oncoming trains, and Bulcsu is quickly listed as a suspect—because the villainous entity happens to wear clothing similar to Bulcsu.

Much of the film’s pacing is well-done because Antal knows exactly when to stop introducing us to the underworld and its very colorful characters, and when to press onward with the continuing disturbances therein, both inside and out Bulscu’s area of influence. A film set entirely in a metro hub of endless tunnels and stations could have easily become tired and trite, but luckily there are enough sidereels in this plotline to engage us, such as when Bulcsu agrees to a late-night “suicide run” on the tracks with a member of a rival inspector brigade, or his continued reconnaissance with a strange young woman in a bear costume who rides the lines for free.  The writing of the other players in general is very natural and there’s enough light comedy to fill the voids between major action. One of the funniest scenes occurs in the aftermath of a subway “leaper,” leading to a psychologist to evaluate the employees. The results are less than ideal, to say the least, leading to a montage of bizarre confessions not related to the tragedy in the slightest.

There are a few aesthetically demented scenes where Bulcsu’s dreams seem to weave in and out of a rave being held in the subway terminal (try to picture this in Penn Station.) that really made me scratch my head; though sudden, quick flashes of oddity are commonplace. One of the most striking things is the distinctive red facepaint the chief of police splashes over one eye; there is no explanation for this outlandish appearance, so we’re just to assume he’s a bad seed and he means business, especially in his interrogation scene with Bulcsu later on. It’s little details like that which permeate under the drip-drab depression and really leave an imprint on you.
I can’t say anymore about the character quirks or the very open-ended nature of what occurs in the endgame because it’s better seen than explained outright.  Bulcsu’s progression/regression begins as a sticky spot on your shoe which gradually becomes more and more noticeable up until the penultimate race against time—at which point we’re barefoot and exhausted.

I rate Kontroll very highly because I’ve yet to see a film like it—or at least one that comes close to achieving the same sense of despair and entrapment in the subway system, taking that pitted feeling and spreading it to the maximum level. The hubworld here is meant to be merely a passing location; a fleeting feeling of the dank and the dark. In Kontroll, it is a damning place, a kind of Tartarus one must usually inhabit in order to gain a greater sense of one’s internal flaws. At its climax, Kontroll delivers on this ethos—but not before granting us a glimpse into an abyss we traverse so easily on a very regular basis…at least, this is the case if you live in New York City. This movie is truly one-of-a-kind and I put it in my top 15, maybe even top 10 on a regular basis; truly worth the time to see.

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Super Mario World

August 3, 2011

   I admit, I might be biased in my selection of this game as one of my favorites: as a young’n, I was initially given the choice between a Batman car playset and the brand-new Super Nintendo. Not knowing what an SNES was–and my video game experience solely consisting of TMNT on my cousin’s old NES—I insisted upon the car set. My father didn’t like my answer and pretty much bought me the game system anyway. As a computer programmer always in the thick of cutting edge technology, his opinion of this new-fangled device was quite positive. This would indubitably change once he realized that he had birthed a monster: namely, me. This fateful decision to override my childish whim for a tiny Batmobile raceway would spawn a sickening obsession with videogames for over a decade. And, of course, this game was packaged with the system.

Generally, Mario games are widely accepted as benchmarks in videogame history. With SMW, the advent of platforming was upon us, and the Genesis was left in the dust due to the awesome 16-bit power of Nintendo’s new workhorse. There’s little I can say that hasn’t been said about Mario World, but I do feel I can elaborate on a few key points that made it timeless and legendary for me.

Probably the most memorable thing about the game–the very quality that lengthened the SMW’s lifespan–was the sheer mind-boggling amount of secret levels, exits, and alternate paths one could discover. Even after I somehow finished the game with my still developing platformer skills in their infancy, there was an incredible wealth of alternative routes towards the endgame and beyond. I still remember visiting my cousin and booting up his copy of the game, and seeing the Star Road for the very first time, thinking “How did he get here!?” From that moment, I knew I had to somehow discover every single nuance the game had squirrelled away beneath its pixelated exterior. Even years after I thought I had unearthed every possible passage, I was still hearing about tricks and hidden treasures I never even dreamed were real. I scarcely could believe in the damn “Top Secret” area  after a decade of not knowing about it.

Of course, it helps that the level design, tight gameplay mechanics, and the introduction of the uber-cool sidekick Yoshi play integral parts in the journey to uncover Super Mario World’s many secrets. In terms of difficulty versus your own intuition, there’s never an excuse to make against losing. If you’ve played it–and let’s be frank, you probably have, if you’ve ever played a videogame in your life–you’d understand what I mean by the entirety of the fairness therein. Sure, the game was revolutionary and all platform games to come were to be judged against this marvel. And even with that as the hilt of its majesty, it also had the incredible quality as being a pack-in game, thus providing it with the reputation as the game many gamers started honing their skills with. To this day, I can’t think of any other launch title besides perhaps Mario 64 that had this kind of impact. It is, in my opinion, the golden standard that eclipses even Mario Bros. 3.

…Plus, did you know most of the Koopa Kids were named after punk rock icons? Lemmy, Iggy, Wendy-O? How many games can you name with a baddie named after the lead singer of The Plasmatics!?