Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Check Your Zune

It looks like Zunes everywhere are failing. I can chime in with my own anecdotal evidence as my Zune is bricked as of this morning. I went to sync it and it just bricked. Total sucktasm since I take this thing everywhere. I've got 20 gigs of music on it along with podcasts, tv shows, and other mindless entertainment. And without it, I sure as heck won't go to the gym since I get bored after 5 minutes if I'm not listening to something.

This is extremely weird as it is happening to Zunes everywhere, so it is definitely a faulty piece of code somewhere. I just wonder how they're going to fix this since you can't get the Zune out of its bricked state. I can't get it to turn off, to sync, to play, to reset, or do anything. It just sits there, on, with the Zune logo on the front.

Thanks for the Christmas present, Microsoft.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tsavo - The Search CD Review

Thank God there are still some decent bands in the modern hard rock scene. It’s been a tough on and off battle for whether we’d see Nickelback, Hinder, Daughtry, and their brethren utterly dominate the popular rock scene with their more intelligent kin giving up, or if we’d see the continued insurrection of smart, catchy hard rock bands making inroads to give the genre at least a modicum of respect. Tsavo continues a trend of underground hard rock bands trying to push their way into the spotlight, even if only temporarily and to remind people that if you want to listen to rock music it doesn’t necessarily have to be utter crap.

Following in the footsteps of some of the other inspiring hard rock releases of this year, such as new efforts from 10 Years, The Butterfly Effect, and Rishloo, as well as a strong debut from Pitchblend, Tsavo serve up a hearty rock sounds with numerous influences ranging from A Perfect Circle to Chevelle. Eschewing the simple song structures of the moronic radio friendly rock bands, Tsavo craft songs that feel like they could be heard on a local hard rock radio station, but lacking the artificiality that seems to be needed to garner any prime airtime. Let’s just say they sound a little too introspective and moody to get the local shotgun toting, pickup driving, Pabst drinking meatheads reared up and ready to beat their girlfriends. Listening to anything off of The Search might make their heads hurt, not because it’s so “brootal dude!” but because it might make a synapse or two actually fire, something that doesn’t happen very often for the world of Hurt fans out there.

The focus of this band will easily be the crooning vocals of lead singer Cameron. It’s not too far of a stretch to hear a strong A Perfect Circle influence in the way he stretches his notes and draws out the length of the lyrics as he sings. If he were not as strong of a vocalist as he is, the album would fall quite flat, despite the talent of the rest of the band. In the melodic alt-rock world, if you don’t have a commanding vocalist, you just won’t make it. Period. And Cameron isn’t afraid to put himself out there as evidenced on the song “Absence”, in which he is backed only by acoustic guitars, letting him croon freely. Despite the very solid vocal performance throughout the album, there are a couple of small setbacks, mainly the couple of screamy growls thrown onto the album (see “Run” for a jarring example). They simply aren’t a natural addition to the band’s sound and are horribly out of place.

For the vast majority of the album, Tsavo stick to creating slower paced, methodical tracks, not too far from the structure that 10 Years employs. The influence is hard not to notice, but it shouldn’t come off as a negative criticism. It’s hard to think of a better modern hard rock act to look to for inspiration. You can also hear the influence in the way the album is paced — Tsavo are not afraid to shift gears from mellow to a full band assault back to slowing it down and then mixing it up from there. Doing this is often risky and can kill the flow of an album, but Tsavo pull it off and keep the album interesting up until near the close of the album. The tail end of the album loses a lot of steam and direction, but up unto that point the album is quite a compelling listen.

Now what’s really hard to believe is that Tsavo are currently unsigned and put The Search together independently. For an unsigned, independent band, there is a load of untapped potential and talent that could really be unleashed with a big studio treatment. Even without that, however, The Search feels full, hearty, and most importantly — mature. Many great things have come from Seattle in the past and the city has once again given us a band full of promise and talent.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I'm going to consider myself lucky. I had to be in Chicago for work Thursday and Friday of last week and the way they were forecasting the weather, I was wondering if I was going to be there all weekend. Getting in to Chicago was no problem, but getting out was threatening to be a completely different beast altogether.

With a flight scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm out of Midway on Friday night, I was a little worried when O'hare canceled a ton of flights throughout the day on Friday and it was snowing and blowing and cold and gross most of the morning and early afternoon. Thankfully, however, the snow quit, the skies cleared a bit, and the snow in Minnesota decided to hold off until the middle of the night, leaving me a window of about 6-8 hours of perfect weather for flights between Chicago and Minneapolis. And what a well used window it was.

Even though all of the afternoon flights to MN were listed as "on time" at the Northwest website, they were all still sitting at the airport and all of the flights, including mine, left between 5:30 pm and 8:00 pm. I'm really glad I made it home, considering the people stranded throughout the US over the weekend, as well as considering the dumping of snow we got on Saturday, which made getting out to shop and going to the T-Wolves game a real pain in the ass. And snowblowing the yard on Sunday was no walk in the park either, considering it was windy as all get out and about 1 to 2 degrees out. And this morning as I waited for the bus it was -13 out. Winter is most definitely here. And she's going to supposedly bring us some more snow today and Wednesday. There's no escaping a white Christmas this year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow Problems

I don't get it. I live in Minnesota where we traditionally and historically get assloads of snow each and every year. I've been driving in snow since I was 16. Most everyone I know has been driving in snow their entire lives. There's the occasional person here and there that moved to Minnesota from outside of the midwest, but they usually learn how to drive in snow after a winter or two. So, really, there shouldn't be that big of a deal when we get a couple of inches of snow, right? That's what you'd think, but yesterday night it felt like suddenly the Minneapolis area was overtaken by a bunch of out of towners who had never seen a snowflake before.

Usually I just avoid driving altogether when it's snowing out since I have learned in my few years in Minneapolis that the people here are much different than the people in rural Minnesota--they actually aren't that good at driving in the snow. Maybe it's because they really only do city driving and didn't get the practice having to drive for miles to do anything like I did in the farm country of southern Minnesota, or maybe they just don't drive that much, but whatever it is, snow totally kills any ability to get anywhere in the Twin Cities area in a managable amount of time.

Most days, I can just let it go and factor in some extra travel time and know that my buses to and from downtown won't exactly be on time, but last night I hit my breaking point. After work I hit the gym and was down at my bus stop at 6:20 pm to catch the 6:25 pm bus. I figured it might be a little late, but wanted to be there early just in case they left early to try to compensate for the snow. That, and if I miss teh 6:25, I only have one other bus (the 6:49 pm bus) to catch home from my bus stop. After that I have to go to a different part of town to catch a different bus that drops me off in my neighborhood, but about a 10-15 minute walk from my house.

I waited... and waited... watched buses for other routes go by... checked my watch... and waited. I waited in the blowing below zero cold and snow until 7:00 pm. I stood there listening to my Zune for 40 freaking minutes and neither of my buses showed up. There were two other people there with me waiting as well and we were all pretty upset with Minneapolis public transit. I couldn't take it any longer, though, as I was freezing my ass off and was not in the mood to wait any more. So I hopped back into the skyway system (thank God for the Minneapolis skyways) and walked down to Kristi's place and stayed there.

Minneapolis public transit, thanks for wasting a huge chunk of my night. I really appreciate it, you bunch of clowns. I'll leave a complaint message with you, but just like in times past, it won't matter. They don't care when buses are late or don't show up, even when people are depending upon them to get where they are going.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Economy Seems Fine to Me

Shopping this past weekend sure felt like pre-Christmas shopping of last year... and the year before... and the year before. The mall was packed. I had to drive around for a few minutes just to find a spot to park, which was in a parking lot across the road from the mall (I refused to keep circling and circling). People were clogging up parking lanes as they sat with their blinkers on while the car parked a few spaces up was being filled by a family packing all their wares in. It's a beautiful thing when one car, while waiting for a somewhat mediocre parking spot, blocks the 15 vehicles behind it, about a third who are honking their horns to get by.

Inside the mall itself, people were everywhere. And of course, everyone felt the need to walk at least 3 abreast and at the pace of an out of shape snail. Then they give you the stink eye when you blow past them any time there's even the narrowest opening. Sorry people, I have better things to do than mosey along behind you listening to you talk about nonsensical crap.

Individual stores were also pretty tightly packed with people. Checkout lanes were fully manned and had lines snaking away for yards. People were browsing and getting in other people's ways as they were so caught up in their own little world that they forget there's anyone else around. From everything I'd seen, the economy is as far from a recession as possible...

...but then I realized why the checkout lines were so long. The stinginess of the season was on full display as people brought their armloads of goods up to the cash register. I wasn't in many stores, mostly just in JC Penny getting some new dress clothes, but my experiences there I'm sure were seen throughout many stores.

In front of me a few people up was a middle aged couple that looked to be buying gifts for relatives or children. They had a bunch of clothes, trinkets, and jewlery. Once the clerk rung up everything and gave them the total, they had the poor woman show them each item on the receipt to make sure they weren't accidentally charged twice, and when that activity was completed, they asked for price checks on half of the items they had there. As expected, everything rung up correctly and was the right price. So then they started asking the clerk how much they would save if they didn't get this item, then what about if they didn't get that item, or how about if they did get that item, but didn't get those two... way to be in your own world and not realize there are other people waiting. Dumbasses.

Next to the register was an old lady who had not been in line. No, she'd been standing off to the side mumbling to herself about God knows what. She just rushes up to the cashier throws a sweatshirt at her, tosses a crumpled receipt on the counter and says she wants money. The sweatshirt has no tags on it. The receipt, the clerk tells her, shows a sweatshirt had already been returned. The crazy lady proceeds to start ranting about her cousin Kim and how she's no longer a part of the family and she doesn't want her dirty clothes, but wants her damned money because she's a dirty old bitch that should stay in Texas and never see her children again and that's the receipt that the dumbass clerk gave her and it's all she has and she wants her money now...

This lasts for a few minutes until they call in a manager to take her aside and hopefully explain to her how crazy she is. Now at the register was a guy who wanted price checks on everything he had in his hands. He wasn't going to buy them, he just wanted price checks. Does he not know how to read the price stickers on them? Or potentially the price signs by the displays where he picked up the items?

Finally, there's only one person in front of me. Thankfully, she was normal. She had her stuff rung up, swiped her card, tossed her clothes into a reusable shopping bag she had with, and was on her way. Thank goodness. I did the same and got the hell out of the store.

So apparently everyone is still shopping this season, but the main difference is everyone is more of a jerkass about price and gives even less of a crap about anyone else trying to shop. If anything, it won't be the recession driving me away from the malls, it'll be the even more self-absorbed people the places are populated with.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blagojevich, You're Hilarious

I don't have too much to say about Blagojevich and his attempts to sell Obama's Senate seat, other than I think he could have easily gotten away with it if he wasn't such a moron. But then a friend pointed out a hilariously awesome video over on ABC News where Blagojevich talks about promising his mother he'd never take bribes not only because it is wrong, but because it is illegal. Irony, you never looked so good. Just go watch it and laugh. I did a few times.

Vessels - White Fields and Open Devices CD Review

I think someone spilled some vocals in my post-rock… oh wait, you can have vocals in a post-rock band? Seriously? Because it’s pretty damn annoying. Knowing that White Fields and Open Devices was produced by John Congleton, who also did some production work for a little known band that goes by the name of Explosions in the Sky, the expectation was that Vessels would fall much into the same realm, and they do to a certain extent, but you'll catch them trying to branch out in certain directions that don’t always succeed 100% of the time.

For example, the aforementioned vocals. They pop up in a few tracks, most notably on “A Hundred Times in Every Direction” where they are so low in the mix it is hard to decipher what is being sung. The vocals aren’t bad, but they aren’t amazing either, so maybe that’s why they are mixed in so low compared to the rest of the band. In this particular example, it pains me to say it, but I think the song would have benefited strongly from the removal of the vocal track. At their core, Vessels are an instrumental band and they really shouldn’t try to stretch too far away from that because when they stick to their Caspian meets Isis approach, they’re extremely bad ass.

“An Idle Brain and the Devil’s Workshop” is the perfect encapsulation of the band. Establishing the track from the get-go is a crashing riff that is then let go of to focus on some intense guitar noodling which is followed by more and more layers of heavy riffing and driving drum work. As it builds, it grows in decibels and scope until it hits you hard with some intense riffage, only to collapse back to a slow, nuanced, mellow, exploratory soundscape that eventually fades out to finish the track. This is stellar stuff for sure, but unfortunately there are too many odds and ends tossed in on other areas of the album that detract from some of this greatness.

If you listen to “Happy Accident” you’ll find an odd distorted sound effect cluttering the song and distracting you from what the rest of the band is doing. Similarly “Walking Through Walls” has some odd sound effects at times, which aren’t quite as distracting as on “Happy Accident”, and also show a return of the use of vocals. Since the song itself is mellow through and through, the vocals are able to be heard a little easier and actually add to the composition. But, again, the band seem to be losing focus on what they're truly good at when they go down these experimental paths. Kudos for trying to take baby steps in different directions, but they don't necessarily add a lot to the album.

With these few negatives pointed out, it should be noted that Vessels are a tremendously talented band and they have all the makings of a phenomenal album in them. You can hear it hiding under the surface as you listen to White Fields and Open Devices. Their ability to take the heavily mined post-rock template, work with it and stretch it to encompass many of the sub-genres included under the post-rock banner, and come out sounding interesting is something few bands possess. In the hour plus runtime of the album, there are some amazing mellow moments as well as some pummeling, heavy hitting, sledgehammer riffs, all augmented by the well placed piano pieces and (occasionally) well used sound effects.

Vessels’ debut album is best viewed as a building block for future endeavors. With a plethora of ideas on the table and out of their system, they can now focus on choosing which ones are their best ideas and putting their efforts into doing what they do well, leaving behind what serves merely as a distraction from their good ideas. Vessels are on the cusp of doing something great and I can’t wait to eventually hear it… but until then, White Fields and Open Devices will definitely keep people tided over.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

People Suck

You know, for Christmas time supposedly being a "happy" time of year, I seem to notice people being dicks more and more often around holiday time. Everyone puts more focus on themselves, what they need to get done, what's going on around them, and don't really look outside of their little personal bubble. It gets somewhat frustrating that people, as much as they want to pretend they're all good and nice, just don't give a crap about other people in their completely self-centered world.

A perfect example of this happened as I was coming in to the office this morning. As I walked up towards the elevator to my floor, a co-worker from my floor was in a rush getting into the elevator. She saw me walking towards the elevator, but instead of holding the door got in and quickly hit our floor number, hoping the doors would close before I got there. Unfortunately for her, they didn't.

As the doors were closing we met eyes and she just stood there... so I put my foot in the door to stop it from closing. While they opened back up, I could tell she was pissed because I broke into her little bubble and because she got caught being a dick. Looking away after I stepped in she mumbled, "Uhhh... sorry," in a very douche-y tone. Trying to be the nice guy, I smiled at the back of her head and told her, "No worries." Of course as soon as we reached our floor she was out of the elevator lickety-split and going the opposite direction as me.

Has it gotten to the point this holiday season where everyone only gives a crap about themselves and trying to keep their image of niceness alive amongst those around them? I rarely see anyone simply being nice or actually thinking of someone else before themselves or their image. It's sad, but what can you expect? People just tend to suck.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Misery Signals, The Ghost Inside, Confide, and Bring Me the Horizon

It seems to be a recurring problem here in Minnesota that weekday shows start way too early for people to get to the venue. I suppose the blame can be laid on the fact that almost all hardcore and metal shows in the Twin Cities area are all ages and there’s a curfew in place that forces shows to get done by 9:00 pm, but it doesn’t change the frustration factor any for those of us who are no longer ‘tweens or in college and have to put up with an 8-5 job. Thankfully I was able to get my ass out of work quick enough to get from downtown Minneapolis to Station 4 in St. Paul so that I only missed the first couple of songs by opening band Confide.

Even though I was getting to the venue at 6:00 pm, busloads of kids had already made their way to the show. The venue was packed… well, except for the 21+ bar section where there was all of 10-15 people, showing just exactly what the demographics of the crowd were. Lots of the kids up in the front were really getting into Confide and I could totally see why – they sounded strikingly similar to current metalcore heavyweights Underoath. On disc, the comparison doesn’t come across as strongly, but live it is nearly unmistakable. The combination of very overtly Christian lyrics and the sing/scream dynamic kids go nutty for today screamed trend-hopping. The kids dug it, though, so more power to the band for making a connection.

After a very quick set change, The Ghost Inside came out and tore it up. Their stage presence was the strongest off all of the evening’s bands. The only rival to them was the individual performance that Karl Schuback would later give. The Ghost Inside met my expectations quite handily. Considering they play a very breakdown heavy band of metalcore, the crowd had plenty of opportunities to circle pit and spin-kick themselves silly. Even though vocalist Vigil had a cold and wasn’t feeling well, you sure couldn’t tell as he stomped across the stage spitting venom and screaming his lungs out, even taking a few impromptu dives into the crowd looking to drive the energy of the place even higher. In the 25 minutes they were on stage, they kept it going full force.

Following another quick set change, the always amazing Misery Signals came out to a delighted crowd. The majority of the material they played was off of Controller, but they did manage to toss in “Anchor” and “The Failsafe” off of Mirrors, both eliciting a huge response from the crowd. As I mentioned before, Karl was undeniably commanding on stage. With the build to back up his gruff vocals, the intimidation factor was pretty high. Backing him up, the rest of the band was flawless. If you thought Misery Signals sounded good on disc, hearing them perform live is an audible treat. The vast majority of the set simply bled aggression. The ending of “Labyinthian” nearly ripped the venue apart, while “Reset” simply crushed in your ear drums. We also can’t forget some of the mellower moments that served to show the band’s diversity, such as Karl and the band’s venture into melody in “A Certain Death” and the closing moments of “Parallels”. There’s a reason this band will be on so many people’s top 10 lists – they’re just that good. It’s just a shame they got their set shortened so that Bring Me the Horizon could get their full set in before curfew. I could have simply listened to Misery Signals play the rest of the night.

Unlike the other set changes, it took ages for everything to get set up for Bring Me the Horizon. I’m guessing it took so long because instead of BMTH setting up their own gear, they had one roadie setting everything up and doing the sound check while the band stood back stage dicking around. So they think they’re rock stars already, eh? What’s even crazier is that a healthy portion of the kids in the crowd seemed to think BMTH are the rock stars they wished they were. You have to give Epitaph props for promoting the hell out of BMTH and getting people into them. Once they finally did take the stage, they got the crowd chanting as they broke into a sloppy rendition of their “Sleep is for the weak…” song. In comparison to the three other bands on the bill, BMTH were very loose in their playing. After a couple of songs they bantered with the crowd about getting drunk, fucking, and were overly crass just because, which simply isn’t appealing to me. Maybe it’s because I’m in my late 20’s and more mature now, but promoting and fostering such negativity in a crowd full of kids isn’t something I tend to enjoy… so I left. I couldn’t take it. They were just that annoying and bad, which is unfortunate considering they were headlining and they’ve had so much promotion put behind them.

In the end, the show was definitely worth going to and I would sincerely suggest you see The Ghost Inside, Misery Signals, and (to an extent) Confide. They were all very good. On the other hand, I’d urge you to avoid Bring Me the Horizon if at all humanly possible. Seriously, stay away.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cruel Hand - Prying Eyes CD Review

Bridge 9 Records is usually the label to turn to when you want to get your fill of quality hardcore. Being home to stellar acts such as Betrayed, Ruiner, Crime in Stereo, Have Heart, and Ceremony, as well as many others, you can usually be assured that any new signing by the label is going to, at the very least, be decent. You can also usually be relatively sure of exactly what any new signee will sound like — at least one of Bridge 9's already signed bands. B9 have consistency going for them, and with Cruel Hand’s Prying Eyes they continue the trend of signing solid hardcore bands.

It would be remiss to not point out from the get go that Prying Eyes is strictly a 12 track hardcore stomp-fest, nothing more, nothing less. With only one song breaking the 2:30 barrier, the band is quick to get to the point. There is little to no deviation from the established hardcore paradigm, with the one small exception being the occasional metal flavored guitar lick. “Hounds” is probably the easiest song to listen to in order to notice the sharp, old-school, metal-tinged guitar tones. They’re sprinkled throughout the rest of the album as well, but the predominant musical theme on the album is straight ahead hardcore with plenty of opportunities for tastefully placed breakdowns.

Not quite up to par with many of Bridge 9’s other releases this year, Prying Eyes seems to spend most of its run time oscillating between speedy chord progressions and slowed down stomps. This isn’t to say that the transitions aren’t well done or missing, but each song tends to either be purely speed focused, purely stomp focused, or a straight up 50/50 mix of the two. There is rarely an in between pace, which leaves this album extremely lacking in the variation department making repeated listens quite dull. The metallic sheen on a lot of standard hardcore conventions lends something interesting to the presentation, but the underlying hardcore template is still being utilized quite heavily.

Also of note for all of you CD buyers out there, the packaging for this album is unfortunately below that of some of B9’s more recent offerings, such as the latest Crime in Stereo or Ceremony albums. Hardcore fans usually flip for great packaging, so it would have been nice to have something other than a single sheet of paper for an insert. I haven’t gotten my hands on the vinyl, but it looks like they did a nice job with the record itself being a smooth purple.

Beyond the CD packaging and the narrow scope of Cruel Hand’s brand of hardcore, this release is entertaining enough for hardcore junkies. However, as is the case with many recent hardcore releases, Prying Eyes doesn’t jump into “good” territory but is instead stuck in “good for the genre” territory.

My Other Web Endeavor

You'll often notice that many of my posts here are music reviews or can be music related. Well, it's because of my other web work that I do--Decoy Music. I've been writing there almost as long as I've been writing here. I haven't done as much writing in the last year or two, however, as I focused more on editing, but I still try to write music related pieces whenever I can to help keep the content there fresh.

I bring this up because I also selfishly want everyone to go visit the site since we have a completely new layout and, for the most part, completely new site. It's pretty bad-ass and I really like the progression we've made from our old site. It seems much more professional now, as well as much slicker and modern looking/feeling.

Now if I would only take the time to redesign this site... nah, that's too much work.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Call To Preserve - From Isolation CD Review

2006’s Unsinkable was one of 2006’s under-appreciated hardcore gems. Call to Preserve put together a very competent debut that should have let them break through into the hardcore mainstream (quite the oxymoron, I know...), but instead they didn’t seem to gain a lot of traction. Hopefully that will change with the release of their sophomore effort From Isolation.

Truth be told, From Isolation is not a terribly huge advance from Unsinkable and, in fact, there are some definite negatives to be found (the vocals on “Vices”, for example), but what the band excels at is combining a familiar hardcore sound with a barraging amount of energy. I’m sure that this can be said about the vast majority of hardcore bands throughout the states, touring their local scenes, playing basement shows, and releasing independently produced albums, but in this case, with the backing of Facedown Records, Call to Preserve have focused their overflowing amount of energy into 13 concise, blunt force trauma inducing tracks.

Obviously, by being on Facedown Records’ roster it is a known quantity that Call to Preserve are a Christian band, which can often spell doom if they get a little too preachy. Thankfully, there are no extremely overt lyrics that force the band members’ beliefs down your throat. Instead, much of the lyrical content deals with coming out of a negative place into a positive realm, or overcoming obstacles to push into a better frame of mind or lifestyle. It’s a welcome relief from the two ends of the hardcore lyrical spectrum — preaching values or preaching hate. It's nothing new, but it's tastefully done nonetheless.

Musically, it’s hard not to say that there is nothing new here. If you’ve been listening to hardcore since the days of Give Up the Ghost, you know what to expect. Beyond the one to two minute ragers, there are some inspired mid-tempo moments, such as the second half of “Lincoln Street” where you can almost hear a little bit of Modern Life is War trying to come through. More often than not, you’ll feel some strong This is Hell and Terror influences and similarities. There’s plenty of stomp-worthy, ground-pounding anthems, my personal favorite being “Waiting for Dawn”, so there will no doubt be a full-on circle pit at live shows.

Call to Preserve pack a punch in the 31 minutes of From Isolation. If your usual rotation of bands contains Buried Alive, Death Threat, Hatebreed, or No Innocent Victim then odds are you will probably fall in love with this disc. Even for a casual hardcore connoisseur, there is a lot to like here. It’s not often you find tasteful positivity in a hardcore band, so enjoy it when you have the chance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

One Way to Get Cool X-Rays

We've all heard the jokes about emo kids and how they cut themselves, my favorite being, "I wish my lawn was emo so it would cut itself!" I've known a few cutters in my day and must say that I still don't really understand the concept. I can somewhat understand the need to invoke physical pain to try and releive emotional issues, but actually cutting yourself just doesn't sound fun. Maybe that's because when I was all emo-y, which came late in life for me (college years), instead of doing something ridiculous like slicing up my arms with a pocket knife, I just went to the gym and beat myself up on the track or in the weight room.

I don't think the concept of cutting oneself is going to go away with kids any time soon, but I didn't see kids upping the ante as much as they supposedly have either. A new phenomenon, now referred to as "self embedding", is proliferating amongst the cutting crowd. This is definitely a new concept to me.

It's hard to understand why people cut themselves to begin with, but what the hell drives a kid to take paperclips, staples, wood splinters, crayons (from the article, not my imagination), or other things and find a way to get them inside your body under your skin? Yes, piercing has taken on new life in the emo/goth/metal/hardcore scenes with lots of interesting new piercing places (lips, cheeks, the back of the neck, etc.), which I can understand because it is a way to change your image that others see. However, with embedding kids aren't changing what's visible to others in a lame attempt to garner attention or artificially boost their self esteem. No, instead all they do is succeed in putting an object into their body outside of the usual ingestion methods.

This is really proof that we're only a few years or decades away from transhumanism becoming a mainstream thing. Body modification has exploded in the past few decades and we're really not that far away from openly grafting technology onto or into our bodies. RFID embedding, artificial organs, mechanical enhancements... by the time I'm 80 it probably won't even be controversial to be a cyborg. Oddly, I'm sort of looking forward to see how we can mesh technology and the human body together to make life longer, fuller, and more interesting.

That being said, self-embedding is just ridiculous. Don't be dumb, kids.

AristeiA - How to Kill a King CD Review

In today’s critical arena where ‘zines are covering a multitude of genres, much like we do here at Decoy Music, it seems like near blasphemy to ever criticize a post-rock band or to *gasp* give a bad review or score to anything post-rock. In any genre, however, there are going to be releases that are good, some that are bad, some that are absolute dreck, others that are mind-alteringly spectacular, and a bunch of mediocre stuff. It seems odd that for post-rock, nearly every band is given a “get out of the bad category free” card. Conversely, you could also say that metalcore and pop-punk are overly criticized in a negative light, but that’s an argument for another time and another place. Now, as you can easily guess by this point, How to Kill a King is unfortunately not going to get a free pass.

AristeiA are a fine band hailing from Portland, Oregon, and they’ve done some decent work in the form of 2007’s You Give Me Strength, You Give Me Patience, but they fall a little flat with How to Kill a King. The easiest potshot to take at this album is the fact that there is way too much Explosions in the Sky worship. True, it’s easy to say that almost any post-rock band shows an EitS influence, but there are tracks on this album that feel like they were created as musical love letters to EitS. “Stairway to Heaven Part II” exemplifies this with the very methodical, slow guitar build of the first third of the song before the sparse drumming enters, allowing the song to grow further and eventually climax, shooting their proverbial post-rock load all over the place, only to be followed by the near sleep inducing “I’ll Take Mine Black”.

This has been done to death, people. Because post-rock is such an insulated and critically loved genre, being derivative doesn’t seem to be called out as much as it should. It’s getting called out here, however, because as competent of musicians as AristeiA are, they’ve simply gone through the motions with How to Kill a King. Truth be told, however, it is a little easier to tolerate a so-so post-rock effort as compared to many other genres’ so-so entries, mostly because even with a middle of the road post-rock effort, you at least can hear that the band knows something about song structure, can play their instruments well, and demonstrate decent songwriting dynamics.

There are some positives that should be pointed out, however, most notably being that AristeiA have put this album up for free for everyone to download over at the Internet Archive. Knowing that it’s totally free, it’s hard to have buyer’s remorse if you do go get this album (and I actually recommend you do go give it a listen). I’m also sure that post-rock aficionados will find something to like, at least in the first couple of tracks (the final three are pretty lackluster downers, sadly). To be brutally honest, however, there are a lot of other post-rock efforts out there that are more deserving of your time if you are a discerning listener.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rosematter - Rosematter CD Review

I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for a blatant cash-in attempt on the Paramore craze to come along. Not only do Rosematter try to be the next big female fronted pop-punk band, but they gratuitously rip-off those ever loved popsters Fall Out Boy, tongue-in-cheek song titles and all. It’s hard to listen to this album without being overwhelmed by the notion that you now know what the audible manifestation of mediocre sounds like.

Before this album gets utterly dismantled, it should be mentioned that the majority of the songs on this album are upbeat, bouncy, moderately catchy, and totally mom-friendly. Most of that stems simply from the fact that Rosematter plays in a genre of music where 90% of the bands share these traits to begin with. They’re inherently a part of the pre-requisites that every pop-punk band is require to have in order to simply get started.

That being said… where do we start? Before you even listen to the band, you’ll be confronted with the horribly unfunny song titles on the back cover. Some gems are “I Bet She Gives Great Helmet”, “Do Re Egon”, and “I Drink to Prepare for a Fight (Tonight I’m Very Prepared)”. Let’s all agree right now that quasi-ironic song titles are long past their expiration date. All they do is inform a potential listener that a band is trying to be more clever than they actually are.

As you listen to each song you’ll soon realize that you’re hearing the exact same basic song structure over and over again with only some slight variations here and there that attempt to trick you into thinking that each of these songs are uniquely their own. Don't be fooled. The most blatant element that is shared amongst all of the songs is the tempo – that mid-paced, pop-punk, sing-a-long pace that is fine for a song or two on an album but gets played out all too fast when overused.

Of course, let’s keep in mind that we are operating in the pop-punk realm so the conventions of the genre should be expected. For a relatively simple genre, however, Rosematter pull a Lynyrd Skynyrd and have three guitarists in the band, even though you can't actually identify any songs that use more than a maximum of two guitar lines. And, in all honesty, there's very little noticeable use of multiple guitar lines. The majority of the album could have been played by a single guitarist.

The majority of the album could also be viewed as what would happen in an alternative reality where Relient K had Haley Williams as a lead singer. The only problem here is that Katie Kolos doesn’t quite have the range that Williams has with Paramore, which only perpetuates the monotony of the album.

I’m sure Torque Records saw this release as a good idea, but I don’t think that Rosematter will be able to garner enough attention or staying power to really matter beyond a quick flash in the pan. Other than Paramore there hasn’t been another female fronted pop-punk band to make a significant sales splash and Rosematter surely won't be rivaling the current kings (and queen) for their throne.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I'm Not Dead...

...I just hadn't really had much of a desire to write. Oddly, I just found that doing any sort of blogging felt more like a chore than anything else, which is not what I ever wanted it to be. I'm sure it was a bunch of different things coming together to finally get me to give up (temporarily, I guess, since this is now another post). I felt I didn't have much to talk about, I was getting overwhelmed at work (where I'd often feel frustrated, which only leads to negative rants... and I don't want to rant about work), and while I was at my computer at home I never felt the desire to pull up a blank screen and start typing.

So what's changed? Not much, really. I still don't feel the urge to write 100%, but it's not the empty tank I was running on a couple months ago. I'd still been doing some writing in the form of music reviews for Decoy Music and documentation at work, so I didn't go cold turkey. What really got me to reconsider writing anything in this space was the simple fact that a couple of different people asked why I quit. They were family, yes, but still... knowing anyone reads anything you write is always a good feeling. I know that the letters I write to my grandparents are only read by a couple of people, but that doesn't stop me from writing them. And I know that I'll never be a Keith Olbermann or James Lileks or even a Ryan Rhodes, but if there's a couple people out there paying attention, then what the heck. I might as well keep at it.

So with that, I guess I'm going to try to be back enjoying myself in the written word. And just to be clear, nothing tragic or horrendous or life altering happened to me over the last few months. I just wasn't motivated and got pretty bored. And for all I know, I might get completely bored again in a couple of months. Who knows? But I'm hoping I won't.