Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Voodoo Glow Skulls - The Band Geek Mafia

Now here's a gem from days gone by. The Band Geek Mafia is an album I picked up during the summer of 1998 when I found myself in desperate need of ska-punk. This album scratched a very specific and very urgent itch at the time, but it still holds up very well 14 years later.

Voodoo Glow Skulls take fast and abrasive Southern California punk and add a talented horn section to the mix. The resulting blend is a little heavier on the punk than the ska, even though the horn section really shines through in nearly every song.

The Band Geek Mafia is probably the strongest collection of songs Voodoo Glow Skulls have ever produced. They tend to be self-referential and tell the tale of kids who kept playing trumpets and trombones long enough to be a part of an awesome band. I love everything about this album, especially because some of the songs hit really close to home for me.

Veruca Salt - Eight Arms to Hold You

I have always been a fan of female-fronted rock bands, but especially of female-fronted bands that crank the amps up to 11. Veruca Salt is exactly the sort of band I am predestined to enjoy. They rock hard, the harmonize perfectly, and they write great songs.

If you aren't a child of the 90's, Eight Arms to Hold You might sound a little dated. For a nostalgia nerd such as myself, it still sounds vibrant and vital. "Volcano Girls" still sounds like a hit, "Awesome" still sounds awesome, and "David Bowie" scratches the itch of my man-crush on Ziggy Stardust. So yeah, this is a perfect album for me. I can understand other people not enjoying it as much, but it's practically tailor made for my tastes.

Velvet Crush - In the Presence of Greatness

Once I got used to what Teenage Symphonies to God actually was - as opposed to what I expected it to be - I picked up In the Presence of Greatness, which is also totally different from what I expected it to be.

While Teenage Symphonies to God was like a really really great Cheap Trick album, In the Presence of Greatness was like a pretty good Teenage Fanclub album. It's more mellow than I expected it to be, but it's still a decent slice of power pop.

Matthew Sweet produced this album, and his touch is readily apparent. I don't know if Velvet Crush worships at the altar of Big Star as much as Matthew Sweet does, but this album seems much more influenced by Big Star than the band's other works. All in all it's a very good album which is somewhat eclipsed by the band's later greatness.

Velvet Crush - Teenage Symphonies to God

For a long time this album was the great white whale of power pop. Every power pop resource I scoured for information on excellent power pop albums told me that this album was essential listening. At the time I was building my power pop collection, this album was out of print and selling for exorbitant prices online. All the file sharing sites I visited (note that I tried to purchase an actual copy of the album first. That's how I roll) all had the same poor quality low bitrate rip of this album. I never even made it through the first song of these downloads without deleting them in disgust. I didn't find an actual copy of this album until I happened upon it in a thrift store after at least 5 years of futile searching. Of course the album became available as an Amazon and itunes MP3 album immediately after I bought a hard copy of it. My consolation is that I paid a mere single dollar for this album at the thrift store, and I prefer hard copies to digital copies.

Anyway, my first few spins of this album were tainted by the fact that I had been looking for it for so long. I found it a bit difficult to enjoy because for all my trouble I expected something better than Bellybutton, which is really a stretch for any band not named Jellyfish. Over time I have come to accept Teenage Symphonies to God for what it is: a great power pop album that doesn't sound anything like I expected it to. Most of my favorite power pop album emphasize the pop side of the equation more than the power side (e.g. the aforementioned Bellybutton). This album cranks up the volume a little higher than many albums in the genre, but it still relies on big hooks and tight harmonies. It isn't what I expected, but it's very very good.

Van Halen - s/t

Van Halen is the prototypical 80's metal album. The only problem with that statement is that Van Halen was released in 1978. Nevertheless, this is the album that defined and exemplified everything 80's metal was about. It has references to Satan in "Running With the Devil." It has misogyny in several songs, but especially on "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." It has explosive guitar work throughout, but especially on "Eruption." They even have the typical 80's meta-song which rocks hard in telling you how hard it rocks ("On Fire"). Van Halen was a major piece of work that every Motley Crue, Skid Row, and Poison aspired to emulate.

Perhaps the best thing about this album is that at no point was the band stopping to think about what it means to be Van Halen or what the public expects of Van Halen. This is just an album on which four guys who are the best at what they do do what they do. There is perhaps no other 80's metal album so innocent in its intent and so pure in its construction. It's hard to imagine what this album must have done to the minds of unsuspecting listeners in 1978, but it still sounds amazing and mind-blowing in 2012.

Ugly Duckling - Bang for the Buck

After the hilarious commentary on the fast food industry on Taste the Secret, Ugly Duckling seems to take a small step backward with Bang For the Buck. This is a straightforward album albeit a very enjoyable one.

Although Ugly Duckling has always been somewhat silly, Bang for the Buck is the first album on which they come off as cheesy. The cheesy moments are few and far between, but I just can't get over what an evolutionary step backward this album is. I guess Taste the Secret really  set the bar high, and anything else would probably come off as a disappointment.

Bang for the Buck still provides plenty to love. "The Breakdown" is far and away my wife's favorite Ugly Duckling song, and probably her all-time favorite hip-hop track. "Andy vs. Dizzy" is my favorite track on the album. It's an MC battle between Andy and Dizzy that brings out some of their best rhymes and cultural references. I guess I just need to get over the fact that there will probably never be another Taste the Secret and Ugly Duckling will just keep on doing what they do.

Ugly Duckling - Taste the Secret

Taste the Secret manages to be Ugly Duckling's most unexpected, most odd, and yet most highly-enjoyable album all at once. This is a concept album, but it's nothing like the albums by Pink Floyd and The Who that the term "concept album" calls to mind.

Taste the Secret tells the tale of a fast food restaurant called Meat Shake and its hippie rival Veggie Hut. Everything on the menu at Meat Shake has meat in it (Yes, everything. Just look at the picture on the left). They're rude to their customers and claim no responsibility for the weight gain and heart stoppage they incur. Hilarity ensues as the employees of Meat Shake harangue the employees of Veggie Hut, leading to a final confrontation. The story of Meat Shake is generally included as interstitials between the non-Meat Shake songs that make up the majority of the album.

There are a number of absolutely excellent songs on the album, the best of which is "Opening Act" which tells the tale of what it's like to be the band nobody wants to see at the beginning of a concert. I also really love the Mexican flavor of "La Revolucion." Of course the tale of Meat Shake that is woven throughout the album is both engaging and hilarious. This album has not stopped being awesome or funny even though I have listened to it literally dozens of times since purchasing it. I honestly cannot recommend this album highly enough.

Ugly Duckling - Journey to Anywhere

Journey to Anywhere is Ugly Duckling's full-length debut, and it's certainly an interesting one. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this album very much when I first bought it. There are a lot of spaced-out jams on this album and not a whole lot of all-out booty shakers. The title track, which basically explores the endless possibilities of dreams, used to put me to sleep. As I've gotten a bit older I've come to appreciate this style of hip-hop.

Journey to Anywhere is filled with clever rhymes and even cleverer beats. The best song on the album is "A Little Samba" which takes on the MTV Cribs expectation and exposes the down-to-earth reality in a comical yet poignant style. Throughout their music, Ugly Duckling is constantly calling into question the violent and profanity-laden modern hip-hop culture. Although Journey to Anywhere still isn't my favorite Ugly Duckling album, I've come to appreciate it more as time has gone by.

Ugly Duckling - Fresh Mode

If you think hip-hop has gotten a little too big for its britches and find yourself yearning for the old b-boy days in which rhymes were fresh and innocent and all the beats were laid down by an actual DJ spinning actual vinyl, fear no more. Ugly Duckling is laying down fresh hip-hop in an old school mode here in the new millennium.

Ugly Duckling is a complete and total anomaly. They're three white guys who come from an area of California (Long Beach) known for producing hardcore gangsta rap. Nothing about who they are or where they come from seems to give a logical reason for the fact that they're pretty much Run DMC for a new generation.

Andy and Dizzy are very capable MC's, while Young Einstein absolutely owns the turntables. He's such a master of his craft that he has popped up on a number of other collaborations that call for some old school turntable spinning and scratching.

As for Fresh Mode itself, this is a very good hip-hop EP that leaves you wanting more when it's done. It has a real old school flavor that hails back to the b-boy days of yore (they had b-boys back in yore, right?). If you've been looking for tunes you can lay down some cardboard and spin on your back to, look no further.

U2 - The Joshua Tree

I have this peculiar habit of not listening to an entire album if I find tracks on the first half of the album to be particularly engaging. Because the first three tracks on The Joshua Tree are somewhere in the upper echelon of greatest songs ever written, I never felt the need to listen to any of the other songs on this album. I know it's counterintuitive. If the first three songs are awesome, it would follow that there very well might be other great songs on the album. Even so, I owned this album for more than a decade before I ever heard "Running to Stand Still" or "In God's Country."

The Joshua Tree is one of the most anthemic albums ever made. There is nothing on this album that does not reach for grandiosity. Even the more subtle songs on the album are laden with self-importance. Although U2 has been railed over the years for their pretentious nature, The Joshua Tree somehow manages to not feel pretentious at all even though it practically screams, "Listen to me! I'm important!" This album has some of U2's best songs, which still sound significant even after a few decades have washed over them. As far as I am concerned, this is the greatest U2 album there has ever been or ever will be.

U2 - War

War is U2 at their most angular and socially aware, which is really saying something for a band that is known for its angular songs and overall social consciousness. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" opens the album and sets the tone for all the songs that follow.

The only real break in the social commentary of this album is "Two Hearts Beat as One," but the track is no less driving than the other college rock gems on this album. It's a love song, but definitely not a ballad.

Because I purchased this album in 1998 (I got it at a pawn shop which also served as the only local head shop. The CD's were in the back of the shop near the bongs. I remember there was one shaped like a giant hand doing the "hang loose" sign. I also remember finding it odd that bongs and handguns were being sold under the same roof) I was never as aware of its social importance as I would have been had I purchased this album in 1983. Of course I was 4 years old in 1983, so I don't know how familiar I was with the plight of Northern Ireland at the time. At any rate, War is an album that not only sounds good, it feels important. I don't think I'll ever appreciate it in the way it was intended, but I'm getting there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

22 Jacks- Going North

22 Jacks is a decent pop-punk band. Going North is a decent pop-punk album. Nothing about the band or this album is particularly remarkable. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I love it. This is an album for The Neutral President if ever there was one. I have no strong feelings about it one way or the other.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Considering how much I enjoyed revisiting Spider-Man it really comes as no surprise that I enjoyed this sequel as well. Spider-Man 2 brings back the creative team of this first movie (specifically, they brought back Sam Raimi who proved he could do just as much with a big budget as he could when he and his buddies were monkeying around with low budget horror flicks) as well as the majority of the principal actors. This movie operates in much the same way as the original. Spidey faces a new foe and new Peter Parker faces new social challenges, but it's very much similar to the original.

I thought Alfred Molina made a perfect Doctor Octopus. Not only did he look exactly like the original comic book Doc Oc, he brought sympathy to the character that really made you wish things had turned out differently for him. Of course his downfall (I don't really need to give a spoiler alert to an 8-year-old movie, do I?) could have been prevented if he didn't place the pursuit of science above all other concerns. He is granted a level of redemption in the end of the movie, which is a nice touch. All in all I'm inclined to say that Doctor Octopus is a better foe than Green Goblin was in the first movie. Alfred Molina didn't have the touch of hamminess Willem Dafoe had, so that's a big plus on his side. The performances were generally strong and there wasn't too much in the way of unnecessary humor, which I appreciated.

As it was with the first movie, the effects are a bit dated, but the movie doesn't hang too much on visuals alone. Peter Parker's desire to be with MJ as well as his need to balance his personal relationships with his crime-fighting alter-ego creates a good deal of tension in the movie, and this is exactly the sort of story that doesn't need spectacular effects to work. I will admit that the plot of the movie isn't really mind-bending or groundbreaking, but it wasn't intended to be. This is just a solid superhero flick that is still rewatchable years later. It's every bit as good as the original if not slightly better.

First 10 - The Avengers

The Avengers really need no introduction. They are a collection of iconic heroes who have just enjoyed massive success on the big screen. The Avengers seem to be on the minds and lips of people who don't even like or care about comic books.

The Avengers and the movies which led up to it (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Captain America, Thor, etc.) are based in the Ultimate Universe, whereas the comics I read were the original Silver Age stories in which The Avengers originally formed and gelled as one of the premier superhero teams. These comics are a far cry from the HD effects-driven blockbuster movies, but many of the crucial elements of The Avengers exist both in comic book and in movie form.

The original Avengers were Iron Man (in his golden soup can armor), The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Henry Pym (in his Ant-Man phase) and his trusty partner Wasp. Captain America wouldn't join up until issue #4. The original story which brought The Avengers together was a little lame. They just all showed up to the same fight and basically entered an oral contract to be a team. It was a very loose agreement which The Hulk promptly broke, which kinda makes it seem like they weren't much of a team. There was a lot of in-group fighting in the first 10 issues, and the team had no official government backing. They were literally just a bunch of dudes and one girl (who hit on every guy she met, which got really annoying) who fought as a team when they felt like it. This means they were only slightly more dedicated than The Defenders when they first got together. The lack of real teamwork makes these early Avengers comics slightly less awesome than The Fantastic Four.

Another issue with these first issues is that they face a few real duds in the villain department. Loki makes an appearance in the first issue, which is nice, but he's really more Thor's enemy than anything. The Avengers needed marquee villains that required the collected forces of all the members (I'm thinking a Magneto type). Zemo and the Masters of Evil really started coming together as a team by the end of the first 10 issues, but that's about it. Also, I feel the need to point out that Zemo is a Captain America villain and The Enchantress and The Executioner are both Thor villains. Once again, there's a need for original villains created specifically for The Avengers. Also, to that point, I found the plot in issue #2 to be a bit silly. The Space Phantom comes along as a real challenger to The Avengers, but as an interloper he states that his big goal is to beat The Avengers, thus proving his power. The problem with this is that The Avengers had literally just gotten off the ground and it didn't seem the public was too aware of the team. How would a visitor from another world know that beating the Avengers was the most important thing for an evil villain to do while on Earth? Maybe I'm just picking too many nits here.

Lemme say that I really enjoyed The Avengers. I've mentioned before that 1960's Marvel comics are pretty much my favorite thing. There's plenty to love about the early issues of The Avengers. All the knocks I listed above were mainly just justification for putting The Avengers lower on my First 10 totem pole than I really want to. The Avengers are pretty much another win for Silver Age Marvel. I just have other series' I want to read first. This shouldn't mean that The Avengers aren't worth reading. They're in the mix along with a whole bunch of other awesome series. I'll get to 'em all eventually. Here are the current standings:

  1. Amazing Spider-Man
  2. Fantastic Four
  3. The Punisher
  4. Golden Age Green Lantern
  5. The Avengers
  6. Aquaman

Saturday, July 21, 2012

TV on the Radio - Young Liars

There were really only two records the employees at Hoodlum's forced me to buy. One of them was Holy Roller Novocaine by Kings of Leon. The other was the EP you see on the left, Young Liars EP by TV on the Radio. I remember wandering into Hoodlum's to talk with Heath about hockey (he was a Flyers fan, but he was the only real hockey fan I knew, so I didn't let the fact that his Flyers kept bouncing my Leafs from the playoffs stop me from talking puck with him) and he was playing this EP. It sounded weird to me and not at all the sort of thing I would enjoy. Heath smacked a copy down on the counter and told me to buy it. He rang it up with a discount, so I felt it would've been rude to resist. I brought it home and didn't listen to it for a while.

Eventually TV on the Radio became a thing, and I figured I should listen to the EP and figure out what all the hubub was about. When I put the disc on, I opened up the liner notes as I habitually do and was surprised to find that the EP was recorded in a Brooklyn bedroom. The DIY nature of the EP gave it some cred, and upon repeated listens I found myself really enjoying it. It would be nearly impossible to describe TV on the Radio to someone who had never heard them. I know one review described them as post-rock, but I have no idea what that even means. There are some electronic, hip-hop, and indie elements in the music, but it would be a lie to say that it fits nicely in any one of them. Basically TV on the Radio is a bunch of interesting dudes who make interesting music. This EP opened my eyes, but I won't pretend I was on the band early. Heath was.

TV Eyes - s/t

TV Eyes is the first real project that reunited Roger Joseph Manning jr. and Jason Falkner of Jellyfish. It also brings in their homie from Redd Kross, Brian Reitzell who had previously collaborated with Roger Manning on just about everything.

The interesting thing about TV Eyes is that it really comes out of nowhere. Nothing that any of the members of this band has ever done ever sounded quite like this. TV Eyes is a Madchester-ish electronic record that really knocked me for a loop. I listened to "Need to Love" every single day at least once a day for the better part of a year. It was a while before I really even digested the record as a whole, and came to realize that this thing is just a pure gem. Just know that if you dig things like New Order or The Happy Mondays you need to hear this album. I don't know where you'll ever find this album. I had to get it as a Japanese import. My local record store imported it on request, and I don't know if I could've gotten it otherwise.

Spider-Man (2002)

So my wife has been out of town and I took advantage of the opportunity to waste more time than usual. I've been hankering for a superhero movie for a while, mainly because I want to see how different they are now that I've a acquired some comic book knowledge. I remember I used to be annoyed with people who would yammer on about the differences between the movie and the comic book, but now I've become one of those guys. I'll try not to do too much of that in this review.

 The first thing I noticed in re-watching Spider-Man is that the special effects have dated considerably. So many movies over the past decade have relied so heavily on special effects while ignoring basic movie making elements such as plot and character development. Luckily Tobey Maguire makes a great Peter Parker and Sam Raimi really spent some time developing Peter Parker as the loveable nerd who happens upon powers beyond his wildest imagining. The relatable characters in this movie more than make up for the fact that many of the special effects just aren't up to scratch anymore. I will say this though: as Spider-Man jumps across rooftops and swings through the city, his movements are very spider-like and still look pretty darn cool.

 The casting for Spider-Man was top-notch. Tobey Maguire was a perfect choice as was Kirsten Dunst. Uncle Ben and Aunt May look exactly like they should, and J. Jonah Jameson is beyond perfect. I actually found that Willem Dafoe was a bit hammy at times and played the Green Goblin a bit too far over the top. The same could be said for James Franco, who is a bit too mopey and distant, so his performance comes off a bit fake.

 The best part of this movie is related to the one thing I really hate in movies based on books and characters I already love: comic relief. The problem is that people like me (nerds) who are already fans of the source material don't need extra comedy to make us enjoy the movie. Unfortunately the powers that be aren't just trying to sell movies to the hardcore nerd fanbase who will always watch movies based on things they love (unless of course it's a Michael Bay picture in which case everyone would be better off not seeing it). Hollywood tries to make movies that are all things to all people. Movies are theoretically a for-profit business, so the model in which they attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience is fiscally sound even if it produces things that slightly annoy me. In The Lord of the Rings movies, for example, they turned Gimli from the proud and awesome dwarf that he was in the books into the brunt of all the jokes and the largest source of comic relief in the movies. They did this so that people who are not fans of the books could more easily endure the 3 hour movies. Hardcore fans like myself were annoyed with what they did to Gimli, but not so much that we didn't see the other two movies and didn't buy them in multiple formats multiple times when they came out. Would I have preferred that Lord of the Rings be absolutely humorless? Yes. That's exactly what I wanted. That's what I want out of my superhero movies as well. All of the recent Marvel movies (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, etc.) have all included scenes that made the audience laugh out loud, which made me secretly resent all of them. The good thing about Spider-Man is that it really only includes one of these scenes (when Peter Parker is trying to figure out how he got the web to shoot). Because there are fewer clear examples of pandering to the non-nerd audience in Spider-Man, I give it some serious bonus points.

Anyway, my rant about comic relief aside, Spider-Man holds up very well for a movie with lots of special effects that was made a decade ago. It sticks pretty close to the comic books, which is nice. The characters are well-developed, and the plot is engaging. It isn't Citizen Kane, but you could certainly do much, much, much worse in the superhero movie genre (I'm looking at you, Batman & Robin).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Tragically Hip - Phantom Power

The Tragically Hip are basically the R.E.M. of Canada, which is fine by me. I love R.E.M. and I love Canada (for my money, "O Canada" is way better than "The Star Spangled Banner" and there is nothing more terrifying than listening to the C of Red sing it in unison) so unless I am engaging in a logical fallacy, I should love The Tragically Hip.

The problem is that I just don't dig Phantom Power very much. I know there are better Tragically Hip albums, but this is the only one I own. Somehow the music just rolls off like water on a duck's butt. It's the same thing I get when I listen to the Foo Fighters. I know they're a good band. I know people like what they do, but somehow I just can't receive them in a way that allows me to enjoy them. I wish I liked this album more, but the part of my brain that enjoys music has no taste for it.

Travoltas - Endless Summer

This is a summer album if ever there was one. It's full of crunchy guitars, sweet harmonies, and lots of vintage synth and organ sounds. I was disappointed by this album at first because, like so many other albums, I wanted it to be the successor to the Return of the Rentals throne. This album is something else entirely. It's summer jam after summer jam and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Tories - Wonderful Life

I bought this Tories album when I was in desperate need of more power pop in my life. I bought it alongside another album which I must have been very excited to get because I just didn't listen to Wonderful Life for nearly a year after buying it. Then one day I put itunes on shuffle (something I never like to do. I like to have control over my music at all times) and the title track from this album came up. I was immediately swept away. For some reason (actually, it's a pretty obvious one if you know what I'm talking about) the title track of this album reminds me of the part of Red Dwarf (the book because I've only seen a couple episodes of the TV series) where they get trapped in the game. Specifically I'm talking about Lister's dream life.

Anyway, I quickly found that I was missing out on some primo power pop. I don't know who The Tories are, where they come from, or anything else about them. I only know they write excellent songs with great melodies overlayed with succulent harmonies. If that's the sort of thing you're into (and really, you should be) this is a great album.

The Toasters - Dub 56

I bought Dub 56 because I wanted some more 2-tone ska in my life. What I really wanted was either of the two Toasters albums I had already heard (Skaboom! and D.L.T.B.G.Y.D.), but couldn't find them in the record store, so I bought Dub 56.

Dub 56 has plenty of great Toasters tunes, but I wouldn't say that it has as many bona fide hits as the aforementioned other two albums (I only focus in on those two albums because The Toasters have released dozens of albums. I was only aware of the two I mentioned because the guy who introduced me to ska owned them). This is another album that I had to grow into due to my misguided expectations about what a Toasters album should be. Dub 56 is hit-laden in its own right, and even includes several live cuts, all of which show that The Toasters can pull it off on stage just as easily as they can in the studio. If you want to know what 2-tone ska is all about, this should be one of the first albums you check out.

Toad the Wet Sprocket - Coil

Coil is probably Toad's darkest and weirdest album. When I bought it, I was really hoping for another Dulcinea, but was disappointed. I actually hated this entire album for a couple of years and may or may not have actively tried to pawn it off on friends who wouldn't take it during that time.

After hating the album for a while, the song "Whatever I Fear the Most" became fairly important for some of the things I was going through. It was extremely therapeutic, and it opened the door for the rest of this album. It wasn't until I spent some time in Southeast Asia that I understood all the Buddhist undertones on this album (and not just the overt ones in "Little Buddha") and really began to appreciate it for what it is: a Buddhist existentialist pondering over the meaning of life, the universe, and everything as well as the effects of actions already taken. Coil may not be Toad the Wet Sprocket's best album (though it doesn't lag far behind their best) but it is their most philosophical. It's lyrically interesting and musically very good, so you can surely do much worse.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Toad the Wet Sprocket - Dulcinea

Toad the Wet Sprocket is one of the greatest bands to come out of the 90's. That is a scientific fact with 5 excellent albums worth of evidence to back it up.

Of all the great Toad albums, Dulcinea is probably the very best (yes, I am aware of the many excellent songs on Pale and Fear, but Dulcinea has always been the best in my book). The thing about Toad the Wet Sprocket is that they have a certain intimacy in their music that is almost unmatched. Dulcinea seems like a real soul-bearing journey, but don't ask me what it's all really about because I really don't know. Toad brings a lyrical depth in which almost nothing is straightforward or easily understood, which is really saying something for a band which only ever seems to get play on adult contempo stations if at all.

This is the part of the review where I would break the album down a little bit and tell you why each of the tracks adds to part of a greater whole, but I can't do that with this album. You just need to take the album in as a whole and get a feel for what it's all about.

They Might Be Giants - Factory Showroom

This was the first TMBG album that I was really into and my friend Todd (who introduced me to the two Johns' music) wasn't. If you're the sort of person who got upset when They Might Be Giants added a backing band, I can understand if Factory Showroom is a bridge too far. The presence of the band is immediately apparent, and the production is a little heavy handed for many fans. Nevertheless, I absolutely adore the songs on this album.

The cover of Cub's "New York  City" is so great and so aptly chosen that I was unaware that the song wasn't an original until I discovered Cub in college. "James K. Polk" is the greatest presidential song ever recorded (and yes, I'm including Johnny Horton's "Young Abe Lincoln" and Country Joe and the Fish's "Superbird" in that statement). "Till My Head Falls Off" "How Can I Sing Like a Girl?" and "Spiralling Shape" are some of the best up-tempo TMBG tracks in their catalogue. Oh, and let's not forget that for this album John and John went to Edison Laboratories and recorded ""I Can Hear You" on a wax cylinder using some of the oldest recording equipment on the planet. So yeah, Factory Showroom is second only to Flood as far as I'm concerned. This is an excellent album, provided you're not predisposed to dislike it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

First 10- Aquaman

Here's the thing about reading the first 10 issues of Aquaman: it's an uphill battle against all the Aquaman prejudice. Even for a relative newbie like myself I'm well aware that Aquaman is widely considered one of the lamest heroes in the DC universe. Yes, I know that he finally gets much more interesting in the late 80's and early 90's, but my First 10 series requires that I read the first 10 issues of a series, not just the best 10 issues. Anyway, what you need to know is that as I read these comics, I was really trying to like them. I scoured them for redeeming qualities because I didn't want to just go with the herd and call Aquaman lame.

All that said, the first 10 issues of Aquaman are completely and totally lame. There's no getting around it: I found these comics to be a total and complete chore to get through. In the first 10 issues of Aquaman you get no sense of what his struggle is, who his enemies are, who his friends are (other than Aqualad, who is basically a lame-o underwater Robin), or anything that gives him any sort of motivation to do whatever it is he does. What you get are a bunch of uninteresting and poorly-written stories that ultimately go nowhere in advancing Aquaman's overall story. Here is the plot of every story in the first 10 issues of Aquaman: 1) a fish tells Aquaman there's trouble 2) Aquaman and Aqualad investigate the trouble 3) Aquaman and Aqualad get trapped by whoever is causing the trouble 4) Aquaman uses telepathy to get some highly-specialized fish to help him escape (seriously, I kept expecting lock-pick fish or safe-cracking fish to show up because some of the fish he called to his aid were ridiculous) 5) Now free, Aquaman uses his enemy's own weapon against him (usually a ray gun, all of which are drawn exactly the same) rendering him incapable of further harm and therefore unlikely to pose a long-term threat and make the comic at all interesting. I just saved you the hassle of reading the first 10 issues of Aquaman.

Oh, one other thing I need to point out before throwing this pitiful series at the bottom of my First 10 totem pole: it seemed the writers of the comic were not confident enough in the stories themselves. Aquaman comics are littered with Beetle-Bailey-ish Navy comics, facts about the sea, water safety tips, and other unnecessary stuff. I would rather see a half-dozen more ads for GRIT or the Olympia Sales Club. If Aquaman was capable of providing stories which stood on their own, all that other crap would be unnecessary. Unfortunately I found out the hard way why Aquaman is the laughingstock of the DC Universe. I'll eventually take a look at the issues which redeemed him as a character, but not before I get this bad taste out of my brain. Anyway, as if it needed saying, here are the current First 10 standings:

  1. Amazing Spider-Man
  2. Fantastic Four
  3. The Punisher
  4. Golden Age Green Lantern
  5. Aquaman
Don't worry DC fans, there are some good DC comics on the docket and we'll get a decent mix going before too long.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

They Might Be Giants - John Henry

John Henry seems to be a reaction to the labels being placed on They Might Be Giants in the early 90's. They were generally written off as something of a joke, and John Henry sounds like anything but a joke band telling jokes. The only problem is that it strayed a bit from the things that made the TMBG faithful love them and generally failed to bring in new listeners. Turns out a straightforward approach is the exact opposite of what fans wanted.

Although I've never been a huge fan of John Henry, it does have some nice songs. "Meet James Ensor" is actually one of my favorite TMBG tunes, and "I Should Be Allowed to Think" and "The End of the Tour" are good enough to be Flood material. When taken as a whole, John Henry is a somewhat disappointing album with a few good moments and a couple great songs. They Might Be Giants can do - and have done- better.