Thursday, April 18, 2013

First 10 - Silver Age Green Lantern

This is the beginning of Green Lantern as you know and love him. Yes, the Alan Scott Green Lantern is awesome in his own right, even if they made him gay for no good reason (For the record, I have no problem with gay superheroes. Northstar is one of the more prominent gay heroes  and he's in Alpha Flight. I love Alpha Flight. Anyway, I just think it's lame to make someone gay for gay's sake. Northstar was depicted as constantly being surrounded by adoring female fans, and yet he never had a girlfriend. His coming out was a big deal, but it wasn't surprising. Alan Scott, on the other hand, had 70+ years of heterosexuality under his belt before DC made him gay. Go back and look at the Golden Age Green Lantern comics. Alan Scott's inner dialogue is filled with thoughts about which girl he'd like to take out. I wouldn't have a problem if DC had just come up with a new gay character. They could have even added a gay Green Lantern. There's a Muslim Green Lantern now, so it's clear that DC is willing to add a little diversity with their new characters. It's just that turning a straight character gay feels wrong continuity-wise, and it also feels like pandering. If you create a new gay character, his or her homosexuality is just a part of who they are, and you don't really have to explain it. When you take a formerly heterosexual character and make him gay, it feels like you're laying a sacrificial lamb on the gay altar, as if you have to appease an angry mob. I'll go on believing that Alan Scott isn't gay, because he's not. If some new Green Lantern is, that's fine) but the mythos of the Green Lanterns was really established early on in the Hal Jordan years.

The first 10 issues of Silver Age Green Lantern cover a lot of the same material as that Green Lantern movie starring National Lampoon's Van Wilder. There's really one major difference: the first 10 issues of Green Lantern don't suck. And now I feel like I've tapped out my tangent reserves. Let's stick to the topic at hand from now on.

Hal Jordan is a compelling Green Lantern because he lived an interesting enough life before  he received his ring from Abin Sur. He is definitely a product of the era which gave us the space race. It's as if Chuck Yeager became a superhero, which is actually not a half bad idea.  I had also read Emerald Twilight before diving into this series, so I know what becomes of Hal Jordan. It only serves to make his humble beginning all the more interesting. This is definitely a must-read series, so it should go pretty high in the first 10 standings. Speaking of which, here they are:

  1. Batman
  2. Amazing Spider-Man
  3. Fantastic Four
  4. Silver Age Green Lantern
  5. Deadpool
  6. Booster Gold
  7. Daredevil
  8. The Punisher
  9. Golden Age Green Lantern
  10. The Avengers
  11. Ghost Rider
  12. The Defenders
  13. Captain America
  14. Excalibur
  15. Golden Age Captain America
  16. Golden Age Blue Beetle
  17. Doctor Strange
  18. Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics)
  19. Aquaman

First 10 - Ghost Rider

I have always been intrigued by Ghost Rider. I remember looking at Ghost Rider comics in the magazine aisle of my local drug store (that drug store was the only place in town that sold a lot of things: CD's, comic books, Abba-Zaba). What prepubescent boy wouldn't be fascinated by a guy with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle? If prepubescent boys, as a group, were charged with the creation of a perfect comic book series, it would not fall far from the Ghost Rider tree. That said, Ghost Rider has a lot more going for it than its irresistible imagery.

In the first 10 issues of Ghost Rider (beginning with Marvel Spotlight) you really get a sense for who Johnny Blaze is, and what his struggle is. As a person who stole his own soul from the devil, Ghost Rider's struggle is with himself as well as hell and all its minions. That's as good a premise as I've ever heard. It certainly has legs enough to last at least a few decades.

I really enjoyed the first 10 issues of Ghost Rider. I really got a sense for how the world of Ghost Rider operates, and what the major character's motivations are. This is so much better than that movie starring little Nicky Coppola. Anyway, even though I really enjoyed Ghost Rider, he's a bit of a lone wolf. He doesn't seem to interact with the other characters in the Marvel universe much. That has to knock a few points off his first 10 standing, because I'm looking for a series that will give me a grander view of either the DC or Marvel universe, depending on where it falls. That said, I will read more Ghost Rider at some point. It satisfies the inner child. Here are the updated standings.

  1. Batman
  2. Amazing Spider-Man
  3. Fantastic Four
  4. Deadpool
  5. Booster Gold
  6. Daredevil
  7. The Punisher
  8. Golden Age Green Lantern
  9. The Avengers
  10. Ghost Rider
  11. The Defenders
  12. Captain America
  13. Excalibur
  14. Golden Age Captain America
  15. Golden Age Blue Beetle
  16. Doctor Strange
  17. Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics)
  18. Aquaman

Howl and Other Poems - Allen Ginsberg

"Howl" is without question the premier poem of the Beat Generation, simultaneously establishing what it means to be a beatnik (Characterizing a homosexual beatnik counterculture as opposed to the heterosexual mainstream culture which worships "The one eyed shrew / of the heterosexual dollar" (125-126). Homosexuality and heterosexuality being largely, but not entirely, figurative in this usage) as well as what beatnik literature should feel like. And yet it isn't even my favorite poem in this book.

"America" is the best thing Ginsberg will ever write, especially seeing as how the man is dead. At any rate, "America" is a brutally honest conversation between poet and nation and is one of the most distinctly American works of poetry this side of Frost and Whitman.

Howl and Other Poems has a few prickers and thorns which never sit right with me when I read it, but it was one of the most influential books I read in high school (Gasoline by Gregory Corso and A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti being two of the others. I had a beatnik phase) and it still feels highly significant today, even though I am well past an age in which I can feel like any sort of a revolutionary. I drive a minivan. The end.

Indian Killer - Sherman Alexie

Indian Killer is unlike any other book I have ever read. I'm actually still trying to unravel just what happened in the book and how I feel about it. It's certainly an emotional journey as none of the characters are who you think they are. Everything is in flux and everyone is a potential killer. By the end of the book, I had no solid answers, and yet I'm perfectly fine with that. I was warned about this book, and I can't help but wonder how much I would have enjoyed it if I didn't know the experience of reading it would be unsettling.

Indian Killer has a great deal to say about race relations, mental illness, identity, and a great number of other topics, but it never gets preachy or sanctimonious. It merely presents a world in which there is a great deal of tension on a number of different fronts. In fact, it's the world in which we all live. Indian Killer caused me to question a number of the assumptions I've held for years. It was not a comfortable thing to do, but I was satisfied with the effect by the final pages.

From Sand Creek - Simon J. Ortiz

In this cycle of poems, Simon J. Ortiz traces a personal journey from the senseless murder of over 160 Native Americans in the Sand Creek Massacre (the incident is among the more shameful aspects of American history. Colonel John Chivington mounted an unprovoked attack on a peaceful group of Native Americans, many of whom were women and children, and slaughtered most of them in a largely one-sided "battle") to his own feelings about being an American.

If you've ever wanted a more detailed look at the complex ways in which Native Americans frame their own American citizenship, look no further. The poems in this book flip back and forth from the atrocities of the past to the difficulties of the present. The poems themselves have a near beatnik feel to them, with line spacing and word placement becoming a vital part of the poems. I found "From Sand Creek" a fascinating read as well as a call to search counter discourses of historical events in order to uncover all sides of a given story. The actions of the United States government in regard to the oppression of Native Americans is shameful, but the ability of Native Americans to still develop some form of patriotism, as evidenced in this book, is highly commendable.

Tracks - Louise Erdrich

Here's the thing about Tracks: it's expertly written and is one of the more complex and interesting pieces of Native American literature to ever be published. People are absolutely correct when they compare Erdrich to Faulkner. That said, I didn't actually enjoy this book nearly as much as I wanted to. Quality doesn't necessarily make a book fun to read. I actually began to loathe most of the characters in the book by its final chapters, and couldn't wait to be done with it so I never have to read it again.

While the subject matter is absolutely important in providing a counter-discourse to accepted notions of how it was that white Americans came to inhabit so much of this country and its original inhabitants came to inhabit so little, the story itself deals too much and too openly with sex and not openly enough with the actual important matters, such as the wholesale theft of Native American land. The narrative is framed as a conversation with a woman who, as a young girl was sent to a government school off the reservation, thus fracturing her relationship with her mother. I accept that as a premise, but the narrators consistently subject the narratee to every intimate detail of the places, times, and ways her parents had sex. This seems an odd thing to tell a woman whom you are attempting to reunite with her estranged mother. The narrative's content and intent are completely different matters. I was constantly bothered by the narrative's many tangents, and as a result I ended up not enjoying the book as much as I could have.

I am throwing Erdrich 3 stars because I recognize the quality of this book. I am reserving stars I could have given because I genuinely disliked reading this book.

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitgerald

What do you say about the great American novel? This is like attempting a review of The Beatles' Revolver. I'll just simply say that there is a reason why this book is held in such high regard. It perfectly encapsulates issues of youth, class, love, social norms, and hypocrisy.

Even now, more than 85 years after its first publication, it is still fascinating, engaging, and even a little shocking. I was required to read this book in high school, but after reading it as an adult, I think it should be required reading for adults as well.

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

Willa Cather's greatest asset is her ability to narrate the feeling of any particular space (which is why, decades after reading My Antonia, all I remember is a solitary scene involving a lone plow in a half-plowed field at sunset). That certainly comes into play as she takes the reader to the American Southwest in the late 1800's.

The hero of this particular story is not your typical western hero, though the plot does play out a bit like a western. The story revolves around the newly appointed bishop of New Mexico and his trusty sidekick who dedicate the remainder of their lives to cleaning up that one horse diocese. If this doesn't sound like the most exciting premise in the world, don't be fooled. Death Comes for the Archbishop is much more engaging than its premise would seem to indicate. The characters are rich and compelling, with complex motivations and intricate interactions.

The action of the book, though slow moving if you were to plot it in storyboard form, is still absolutely fascinating, diving deeply into a world few people ever knew. All in all Death Comes for the Archbishop is a worthwhile read. It will take you places you may have never considered going, but will leave you grateful in the end. This book is, above all other descriptors, beautiful.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Singles Going Steady - The A's

Borrowing a name from a great Buzzcocks album, I decided to do something to account for all the non-album mp3's I own. Dating back to the days when Napster was a thing (and not a subsidiary of the infuriating Rhapsody music service), I would end up picking up a lot of single songs and not the entire albums to which they belong. I also got a lot of single tracks in mixes from friends. Because this review of my mp3's is as much an effort to clean out my library as it as an attempt to know my own music better, I figured I'd give quick reviews and state whether or not the loose tracks in the A portion of my itunes alphabet will live to be heard another day, or be baleeted like so much garbage (and if it turns out that I own any music by the band Garbage, rest assured it will be baleeted when I get to the G's).

"Poison Arrow" - ABC Brings back pleasant memories of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Baleeted? No. Its video game connection will keep it alive.

"Rock Soldiers" - Ace Frehley A surprisingly awesome artifact from a KISS solo project. I have never really been too big a fan of the Knights in Satan's Service, but this track is a little closer to the types of 80's metal that still speak to me. Baleeted? Nope. I always need hard rocking tracks about rocking hard.

"All That She Wants" - Ace of Base Yeah, you read that right. I know this is a terrible song from a horrible band, but it's one of my guilty pleasures. I can't explain it and won't try. Baleeted? Don't hate me for saying no.

"The Sign" - Ace of Base Ditto. Baleeted? No. It makes me happy for no good reason.

"Walking Next to You" - Acres Sensitive guy with an acoustic guitar. Sometimes I need things to put on mixes for my wife, and this is as good as anything else in the genre. Baleeted? Nope. It's going on my wife's next mix.

"Someone Like You" - Adele It's the only Adele I own. Does that make me awesome or a horrible person? I welcome your responses. Baleeted? No. It's cheesy, but it stays.

"Sunshine Smile" - Adoreable Great 90's fuzzed out rock that I got from a friend as part of a mix. I can't delete it because I value my friends, but I also really like it. Baleeted? No. Am I going to baleet anything? Where are all my crappy songs?

"Alright" - Agnostic Front I definitely picked this up during my Napster days, and the horrible bitrate is the evidence. I really don't need more horribly ripped punk. Baleeted? Yes, but more because of the quality of the rip than anything.

"Riot Riot Upstart" - Agnostic Front Another Napster wonder that needs weeding out. Baleeted? Yes. I've still got a lot more decently ripped punk.

"Rock Star" - Agnostic Front Ditto Baleeted? Yes.

"Voices" - Agnostic Front Ditto Baleeted? Yes.

"One Day" - Akon feat. Matisyahu I picked up this track when I was coming across some awesome mashups (no, they really exist, but they're few and far between). As it turns out, I hate Akon and his autotuned crap, but I dig the Matisyahu part of this track. I can't, in good conscience, keep a track which is 50% cringe-worthy. Baleeted? Yes, and I won't miss it.

"Instrumental" - Albert Lee I got this track from a CD which was included in a book about Ferrington Guitars. It's just a basic blues jam, but I still really like it. Baleeted? No, it's some fancy pickin' that I should learn from.

"Better off Alone" - Alice Deejay I learned about this track because Rivers Cuomo covered it in one of his home demos. In case you ever wondered how much Weezer I have, I have enough to have a cover of this song. That's a ton. Anyway, I dig this song even though it's exactly the kind of repetitive techno I usually hate. Baleeted? No. Chalk it up to whatever keeps Ace of Base in my collection.

"Until I Say So" - All Why don't I own more All? They're awesome. It's like a pop punk Smoking Popes. Baleeted? No. If anything, this needs more spins.

"Silence" - All Another fine All track. I should just bite the bullet and get one of their albums, like Mass Nerder, where this track comes from. Baleeted? No.

"What Are You For?" - All Seriously, why don't I own more All? Baleeted? No.

"Fascination" (Frankmusik Remix) - Alphabeat Frankmusik is the best thing to happen to electronic music in a long time. I got this track from a torrent back when it was the only way to get Frankmusik in the US. I have since purchased his albums. This song is boring and repetitive despite Frankmusik's best efforts. Baleeted? Yes. I don't need this at all.

"Flavor of the Weak" - American Hi-Fi Some good ol' cheesy pop punk about a girl and her awful boyfriend. Very cliche, yet highly enjoyable. Baleeted? No, I'm like a tweenage girl when it comes to pop punk like this.

"The Human Heart" - Original Broadway Cast of Once On This Island I performed this song back when I was in my college show choir. It makes me nostalgic in ways I can hardly describe. Baleeted? No. It's almost making me cry as I listen to it.

"Easier to Lie" - Aqualung This dude came and played in my favorite record store while I was shopping there. I was annoyed that his keyboard blocked the shelf I was trying to get to, and I'm still annoyed that he thinks nobody remembers Jethro Tull. Baleeted? Yes, and just as a matter of principal. The song itself isn't bad at all.

"Jingle Jangle" - The Archies A surprisingly awesome non "Sugar, Sugar" track from The Archies. This is the sort of 60's bubblegum I can't ever get enough of. Baleeted? No, this is going on a mix.

"Sugar, Sugar" - The Archies Who doesn't love this song? Baleeted? Are you kidding (I ask as if I weren't asking myself the question)?

"Fire" - Arthur Brown This is surprisingly heavy music for the time in which it was recorded. I dig it. Baleeted? No. How could I? He's the god of hellfire.

"My Blue Heaven" - Artie Shaw My wife and I used to go swing dancing a lot back in the day, and we hope to do it again someday. This is exactly the sort of thing we like to hop around to. It's a fantastic take on an old chestnut. Baleeted? Never.

"Tuxedo Junction" - Artie Shaw I've been digging "Tuxedo Junction" since high school, and this is a fine take on the song. Baleeted? No.

"Along Comes Mary" - The Association I used to stay up late with my headphones on and the radio tuned to the oldies station to hear gems like this before I went to sleep. Baleeted? Nope.

"Windy" - The Association This is some fantastic 60's pop. I can help but light up every time I hear this one. And now I need more from The Association, assuming they have more tracks like this. Baleeted? No, it really takes me back to the late 80's and my fascination with oldies radio.

"Baja" - The Astronauts My Dad has always been a big fan of surf rock, and he passed that love on to me. "Baja" is as good a slice of heavily reverbed surf rock as you're likely to find this side of Dick Dale. Baleeted? No way, brassiere.

"The Gentle Rain" (Rjd2 Remix) - Astrud Gilberto In the early 00's, Verve started releasing compilations in which they let various DJ's remix classic jazz tracks. I gave it a shot, and I hate it. I prefer the originals. Baleeted? Yes.

"Here's That Rainy Day" (Koop Remix) - Astrud Gilberto See above. Baleeted? Can't do it quickly enough.

"Mustache TV" - Atom and His Package There's something about this band that I just like. It reminds me of The Mr. T Experience in the way that it makes me feel, but not necessarily in the way it sounds. Baleeted? Nope. This one is fun.

"Another Likely Story" - Au Revoir Simone I got this one on a mix from a friend, and it's really good. I should get more from this band. I like all girl indie electronic groups. Baleeted? Nope.

"Halfway Decent" - Audio Karate It's pretty mediocre and I have plenty more pop punk which is actually good. Baleeted? Sure. I can live without it.

"Boston" - Augustana More sensitive guy music, but this has piano instead of acoustic guitar. I'll keep it for my wife. And no, when I say I'm keeping it for my wife, I don't mean that I'll be openly weeping to this song when nobody is watching. It's seriously for my wife. Why don't you believe me? I totally have a wife. Baleeted? No.

"Turn Up the Radio" - Autograph This is some awesome 80's hair metal. I can never have enough of this stuff. Autograph taught me that "Day in, day out, all week long, things go better with rock." Indeed they do. Baleeted? Not while my head is still banging.

And there you have it. I reviewed 36 songs and deleted 10 of them. Not a bad time. Also, kudos to you if you survived a long review with no pictures.

Azure Ray - Hold on Love

I don't know why people don't love this album more. Sure, it isn't as quiet as the band's first few releases, but even Belle and Sebastian changed their sound with Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Hold on Love marks a change in the Azure Ray sound, but it's certainly not a change for the worse.

The first departure from the established Azure Ray sound are the synths which drop in toward the end of the album opener "The Devil's Feet." The entire song builds to the point where the synths kick in, so the album works to prepare you for a change. All of the songs that follow include electronic instrumentation (particularly percussion) and are somewhat louder and more upbeat (in terms of tempo, not in terms of thematic material) than you would be prepared for if you had been listening to Azure Ray from the beginning.

While Hold on Love is quite a bit different from Azure Ray's other albums, it's still a very good album with a number of very good songs. I really enjoyed it and would welcome more Azure Ray in the same vein, but unfortunately this is where my Azure Ray collection ends. There may be more in my future.

Baleeted? Nope. Azure Ray took a chance, and it works. I dig it.

Azure Ray - Burn and Shiver

With a full length album and an EP under their belt, Burn and Shiver finds Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor falling into a comfortable groove, knowing exactly how to make an Azure Ray album.

There is plenty more of the delicate beauty found on November on this album as well, which is precisely what fans of the bands would want. The songs are melancholy as ever, but as beautiful as you could possibly want them to be. The whisper-quiet beauty of these songs may just trigger your ASMR, or it just might make your day better. Either way, it's a good thing.

Baleeted? No, I need stuff like this to calm myself down after prolonged heavy metal kicks.

Azure Ray - November

This EP is a much better indicator of what Azure Ray can be than their self-titled debut is. Just listening to the way the self-titled EP opener builds upon itself, with cello perfectly complimenting a near-whispering Maria Taylor and the light strums of an acoustic guitar. The song just sounds much fuller than its instrumentation would seem to indicate, and that's a standard practice on the rest of this EP. They make every note count, and the result is simply gorgeous.

If you like quiet, sensitive, somewhat melancholy indie pop, you should own this EP. It's six songs are all excellent slices of velvety goodness which do nothing but work exactly as they were designed to. This is where Azure Ray took the much-welcomed jump.

Baleeted? Nein. 

Azure Ray - Azure Ray

Azure Ray falls somewhere in the indie pop/quiet is the new loud scene. I would say that they're what Belle and Sebastian would be if it was an all-girl group, but they're nowhere near as precious as B & S (that's the first time I've ever abbreviated Belle and Sebastian. Made me feel dirty all over. I'll never do it again). Maybe Kings of Convenience would be a better comparison, seeing as how I lifted one of their album titles to make myself look witty.

Both Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor have kicked around the indie scene in a variety of solo and collaborative projects, and while you can't really argue that Azure Ray is their "main band," it's certainly one of the most fully-realized projects for either musician. While this album is not the best example of what Fink and Taylor are capable of, it's still a pleasant listen. Most of the songs are sad and slow, but there is a tragic beauty to them as well. Maria Taylor sounds almost like a female version of Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine), which is great. More than anything, this album is a sign of even better things to come.

Baleeted? No, but this band does have much better albums.

Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain

I don't know where I first learned about Aztec Camera, but I'm glad I did. This album sounds like a cross between XTC circa Skylarking and Elvis Costello circa Get Happy!, which is a remarkable feat. There is a definite UK vibe to this album with hints of future Scottish pop (Roddy Frame, lead guitar, vocals, and songrwriter is Scottish) from acts like Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits.

The album's opener, "Oblivious" kicks off with an off-kilter XTC-ish jam that turns into pure pop joy at the chorus. This mixture of oddness and sweetness is the very foundation of the album. It never stops being interesting, which is very much appreciated. I'm listening to the album again as I write this review and I don't want to turn it off. This album is a pure delight.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Autour De Lucie - L'échapé belle

My roommate gave me this album when he heard me listening to some old yé-yé singles because he figured I would enjoy other good French language music as well. Turns out I do.

Autour de Lucie takes off like Aimee Mann singing in French, then it morphs into something a little closer to Stereolab. The album is a bit of a tweener when it comes to genre, but that's not a bad thing. Tweeners are only bad when they can't decide what they want to be, and Autour de Lucie knows what they want to be. If you enjoy strong female vocals, crafty songwriting, subtle genre changes within an album, and don't mind a little French in your life, Autour de Lucie may be up your oddly specific alley.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Authority Zero - A Passage in Time

While Arizona has certainly had more than its share of fair-to-middling punk bands, the state hasn't ever had enough great punk bands. This is where Authority Zero comes in. They hit the scene with energy, speed, and some of the fastest vocals I've ever heard. No, seriously, Jason DeVore might very well have the fastest mouth in all of punk. He is known for singing a punked out version of "The Rattlin' Bog" in concert which continues to increase in speed even when it seems a physical impossibility. Check the hidden track on Andiamo if you want to know what I'm talking about. I was at the show where that track was recorded.

Aside from the sheer speed of the band, Authority Zero brings a great sound and a great vision. It isn't all hardcore punk all the time. They mix in a beachside jam on "One More Minute" and a ska ditty on "Over Seasons." Even when they slow it down, Authority Zero never loses their intensity. While the laid back tracks are as good as anything else the band does, I prefer the brashness of their punk tracks, especially on the title track of this album. This is, as far as I can see, the very best punk of which my home state is capable.

At the Drive-In - This Station is Non-Operational

At first glance, This Station is Non-Operational appears to be a simple greatest hits compilation, which is not necessarily a bad thing for a band which brings passion and fury to everything they've ever done. While all y'all who already own the band's studio albums and EP's may not think you need this compilation as well, don't be too hasty.

The first half of this album covers a somewhat predictable selection of At the Drive-In hits, but the second half is filled with rarities, including a couple of very interesting covers: The Smiths' "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" and Pink Floyd's "Take Up They Stethoscope and Walk." There are also a couple b-sides, a remix, a BBC session track, and a lone track from the Sunshine split. These rarities (especially the covers) are reason enough for hardcore fans to pick up this fantastic compilation.

Baleeted? No. Too many good things happening here to even think of baleetion.

The Ataris - End is Forever

End is Forever finds The Ataris attempting to follow the pattern for pop punk awesomeness laid out by Blue Skies, Broken Hearts...Next 12 Exits, and generally succeeding.

The references to things from the 80's fly fast and loose on this album (including a song whose title is the infamous Konami Code. Contra anyone?) but the quality of the songs themselves is a small step down from Blue Skies. "Summer Wind Was Always Our Song" and "I.O.U. One Galaxy" are the best tunes on the album, and they come right at the beginning. End is Forever wears a little thin in the end, but on the whole it's still a very good pop punk album.

Baleeted? No. There are enough good tunes to keep this one around.

The Ataris - Blue Skies, Broken Hearts...Next 12 Exits

This is The Ataris at their very best. They are swinging for the fences on every single track, and send a surprising number of them over the wall. Did I mention that baseball season started this week? It did.

Anyway, this album is notable for the presence of the greatest Ataris song of all-time, which is also one of the greatest pop punk songs of all time. I am speaking, of course, of "San Dimas High School Football Rules." It's not the only gem on the album as "I Won't Spend Another Night Alone" is almost as good. If you like anthemic pop punk which doesn't take itself too seriously and revels in references to the 80's, this is the album for you.

Baleeted? Nope. We don't delete pop punk this good. We just don't.

The Ataris - Anywhere but Here

Anywhere But Here is The Ataris debut, and while it isn't quite as polished as later output like the surprisingly excellent So Long, Astoria, there are still hints that The Ataris were destined for pop punk greatness.

My personal favorite track, while somewhat of a gimmick, is "Four Chord Wonder," which parodies the common simple formula for pop punk hits. The best thing about The Ataris is that they appear to be fully aware of the shortcomings within their own genre, and don't attempt to take themselves too seriously. Anywhere But Here may not be the most impressive album you'll ever hear, but it is a whole lot of fun.

Baleeted? No. This album has enough redeeming qualities to stick around a while.

The Ataris - All You Can Ever Learn is What You Already Know

This EP is highly unnecessary. The Ataris are one of the premier pop punk outfits in the universe, but not everything they touch is pure gold. Most notably, the acoustic versions of their tracks leave something to be desired. For the most part, The Ataris only sound good when the guitars are plugged in and the amps are turned on.

Not everything on this EP is an acoustic version of an album track, there are also incredibly rough demos and unreleased tracks which weren't exactly begging for a release. The whole thing feels like a record label cash grab, and as such it is not a necessary purchase for Ataris fans.

Baleeted? Yes. I don't need this, and neither do you.

At the Drive-In - El Gran Orgo

While El Gran Orgo falls between Acrobatic Tenement and In Casino Out chronologically, it sounds much earlier than it actually is. While At the Drive-In has always sounded like pure fury raging forth from some Texas garage, El Gran Orgo just sounds slightly more garage-ish and primitive than other At the Drive-In output.

"Fahrenheit" is the best track on this EP, but the whole thing is comparable with other At the Drive-In output, which is to say: fantastic. At the Drive-In does not mess around. They do what they do better than anyone else, and they have never released anything that wasn't amazing.

Baleeted? Never.

Asleep in the Sea- Little Heart EP

I used to have a friend named Amber who was friends with the guys in this band. She picked up this EP back when it was titled Little Heart and not Yay! O.K. Yeah?, which I think was just a later title for the same thing.

Asleep in the Sea is a now defunct local indie pop outfit which wrote simple sounding tunes that almost sound like songs from children's tv shows, but with swearing. I only like one of the songs on this EP, but the whole thing is fairly pleasant. The recommended track is "Annie," but I know people who are more partial to "Seahorses." I think I would like this EP more if I knew the guys in the band, but I don't.

Baleeted? Yeah. Amber has deleted herself from my life, so I think it's time to delete her music from mine.

Asia - Greatest Hits

When I was in high school, my dad acquired a new turntable, just in time for my mom to have thrown out the majority of our records. In order to have something to spin, my best friend brought over some records his much older brother bought in high school. The records were 4 by Foreigner, Into the Gap by Thompson Twins, Ghost in the Machine by The Police, and Asia by Asia.

There were only two songs that I really ever liked on that album. "Heat of the Moment" on the A-side and "Wildest Dreams" on the B-side. I loved those two songs, and didn't particularly care for any of the rest of it. I thought that if there were 2 great songs per Asia album, Asia's Greatest Hits would be awesome. Unfortunately, it appears that the only two worthwhile songs the band has ever released are "Heat of the Moment" and "Wildest Dreams."
Lesson learned.

Baleeted? Almost. The two good tracks got in the way

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ash- Twilight of the Innocents

Fie on Infectious Records for never releasing this album in America. Don't they know the deal? Every Ash album should be released in America with bonus tracks to boot. I was forced to acquire this album through ambiguously legal means because I couldn't even get it as a digital download when it came out in the UK. I like to give Ash money. They have given me immense joy over the years, and I feel I should always give them money wherever possible. Shame on Infectious for keeping cash out of the band's pockets.

Twilight of the Innocents is the first combo-breaker of the band's career. The odd-numbered albums were supposed to be the dark, prickly ones, and the even-numbered ones were the poppy light-hearted affairs. Meltdown, the album immediately preceding Twilight of the Innocents was dark and prickly, but Twilight of the Innocents doesn't follow suit with Free All Angels-esque pop.

"I Started a Fire" kicks off the album in classic Ash fashion. The song has both hard rocking instruments and a beautiful melody, which has become the band's calling card over the years. The second track on the album, "You Can't Have it All" is equal with the first. After knocking the first two tracks out of the park, the rest of the album cools off a bit. I honestly don't think I can highlight any of the remaining tracks, but I will say that they are all pretty good. They aren't a Free All Angels murderer's row, but they aren't at all disappointing either. Taken as a whole, Twilight of the Innocents isn't quite as good as Meltdown, but it's still very good.

Baleeted? No. Not while it's my only means of listening to this album.

Ash - A-Z Singles Vol. 2

This album compiles the second half of Ash's A-Z Singles project. As it was with the first half, this compilation is a mishmash of various styles and genres which sounds better as individual tracks than as a cohesive album.

One of my favorite highlights from this album isn't even one of the singles, but one of the b-sides. "Spellbound" is a soul sister to the excellent "Candy" from Free All Angels. It's basically what a Free All Angels track would be if there were some synths in the background. I would actually like to know where the inspiration for all the synth work on the A-Z singles came from. Did they just pick up a Roland somewhere and start noodling with it, or were they just listening to Return of the Rentals (something that all people should do at least once per month)? At any rate, this is another fine set of singles which will provide a great deal of pleasure to Ash fans as well as those of you who are willing to take a chance on something awesome.

Baleeted? Nope. I love this stuff.

Ash - A-Z Singles Vol. 1

The A-Z singles were part of a very forward-thinking move by Ash. As they stared into the void which is the future of the music industry, they came to two conclusions: 1) That consumers are more likely to consume singles rather than entire albums and 2) That consumers are more likely to purchase digital content than actual hard copies. If itunes has taught us anything, it is that Ash was exactly correct on both points. Of course there are still those of us who consume albums and prefer hard copies of our media, but we old timers are part of an ever-shrinking minority.

Anyway, the A-Z singles were a project in which the band released a new single every two weeks, one for every letter of the alphabet (52 weeks in a year, and 26 letters in the alphabet. Convenient, isn't it?). Fans could subscribe to the project for a nominal fee, and receive new mp3's as they came out. Old timers like myself could subscribe at a higher price and receive 7" vinyl singles of each song, which I totally would have done if I weren't unemployed.

On the whole, the singles find Ash dabbling in a variety of genres aside from their standard rock and roll goodness. On the first two songs alone ("Return of the White Rabbit" and "Trule Love 1980") they dabble in dance punk and synthpop. The first 13 singles and their respective b-sides which are collected on this compilation do not form as cohesive an Ash album as I would like, but the songs themselves are fantastic. They are among the most interesting things Ash has done since Free All Angels.

Baleeted? Not a chance. I'm a loyal....whatever it is that Ash fans call themselves. Ash tray? Ash from housewares?