Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ella and Louis Sing Gershwin

I bought this album for one reason and one reason only: I love Satchmo. I felt I didn't have enough Louis Armstrong in my life, and I happen to be a Gershwin fan as well so I purchased this disc with no deliberation. At the time I had no idea who this Ella Fitzgerald person was (I feel compelled to point out that this happened 13 years ago. I've learned a lot since then). When I popped this disc into my discman, I was greeted by the most beautiful female voice I ever heard. Apparently this Ella Fitzgerald was some sort of goddess. I double dippy dog dare you to find a voice better than Ella Fitzgerald. Sure, Aretha Franklin is soulful but it's close and no cigar. Emmylou Harris sends shivers down my spine, but she doesn't knock my jaw to the floor. Susanna Hoffs is a stone cold fox with a distinctive set of pipes, but I'll still take Ella every time. Nobody can do what Ella Fitzgerald did. Bless Sara Vaughn for trying, but there will never be another Ella Fitzgerald.

So when you take the greatest female voice in the history of music and add the unmistakable Satchmo growl and lay it all down on a bed of Gershwin songwriting, you've got pure gold. There simply is no better version of "Summertime" than the one offered here. "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" never had the chemistry Ella and Louis give it. Every song is a gem. I cannot recommend this disc and the respective catalogs of the artists involved highly enough.

What it is to Burn- Finch

If someone handed me a bag full of emo CD's, I would hand it right back. Why? Because it's not my bag. I really don't understand men who wear women's pants and makeup and scream at the top of their lungs about how sad everything is. It's like they heard Pinkerton and thought that Rivers Cuomo never got over how sad everything is and never eventually wrote an unironic (though it wasn't taken that way) song about how he wished he was a part of the stuff-shirt Beverly Hills scene. Now he's married with kids and his twitter feed seems to indicate that he's a generally happy dude. And yet the emo kids keep crying and cutting as if there were nothing else in life. So much emo doesn't reach beyond the perceived misery that accompanies the high school experience of every red-blooded American (and possibly the blue-bloods as well).

Anyway, despite the massive head-scratch I offer to the emo community, What it is to Burn by Finch is a proud part of my music library. Why? Because it transcends the cliches of its genre. Sure, the very name What it is to Burn seems annoyingly emo-ish and yet I assure you that the music on this particular platter is of the highest quality to be found in the genre. The songs rock harder than just about anything else in the Drive-Thru Records stable, and every song reaches to be anthemic. Not all of the songs succeed in their aim, but the majority of them get there. Oddly enough, the best track on the album is the title track which appears as a bonus(?!) at the end of the album. It's good  enough to be the album opener and yet it isn't. If you're looking to add some emo to your life, you could do much much much worse than What it is to Burn.

Come Back Around- Feeder

This is one of the singles from Comfort in Sound. It features the title track and two B-sides. "Come Back Around" is one of the better songs from Comfort in Sound. It fits nicely with the theme of the album, and stands up nicely on its own.

The two B-sides are a world apart from "Come Back Around." They sound like they were written for another album entirely. They rock harder and in a more straightforward way. They aren't bad songs at all, they just don't fit the theme or texture of "Come Back Around" is all.

Comfort in Sound- Feeder

This is the album Feeder put out after their drummer committed suicide. As a result, it is a personal and pondering introspection on life and loss. This is also the first and only Feeder album I know. I actually saw them on the tour supporting this album. They were opening for Rooney, but if you ask me they put on a better show than Rooney did. That's why I went out and picked up my copy of this album.

I have no idea what other Feeder albums are like, so I can't make any statements about how Comfort in Sound is artistically different from previous efforts. I can say, however, that on this album Feeder sounds intimately aware of their own mortality. It's not that every song sounds weepy. Much to the contrary, each song sounds like it's making the foot-dragging walk away from a graveside at the end of a funeral. It's a beautiful sadness. There is a great blend of acoustic and electric guitars on this album, and the synths are all timely and understated. More than the songs themselves, I just enjoy how this album sounds.

From Lausanne, Switzerland- Favez

If I knew anything about the elusive Favez, it's that they either hail from Lausanne, Switzerland or they don't. This album either pays homage to their hometown or it doesn't. Hold on, I can't keep this joke going. I'm going to look it up. Yes, they are in fact from Lausanne, Switzerland and yet I still have no idea how to pronounce their name.

Anyway, this album is alternative-ish but also indie-ish and fairly emo-ish (the Cap'n Jazz variety not the guyliner variety). It's a little hard to pin down genre-wise, but it is a very smart album and very well-written. "Ages of Wonders" is a clear highlight, but there are other stellar tracks such as "Don't let the Riot In" and "Son of Steve McQueen." I can't say this is one of my favorite albums (because I don't remember how I came to own it and therefore I rarely remember to listen to it) but I can say that it has never disappointed.

Ages of Wonders EP-Favez

I have no idea who Favez is, how to pronounce their name, or how I came to be in posession of their music. All of these things really don't make much difference because I have done the research and have come to the conclusion that Favez rocks. I have no idea how Favez is classified, but they seem to occupy a space somewhere between The Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate.

This EP features the single "Ages of Wonders" and three acoustic versions of songs from From Lausanne, Switzerland. I sincerely hope Favez actually is from Lausanne, Switzerland because otherwise I would know literally nothing about them. At any rate, "Ages of Wonders" is a highly enjoyable song that has never failed at rocking my very socks. It's angular and will hit you in the side of your face like a slushy snowball. I literally don't know how else to describe it. The acoustic tracks on this EP are pleasant enough, but all of them are better in their electric form. Basically this EP gears you up to listen to From Lausanne, Switzerland.

Physical Fatness

As punk compilations go, this is not a very good one. It's hard to complain about punk compilations. They usually cost 5 bucks or less and usually have at least a couple songs you'll dig. Fat Wreck Chords normally maintains a very high level of punk rock goodness, but Physcal Fatness just isn't up to snuff (oddly enough, Snuff has two tracks on this comp, one of which is fairly good). If you listen to Survival of the Fattest and Physical Fatness back to back, the difference in quality is easy to see. The best track of the album is the opener, and it's all downhill from there. If you buy one punk comp this summer, don't make it this one.

Life in the Fat Lane

Life in the Fat Lane is a better compilation than Physical Fatness yet not as good as Survival of the Fattest. It also features the first blatant pop-punk on a Fat Wreck Chords compilation ("San Dimas High School Football Rules" by The Ataris). In many ways, pop punk has been the death of "real" punk. I struggled for years with the fact that I love both the "real" and pop varieties of punk. It's something akin to being a whaler who always has a moment for greenpeace.

Anyway, despite marking a slight shift in the Fat Wreck Chords catalogue, Life in the Fat lane is as good as you could expect a punk comp to be. There are some real hits, some near misses, and only a couple songs that aren't worth the trouble.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Survival of the Fattest

Back when I was really into punk (yes, I did rock a mohawk. Thanks for asking. No, it wasn't a faux-hawk. I shaved the sides and spiked it up because that's how things are supposed to be done) there were two major punk labels that despite having vast means and national distribution still managed to have a good amount of cred, which is no small feat in the punk scene. The two labels are Epitaph (which was founded by Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion fame) and Fat Wreck Chords (which was founded by Fat Mike of NOFX fame). Both labels had (and still have) large stables of great bands, and both labels put out great compilations. This is one of them.

Survival of the Fattest features the cream of the Fat Wreck Chords crop. Many of the songs are fantastic, and some of them are not. I recommend the following songs to our ears: "Justified Black Eye" by No Use For a Name, "Mother Superior" by Good Riddance, "Raum der Zeit" by Wizo, "Rotten Apple" by Stung Out and "Vincent" by NOFX. The Wizo track is the best song on the album and without question one of the greatest punk songs I have ever heard. Also, I have no idea what the song is about because the lyrics are all in German. Dig it.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Farrah is a band about which I know very little. They're another power pop forum speculative buy. Basically, if enough people who like the same music I do tell me that I should go out and buy something, I will buy it. I shudder to think of what would happen if these people start flinging themselves off cliffs. I'm just that susceptible to the power of suggestion.

Anyway, if you're like me and you dig power pop, you'll dig Farrah. They have big hooks, sweet harmonies, and nice catchy pop from top to bottom. It's really hard to review these power pop albums because they tend to fall into one of the following two groups: either the entire album is great (but usually not transcendentally so. Let's be reasonable. Power pop is awesome, but it somehow never comes off as important as....say...Bob Dylan or his cronies. Farrah and bands like them are like an evolved version of The Lovin' Spoonful. The Lovin' Spoonful was a great band with a catalogue of highly enjoyable music, but you wouldn't try to tell someone they were the best band of the 60's. There's no way "Do You Believe in Magic" sits on the same pedestal as "Blowin' in the Wind."  Not even John Sebastian would try to tell you that and yes, I did have to look up his name. It's the same reason a comedy will never win an Oscar. It just doesn't carry the weight of supreme importance. Even though "Blowin' in the Wind" did not, in fact, change the world, it gets points for trying. Songs about girls just don't cut it. I don't make the rules, but I definitely know what they are) or the entire album is unlistenable. If you mess up power pop, it blows up in your face. It has a delicate balance and a sure formula (a little Byrds jangle, a dash of Beach Boys harmonies, and a love for all things Beatles). Farrah, like so many other bands has gotten the formula and run with it. They sound just fine, but don't expect them to take a stab a righting social wrongs (even if those who do always seem to fail).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Comic Book Nerd

This entry is double posted in one of my other blogs, which is why it's de-nerded a bit.

As many of you may already know, this is the year of the comic book for me. As a matter of fact, one of the major reasons I wanted to get this iPad was because I can now carry a large comic book library with me everywhere I go. It's a nice perk, but not the only reason I bought this thing (that would make me a huge nerd if it was the only reason, which is why I tell myself it isn't).

Since starting to read comic books back in July, I have read many many comics. It's so much easier to read them digitally than in paper form. I do actually own some hard copy comic books which were purchased from the fantastic Atomic Comics before it closed it's doors for good last month. I own a few TPB's (trade paperback): one DC Crisis, and two UK Transformer compilations. The bulk of my collection, however, is comprised of about 90 issues of Alpha Flight.

What is Alpha Flight? It's a team of Canadian superheroes similar to the X-Men. As a matter of fact, Wolverine got his start in Alpha Flight before running off to join the X-Men. How did I get involved with such a strange group? Well, I started reading comic books because I felt I needed more X-Men in my life. The issues that introduce Wolverine to the X-Men also introduce Alpha Flight to the world. I really like Alpha Flight because it's basically a crisis in every issue. They pull of stuff in April issues that other titles save for December or their annual. They kill off major characters and replace them fairly routinely. Also, Alpha Fight doesn't always have the benefit of sponsorship by generous benefactors, and more often than not they are not even supported by the Canadian government. When you read Alpha Flight, you will absolutely never know what they're going to do next.

Anyway, just because I feel like it and I have the time, I'm going to run down all the comics I have read thus far and give them a rating (no, I won't do it issue by issue. I'll just rate each series).

Alpha Flight Volume 1 There are three volumes of Alpha Flight thus far (well, I think they just started a 4th. I own the first issue of it). The first volume has 130 issues, the second has 20, and the this has only 12. I started the second volume, but I'm not done yet. Anyway, I loved the first volume of Alpha Flight. I read it after having read every DC Crisis. In Alpha Flight, every issue is a crisis. There were very few throwaway issues. they always faced awesome foes, and there were so many twist and turns, I couldn't possibly explain them to you in a concise form. Just chalk me up as an Alpha Flight fan. These issues were as good as anything I've read thus far.

Scott Pilgrim This was the first (and only thus far) graphic novel I ever read. I read it after seeing the fantastic movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. If you haven't seen it, you are missing a movie unlike any other. It's an all-out visual feast. It's as good a comic book movie as there will ever be. Anyway, the graphic novel is as good if not better than the movie it inspired. It's a graphic novel for people who enjoy comic books, video games, and indie rock. If you enjoy any or all of those things, you should enjoy it. I love the story as a metaphor for modern romantic relationships, but I also love it as pure entertainment. It is smartly written, and all the dialogue is almost over the top in its wittiness. All in all a very good read and highly recommended.

As for the DC Crises, I think I'll rank them from my favorite to my least favorite. Before doing that, I think I'd better explain what a crisis is in comic book terms. DC has been around since the 1930s, which means they've had 80+ years to muck up their continuity and make things so convoluted that it became darn near impossible to jump into any of their series without doing a lot of research first. The first major crisis was Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was DC's way of blowing up everything and putting it back together again in a more reader friendly way. With that knowledge in your pocket, here are the crises I have read in order from my most favorite to my least.

Infinite Crisis Oddly enough, Infinite Crisis was the comic Joel always tried to make me read when he was trying to convince me that I should read comic books. I liked Infinite Crisis the most because it seemed like it had the most compelling story lines. It just generally had the most going on, and the things that were going on were all worth following. You really can't ask for more in a massive crossover series.

Crisis on Infinite Earths You really can't do much better than the original massive crossover. The only thing I didn't really like about this series was that at times it seemed like story lines were being laid out in a very meticulous way simply because they needed to shape certain characters in certain ways in order to get themselves out of certain corners they had painted themselves into previously. I'm just saying that the story seemed a little less organic than it could have been, but I understand why they did it the way they did. Aside front he one gripe, Crisis on Infinite Earths is very good and highly enjoyable.

Identity Crisis Identity Crisis is more of a minor crisis than other crises in the DC catalog. It centers around The Elongated Man's wife going missing. I love this story because of the awesome husband/wife relationship between Sue and Ralph Dibny. This is a story that carries over into Infinite Crisis, and even though the conclusion is fairly senseless, there's a lot of real emotion in this story. I'm only downgrading it because it makes me so sad and it seems senseless in the end.

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time Zero Hour continues to story of Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and his transformation to Parallax and his attempt to rewrite time. I loved the story of Hal Jordan's fall, and Zero Hour is a good story, but it has waaaaaay to much rainbow in it. Seriously, it's very distracting to look at that much rainbow without seeing unicorns. Oh, and there were a couple pieces of the story that seemed like too much of a stretch, even for a comic book. I would tell you what they were, but it's been a while since I read this and I honestly can't remember.

Final Crisis I just really didn't like Final Crisis much. If I was a goth (no, not a Visigoth or Ostragoth or any other sort of actual goth. I'm talking about the people who misuse the word goth and take it to mean "draped in black and obsessed with death") I would eat this with a black fork and spoon, but since I'm a normal person, I didn't like the satanic overtones. I also really hated the aftermath story lines. The Super Young Team is an abomination, and the whole crisis seems 1) unappealing 2) not so critical that it can really call itself a crisis. After reading this one, I wanted to hit it with a rolled up newspaper and shove it's face in the Super Young Team side story so it would know what it did wrong.

In addition to all these crises, I read all the lead-in and aftermath stories. I won't bore you with the details of all of those, except to say that 52 was an excellent series and really made me care about Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. The last comic book series I'll tell you about (you didn't really read this far did you? I wrote this more for myself than anyone else) is...

X-Men I have read the first 200 or so issues of X-Men, and loved every single one of them. With all I've read thus far, I'd consider myself much more of a Marvel man than a DC guy. The X-Men are now so iconic that people who have never read a comic in their life have a general sense of the characters and their respective stories. It's just been a pure delight to get a deeper sense of the X-Men. Although I like to tell people I'm an Alpha Flight fan, I think the X-Men are my favorite comic book characters of all-time.

Well there you have it. I've read a bunch of comic books and loved most of them. If you actually read this, I hope you're a nerd, otherwise I'm sorry for wasting your time.