Tag Archives: Review

My Thoughts on Phish as 2012 Closes

MSGIt’s been a year since my last blog post. A year. A lot has happened in that year, my life is very different than it was as I wrote “My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes.” I’m a different person, and the things that make me happy have changed significantly. But here, as 2012 closes, I’m finding myself writing something I simply never expected to write. See, I didn’t order the Phish MSG webcasts. As I’ve been slaving over the Phish.net forum, crumbling due to the site’s size and several less-than-optimal code routines, I’ve been thinking something I’ve just not had the guts to say out loud: I just don’t care that much about Phish anymore.

I looked over the setlists for the last three nights, and I’m sorry to say, they just aren’t that interesting to me anymore. They look totally tired, many of the songs being a total snoozefest for me these days. Friday night included this opening combo: Stealing Time, Moma, Funky Bitch. I would’ve slit my wrists if I went to NY and got that threesome. The set was rescued, song wise, by Stash, Nellie Kane, and what I’m told is a fantastic Wolfman’s, the problem is, I just don’t even care enough to check it out. I hope I get the interest to check out the Tweezer that everyone says is “one of the best of 3.0,” but the fact is, I’m beginning to realize that I just don’t like 3.0 Phish that much.
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The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love” Revisited

One of the most popular posts on my blog – and by far the most commented, is “The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”: An Interpretation.” Even though it was written and published in March of 2009, it continues to receive comments and pageviews. This week, I was listening to the album again and I spotted something I’d never realized before. I found a theme I’d previously missed.

The story “The Hazards of Love” is a complete saga with well rounded characters with clear motivation. It exists in two acts. There are several layers of potential analysis, from character depth to allusion. “The Hazards of Love” itself is the title of four distinct un-thematically related songs on the disc. It bothered me only for a moment that Colin and company would reuse the song title so often for no clear purpose, but alas, this weekend, I finally found the connection.

The four songs entitled “The Hazards of Love” all describe a different “hazard” of love!

The first song, “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)” represents lust. It’s Lust that drive William and Margaret together, that keeps her riding out past Offa’s Wall to meet him, and ultimately leads to her bearing his fruit. Perhaps a little uptight to view lust as a “hazard”? In the age of The Situation and Snooki, sure. In the age of William and Margaret? Sin!

“The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)” represents jealousy. Bear with me: I know the Queen doesn’t discover William and Margaret’s affair in this song, but it’s during this episode that she will catch them. The hazard, in this case, is that others will be unable to handle the love. Ultimately, the Queen wants to keep William for herself, and this is the moment she will witness to cement that emotion.

“The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” represents… wait for it… vengeance, of course. Look at relationships: so quickly they can turn from love to hate. Use whatever cliché you want about the thin line between love and hate, but ultimately, many broken relationship land in hate. Not just hate, but the need to hurt and take revenge. What do The Rake’s children actually do here? Do they terrorize their father? Do they naïvely believe they are returning for his love? Do they kill him? Either way, they get their revenge by depriving him of Margaret.

Lastly, we have the heart-wrenching “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”. It’s easy to categorize this one: loss. It’s maybe as simple as just the loss of a single moment, hour, or day with someone when you are in love, but in this case, it’s illustrated in the extreme: William has promised his earthly bones to Annan Water, and Margaret tragically sacrifices herself – and possibly her baby – to be with William for eternity. Of course, the eagle-eyed December-head will know that the baby is probably doomed destined to be rescued by the Queen from the reedy glen, but Margaret, any way you slice it, meets her end. Love’s power is too great, and she is unable to live without her “true love” William.

You could probably write 20 short analyses of “The Hazards of Love” without duplicating content. I like to think that Colin Meloy and crew put some serious thought into this story and loaded it with Easter Eggs that are neither confirmed nor denied so as to leave the story up for interpretation. During “The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)”, I nearly bust out of my seat picturing William swashbuckling through the jungle on the dark side of Annan Water to save our heroine from The Rake. I LOVE the story and the music. So, while I don’t necessarily think that it was the intent to illustrate four different literal “hazards of love,” I think it’s both fascinating and incredible that it’s possible to construct and support the theory at all.

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The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”: An Interpretation

The new Decemberists album was loosed last Tuesday, March 24, and has been met with enthusiasm almost universally.  I purchase only a few discs a year these days, preferring to spend the majority of my music dollars online.  This disc, I knew in advance, would be one of my purchases.

Upon purchase, I quickly came to understand that “The Hazards of Love” is a concept album in the truest sense: the songs are a single, uninterrupted blob – continuous sound from the haunting opening notes of “Prelude” to the final waves of “The Hazards of Love, Part 4.”  The challenge, as with any Decemberists offering, is to decipher the meaning of the often Victorian-style lyrics, and with “The Hazards of Love,” it’s proven to be a challenge.  However, within, find my interpretation of the Hazards of Love story.

Before I get into it, let me address a few complaints I have with this album:

  1. The CD liner smells like a camel pen
  2. The font in the liner booklet is far too small, doubling the challenge
  3. That’s it

I have no other complaints about this disc at all.  In fact, I’ve read only two complaints online, the first being that the talented Jenny Conlee is underused.  To those who have noted that, I urge you to relisten.  Her harpsichord, the Hammond, and her accordion can be heard throughout the album, and while she certainly takes a backseat on some songs, she provides depth to many of the themes that might otherwise deliver much less forcefully their message.

To those  who felt this album is too “heavy metal” and too far a departure from previous Decemberists material, I ask you to relisten paying greater attention to the story.  There is no unnecessary “metal” here.  There is only emotion to properly align to the lyrics.  The queen is accompanied by loud electric guitar.

So, let’s get on with it, shall we? Please read on, I’ll include my entire dissection of “The Hazards of Love.”

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Check This Out: Sense Field’s Building

The word “Emo” has been overused for many years now, and , in fact, in many circles, has become a pejorative term for a goth-lite teenager with eyeliner, or some equally unattractive image.  Long ago, in the mid 1990s, it emerged as shorthand for “emotional hardcore.” When the term “emo” was first coined, this type music was much less mainstream, the bands were not universally accepted or treated as commercially viable yet, and the listeners were a small, more tight-knit group. The bands were generally referred to as “pop punk” or “punk hardcore,” delivering a slight edge over standard punk, and in most cases, a dose of melody through the distortion.

Sense Field: BuildingFrom this scene, many bands grew, most notably in my mind: Gorilla Biscuits, Fugazi, Quicksand, Sunny Day Real Estate, and many others.  Also a defining moment in emo history was the release of the commercial flop “Pinkerton,” Weezer’s 1995 masterpiece, which is now often considered the band’s best release.  Although once very popular in this scene, one band that is largely forgotten is “Sense Field.”  From California, former members of Reason to Believe got together and created several demos before releasing the eponymous Sense Field. 1994 welcomed the beautiful Killed for Less, which is a great album: fantastic music, but in contrast, still maturing lyrically.  Then, shortly thereafter, Sense Field delivered BuildingBuilding is an amazing album, full of energy, fun, kicking beat, and melody.  The unique voice of lead singer Jon Bunch (who later fronted Further Seems Forever) is especially well suited for this type of music, which captures the 90s Gen-X angst that had yet to become whiny and obnoxious Gen-Y posing.

The first track of Building, called Overstand, is a short but sweet song that will hook you.  If you like this style of music, you’ll be ready to delve in further right away.  Side 1 will just keep kicking your butt.  This generally continues through Different Times, Will, and Leia, and lasts all the way through the final track, Sight Unseen, which is also in the run for my favorite.  In fact, there’s only one song on this CD that I’m not crazy about, but lest I spoil you, I’ll keep it a mystery.  The fact remains that Sense Field delivered and then some with Building.

Sense Field went on to record three more albums including an EP, however, the final two albums never really had the magic spark, which singer Jon Bunch attributed to several factors, including the label pressures and bad financial decisions, but moreso to the fact that the scene had changed and the guys had just lost their passion for that band at that time.   I was able to see Sense Field on the east coast twice on two different tours, and the final time, I was able not only to meet them all, but also chat with them.  It was sad that so few people appeared to know their songs and their history.  Unfortunately, Sense Field is likely to be most remembered for their one radio hit, “Save Yourself,” about abstinence, which may have ironically led to their downfall.  Not only did the song get them labeled a “Christian band” (“not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’re not a Christian band,” says Bunch) , but it also gave people a taste of Sense Field that really wasn’t who they were, leading people to check them out and then potentially be disappointed.

Nothing will change the fact that Building was and remains and incredible album, strangely as strong today as it was then.  Check out Sense Field’s Building on Amazon.com.

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Shows That Should Be Canceled

I watch a few TV shows that are in desperate need of a kick in the ass.  Let’s review:

Heroes has, for some time now, sucked.  Long ago, the writers decided to give up on character consistency, and they decided that they would have the characters stop on a dime and act completely contrary to their previous actions.  Case in point: Nathan, who quickly turned on his fellow mutants and now wants Peter dead, apparently.  I can’t even get into Heroes other than to say it’s such a mess it really should be canceled altogether.

Kyle XY is a show I started watching when I was a sick a few years ago, and I kept on for the mystery.  The problem is: the writers revealed too much too soon, and when the basic mysteries were solved, the second season introduced a worthless character, Jesse XX, as a plot device.  Then the plot become bigger as they introduced “Adam Baylin”, and explained a backstory to Zzyzx.  When that concluded, we learned that Madacorp was behind it all.  When that was done, we learned that it was actually “Latnok” was behind it all.  In other words, the lazy writers just keep making up more complex backstory as they go.  I hate to be a broken record, but compare this to LOST, where a clear vision in the first place prevented sloppy cut-and-go storytelling that leaves everyone confused. The good news is, this show was canceled, so hopefully they can conclude it nicely and wrap everything up cleanly.

Grey’s Anatomy, an interesting show in season 1, has gotten worse with age.  Each season has been less intriguing and more annoying.  Every single character sounds like Shonda Rhymes now, they all have the same affectational pitter-patter sing-song intonation.  I hate Izzie, who was once interesting.  I hate George, who has become an extra.  I hate Bailey, who vascillates between a professional and over-attached.  I hate Meredith, who is whiny.  I hate Cristina, who is a cold bitch.  I hate Callie, who whines and made the fastest jump to Lesbianism ever.  I hate the Chief, who is a total pushover.  Actually, I like little Grey, Shephard, and Sloan, and I’m learning to like Dr Arizona, but mostly because she’s kinda hot.   Either way, this show jumped the shark long ago, and I wish they’d put it to sleep.

Prison Break has introduced more plot twists than any show ever in history, but once you get used to it, it’s kinda fun.  However, it’s carried on for 4 seasons now, far longer than the concept of a “prison break” should have permitted.  I am glad they pulled the plug on this, not because it’s not fun, but because some premises simply can’t sustain forever.

On a lighter note, I originally had called “Fringe” a disappointment, but I must say, I’m feeling good about it lately.  It’s interesting, the characters are getting to be consistent and interesting, and the overall storyline is shaping up like the X Files: small mystery solved each week, large mystery gets more complex.  I hope this show gets even more time to bloom.

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Check This Out: Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window

In the early 00’s, there was a flood of what I call “new punk” or “candy punk” on the music scene, fronted by several bands, some of which I really liked. Yellowcard, New Found Glory, and many others were amongst the successful, and they brought a combination of punk, rock, and run-of-the-mill pop music together. Amongst that group was a band that was unfairly seen, I think, as one of the “candy punk.” Something Corporate demonstrated, on their two major releases, some brilliant song writing, some beautiful composition, and great musicality.

Leaving Through the WindowThe singles released from “Leaving Though the Window,” their first album, include “Punk Rock Princess” and “If U C Jorden”, both of which, I think, hold up well today. But the masterpieces are in between: the gorgeous harmony of “Hurricane,” the slow rocking of “Fall,” the bounce of “I Woke Up in a Car,” the humor of “Drunk Girl.” Something Corporate was able to convey a sense of humor balanced against their strong composition. For example, without sounding didactic – the way they build up to the first chorus but pull it away in favor of another verse; or the way a first chorus will only give you half the lines before the fuller subsequent ones. “Leave ’em wanting more” really does apply with music, and it leads to repeat listens.

What makes Something Corporate unique is that they are built around the piano played by their frontman, Andrew McMahon. As a result, every song has a depth and tone missed by second rate bands like “Panic! At the Disco” and “Fall Out Boy” driven by almost entirely by power chords. The future for Something Corporate is definitely cloudy: McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after recording a solo album mid-decade and has gone on record suggesting his interest in Something Corporate is more nostalgic than create, but also as suggesting that not ever recording and touring again would be a let down to fans. Not counting demos, EPs, maxi-singles, and earlier releases, we only have two major releases for this young and talented band. Every single song on “Leaving Through the Window” is worth a listen. You should check it out.

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Picasa for Mac Beta Arrives!

Last night, after several years of waiting, the beta version of Picasa for Mac was released. I’ve only had a short time to tinker with it thus far, but in short: so far, so good.

Picasa for Mac (beta)

Picasa is tightly bound to Picasa Web Albums, the first 1GB of which is also free, in contrast with Apple’s MobileMe, which runs $99/year.  In addition, in my experience, Picasa Web, while it has its drawbacks to be certain, worked pretty much everywhere, whereas I’ve had problems getting MobileMe’s photo gallery to work properly.  

I’ve chronicled my wish for Picasa for Mac for about 3 years now.  As you can see, the post continues to receive comments and remains, to this day, one of the most visited entries on my site. Clearly, there is demand for this product.

What I believe makes Picasa such a successful product is just how powerful it is. Although iPhoto works very well on the Mac and the iLife integration across applications is priceless, the fact remains that for serious editing and effects, the Mac user must venture outside of iPhoto. Picasa, on the other hand, has an entire suite of tools for photo finishing. Furthermore, Picasa features Google’s search tool, a bevy of organization tools, a plugin system using “buttons,” out-of-the-box integration with Gmail, Blogger, Picasa Web Albums, and the ability to make collages, movies, and more. In fact, there is little doubt that Picasa is a much more robust application that iPhoto.

There are some missing features in this beta: Geotagging didn’t make the cut, nor did webcam capture, screen capture, and screensaver. Also missing are the ability to order prints, an HTML export, and the fantastic Picasa Photo Viewer. Most of these features are certainly tied tighter into the OS, and while they will be missed, they are by no means deal-breakers.

I noticed the menus in Picasa for Mac are very “Windows-y.”  The menu bar still has a “File/Edit/View/Tools” bar across the top, which is decidedly “un-Mac-like,” although the preferences window does use the current Mac look and feel.  

What remains to be seen is whether or not Picasa is stable, whether or not it’s fast, and whether or not it can handle large photo libraries. I know people with well over 15,000 photos in their iPhoto collection, and the application is solid. Since Picasa doesn’t store it’s own library, but rather, merely catalogs photos elsewhere on your disk, we’ll have to see whether this translates into a performance advantage or disadvantage. It remains to be seen if Picasa for Mac can go toe-to-toe with more mature, native solutions. That said, count me in as one of the many waiting to find out.

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Recap of Heroes “Villians”

Well, the third major arc of Heroes, entitled “Villians,” has come to a close.   I’ve discussed Heroes before, and, except in Volume 1, been pretty disappointed.  So now that we’re begun Volume 4, “Fugitives,” how do I feel? To put it bluntly, Heroes sucks worse than ever, and yet, I’m still watching it. 

Heroes is a brilliant concept executed as poorly as possible.  It’s of of the worst written, poorest plot-bearing, illest planned, silliest scripted series ever to grace Sci Fi.  Everything about Heroes stinks except the actors and the core concept.  The rest blows.  Let’s examine:

1. Firstly, we’ve got a science problem  

The science of Heroes is always screwy.  Some might argue that there must be a certain suspension of disbelief with science fiction, and I’d agree.  We suspend disbelief about the fact that there, for example, is space travel in Star Trek, but we expect the writers to follow the known laws of physics in space.  We expect the ship to be sound.  And we expect that when the rules are bent, there’s a reasonable and semi-believable explanation.   With Heroes, we have a day long eclipse that occurs everywhere at once.  We have someone who can run REALLY fast who can apparently bring anyone with her at the same speed.  If you can fly, you can apparently lift anything through flight.  

2. Second, we’ve got a motivation problem

A “volume,” which runs about half a season, takes 13-16 weeks to unfold.  But it occurs in much less time for the characters.  And yet, they go through major emotional changes in a short span.  Just look at Sylar.  He went from villian to man seearching for redemption to soon-to-be loving father to angry to ruthless villian in the span of this story.   Why would he change so quickly? His actions make no sense.  Going from “No, Sylar, I *am* your mother” to ‘I’m working for Dad’ to ‘I’m going to kill Angela’ was too rocky and didn’t give the character time to understand his own actions or emotions.   Let’s not even get started on Mohinder, who makes no sense at all, or Angela, or worst of all, Arthur, who could have avoided this entire series by simply making Nathan not investigate Linderman in the first place, which means no need for Angela to kill him, which means no revenge, which means no Pinehurst, which means no Nathan vs. Peter.  Which leads me to…

3. We’ve got a logic problem

Aside from things like “Why is Sylar changing his motivations so quickly?” there are much bigger logic flaws, like for example, “Why does Clair hate her father one minute but then love him the next ALL SEASON LONG?” Sorry, but this is central to the show.  The Bennetts – Clair and Noah- are core characters.  So making their emotions so whimsy is not just a character motivation problem, but rather a major logic flaw.  These characters are inconsistent.  Is Clair a cheerleader, a kid, or a company warrior? How can someone work for this elite “Company” with no real training other than smacking a stick around for a few minutes? Why does Clair – and Noah – think  that regeneration abilities makes someone a natural for fighting this huge “war”? 

4. We’ve got plot problems

What was the point of the eclipse? Why did they make a big deal about the catalyst if it was resolved so readily? Where would the catalyst gone had Hiro not shown up to take it?  Why did Parkman have to have the spirit walk? What about HIro? These things were required for nothing other than killing time.  There was barely anything happening this arc.  When you introduce information and plot points that have no real value to the story, it’s your first clue that your writers are in over their heads.  Suckage. 

5. Lastly, we’ve got a concept problem

This concept is so brilliant, the idea of following “specials” around.  But the implementation is flawed, because you’ve decided to commit to your cast.  This concept would have been awesome if, as we followed each volume, we moved to new, interesting characters.  A built in reboot every half season.  But unfortunately, now this show is like any other serialized drama, and I don’t trust it.  I don’t believe Sylar is dead.   I don’t believe Arthur is dead.  I didn’t believe Hiro was stuck in the past, I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Hiro’s dad.  I don’t know if I believe Meredith is dead.  Elle might be dead, but she was always peripheral.   So nothing is believable, and I’m not ready to be burned again.  

Yeah, I’ll end up watching volume 4, but not because it’s a good show.  Because no one can turn away from a good train wreck.

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G’n’F’n’R: Chinese Democracy Review

I was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan, back in the day. In 7th grade, in 1988, I got introduced to G’n’R, and I just loved it. I swallowed up every song on Appetite for Destruction and Lies. Hunted down Live Like a Suicide. Found all their demos like “Crash Diet.” I stuck by them through Use Your Illusion I and II – got them both sight unseen on opening day. Saw them live in ’92. I even bought The Spaghetti Incident?! in 1993.  As the next album delay began, my interest began to wane.  I went from superfan to fan to casual fan to indifferent to hating Axl’s winded comeback performance to casually interested to seeking out Chinese Democracy.  And now I have it.  I’ll spare you the reading: I’m a fan again.  

I could’ve told you well ahead of time how much this album was going to suck.  After all, it’s been 14 years in the making.  Axl has gone through several line up changes and at least 3 lead guitarists since Slash.  All of them have some appearance on the album, I’m told.  14 years of nonstop revision has got to lead to the inability to be objective.  And it’s gotta be overproduced as all hell as Axl does nonstop tweaking.    

So when I got my hands on the album and gave it a listen, I was surprised to find that it was actually… pretty damned good.  Read on for the full treatment.
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Vista: A Year Later

I’ve been running Windows Vista at work for about a year now.  I’ve blogged about Windows Vista before, and I’ve been mostly let down by it.   But I’m here to confess today that Vista has overtaken XP for me.  Yep, it’s true.  I kinda dig Vista.  

If you perouse the internet, you’ll see – pretty much everywhere – that Vista sucks. You’ll also see a super harsh, super successful Mac compaign aimied squarely at the PC and Vista, and you’ll see Microsoft abandoning the name “Vista” in their marketing initiatives in favor of their new “Windows, not Walls” slogan.  Lastly, you’ll see Steve Ballmer telling you that waiting for Windows 7 is okay by him.  So Vista, by pretty much all accounts, is a flop.

When I first began using Vista in February of this year, it was killing me.  Application after application wouldn’t install.  UAC prompts were bombarding me faster than I could “ok” them.  The system couldn’t copy across the network faster than I could retype my documents (it seemed, at least).   It was absolutely unusable.  

Almost a year later, I have to say, I’m really at home in Vista.  I’ve only ever seen 1 blue screen event, and, ironically, it was due to Apple’s iTunes 8 Vista USb driver fiasco.  Service Pack 1 fixed the network copying issues, pretty much every app has goten situated so that it works in Vista, the icon previews are nice, and there are only a few remaining annoyances; but XP has plenty of those too.  

I’m a Mac guy at heart, but truthfully, Vista is the prettiest Microsoft OS ever to come out of Redmond.  Whereas with XP I had to disable Luna just to not want to poke my eyes out, Aero is smooth and comforting.  The ribbon has grown on me, and the system doesn’t gradually become slower and slower, at least as fast as a naked XP box will.  

So there ya go – Vista is a decent product, albeit, after 2 years in the market.  I’d still recommend people wait for Windows 7 – no point in training users and getting them comfortable if Windows 7 will be a fraction of what the E7Blog is suggesting.  But the Vista/Windows 2008 combo is a good one.  I’m not suggesting it beats Leopard, but it’s certainly better than XP/2003.

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