Thursday, March 15, 2018

You're All Awful (Vol. I)

These are NOUNS: 
Walkout, hangout, workout, hangup, setup, startup, kickoff [et cetera].

These are VERBS + ADVERBS:
Walk out, hang out, work out, hang up, set up, start up, kick off [et cetera].

"Breath" is a NOUN and rhymes with "death."

"Breathe" is a VERB and rhymes with Mike Tyson saying "freeze."

These things are not interchangeable. They aren't examples of "either one is fine" or "they both work."

This is some basic elementary school shit and you're awful for screwing it up.

Have a nice day, jerks.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The 10 Best Albums Ever (Numbers 3 - 1)

Series index:
  Intro | 10 - 7 | 6 - 4 | 3 - 1

 3. Rammstein - Reise, Reise (2004)

Rammstein's career has followed a wide arc. Their first two albums were a dry sort of techno-metal which--while still enjoyable--wasn't about to approach inclusion on this list. Their third, Mutter, began to branch out into some variety, showing a little more emotion and a little less silly BDSM lyrics.
After Reise, Reise, they put out the half-crap, half-masterpiece album I mentioned in the intro to this series and have been hit-or-miss since.
Standing in the middle of this arc is Reise, Reise, the apex of their existence. 
The lyrics aren't perfect but they've got enough thought put into them that they're well above average, especially for this genre. More importantly, this album is musically delicious.
"Mein Teil" is a perfect display of the heavy industrial sound the band had toyed with in the past, except way better than they'd ever executed it before. "Ohne Dich" drops all the macho metal bits and aims for the heart of the unsuspecting metalhead. The whole album (with the exception of "Los") is a joy to listen to. In true Rammstein fashion, they complimented this with some damned good music videos as well. In case you've lost count that's four videos for one album, all of which worth a watch in addition to my favorite song from this album, which didn't get a video.
I've listened to this album enough that I should be sick of it by now. The fact that I'm not is an indication of just how good it is.

2. Valravn - Koder På Snor (2009)


 Ah, Valravn. We hardly knew ye. After releasing a decent debut EP and a good follow-up album, these Scandinavian electro-folk hippie Vikings dropped this absolute masterpiece on us. A few years later they were in the process of recording what would have been (judging by the only two songs that ever saw the light of day) another masterpiece when they unceremoniously broke up, single-handedly disproving the existence of a benevolent and loving God.
The album's unconventional nature caused it to take a little while to grow on me, but grow it has. It's a beautiful album without a single dud track.
The moods on this album run the gamut from the fun, danceable (at least I assume it is... dancing is something my body doesn't seem capable of) "Seersken" to the slow-building yet somehow frantic "Lysabild" to the goth-industrial-esque finale "Farin Uttan At Verða Vekk."
Vocalist Anna Katrin Egilstrøð does things with her voice you never knew you wanted to hear but you can't get enough of. Electronic-stuff-doer-guy Christopher Juul's contributions help elevate this album and band from their previous good offering (before he joined the band) to the greatness we see here while folk instruments such as hurdy gurdy and hammered dulcimer keep the attention of electronic music haters from wavering.
If Björk quit screwing around and just made some amazingly good music with a few proper instruments thrown in to complement the electronics, it might sound like this. Again, it's unconventional and takes a few listens to really hook you but this is absolutely the best music you've never heard of.
I will forever mourn this band's early demise.

1. Cradle of Filth - Midian (2000)


Oh, sweet Midian.
Given the last decade or so of uninspiring material from Cradle of Filth, it's easy to forget that they were once the friggin' best. Albums like Vempire, Cruelty and the Beast, and Midian's successor Bitter Suites to Succubi could easily have made this list if I weren't limiting each band to one entry, but Midian is the absolute peak of CoF's career.
Guitarist Paul Allender had recently returned to the band--apparently with some great material in tow--and Martin Powell had just joined to temporarily shut down the revolving door that is CoF's keyboard position.
Without taking anything away from the other band members, this album can be summed up as "Martin Powell's masterpiece." The keyboards on this album are beyond reproach. Without overpowering the rest of the music they provide the creepy horror-movie-soundtrack vibe that makes this album so haunting and evil-sounding that it prompted the band's amusing but unimpressive attempt at making their own horror movie. Everything Powell does here is great, whether subtle or foreground.
The vocals are top-notch as well; Dani's voice is in its prime and Sarah Jezebel Deva proves that it isn't necessarily over when the fat lady sings.
Lyrically, Dani's output over time has ranged from "Excellent poetry with no hope of fitting the music rhythmically" (Dusk and Her Embrace) to "Well, it's crap but it's in line with the music" (Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder and thereafter). Midian falls in the sweet spot between these two extremes, sporting well-written lyrics that actually fit the music. I recall learning in English class about alliteration, assonance, metaphor, simile, and all the various mechanisms that "good" poetry employs, and realizing that "Lord Abortion" (of all songs) is a master class on them.
Doug Bradley's cameos as Pinhead from the Hellraiser series work much better than one would expect, and the album flows well as a whole. Tracks lead perfectly into one another without a disjointed, broken-up feel. This is much harder to achieve than one might think, and turns Midian into a cohesive unit rather than just a collection of songs.
Is it perfect? Well no, nothing is. The production's a little wonky and "Satanic Mantra" is silly and unnecessary, but with its run time only being about a minute it's a minor offense.
These complaints are but tiny blips in the great glorious shadow of songs like Saffron's Curse and Her Ghost in the Fog. The songwriting is impeccable throughout on every instrument, and Powell's perfect keyboard performance elevates it to legendary status.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the best album ever.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The 10 Best Albums Ever (Numbers 6 - 4)

Series index:
Intro | 10 - 7 | 6 - 4 | 3 - 1

6. Korpiklaani - Manala (2012)


Before this album, Korpiklaani had released plenty of solid material. Songs like "Pine Woods," "Tequila," and various other boozy tunes had been blasting from my speakers for years. But like too many bands who follow the "do one thing and do it well" axiom, they did too much of that one thing. Excepting one or two great songs per album, all of their previous material sounds more or less the same. Combine that with the occasional lousy filler song and their albums are less than noteworthy.
That changed with Manala. Seemingly out of nowhere, they put out a full album of (other than the dull instrumental "Husky Sledge") songs that range from very good to great. "Ievan Polkka" is an insanely catchy metalized take on a traditional Finnish tune, and "Uni" has more of what I can only describe as "feeling" than most previous Korpiklaani material. 
The band's usual trademark of fun, upbeat material is still present here, but different pacing and moods can be found to avoid the sameness that bogged down their early releases. Additionally, Manala is easily the heaviest album Korpiklaani has released; the guitars drive harder than ever and the drums have a more pummeling, heavy feel to them. The fact that this is accomplished without overshadowing the folk elements is key.
The production, though never bad in the past, also takes a step forward here. Everything's crisp and clear and avoids muddling together, and the off-pitch wind instruments fail to make an appearance.

5. Metsatöll - Äio (2010)

Any time I hear a new band (or even a new album by a familiar band), it usually takes a while to grow on me. I'll think "Eh, it's ok" at first and then like it more with every listen. Metsatöll is one of the few bands that didn't take any time for me to love them.
These Estonian folk metal merchants have a raw feel to their music that is hard to explain without hearing it. It's mostly thrash metal, but the vocals are unique and primal and the various ethnic instruments such as bagpipes, recorders, and myriad stringed oddities give this music a folk element different even from other folk metal. The best way I can describe it is this: if you went back in time a few hundred years and gave Metsatöll's instruments to the nearest blood-soaked army of lunatics and asked them to put together some songs about how they were feeling at the time, you'd get Äio.
As I mentioned in the intro to this series, I could have put a few of their albums in or near the top ten if I weren't limiting myself to just one. Given such limitations I narrowed it down to this album and its successor, Ulg, with Äio winning by virtue of having the Estonian Men's Choir providing backing vocals. The choral parts--rather than being the boring Christmas crap that the word "choir" brings to mind--turn these songs into battle hymns.
This album has variety, from the more straightforward "Vaid Vaprust" to the sea shanty "Kuni Pole Kodus Olen Kaugel Teel" and like most Metsatöll albums it has no shortage of material. There are fourteen songs on here and only one is even remotely skippable. 
Depending on my mood at the time, this one could possibly find itself in the top three.

4. Nightwish - Century Child (2002)

What can I say about Nightwish? They started off as a technically flashy power metal band and morphed over time into (for lack of a better descriptor) movie-soundtrack metal. This stylistic evolution brought more variety to their sound and more emotion to the music. Century Child is the first such album in their discography.
Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) is easily the best songwriter in metal and possibly the best in any modern musical style. However, just as Babe Ruth struck out from time to time, Tuomas's genius is tempered by occasionally writing songs that sound like he turned the writing duties over to a hormonal teenager. For the most part, this is their only major flaw and thus it's the criterion by which we decide which of their albums gets to be on my list.
As there are roughly equal quantities of great songs on Century Child, Once, and Dark Passion Play, it came down to which album had the least bad material on it. Other than Tuomas completely laying an egg on "Slaying the Dreamer," this album has no bad songs. "End of All Hope," "Ever Dream," and their version of The Phantom of the Opera are pure gold, and the rest of the songs range from good to very good.
A great album by one of my favorite bands.

Next week it's the top three. Are you excited?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The 10 Best Albums Ever (Numbers 10 - 7)

Series index:
 Intro | 10 - 7 | 6 - 4 | 3 - 1

Today I'll be bringing you numbers 10 -7 of the best albums ever made. If you haven't yet read the introduction to this series, you should probably do so now.

10. Trollfest - Kaptein Kaos (2014)

Having heard some of Trollfest's past material, I didn't have very high expectations for this album. Then came the video for the title track and I was blown away--it was goofy metal at its finest. They couldn't keep up that quality for a whole album, could they?
This album has a ton of variety between songs and while some don't reach the lofty hights of the title track, "Solskinnsmedisin," or "Die Grosse Echsen," they're at worst decent.
Kaptein Kaos is all kinds of fun and is a rare case of a band with comedic lyrics making music that would stand on its own without the comedy element. I'm pretty sure the happy goofy comedy is actually the only thing keeping this from being higher on the list, as I'm a miserable bastard and this is just too happy for me to rate it higher.

9. Weezer - Weezer (1994)

I probably don't need to say much about this album as it's indesputably a classic. This was one of the first albums where I remember regularly listening the whole way through without skipping any songs.
"Say It Ain't So" might be the best song on the album and still gets a fair lot of radio play today, but check out the underrated closer "Only In Dreams" if you haven't heard it yet.

8. Indica - Valoissa (2008)

This is Indica's fourth offering of Finnish pop/rock and easily their best. Valoissa was produced by Nightwish's Tuomas Holopainien, and his influence on the album is palpable as this has some distinctly Nightwish-y moments in the production and songwriting. Additionally, Troy Donockley makes an appearance on the low whistle here, a few years before joining Nightwish as a full-time member.
These are good things.
The keyboards and vocals shine in particular, though no instrument lags far behind. The almost-metal "Pahinta tänään" is what got me into this band, but the real winners on this album are "Hiljainen maa" and "Ei enää."
"Täältä pois" is the only track that could be accused of being weak, but the piano solo kinda rocks so it isn't a total loss.

7. Burzum - Hvis lyset tar oss (1994)

The common consensus is that Filosofem is Burzum's best album, but the common consensus is wrong. That album gets a disproportionate amount of love due to featuring the song "Dunkelheit," which is the closest to mainstream Burzum has ever veered. It's not a better album, it's just the only album non-fans of black metal can stand to listen to.
Varg Vikernes is a master of creating atmospheric black metal and this album is the pinnacle of that style. Filosofem makes a good case for being his best and could arguably be ranked second, but with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss's "Tomhet" being the best synth instrumental of Varg's career, this album is the clear winner.

Next post will be numbers 6 through 4.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The 10 Best Albums Ever (intro and honorable mentions)

Once upon a time, I shared with you my favorite movies. These were listed as my favorites, not objectively "the best ever," but let's face it--my opinion is basically fact. You can go ahead and read it as a "best ever" list.
In the same spirit, I will be bringing you my top 10 favorite books, music videos, and albums (not necessarily in that order). First to come will be the albums.

As evidenced by the multitudes of  one-hit wonders we've seen over the years, writing a good song doesn't necessarily mean you'll write a good album. To be truly great, an album needs to be a constant stream of good songs from start to finish as well as a few great ones.
Unfortunately, bands are notoriously bad at self-editing and will include songs that could and should have been omitted. More songs doesn't necessarily mean a better album.

A prime example of this is Nightwish, whose album Once you will find conspicuously absent from my list despite featuring "Ghost Love Score," which is the best song ever written.1 Once eliminates itself from contention with a few mediocre songs and the embarrassingly bad "Creek Mary's Blood," which sullies the message it tries to convey with bland music and weak lyrics.
Due to their similar penchant for filling their albums with nonsense and filler material,
Type O Negative find their discography falling short of my top ten despite being one of my favorite bands with plenty of my favorite songs.

Worse still, Rammstein's Rosenrot album would have made the top five if it were only the first five songs, but they decided to follow the best material they've ever written with six tracks of unlistenable crap.
The point I'm obviously trying to hammer home here is that albums are judged from start to finish without skipping any songs.

Similarly to my movie favorites, albums will come and go from the lesser echelons of the top ten depending on my mood and what styles I've become obsessed with of late. Once we get closer to number one there's more stability to be had.

Lastly, I've limited each band to one entry on this list because it was otherwise at risk of being "Jake's top ten favorite Metsatöll albums."

The countdown will begin in the next post, but first some honorable mentions that didn't make the top ten:

Finntroll - Nattfödd (2004)

Just a solid album from start to finish with no bad tracks. It was tough to leave this one off the list but the album's brevity nearly pushes it into EP territory and the overly compressed production combines with some repetitious material and lack of variety to just miss the cut.

Various albums by Type O Negative, Arkona, and Eluveitie

For these three bands to miss the cut was painful for me as all three would land in my "top ten bands" list with little risk of falling out. Unfortunately none of them have yet managed to release an album that doesn't suffer from too many bad songs mixed in with the great ones (Type O), or too many forgettable, samey songs (Eluveitie and Arkona). These three bands are further proof that writing a great album is a tricky thing to do and apparently not even necessary for a band to be successful. I'd argue that all three could have made the list simply by removing a handful of junk songs from any of their albums, which seems counterintutitive BUT I SAID THE ALBUMS WILL BE JUDGED FROM START TO FINISH, DAMN IT!

Stay tuned for numbers 10 through 7 next.


1. I guess this means I've spoiled a "top ten favorite songs" list already, huh?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ghost in the Shell and the "Whitewashing of Hollywood"

So... I'm racist because a robot wasn't Asian? Really?
As often happens with movies I was late to the party on this one, but I just watched Ghost in the Shell. It's been out for ages now, so there will be spoilers herein and I won't feel any remorse for them. You've been warned.

For background purposes, I'd never seen the original comic book or movie or whatever the hell it was. All I knew was that it was some sort of animated Japanese thing.

The verdict, in short, was that I very much enjoyed it. Will it be on my top 10 favorite movies list? Probably not. Would I watch it again some day? Sure.

From the very little research I did, it seems that people's biggest reason for not enjoying it (among those who actually watched it; more on that soon) was that it didn't live up to or was unfaithful to the source material.

Again, I know nothing of the source material so I'm cool with that. And in broader strokes, it really kind of hacks me off when people bitch about that. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for example, was a lovely little film that veered pretty wildly from the source material (to the chagrin of morons everywhere) but you know what? That's fine. I've already read the books. I don't need to see them again. In fact, I watched the British TV version of Hitchhiker's and it was line-for-freaking-line the exact same as the book. I was bored to death. It was awful.

Movies should differ from the source or they risk being stale.

Ghost in the Shell gets my official Walrus of Approval. There's my review, and it was short because there's something else we need to talk about here.

When this movie came out, I remember there being a major uproar about how Hollywood was being whitewashed because Scarlett Johansson was playing an Asian person. My response to that was "Yeah, that seems a bit wrong. Bad move on the studio's part, but..."

People get roles outside of their race all the time in the movies, and right or wrong it's honestly not shocking anymore.

My feeling was that it was silly and maybe a bit of a turnoff, but in a country where Asians are nowhere near the majority of the population, the big name actresses aren't going to be Asian. Therefore, while I expected it to bug people, I figured it was just a business decision to get a big name actress into the lead role so people would see this very expensive effects-laden movie and the studio wouldn't lose money.

The rest of the world, of course, took it a little harder than I did. After all, it's 2017 and everyone's hobby seems to be some combination of staring at their phone and getting offended by stupid shit, so why stop now?

In one respect, my assumption was correct--the studio wanted Scarlett Johansson instead of an Asian actress because she's a major name that will draw attention and fans.

Here's what I didn't know: Scarlett's character isn't an Asian person. It's a robot.

For those of you who need a slap or two to figure out why this is relevant, robots don't have race. They're robots. What race is your microwave? Your fridge? Your iPhone?

Scarlett's character is a robot with a human brain. Yes, that human brain turns out to have belonged to an Asian person, but with the people who built her wanting to obscure her past, why is it hard to believe that they'd put her Asian brain in a body that doesn't appear Asian? Wouldn't that actually be more likely so as to throw her off the trail of her true past?

"Durr but it's Japanese source material taking place in Asia so the lead character must be Asian!"

Firstly, the movie has British people, black people, Asians, white people of unknown descent, and people of indeterminate race all inhabiting the same area. It's pretty diverse. Scarlett isn't out of place.

Secondly, are we really going to say that changing the apparent race of a character to something different from the original is racist? 
Ford Prefect in the earlier-mentioned Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a regular white British fellow in the books, but he's played in the movie by the obviously black Mos Def. If I say that's wrong, I'm pretty sure the racism police would be at the door in a flash.

A recent remake of the Broadway classic Annie had multiple characters (including the lead) transmuted to black. Again, if I say that's wrong and bad and an affront to the source material, I'd rightfully be labelled racist.

In more recent times, the previously white Wonder Woman was played by Gal Gadot--an Israeli--to near-universal acclaim.

So why is it racist for Scarlett to play a character that once appeared (appeared not was, mind you, because she's a raceless robot) to be Asian? It seems that the toxic notion that only white people can be racist is rearing its ugly head again.

One can only assume that ignorance is to blame for this. A handful of morons began shrieking "Injustice!" and the vast multitudes of ovine dimwits that populate the internet parroted the complaints without bothering to check any facts or use their brains at all.

My apathy led me to similar ignorance, so in that respect I suppose I'm not entirely blameless, but you can be sure if I'd felt the need to join the hordes trying to drown you all in a river of righteous tears about Scarlett's alleged misdeeds I would have read up on it a bit first.

Another thought for your consideration: this movie underperformed at the box office.
Now Scarlett Johansson isn't about to go broke; she made millions for this film alone. The studios are likewise probably doing fine. But there are a lot of people involved in a movie with vastly differing situations. What if someone lost their job because of your idiotic protest against nonexistent racism? What if this was someone's only chance to work on a movie set and now that chance is blown because the movie didn't live up to financial expectations because you and your fellow cattle boycotted it and spread half-truths and outright lies about it?

Maybe everyone's fine. Maybe these protests are just a foolish little grain in the sands of time. Either way this culture of self-appointed martyrs, pathological victims, and imagined racism continues to make me ill.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Alligators Can Climb Trees" -- A Poem

"Alligators Can Climb Trees"

You agonize over your clothing
And trips to the grocery store
You've got tendonitis
And maybe arthritis
And fear that there isn't a cure

You fret over taxes, faxes, and emails
You worry your dog may have fleas
You fear that your houses
Will soon be your spouse's
Once you are declared divorcees

But I do not worry about any of these
Because alligators can climb trees

You spend hours daily on makeup
And fixing your eyebrows and hair
You're often made restless
By your many investments
And the state of your Microsoft shares

You fear that some day you'll all be put away
In retired folks' nursing facilities
Your children won't write you
Or even invite you
To your grandchildren's birthday parties

But I do not worry about any of these
Because alligators can climb trees

Alligators can climb trees!
Alligators can climb trees!
Just when you thought it was safe to go out
Alligators can climb trees!

We've got spiders and tigers and black bears
Wasps and echidnas and bees
Vipers and adders
But none of that matters
The gators are up in the trees!

You thought you were safe because you were watching 
The area down by your feet
They'll drop from above you
They'll certainly love you
Because you're delicious to eat

They've mouths full of teeth
And clawed feet beneath
They can swim through the water with flair
But now that they've taken
Arboreal stations
I can't help but think that's not fair

I steer clear of swamps, of marshes and lakes
I avoid all the rivers and seas
Just to be sure
I don't go near the sewer
But holy shit, now they climb trees?

I thought I could venture outdoors
With my body remaining intact
Don't go for a hike!
Don't go ride your bike!
They'll leap from the trees and attack!

There's nowhere that's safe from this terror
There's nothing left for you to do
No shelter for miles
Because crocodiles
Are climbing up into trees too

Just when you thought you were safe on dry land
Alligators can climb trees!