19 February 2009

a two-for-one post (Thursday, plus ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead)

I've remarked before about how I really didn't care for Thursday before the United Nations record came out. That's changed; I've gone out and picked up War All The Time, and it's a good, solid record. It probably would've changed the way I thought about music if I'd heard it when it was released, but even now, a good six years after the fact, it holds up as better-than-good. After that, I pulled their split EP with Envy off of iTunes, and again, pretty high quality music (I wrote a tiny little bit about it here). I liked how they were experimenting with what I'm familiar with as their core sound, and hoped it'd carry over to their new release, Common Existence.

I'm a little sad to report that we didn't get any epic, Explosions in the Sky-type instrumental noodling on Common Existence; what we got instead was another good record from Thursday. It's not going to get me picking up my guitar and writing screamo songs, but every track on the album is good, more than listenable, and better listened to than skipped. This puts it heads and shoulders above most every record that's been released in my lifetime.

Geoff Rickly has himself an amazing vocal range (not quite matching the level of Daryl Palumbo or the much-beloved Mike Patton, but he can sing and scream with the best of them), and after the UN album, I'm pretty certain he works best as one half of a duo. Tim McIlrath's voice (the voice of Rise Against, about whose latest album you'd be able to find my reaction here), in concert with Geoff's, on the first track ("Resuscitation of a Dead Man") packs an extraordinary punch - they may be the two best voices in... I was about to type "modern rock," but I know that's completely off bas
e... They may be the two best voices in rock (save Chris Cornell, but he's kind of fallen by the wayside) suited to sing about a desperate desire to stay alive. It's a beautiful song, in its own way.

"Last Call" might be the most heartwrenching song I hear all year; lines like, "Everything we build, it falls apart/And the architect abandons us," and "Last call for the two of us/And the people sang/Everything is falling apart," wouldn't strike me as particularly profound or affecting, but this is where I bring up Rickly's voice again, because he sells the songs, completely. The same goes for "Friends in the Armed Forces." This is the kind of song I wish people had been writing about six years ago, when it might've actually made a difference. Admittedly, I'm beating a dead horse here when I talk about the disaster that is the Iraq invasion/occupation, and I should be grateful that so many people in the creative community finally opened their eyes to what's going on, when I read lines like this:

You say you're defending me/
I'm sick of tying yellow ribbons/

Praying not to see/
We're not going to hell/
To run rings around a wishing well"

I can't help but wonder what sort of world we'd live in if this artistic rebellion had come to pass a few years earlier. That's not to discount it; it has some of my favorite guitar lines on the album. It's just... not nearly enough, not now.

The thing I've come to like most about Thursday is how their sound evolves, while their thematic concerns remain, more or less, the same. There's a continuity thread inside of the growth, and I think that's a good way to evolve as artists and still manage to keep yourself grounded. With that, I want to single out one more song, "Subway Funeral," which deals with the "classic" Thursday issues of connectivity (human connectivity... relationships... love... etc). I think it does a great job of punching you in the face, sending you reeling back, and just when you think you've prepared yourself for the final blow... silence, for almost a good ten seconds (following the line, "this will never end," which entertains me). Then, the song unleashes the full force of its fury in the last minute. I appreciate the fakeout; I also appreciate the words, like:

Surprise, surprise/
Everything you know will flash bef
ore your eyes/
You're frozen with your hands against the glass/
I'm seeing bright lights/
I'm hearing sharpened knives/
I'm praying to a neon sign/
As I wait for this severed line to take me"

So few songs anymore have the ability to paint pictures of true grandeur with just their lyrics. That's another reason I've finally come to appreciate Thursday. That's why I'm now excited at the prospect of picking up more of their records, and maybe someday seeing a concert of theirs.

As for ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, I've also recently come to enjoy their music. I remember seeing them perform on Conan long ago, and being horribly confused as they systematically demolished their instruments. Late night talk shows tend to be bad venues for bands, anyway (Pearl Jam's always been good, but, hell, they're Pearl Jam. Anybody besides me remember Audioslave's coming out party on Letterman? Man, was the sound bad), and this was no exception. My guess is that their music overloaded the microphones... In any case, I didn't seek out the Trail of Dead for a long time afterwards. At least, not until The Century of Self started getting glowing reviews.

I'd be remiss if I said nothing about the artwork. Apparently, Conrad Keely, one of the two founders, did the cover art himself, in blue ballpoint pen. People who can draw amaze me; I'm terribly jealous of them. This, however, is awe-inspiring. If you have the opportunity to get a good look at it, I'd make a strong case for doing so. I'm not an art critic, but I know what I hate, and I am so far away from hating this...

Not to be too general, but I particularly like the overall... epic-ness (epic nature?) and energy of The Century of Self. "Giant Causeway" betrays some pretty bombastic tendencies, which are expanded upon in "Far Pavillions," which come to a gorgeous head in "Isis Unveiled" (which, as my friend Matt says, has got to be the leading candidate for Song of the Year at this point. I still like "My Girls" - off Meriwether Post Pavillion - a whole awful lot, but "Isis Unveiled" could probably take it in a fight). "Halcyon Days" almost slows things down a bit (but not for long) before we get to "Bells of Creation," which kind of sounds like Trail of Dead writing a Who song. I like it; I don't quite know what to make of it, but I certainly do like it.

Let me backtrack a minute to "Isis Unveiled." It just has so much infectious, aggressive energy. It's a song that cannot be denied. It might well be a song that produces what I have long referred to as a "good" mosh pit (where fun, rather than pain, is the goal). The way it comes to its stomping, head-banging slowdown in the middle, only to ramp things up once again for a rousing finish, is something to adore.

"Fields of Coal" has a little bit of a U2 tinge (probably due to the keys... I guess that could be attributed to Springsteen as much as the lads from Dublin, though). I love "Luna Park" (I've always been a sucker for guitar paired with piano, one instrument mirroring the other) and "Ascending" (because it calls back to the furious energy of the beginning of the album). For an album that could be accused of being all over the place all too often, Trail of Dead have put out a record that I feel is far greater than whatever the sum of its individual parts might be thought to be.

I think that Century of Self, insofar as the music goes, is one of the best constructed albums I've ever heard. The ways in which musical elements (themes?) return from song to song, the almost hypnotic ebbing and flowing of the music, and the passion of it... It works on a very fundamental level, almost a gut level. For me, that's kind of a big deal.

16 February 2009

on the dollhouse

This really is something I should've written on Friday and Saturday, but, what the hell. Better late than never, right (better short than too long, also):

Hearing what I'd heard about the trials and tribulations surrounding the production of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, I really didn't know what to expect going into the show. Sure, I knew the premise ("dolls" - personality-less people - can be programmed/imprinted in any way their masters see fit and one of them - the scrappy Eliza Dushku - discovers things she wasn't meant to know), and the fact that Karl C. "Helo" Agathon from Battlestar Galactica was going to be on the show, but I didn't really know what to expect, in the truest sense of things.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good first episode. First episodes (not so much the case with Joss, but these were extenuating circumstances) are oftentimes iffy: the show's just getting its bearings, cast isn't quite comfortable with each other yet... The show doesn't always know what it's supposed to be, so it's imperfect. The best shows have more than flickers of promise or flashes of insight in their opening episodes, and if it gets nurtured properly, given time to grow, you'll see it come into its own and, hopefully, thrive.

Dollhouse's first episode was, I think, right on track. Regardless of how I feel about the lead actress (I've never been sold on Ms. Dushku, not even when she tore up the television screen as Faith in Buffy), Joss' idea is a magnificent one, and certainly allows him to explore more of the grey morality that seems to fascinate him, particularly lately. The fractioning, even from the start, inside the people that administrate over the Dollhouse should be ripe ground from which to harvest stories. The pitting of one "active" against another in order to accomplish the same mission, and the reality-making which gives the show such a good foothold in the zeitgeist of the now... All of it is practically bursting with possibility.

It reminds me a little bit of Alias (what I know of Alias, anyway), only with far less obnoxious tendencies. I like that.

The writing wasn't Joss-ish enough for me, but again, that's more of an issue, not so much with too many cooks spoiling the soup, but the cook having too many bosses that want him to adjust, and even reimagine, the recipie. I'm looking forward to seeing episodes that executives haven't monkeyed with so much.

It was nice to see Amy Acker on TV again (those scars... what's up with those scars?); ditto Harry Lennix. If they're putting Dollhouse on Fridays, tying it with Terminator (another show with a lot of good ideas), maybe they're trying to resurrect their cult show Fridays that used to be so great in the X-Files' heyday. I'd be pretty happy with that.

I'm going to wait and see, but I'm excited to do so.

10 February 2009

to take a break from the unimportant, and spend some time in the realm of the important...

On Saturday, Carlos said, "It's not trickle-down economics, it's golden shower economics."

Version 2.0 of the Republican Party's pandering realization-that-there-are-more-than-just-white-men in this country, Michael Steele, says one of the most batshit insane things I've ever heard, that government hasn't created a single job. Ever.

Apparently, it's harder to save the world than I thought.

Joe Lieberman is still a worthless, douchebag piece of shit.

Mitt Romney's almost neck-and-neck with him, these days.

And I don't understand why anyone thinks Rush Limbaugh's opinion is worth anything at all in this day and age; hasn't he engaged himself, for as long as I've been aware of him, in backing the very sort of people that've brought us to the very edge of catastrophe? Isn't he a liar, a hypocrite, and a spewer of the foulest sort of hate speech? Who would want to apologize to him after calling him precisely what he is?

With an opposition party like the Republicans, who needs global terrorism?

And let's not even get started on the Army's suicide figures for January.

Maybe the world really is getting worse. I mean, no time period in global history was safe from its share of strife, and saying otherwise is basically idiotic, but even when our very way of life was under attack (and I'm speaking here as a pro-democracy westerner), we still had that certainty to surround us, to penetrate us, to bind ourselves together. That duct tape-like security is getting torn away, seemingly by the minute. If we don't have that, what the hell is left? Do we jump blindly into the hands of someone, anyone who promises order and stability and a return to what people like Ronald Reagan want us to think the 50s were like?

Obviously, since we elected Obama, that's not the case (not yet, anyway, but I'm trying to be more optimistic than I used to be), since he promises us hard work, sacrifice, and a certain amount of pain and suffering before we come to whatever version of the Promised Land we've lowered our expectations to believe in this week.

The point is, throughout this whole disastrous clusterfuck of a meltdown, I've been worried, but not scared. I figured people - no matter their background, ideology, or programming - would eventually realize the enormity of what we were facing, and unite together to stop it, to put aside the petty bullshit and focus on what really matters (the same way I'd hoped we'd fight the climate crisis, the end of oil, overpopulation, and every other major issue that'll probably rear its head during my lifetime). I'm not seeing that happening.

It still could; I think there's time. I probably need to figure out how to facilitate it myself, or at least make a more substantial contribution than doom-and-gloom whining on my little corner of the Internet that virtually no one else accesses.

Jeffrey Feldman writes about this last little topical shift of mine with far more grace, and a hell of a lot more... hope, than I do. His words, and the President's. I'm crossing my fingers.

I need to do more than that.

03 February 2009

crazy friends

In case I've not gone far enough to label myself a disaffected, cynical (but still hopeful) liberal, I think I just did. I think it's important to note that I have a specific point of view from which I'm coming, so I'm going to actually admit to it right now.

I think that the last... let's say 20 or 30 years have done a better job making my side's (big government) case against its mortal enemy (small/no government) better than any argument we could've hoped to fashion ourselves. Sure, the booms are cool (despite the fact that real wages in this country haven't risen in a ridiculously long time, but who needs a salary when you have credit cards?), but the busts tend to bring everything crashing down on us, to the point that the system hemorrhages and this evil beast called "government" has to step in to make everything calm down (I thought the market was a benevolent force that was going to make everybody's lives better, if only Big Brother would stay away from it. Oh, right, the financial market's collapse was due to overregulation, and not the fact that capitalism produces more money almost exclusively for the people that already have it by exploiting those that don't). This isn't my theory alone; I read an article a few months ago (wish I could remember whose - oh, hey, here it is: "The End of the Libertarian Bubble," by Jay Rothermel) that started my thoughts down this path. Like Rothermel writes, Ron Paul, patron saint of libertarians and people too sick of politics-as-usual to let their minds balance out their hearts, may well have helped breach-birth a new generation of anti-government Americans, but time passed them by before they even got started.

What did deregulation of the energy companies in California get us? Enron. What did deregulation of the banking industry get us? A financial crisis the likes of which we'd never hoped to see again, on a level so global that it's actually revived protectionist talks in, of all places, the hallowed halls of the United States government. What will future deregulation bring us? Likely, more of the same (I'm just guessing, and not citing precedent).

Sure, a "gun nut" the likes of Thomas Jefferson wanted America to be a nation of small farmers, and I'm sure those of us that would like to go back to the "original Constitution of the United States of America" would like to invoke every single quote of his they can obtain and twist around, but the fact of the matter is this: America is not a nation of small farmers anymore (and go ahead and ask the small farmers how they're doing, and how much better off they think they'd be if they didn't get the pittiance of support they get from the government now). We can't just demolish our central government and go back to the (forgive me) "original Constitution of the United States of America;" it is, in fact, impossible (as Mr. Matthew pointed out, the original Constitution contains something as unsavory as the 3/5ths clause. If we're interested in blind fidelity to the original document, what would you have us do? As someone on the Internet said, what does the original Constitution say about embryonic stem cell research? Inquiring minds want to know).

Where am I going with all of this, aside from a longer rant? The answer, right now:

I have a friend who is a huge Ron Paul fan (even now), which should mean he's a libertarian (he advertises himself as one, but hey, you never know. We live in a world where Republicans are demanding that the government bail out banks that are "too big to fail," so anything can happen). Yesterday, on the Facebook, he changed his status to the following: "
Ron Paul once again prescribes the only cure that could save America: Cut taxes, cut spending, bring our troops home, and down size government." This comes from an article that Dr. Paul wrote, and posted, on the website that bears his name. Here's the link, if you're interested (see, I did read it). Shortly after this status update, my friend Dean commented, saying that he thought Ron Paul was absolutely right, because non-interventionist policies for the credit markets and the environment had worked out smashingly well so far. In the spirit of fun (and with a sizable amount of thanks to Vanessa - the best girlfriend for whom I could have ever asked), I added my two cents in: "Say what you will, but Bank of America throws a hell of a Super Bowl party."

Our friend decided to reply in not one, but two incredible textual rants, and then deleted all of the comments (ours and his). Thankfully, Facebook emailed me copies of the replies, and I'm reproducing them here, in full, for posterity and entertainment:

"Yea cuz what obama is doing is working so well, wake the fuck up and quit acting like he is the savior by doing nothing but putting us further in recession, thousands of lay offs and forcing people to give the government more money than they are already, why? How bout we keep the money we earn and do what we want with it rather than pooling all our hard earned dollars into gov't pension funds that go bankrupt when the companies and banks they bail out still go under, thanks but any sane american doesn't want to go bankrupt while they watch their country rot with these politicians we have...hope nancy pelosi's company makes another million with your money this year"

2) "you want to spend on the environment? That worked out so well for the governator and his now bankrupt state. if people would live within their means there wouldn't be a credit problem, which ron paul discusses in the same article if you cared to read other than listing off liberal sarcasm, y wouldnt u want to cut spending on things internationally and focus on your own country instead of sending 20 million to gaza rebuild just so israel can blow it up again tomorrow (and that is just chump change tax dollars,) why wouldn't u want to quit wasting billions of dollars in the middle-east and on two wars (that their own people should have started/finished) or to quit a phony war on terror just cuz they dont have the war on drugs to keep spending on (when bush was in office i dont think anyone would disagree that bringing the troops home is a good idea, but now with obama its all okay?) you want to keep bailing out corporations and banks just so that they take ur money when they fail again"

This is the same guy who once remarked that we shouldn't have a transportation department; if people want roads, they should just build them (this comment reminds me a lot of that South Park episode, "Die, Hoppie, Die," and this moment in particular).

I could adopt the tack of replying to every one of the ridiculous comments he made, line by line [we can do a whole hell of a lot more by pooling our money into a common pot than we can if we "keep what we earn" - I think that's what taxes are about; liberals that I know never advocated the bank bailouts we've conducted so much as following the rules of capitalism - if the people put their money into an institution, they should see some sort of return, be it in money, some level of control, or, really, both; I don't understand the "Nancy Pelosi's company" remark; California's financial issues have nothing to do with its progressive stance regarding environmental protections; when you have it as ridiculously well as we have it in America (even now), and a lot of what we've gained has been on the backs of significantly less fortunate people, you're morally obligated to try to help the less fortunate out - we're part of a global community now, whether libertarians like it or not, and the most powerful, richest country in the world, the one that consumes the lion's share of the resources, has to be involved in the world - especially if we're just using "chump change tax dollars;" the War on Drugs, as far as I know, hasn't gone away, we're just not hearing anything about it, which I think speaks more to his awareness of the world around him than it does to the fact that I think the War on Drugs is an unconsciable waste of time, money, resources and lives, and the sooner it goes away the better... You want to raise money for the government to spend? Let's take a cue from Mr. Dana Carvey: legalize it and tax the shit out of it), or I could just post a link to the Facebook page for, "The Coalition for a Free Iceland," which allows me to employ even more of my "liberal sarcasm" without having to say a single word.

In a time when the government should be doing everything it can to save its people, and the world, from the mess it created, tax cuts are not the answer. Cuts in government spending are not the answer. Libertarianism, for a very long time, has not been the answer (ever since the Louisiana Purchase, I'd say). Once my friend, and the people like him, decide they want to start living in the real world, and come up with actual solutions to the problems we're facing, and not just spout off sound bite lines like "cut spending, cut taxes" (give me real, workable examples of places we can cut spending - like Iraq, Afghanistan, the F-22 - and then maybe we can talk), we'll all be much better off.

Or, you could just go live in a cabin in the woods. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, so quit being a part of the fucking problem, as John McClane said.