Tag Archives: review

On Stephen King and Steven Utley

Fantasy and Science Fiction kindly gave me a freebie copy of their upcoming October/November double issue. The most notable story is that of Stephen King, who delivers a short but touching story that isn’t scary, but strange, like a dream that may haunt you for a few days after waking up. The editor likened it to a Twilight Zone episode, which seems like a fair comparison.

The other story in the issue that struck me the most was Steven Utley’s The Sleepless Years. It reminded me in a strange way of H.P. Lovecraft at his best. Utley is a better writer than Lovecraft–he doesn’t overuse terms like “cyclopean” or “blasphemous”–but Lovecraft’s stories have a certain power because there is a fundamental loneliness behind them–which I presume reflects Lovecraft’s own life–and this can lend his tales of madness and a cruel universe a disturbing verisimilitude, like The Whisperer in Darkness.

Mr. Utley reminds me of that aspect of Lovecraft with his sad tale of a man trapped in an experiment. Just as Lovecraft’s loneliness powered his tales, to judge from the story’s dedication, Mr. Utley’s story was semi-autobiographical as well. Sounds like a man who could use a few prayers, if you have a mind to do that.

Not all the stories are sad: Mike Resnick has what can be best described as science-fiction variation of a fairy tale, where a robot scarecrow befriends a lost boy. Albert Cowdrey has a funny story of alien abduction in post-Katrina New Orleans (which is something of an alien environment itself). And I haven’t named quite half of all the issue’s offerings.

The double-issues are fun since there’s just about something for everyone–let me know what you think if you get your hands on a copy.

Movie Review: Ironman

I just watched the Ironman movie. It was pretty good. Maybe I’m biased, because I like the core concept of the Ironman comic franchise, but I didn’t have any major complaints about the movie. The acting was good all around, the special effects and production details were good, and the writing was solid.

That last bit is where a lot of comic book movies fall apart for me. There’s usually some piece of writing that totally falls flat on its face. Sometimes it’s something fairly minor that I should probably get over, such as an Armageddon device (such as in Batman Begins). Other times it’s a joke that goes horribly long (e.g., Transformers). Or they feel the need to add something to provide comic book continuity that just has no place in the movie (Ghost Rider). Then it’s just a question of whether the rest of the movie was strong enough that I felt it justified the whole experience.

Ironman didn’t have many weak points. There were a couple of general plot points I thought didn’t play out as well as they could have, but overall it was pretty consistent and amusing. Action movies of the last few years haven’t taken themselves too seriously, and you can see that in Ironman. But even so, the humor is used effectively. They often use it to break up a fairly long origin story that might’ve been rather dry otherwise. It’s also used to wind down from a couple of minor action scenes. The overall effect works and gives the movie a rising-falling tension.

What else can I say? It was a good movie. The concessions were way too expensive. This may be the last time I buy a movie theater’s soda. Honestly, guys, I don’t mind paying a small premium. I know it’s where your margins come from, and we’ve all got to put bread on the table. All the same, I just can’t pay $5 for a soda.

Music Review: “As You Were” by Brother (2006)

[asyouwerecd-side3.jpg]"As You Were" is a compilation of fan-selected favorites from Brother’s 13-year pre-Pax Romana repitoire, from Black White to Urban Cave. The tracks chosen, though limited to only one disc, match up well to my personal favorites mix, Point of View.

To fit as many songs as possible, most of the tracks have been edited down. The following is my review of the selected tracks and how they were edited. The grading scheme is as follows.

  1. Really Bad
  2. Bad
  3. OK
  4. Good
  5. Excellent

1. 2 Chairs and One Tree (then = 4:04, now = 3:52)

One of my favorites from Your Backyard, this is definitely a good pick. I’m fairly certain the only edit is a shortened fade-out, which is fine by me. I might use this track in the next version of Point of View. Score: 4/5

2. Crazy (same length)

I’m so glad the i you you me version was chosen over the lifeless Urban Cave version. This a fun tune with a somewhat serious message about getting sucked into life on the internet (including a reference to net porn). The chorus lyirc "I don’t want that hangin’ over me" resonates strongly with my life. Score 5/5

3. The Crow (then = 4:29, now = 3:55)

In its original form, this Exit From Screechville track is my favorite Brother song. This edited version, though, cuts the intro by a couple measures and has an abbreviated guitar solo (the edit happens at about 3:00). Score 4/5

4. One Heart, One Soul (then = 6:00, now  = 3:51)

The original version, found on The Digging Bone, is really long, so the copious editing isn’t a surprise. The abruptness of them, though, is a bit jarring. There are a couple obvious cuts at about 0:05 and 0:43. They also cut the very best part of the song, the vocoder-distorted guitar solo that ought to appear at about 2:43. Score 3/5

5. River (then = 3:25, now = 3:10)

Of all the edited tracks, this is the best. River is one of the bright spots on the otherwise annoying Urban Cave. What makes this cut so good is the purging of the spoken bits ("Ah, there it is", etc). While not outstanding, River is now a solidly good song. Score: 4/5

6. Believe Again (then = 3:26, now = 3:08)

*Yawn* This middle-of-the-road "You’re my personal hero" ballad from i you you me has never been one of my favorites. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s nothing special. Also, I’ve always thought the use of "seethe" was a bit strained if not entirely wrong. Score: 3/5

7. Lonely (then 3:51, now = 3:48)

This is another good song that received tortured treatment on Urban Cave. This Your Backyard track has been trimmed a little by cutting a couple measures from the introduction. Score: 4/5

8. Thetimeisnow (then = 4:05, now = 3:47)

I’ve always preferred this live version from This Way Up over the original Your Backyard studio version and it seems other fans  do too. The edits on this track are pretty slick and I’d have to have a lot more patience than I do to find them. 😉 Score: 4/5

9. Fly Away (then = 4:50, now = 4:28)

This is a decent chill-out track from Your Backyard that got *really* fubared on Urban Cave. Not being a song amongst my personal favorites, I don’t care enough to figure out what got trimmed out. Score: 3/5

10. Romp and Circumstance (then = 6:37, now = 2:41)

The amount of editing on this This Way Up track is a bit deceptive. The original has a lengthy intro with another song (Granny and Rory Macleod, I think), that ends at 1:51. Still, an additional 2:05 were carved out. That’s just too much to take from such an awesome song. I prefer the Exit From Screechville studio version, but the original live version is still good enough to get 5/5. Score 4/5

11. Stand Beside Me (then = 5:15, now = 5:03)

Not much was trimmed from this solid Your Backyard tune. Score: 4/5

12. Funny (then = 3:33, now = 3:27)

I’ve grown less fond of this Urban Cave song with time and will likely pull it from Point of View. Score: 3/5

13. Rainmaker (then = 4:48, now = 4:24)

The Digging Bone is my second favorite Brother album, and Rainmaker is one of its best tracks. The only edit I could detect was the unfortunate eviscerating of the beautiful cello solo near the end. Score: 4/5

14. Purple Haze (same length)

This pastoral ballad from Your Backyard is decent, but it didn’t make my cut. Score: 3/5

15. Take You Back (then = 4:24, now = 0:47)

What the hell is with these teaser tracks that have been on the last three albums?!? These 47 seconds would have been better used by making some of the edits less severe or by including My Rhubarb. Perhaps I’ll replace Funny with the Black Stone Tramp version of this song. Score: 0/5

16. Amazing Grace (same length)

Amazing Grace is a beautiful song and the harmonies by brother Richardson are very good, but there isn’t much to make their rendition from Pipe Dreams stand out in a crowd. Score: 4/5

17. All I Know (then = 4:52, now = 4:14)

This is one of my favorite Black Stone Tramp tracks. The edits are acceptable, but not desireable. Score: 4/5

18. Blackest of Blue (then = 5:38, now = 4:30)

I prefer the This Way Up live version of this song from The Digging Bone. As you can see from the time reduction, the edits are pretty severe. Score: 3/5

19. Carry Me (then = 4:38, now = 3:57)

Given the repetitive, meditational nature of this Black Stone Tramp track, the editing done is appropriate. As I listen to this track again, though, I’m no longer sure why I put it on Point of View. Hmm… Score: 3/5

20. The Machine: 2006 (then = ?, now = 3:37)

I have no idea what this song sounded like in its original Black White form (Anybody want to hook me up with a mp3 or ogg file of it?), so I can’t judge the edit. I can, however, say that there’s little noteworthy or interesting about this track. It reminds of some of the half-baked trance remixes the band did a few years ago. The beat is promising and some of the samples are intriguing, but the overall execution is sloppy and boring. Score: 2/5

Album Score: 68/95 (71.6% C-)

I decided to not include the aborted track 15 in the final score. Don’t let this low score fool you. If you don’t own and can’t acquire copies of the older albums, As You Were is a decent representation of the good old days. For those of us who have most or all of them, though, the best use we could put these edited tracks to would be squeezing as many songs as possible into our personal mixes.

Final verdict: Buy (or mooch) the original albums if you can, but otherwise get As You Were and be confident that what you have will give you hours of listening pleasure. 🙂

Music Review: “Pax Romana MMV” by Brother (2005)

cd-prmmv-music.jpgAs promised, here’s my review of Brother’s Pax Romana MMV. The grading scheme is as follows.

  1. Really Bad
  2. Bad
  3. OK
  4. Good
  5. Excellent

1. Photograph

This band’s sound at the start of this track, particularly the guitars, is reminscent of their 1997 release Digging Bone. The up-beat bagpipe-drive bridge harkens back to Black Stone Tramp. The talking bits (something about a cocoon) are lame but not as bad as they are on Urban Cave, though they get close. This is a simple 4/4 rock tune with a singable chorus and a fun danceable bit in the middle. It anticlimactically trickles to an end, though. All in all it’s a rather forgetable song. Score: 3/5

Update 04/24/06: Brother’s MySpace page has a radio edit of this song that I’d give a 4/5 to.

2. Take Me Down

I like the penny whistle and the driving, urgent beat. It’s a pretty singable song with nice harmonies. I really did not care for the lyric "got to get my shit together". It’s mild profanity, but it’s just so out of place for a band that to my knowledge has never used any and never needed to. The speed up and fast talking/singing at the end is cool. The overall sound of this track strikes me as a blend of The Digging Bone and Your Backyard. Score: 4/5

3. Jericho

I really dug the middle eastern chants. Unfortunately, like some of the best songs on Urban Cave, this is a cool song that’s far too short. Why do they tease me like this? Score: 4/5 (lost a point for brevity)

4. Oh, What a Lovely War

This is a rather boring trippy hippy song. The first verse is nearly unintelligible. The second verse is spoken. Lame. The tune for the remainder isn’t particularly catchy. It’s essentially a decent poem ruined by mediocre music. Political music is fine, fellas, but at least make it entertaining. Score: 2/5

5. Still Wind

This track reminded me a little of the music from the orginal Prince of Persia video game (which I very much liked). The sound is very dark, brooding. The treatment of middle eastern sounds is much better here than on "Elbauta" (track 8). Ultimately, the song doesn’t go anywhere, which is disappointing considering how much potential it had. Score: 3/5

6. So Not Real

This ballad starts off sounding a bit like "Purple Haze" (Your Backyard) or "Believe Again" (i you you me). The choir of children is a nice touch, but bordering on cheesy (like "We are the World"). The song’s a bit repetitive, having little lyrical substance. Score: 3/5

7. Hang On

What the heck?!? When I saw this track on the listing, I got excited. "Hang On" is one of my favorite tunes from Brother’s post-Fergus repetoire. I was fooled, though. This a boringly arranged 1-minute snippet. Where’s the full song, guys? It’s never been on an album, which is truly a shame. Score: 0/5  Download the demo version here.

8. Elbauta

Ok, more middle eastern beat. I guess that’s the theme of the album. It’s too bad it’s so dull on this track. The spoken samples gave me awful flashbacks of the worse moments of Urban Cave. This track is repetitive, boring, and goes nowhere. Perhaps I’d like it better if I were a stoner. Score: 2/5

Album Score: 21/40 (52.5% F)

This is another disappointing album from one of my favorite bands. While none of the tracks are as jarringly bad as the worst of Urban Cave, at least that album had more enjoyable tracks. This album is easily summed up as "forgettable". I eagerly await their forthcoming greatest hits compilation. I’m sure it won’t be as good as my two disc compilation, but at least I’ll be reviewing something worth listening to.

Music Review: “Urban Cave” by Brother (2003)

[largecd-urbancave.jpg]Brother is one of my favorite bands. The following is a slightly modified version of review of their 2003 release "Urban Cave". I’ll be posting a review of their latest album "Pax Romana MMV" soon. The grading scheme is as follows.

  1. Really Bad
  2. Bad
  3. OK
  4. Good
  5. Excellent

My initial reaction to this album was "Who the hell made this crap and where’s Brother?!?" After listening to it a few times, I got used to most of it, and quite liked some bits. My overall impression are that it’s too short, too electronic, too dark, and too slow. Here’s a track-by-track breakdown:

1. Funny

The instrumental intro is really cool, but the rhymed lyrics after it strike me as amateurish. After the first verse, the song is an interesting listen and kind of catchy. I’m not sure I like the rapped bridge, though. Some days it’s OK. Other days it really annoys me. Score: 3/5

2. Fragile

I haven’t reversed the back-tracked vocal opening yet, so I don’t know what’s said. I didn’t get to hear this song many times in concert, but I’m almost positive that is was "lighter". The musical feel was darker than the lyrics seemed to warrant. It’s not a bad song, but it just seems "off" somehow. Score: 3/5

3. Death of Me

I enjoyed this track and thought it would be a good radio single (and a hell of a lot better than a lot of the crap hogging the airwaves these days). All around, this was a good track. Score: 3.5/5

4. Wear Me Down

The I really enjoyed this track except for two things. I cannot fathom the significance of "This is not an exercise" and the klaxon at the end is grating and irritating. Score: 4/5

5. River

I love this song! It’s catchy, upbeat, and well-balanced (between effects and instruments). Did anyone else think the song had a U2 feel? There are two big problems, though. "Ah there is is" doesn’t really sit well with me; why in the world is the song so short?!? Score: 4.5/5

6. Fly Away

["Fly Away" made its debut on "Your Backyard" in 1999.]

Why did they feel the need to remake this song? It wasn’t a real winner to start with. Now the lyrics have been simplified and the beat sounds like bad disco. The chorus is pretty catchy, but it’s just too simple. I just keep wondering where I’m supposed to be flying and why. Furthermore, the effects and samples were irritating. The scratch that sounds almost like a camera shutter was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Score: 2.5/5

7. Inside of Me

["Inside of Me" is a remake of "Bitch", which originally appeared on "i you you me" in 2001.]

Ahhhhhh!!!! They’ve killed it! They’ve killed "Bitch"!  This song is absolutely awful. The effects drove me nuts (Noticing a trend, folks?). The song has lost all "rock". I miss the ass-kickin’ guitar riffs. I miss the "urgent" feel of the original. Lastly, what the !@#$ is up with the zoo sounds near the end of the song?!? Score: 1.5/5

8. Mad But Happy

This track had real potential to be groovin’, but it just stops dead after half a minute. What’s the point in teasing us? Then again, 30 seconds of this is better than 3 minutes of "Inside of Me". Score: 2.5/5 (points lost for length)

9. Lonely With You

["Lonely With You" is a retooling of "Lonely", which originally appeared on "Your Backyard" in 1999.]

Another remake – why?  This one isn’t too bad. It’s a tolerable listen and the end kinda rocks. Again, the music doesn’t seem to match the lyrics. The original seemed desperate without being psycho. I really identified with it since at the time I was in love with a girl who didn’t love me. Most of this version has a hippy acid-trip vibe to it. Score: 3.5/5

10. In Your Name

Compared to other "angry" Brother songs, it’s not their best. I prefer "Chains" (from the 1995 album "Exit From Screechville"). On its own, though, it’s a very good track. I really liked the cello. Score: 4/5

11. Crazy

["Crazy" is a remake of a song of the same title from 2001’s "i you you me".]

This wasn’t as butchered as "Bitch", but it’s still not as good as the original. It’s not as bouncy or fun as before. I also really miss "And I don’t want that hangin’ over me" and "And when you come to think again, you’ll wonder what it all meant. And when you think again, perhaps you’ll find you’re just as bent." Ultimately, what this version lacks is the "anthem" quality that the original had. Score: 3.5/5

12. Goodbye

This solid tune’s only real flaws are the weak and seemingly out of tune vocals at the beginning and the abrupt ending. Score: 3.5/5

13. How Do You Feel?

Anybody else think the opening sounds like music from a horror video game? At this point in the album I’m about to go postal. We’ve been waiting this freakin’ long (since ) for new Brother material and we get a bunch of pathetic remakes!?! I never loved the original, but it was certainly fun to sing along with at concerts. Score: 3/5

14. Just Listen

Again I feel cheated. This song is beautiful. Why are we teased with 1:30??? Score: 3.5/5 (Imagine the score if it was full length.)

In conclusion, I’d like to mostly praise the new tunes and lament the remakes. I find myself wondering why the album is an anemic 43 minutes. I know there’s more material to release. I really wanted "Hang On" and "Give It Away". In the end, though, Brother music is like pizza – even when it’s bad it’s good.

Album score: 45.5/70 (65% D)