Monthly Archives: October 2014

Well played, ‘Blacklist’

What's the best thing about Season 2? Maybe the fact that Lizzy (Megan Boone) no longer has the worst helmet hair in television history. Seriously, it was so bad that by the end of Season 1, it was distracting me every time she was on screen.

What’s the best thing about Season 2? Maybe the fact that Lizzy (Megan Boone) no longer has the worst helmet hair in television history. Seriously, it was so bad that by the end of Season 1, it was becoming a distraction.

(Major spoiler ahead … you were warned.)

In a recent episode of The Blacklist, (Mombasa Cartel (No. 114)), the minds behind the show really flip the script. It was simultaneously surprising and a perfect way to keep the show fresh.

We’ve seen Lizzy (Megan Boone) in a previous episode enter a sparse basement, where a lone, enormous, intimidating man sits in a metal folding chair facing an empty folding chair. Lizzy stops, sits, and listens as the man tells her, “He’s not going to be happy to see you.” Unconcerned, Lizzy enters through another door, where we lose sight of her. Who is the wizard behind the curtain? Is it someone who is feeding her info on Red? On her ex-husband, the spy who ruined her life? Is she doing something self-destructive out of the way of prying eyes, considering how her life fell to pieces in Season 1? It’s the great unknown.

However, Raymond Reddington’s man who is tailing Lizzy finds her hidey hole, despite her efforts to keep her secret. He knows what Lizzy is hiding, and he gives her the opportunity to tell Red (James Spader) what she’s been up to in her free time. Lizzy acts as if she might come clean … then calls in the feds on Red’s tail and has him put in a cell under charges that keep him from seeing anyone, even a lawyer. Red is mad, knowing something is being kept from him, something that could help him protect Lizzy. But she’s not telling, and the one man who knows is locked in a hole so deep he can’t be of any assistance.

That should have been the hint that this wasn’t our Lizzy from Season 1. But the big kick in the cookies comes at the end of the episode, when Lizzy returns to the basement, enters the room, and her ex-hubby and outed spy, Tom, sits chained to the wall and not looking so good.

KABLOW! That action changes everything we know about Lizzy to this point. She spent the entire first season reacting to the situation – Red, Tom, work, etc. – always behind, never knowing what everyone else knew, lost in the woods with no clue where to go. She cried, she stressed, she fretted, but most of her action was job-related, not Red- or Tom-related. She really looked like an intelligent, competent person who just was in over her head in world of deceit and false fronts.

Up to this point in Season 2, little appeared to be different. She’s been trying to dig something up on why Red is focused on her, to no avail. She couldn’t get anything from Red’s ex-wife. Lizzy has been moving from hotel room to hotel room, fearing for her life, seeming to enjoy alcohol a bit more than she had previously. Except now that we know about Tom … was Lizzy really scared, fraying at the seams, waiting for the next moment that upends her life? Was it an effort to force Red to tip his hand, hoping he might let something leak in an effort to comfort her and set her right? Was it just an act to keep everyone from the truth about her secret meetings with chained basement hubby? Is it something else? We don’t know, and that’s awesome.

Moving forward, we now can’t trust what we knew about Lizzy, our heroine, the smart, beautiful, all-American girl. She has now stepped in to the thick of this murky world of intelligence and intimidation, smarter, wiser and ready to get her petite, well-manicured hands dirty.

Me, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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10/24/2014: Whiskey Bent Valley Boys and The Stampede String Band

So I went to see a show at the Hi-Fi in Fountain Square, a neighborhood making a comeback on the east side of Indianapolis. And wouldn’t you know it, a hoedown broke out?

Indiana’s own Stampede String Band opened and represented the Hoosier State well. Turns out, Moonsville – the title of their debut album and a small burg near Alexandria – is just down the road from Muncie, my hometown. John Bahler’s work on the mandolin was a pleasure to listen to, and the combo was tight. I’m hoping to catch them again, soon. (But you can dump the Royals cover, fellas. It’s the most overrated song of the last decade, and even Lorde’s mom is tired of hearing it.)

Then the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys stepped on stage and showed why they were the headliners. Two hours of non-stop bluegrass, a full house dancing and spilling beer, lots of hooting and requests shouted out periodically. I don’t know that I’d say it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, but I’ve never seen a tighter relationship between a crowd and a band in a live setting. It was clear the Whiskey Bent crew was feeding off the energy of the crowd, and vice versa. If you’re a fan of that traditional mountain music sound – and even you newgrass backers – these guys are a must-see.

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‘Lullaby’: Chuck Palahniuk for everyone!

Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby passes the “Would my mom read this?” test.

That’s not an easy test to pass. My mom’s pop culture tastes run fairly mainstream and somewhat bland. She’ll jump into something that’s not in her wheelhouse here and there, but you get much beyond Oprah-NCIS-movies starring Matt Damon, and my mom won’t follow.

But I think I could get her to read Lullaby, and crazier yet, I think she might even enjoy it. That doesn’t say so much about my mom’s adventurous (or lack thereof) spirit, and more about the tale itself, which is about as close to conventional as Palahniuk is probably ever going to get.

Palahniuk starts by focusing on the mystery of crib death, how it happens all the time, yet there’s no real cause there. Certain things can be done to help prevent it – we think – but sometimes, babies just go to sleep and don’t wake up. That in and of itself is horrifying enough, but Lullaby supposes there is a cause: a poem.

Called a culling poem, this particular verse, when read to anyone, leads to their immediate death by no obvious cause. They just cease living, right there, right then. Two of Lullaby‘s characters realize what’s going on, and decide to find all of the copies of the obscure children’s book that contain the culling verse and destroy them.

It’s pretty straightforward as a plot, while thematically Lullaby mostly explores the potential for abuse if you control the power of death and would likely never be held accountable for wielding said power. Would you use it to kill an evil dictator in a foreign land? Would you travel to a poor neighborhood and cull the drug dealers from the street? Or would you give the hairy eyeball to the asshole in front of you in the 12-items-or-less line who clearly has closer to 20 things in his cart?

Delivered in Palahniuk’s dense, brusque prose and with his trademark attention to the oddest of details, Lullaby is a macabre, grotesque commentary on what America is now, and how unchecked power turned it into the nation of invasive species, extinct flora and fauna and polluted beauty that we now know.

Give a copy to your mom. Who knows? She might just like it.

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10/11/14: July Talk and Rural Alberta Advantage

Feel the rock and roll fury of July Talk!

Feel the rock and roll fury of July Talk!

I love being right about a band.

I’ve been kind of nerd-gasming in my quarterly music faves posts (albums and songs) ever since hearing July Talk’s debut, Guns + Ammunition, after it dropped early this year. My hope was that live they’d be just as energetic and engaging. And they were everything I could have hoped they would be. Imagine Tom Waits and Tanya Donelly fronting the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Peter Dreimanis scratchy, husky voice and the cleaner, poppier vocals of Leah Fay make an unlikely but fortunate pairing, fronting a furious, danceable blues-rock combo. Their stage presence helps augment their sound, creating a terrific live blast of sound and movement. Their Oct. 11 show at Radio Radio was, for me, just an invitation to go see them again.

I was not looking forward to seeing the evening’s headliner, Rural Alberta Advantage, nearly as much as I had anticipated July Talk’s performance. While I liked RAA’s first two albums, their latest – Mended With Gold – lacked punch. I was kind of expecting to see a large band – six or seven members – playing somewhat lethargic, rootsy alt rock.

I was not right about that. Rural Albert Advantage is comprised of only three people, and they bring the energy and full sound of a band of a half dozen musicians. I was a bit blown away. I think a lot of credit goes to drummer Paul Banwatt, whose spirit and ability help give the RAA a full sound for such a small crew.

The tour continues. I recommend you check it out.

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Fave songs from 2014, so far: The 3Q wrap-up

Avant Gardner, Courtney Barnett – Smart, jangley, singer-songwriter cut. It’s worth it just to hear her use “emphysema” as a verb.

Change My Ways, Tony Molina – If you’re into the whole brevity thing, as well as enjoying melodic punk, Tony Molina is your man.

China, BRONCHO – I’m guessing, but these guys probably own The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine albums. Broody, distortion heavy rock.

Come Back Home, Trampled By Turtles – I love me some light-speed Turtles, and Come Back Home is that musical comfort food.

Don’t Mess With Me, Brody Dalle – The former Distillers frontwoman and wife of QOTSA chief Josh Homme unleashes a blast of mad girl rawk.

Doses & Mimosas, Cherub – A cheeky and hedonistic electro-funk, kiss-off, come-down jam that my brother mistook for an Andre 3000 joint. If pressed to pick my favorite song of 2014 so far, this would be in the running.

D.R.E.A.M., Pharoahe Monch feat. Talib Kweli – Hip-hop vets crank out a cut that, if you don’t bob your head when you listen to it, just proves you have no soul.

Eye to Eye, Lee Bains & The Expressions – This might be my favorite song of 2014. I think this because I keep periodically singing the chorus to myself as I go about my daily business.

High & Wild, Angel Olsen – A swirling haze of distorted guitars wrapped around Angel’s easy, unique voice. From one of my favorite albums of the year, Burn Your Fire.

I Don’t Want to Go Home, Curtis Harding – My one big regret about Forecastle Fest this year was not catching Harding, who has gallons of boogie to go with pounds of woogie.

I Just Don’t Understand, Spoon – The grooviest band of the past decade releases what will likely be remembered as one of their finest albums. I Just Don’t Understand is the tip of the aural iceberg.

I Wanna Be a Yank, Fucked Up – Sometimes, being punk as fuck is enough.

Indie Cindy, The Pixies – The title track of the Pixies latest album nails their classic sound, which just never gets old.

Just Another Bullet, Young Fathers – Some of the eeriest production since the Geto Boys’ Mind Playing Tricks on Me. The sound of organized madness.

Legs, Chuck Inglish feat. Chromeo – Sexy, cool and not nearly as misogynistic as Blurred Lines.

Like a Mighty River, St. Paul & The Broken Bones – A sweet, smooth slice of soul music.

Little Monster, Royal Blood – To steal from Ron Burgundy, Royal Blood is “the balls.” Melodic, heavy rock with plenty of brains to go with the cajones.

Lonely Sunday, Reignwolf – Speaking of the balls … My greatest hope for 2015 is a full-length from these metalheads. Until then, this will have to do.

Longer Than You’ve Been Alive, Old 97’s – The ballad of the rock band that’s been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

Lost Boys, Sir Michael Rocks feat. Mac Miller and Trinidad Jam – I’ve heard a lot of good production from underground hip-hop acts this year, and Sir Michael Rocks and crew benefit from this here. Lyrically, young hoodlums try to figure out how to grow up.

Love You Forever, Jenny Lewis – Aaah, Jenny’s back and all is well. Articulate, funny and heartfelt pop rock by one of my favorite lyricists.

Mama Said Be Careful Where You Lay Your Head, The Wind and the Wave – I don’t love the album, but there’s a few fine tracks on From the Wreckage. This is the standout.

My Resignation, Besserbitch – Dedicated to anyone who has walked off the job with a middle finger flying high. High-energy punk pop with plenty of “screw you” built into it.

People Don’t Get What They Deserve, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – The title says it all.

Raw Milk, Parquet Courts – These guys are growing on me … in a good way, not in a “I have this fungus I can’t get rid of” way. When I hear them, I think of a lot of good ’90’s bands: Pavement, Sonic Youth, Slint, etc.

Summer Dress, July Talk – Blues rock with a pop hook with a terrific one-two punch at lead singer.

Violent Shivers, Benjamin Booker – A track that falls somewhere between classic Chuck Berry and the Kings of Leon’s debut, Youth and Young Manhood. Unrestrained blues rock.

Watch You Change, Drowners – A Strokes-ian breakup song with one of my favorite lines of the year: “There’s not a shoulder cold enough for me to give her.”

Welcome to America, Lacrae – The perfect hip-hop track for the Michael Brown era, a look at what America is for those who can’t rely on white privelege.

Honorable mentions: 27, Passenger; Ain’t So Simple, Protomartyr; American Horror, Speedy Ortiz; Black and White, Parquet Courts; Blue Moon, Beck; Bobby Reid, Lucette; Brand New, Pharrell feat. Justin Timberlake; Brooklyn Baby, Lana Del Rey; Cedar Lane, First Aid Kit; Chaghaybou, Tinariwen; Creepin’ Jenny, The Pack a.d.; Different Days, The Men; Dog Bumped (Live), Tim Barry; Don’t Leave Me Dry, Spanish Gold; Down With the Monster, White Lung; Emerald Tuesday, Cibo Matto; Fall In Love, Phantogram; Frequencies, Katie Herzig; The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger, The Coast; God & Nature, Loudon Wainwright III; Guns + Ammunition, July Talk; I’ll Go To Sleep, BLUFFING; I’m Only Joking, Kongos; Interference Fits, Perfect Pussy; Jerk Ribs, Kelis; Life of Sin, Sturgill Simpson; The Littlest League Possible, Guided By Voices; Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, The Flaming Lips feat. Miley Cyrus and Moby; Native Korean Rock, Karen O; Never, The Roots feat. Patty Crash; Now Here In, Cloud Nothings; Other Lovers, Devan DuBois; Parade of Choosers, Centro-matic; Place Names, Cymbals Eat Guitars; Rollercoaster, Bleachers; Run Rabbit Run, Black Pistol Fire; Runners, Lacrae; Sexy Socialite, Chromeo; Sisters, The Raveonettes; Supernova, Ray LaMontagne; Take Away These Early Grave Blues, Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra; Tongues, Joywave feat. KOPPS; Top Notch, Manchester Orchestra; Uno, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

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‘Wytchfire’ a worthy jumping off point for Dragonkin trilogy

Do you have what it takes to carry Knightswrath?

Do you have what it takes to carry Knightswrath?

What I didn’t like: That list is fairly short. I’d have preferred to speed up the earlier parts and get to Lyos, the city that is the main setting for the latter half of Wytchfire and one of the key cities in the land of Ruun, but I’m not the author and it doesn’t hurt the narrative. My only real concern is that the dialogue seems a bit too Midwestern, which you’d expect from a guy that grew up in Iowa. Not a huge beef, admittedly.

What I liked: I thought Michael Meyerhofer did a nice job of both adhering to the familiar tropes of fantasy while creating his own realm and mythology. Including the Codus Lotius – one of the seminal texts of the Isle Knights – as an appendix was a nice touch (“He who waits for the gods to tell him to move will, in time, grow roots”) and helps give context for what the Knights should be aspiring to achieve. The She’lai, a group of mutated magical beings sprung from the race of Sylvs, may be his best creation. A group of the She’lai internalized the magical power of extinct dragons in an effort to prepare for the battle to control Ruun. One such She’lai, affectionately know as “The Nightmare,” singlehandedly brings down the walls of city after city before a siege can ever be conceived, a group of twelve She’lai surrounding it to magically harness its power at all times during battle. Meyerhofer’s nicest trick, though, may have been occasional references to a race known as the Olgryms, monstrous, gigantic creatures that don’t show up until the epilogue, but who will clearly be players in the battle for Ruun. Wytchfire is a solid jumping-off point, and I look forward to seeing where Meyerhofer goes from here.

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Fave albums of 2014, so far: The 3Q wrap-up

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker – A powerful burst of blues rock, somewhere between the Black Keys and the Black Crowes.

Curtis Harding, Soul Power – Today’s R&B so frequently sounds like it’s made in a hermetically sealed studio with computers. Soul Power is so warm because Harding and the band at times sound like they’re performing live, not just cranking out the same riffs over and over until they get handed to the geek with Pro Tools to be cleansed and assembled for distribution.

July Talk, Guns + Ammunition – I’ll be seeing this group open for Rural Alberta Advantage in October, and I’m really looking forward to it. The songwriting is strong, and the one-two, male-female vocal combination creates a unique sound.

Jenny Lewis, Voyager – Do I love it as much as Rabbit Fur Coat or Acid Tongue? No. Voyager loses the country sound for a poppier sheen. Regardless, Ms. Lewis is still one of the smartest and funniest lyricists around, and that elevates her latest effort.

Tony Molina, Dissed & Dismissed – If Rivers Cuomo cut the cute shtick and just made hook-driven punk pop, the album would sound like Dissed & Dismissed.

Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love – This is one of those albums where not only do I like the collection for what it is, but I’m also excited about the potential it teases.

Pixies, Indie Cindy – It’s rare that an old band gets back together and makes a quality album (The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, etc.). The Pixies defy that expectation with a disc that stands with their best.

Royal Blood, Royal Blood – When you think of two-piece rock outfits, the Black Keys and the White Stripes tend to come to mind. But this bass-drums combo is much more No One Knows than Ball and a Biscuit.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything – Prince once said, “Let’s get crazy.” Silver Mt. Zion took them up on that, making a sprawling, psychedelic punk album worthy of Sonic Youth.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Half the City – Another album that’s been on this list since the first quarter, Half the City is a well-made collection of Southern soul music. I can’t recommend these guys enough live.

Honorable mention: Cherub, Year of the Caprese; Courtney Barnett, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas; First Aid Kit, Stay Gold; Lana Del Ray, Ultraviolence; Guided By Voices, Motivational Jumpsuit; Lecrae, Anomaly; Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal; Pharoahe Monch, PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Pete Molinari, Theosophy; Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Spanish Gold, South of Nowhere; Trampled By Turtles, Wild Animals; Tweedy, Sukierae; Angel Wilson, Burn Your Fire For No Witness

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