Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Halloween Beards are a Bust
Beards are not the best during Halloween.
There are so many costumes that simply can not be executed due to the fact that I have a ginger man mane planted on my face. Aside from the Bearded Lady, a God-fearing, homophobic character from Duck Dynasty and an assortment of wispy wizards, this beard has held up the stop sign on plenty of great costume ideas.
And I simply cannot bring myself to go as Walker, Texas Ranger every year.
If I shaved tomorrow morning and it was time to dress up for the Halloween season, here is what you would see me parading around town as. But I’m not shaving, so don’t worry.
I’d throw on the old throwback jersey and carry my gambling book whilst placing bets all over town.
The Apparently Kid
Remember when being a slightly pudgy, little awkward and a totally straight-shooting ginger kid was completely adorable? No. I don’t either. It never was. Until The Apparently kid took that microphone out of Sofia Ojeda’s grasp and became a national sensation. I’d find myself a WNEP microphone cover, talk incessantly about my grandfather and my adoration of dinosaurs and win every best costume prize in the 570. Bonus: One of my friends could dress up like Ellen Degeneres and interview me at each party.
Pee Wee Herman
Pee Wee with a beard? It doesn’t work unless you’re James Brolin, (pictured above). And even that was a pretty lame beard.
Super Mario Brothers
I’m not about to go shaving a mustache for one night of living out my Nintendo dreams. Come to think of it, real mustache costumes are much easier to think of: Ron Burgundy, Magnum P.I., John Waters, Albert Einstein, Hulk Hogan, Borat, etc.
Sugar Skull or Zombie
It looks amazing when people sport the Day of the Dead sugar skull look on Halloween, but beards never seem to fit the look. Let’s say a bearded zombie comes crawling your way. Normally, your first reaction is to run away or scream, not say “Hey! Look! That zombie has a beard! Never saw that before! (Snaps selfie with bearded zombie in the background). Sweet!”
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: The Allman Brothers Band Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas (Capricorn) 1976
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo
Jake Gyllenhaal first turned heads in the tender 60s drama October Sky and sophomoric comedy Bubble Boy, but the young actor looked destined to be forever associated with the title role in Richard Kelly’s trippy cult hit Donnie Darko in 2001. After establishing his star status with big budget extravaganzas for better (The Day After Tomorrow) and worse (Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time) as well as garnering an Oscar nomination for one particular critical favorite (Brokeback Mountain), however, he’s taken more artistic chances, mostly as offbeat characters in edgy crime thrillers (Zodiac, End of Watch, Prisoners). Nightcrawler, his latest crime thriller, perhaps showcases the actor in his most oft-kilter role yet. In the R-rated crime-thriller from, a driven young man (Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon the dangerous underground world of Los Angeles freelance crime journalism. The Plus: The material. Here, writer/director Dan Gilroy (screenwriter, Freejack, The Bourne Legacy) directs a cast that includes Gyllenhaal (Love & Other Drugs), Russo (Thor: The Dark World) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow). Based on early reviews, however, the screenplay is the thing. It seems that Gilroy’s dark violent though-provoker is an early favorite for awards season. The Minus: The odds. Lump this flick in with such other early contenders as Foxcatcher, Interstellar, Wild, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, American Sniper, Big Eyes and Unbroken and you have yourself a crowded group.
Before I Go to Sleep
Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth
In this R-rated mystery, a woman (Kidman) who remembers nothing as a result of a traumatic accident in her past begins to question everyone around her when truths emerge. The Plus: The genre. Whether the reviews are good, bad or worse, some thrillers just have that head scratching knack for becoming hits (No Good Deed). The Minus: The odds. Rowan Joffe, a screenwriter known for one decent hit (28 Weeks Later) and one marginal effort (The American), made his directing debut with a 2010 remake of 1949 British Cinema classic Brighton Rock … to little aplomb. As for Nicole Kidman, remember Rabbit Hole, Stoker, The Paperboy or Grace of Monaco? Didn’t think so. Not only has her output been spotty as of late, but two of her 2011 performances (comedy Just Go with It and thriller Trespass) even garnered several Razzie Awards, which “honors” the worst offerings in cinema.
Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto
*1/2 — Bored Games
Playing with the dark forces with such formulaic redundancy that they pretty much become dark farces, horrid horror movie Ouija follows Battleship into the abyss of poor board game movie adaptations. In this PG-13-rated horror flick, a group of friends (Cooke, Coto, et al) confront their most terrifying fears when an innocent game awakens the dark powers of an ancient spirit board. Well, here we groan again. Pretty young things get dead, like, bad. And, if we hadn’t seen these trappings so many times before in better thrillers, the unique supernatural plaything twist might’ve provoked some new thrills. Instead, it plays out as predictably as a Little Golden Book. Once the game offs one of the childhood group who innocently played Ouija as kids, the now-teenage players reunite for — wait for it — one more game. They act like it’s a way to help them grieve, but the goings-on meet such predictable ends that you wonder how these pretty libel liars walked into this scenario having watched so many similar set-ups on-screen. Granted, they set up their own closed-mouth ghost story, but its derivative stuff. Honestly, the two minutes of screen time dedicated to a Ouija board in The Exorcist generates more legitimate jumps and screams than the entire 90-minute running time of this flick. Emerging as a standout from the decent scarer The Quiet Ones, Olivia Cooke’s performance remains serviceable even if the dialogue comes off as pure stock. The rest of the cast can’t act their way out of a paper bag, which the mostly recycled script seems to have been written on. As for first time feature director Stiles White. Most of the actual thrills come from people walking in on the POV unexpectedly. This doesn’t count as horror; it simply counts as bad timing.
**** — Apex Reloaded
Brilliantly burning at a fast clip toward excellence, John Wick lights a ridiculously exciting fire under the action genre. In this bloody R-rated actioner, an ex-hitman (Reeves) comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. Remember the Christmas morning level of excitement building toward the sequel to the techno-charged adrenaline rush known as The Matrix? Yeah, that deuce never fully delivered. It’s star’s latest, however, fulfills the kickass promise of that moment in spades. Boasting swivel-armed battle-grip fighting, quick fingered gunplay and a loaded chamber of wit to a nearly perfect degree, this flick takes the well-worn revenge thriller and turns it on its cauliflower ear. It puts forth a purposely streamlined simple story and turns it into a locomotive payback thriller of the highest order. It’s the intricacies that make this flick so exciting. Shaded (and the movie is not so much black and white, but colorless) with a great degree of vision and wit, the story unfolds in a slow progression of precise detail, then unleashes in a double barrel fury of Hong Kong ballistics. An original spin on the retired-killer-works-one more-job angle, this far-from-average John pits the hit man culture in a unique Gentleman’s Game society that converges as a hotel-cum-nightclub. Someone breaks the rules, of course, but a lightbulb has already appeared above the heads of weary action fans. Lighting struck. Moreso, fists and bullets fly and land in nearly all of the right places. Of course, because it follows a traditional action storyline, there are some all-too-familiar beats amid the fresh bedlam. The fact that this John-on-the-spot purposely means to build the better actioner out of there same rusty pieces can’t totally forgive all of the formulaic moments. Like a misfiring handgun that’s stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt for precision, however, the sportsmanship feels fun and new again. Even as Neo, the reluctant hero of The Matrix’s virtual reality, Keanu Reeves never wowed with his acting so much as with his martial artistry and wirework. Here, however, he keeps emotion restrained in a clenched fist until just the right incendiary moment in his best performance yet. Reeves’ former stuntman Chad Stahelski deserves most of the credit though. All of those years taking bodily abuse were good for more than a paycheck. This laser-sited Hal Needham obviously took notes, doling out a slick, vervy, original shoot-‘em-up for the ages.
**** — Glorious Bastards
Gutsy, gritty and grippingly gun-toting, Fury powers forward at a rousing and realistic clip that won’t win it any Oscars but will accumulate many audience accolades. In this R-rated war drama set in 1945, a battle-hardened army sergeant (Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew (LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines during the Allies’ final into Germany. The World War II period details ring harrowingly true. This is not just a nod to the brain-splattering fighting but to the Sherman-borne camaraderie as well. Yes, Fury is a buddy flick. In fact, it’s a very solid buddy flick. Believable and brutal (in the case of the embattled situation presented, these ‘B’s’ must go hand and hand), these relationships truly ground you when the spit starts to fly … and it flies from the get-go. True, it becomes sentimental at some predicated points, but that’s why it’s a rewarding but violent history lesson and not a guaranteed award designee.
The Universal Blu Ray Collection — Abbott & Costello
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948 (**** — Meet Cute): Reuniting the Universal Monsters to brilliant comic effect, Abbott & Costello saved the studio and cemented their appeal beyond simply being the team behind the classic routine “Who’s on First?” This success comes, of course, at a price. This motion picture also signaled the peak of their slapstick period where once the vaudeville-turned-radio stars used to be known for their once-genius back-and-forths. Thankfully, their awesome 1952-53 TV series restored this cerebral sparring, but Frankenstein emerges as a high point all of its own. It shouldn’t have worked. The biggest comedy team in film sharing the title with the classic creature features that established Universal Studio? Bonkers…until it strangely worked. Sure, director James White dealt horror AND humor as a winning hand with The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, but this juvenile 1948 vehicle got played chiefly for laughs. Energetic and entertaining, the spoof is neither as funny nor as thrilling as it needs to be. Still, this is a freewheeling and fun forebearer to all of the classic horror comedies to follow (Fearless Vampire Killers, Evil Dead II, Gremlins, Zombieland and TV’s Buffy the Vampire Killer).
Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man, 1951 (*** — H.G. Well Done): The best of Abbott & Costello’s follow-ups to meeting Frankenstein and way superior to most of the Invisible Man sequels, Meet the Invisible Man actually boasts the most laugh-out-loud moments from their monster team-ups. Oh, like the film before it, the story and action play out at an almost childlike level. Still, the boxing match alone demonstrated the high points of each franchise: great special effects and hilarious visual gags.
Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, 1955 (** — Mummy Merest): Repetitive more than rascally, Meet the Mummy sadly captures the classic comedy team near the end of their long road toward breaking up. Funny enough, they re-ignited interest in the classic Universal monster franchises even while they were losing popularity. Not only was their brand of humor going out of style, but they show pretty much zero interest in performing their craft well. Throughout the film, the Mummy actually shows more energy than this once-great duo. He even gets the most laughs with a bandaged outfit that looks less convincing than those worn by most pint sized trick or treaters.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Pumpkin ales grace our shelves a little earlier each year. Sometime before Halloween, this ever- growing demographic of autumn brews promises all the pumpkin spice you can handle along with the added benefit of alcohol. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
This year, however, I’ve locked on to a different track this Halloween season. I call them the dessert beers. They’re not any particular style. Generally, they are sweet and carry flavors of caramel, chocolate, creme brulee or candies. These delicious brews are a great way to satisfy that seasonal sweet tooth, and just like the pumpkin beers, they’re alcoholic.
This week in particular, I’m trying Spring House Brewing Company’s Lil Gruesome Peanut Butter Jelly Stout. If you are amazed that such a thing even exists, you are not alone. My mind was a little blown when I saw the bottle. The promise of peanut butter, raspberry puree and the roasty notes of a stout all thrown together? Halloween just started looking a lot more like my own personal Christmas.
I’ve been a fan of stouts for almost as long as I’ve been drinking. The roasted malt flavor lends itself so well to so many combinations. Most craft beer drinkers have had a coffee or chocolate stout at this point. There are more exotic stouts out there as well that have such delightful tastes as creme brulee and creamy milky stouts. Peanut butter and jelly is an area I’ve had yet to traverse yet, however.
The pour was a chocolatey black topped with a finger’s worth of peanut butter-brown-head. The first sniff presents a good deal of roasted malt in the nose, just like any stout should. Lingering within it is the unmistakable scent of peanut butter like one would find in a peanut butter cup. After a while, I noticed the jelly aspect lurking beneath it. It was slightly fruity and sweet, but relegated to the background.
The taste followed suit with the scent. The savory roasted malt gave way to peanut butter. It held a hint of chocolate as well. If I really looked, I could find the jelly underneath it. At first, I was a little disappointed by the lack of a strong fruit presence. As the beer breathed, however, it started to become much more apparent. I became more appreciative of the brew as time went on, as too much sweetness would have killed it. Lil Gruesome managed to stay away from that problem, however.
The brew wasn’t overly thick or cloying either. Instead, it was a bit silky, feeling rather good on the palate. It also had just the right amount of carbonation, making it quite pleasing to drink. It did indeed have sweetness to it, but not too much. There are seemingly multiple traps this beer could have fallen into that would have made it gross, but it managed to avoid every single one of them.
The flavor isn’t overly complex or subtle. That isn’t the point of this beer. What you get is a stout that tastes like peanut butter and jelly. It might just be a novelty, but its a good one. I’d even say its a worthwhile one. When you’ve had enough pumpkin beers, give this one a try. Lil Gruesome is the right kind of sweet.
LONE LADIES —
JENNY LEWIS — The Voyager
THE GOOD: Indie singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis is finally back.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been six years since Lewis’ last solo outing and four since her collaboration with Jonathan Rice. Last year saw a Rilo Kiley rarities collection (that band now officially and sadly defunct), but new music from the indie goddess is more than welcome.
Produced by Ryan Adams, The Voyager is easily the slickest record in Lewis’ solo catalog. Rabbit Fur Coat (2006) and Acid Tongue (2008) both leaned heavily in the realm of alt-country and modern folk — rock albums at their core but with a dominating homespun charm. This new record is more straight-forward indie pop and the closest Lewis has ever come to her past in the aforementioned Rilo Kiley.
Adams’ precise production helps make confident tunes like “Head Underwater” and “Just One of the Guys” cool and breezy, but the end results never feel over-produced. We end up with a simmering West Coast collection that rarely falters.
BUY IT?: Surely.
SINEAD O’CONNOR — I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss
THE GOOD: Indie legend and Irish bad girl Sinead O’Connor is back with her tenth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If 2012’s How About I Be Me (And You Be You) was seen as the singer/songwriter’s return to form, I’m the Boss is its logical follow-up. When taken together, both records find the quality of O’Connor’s work on an upswing.
Lyrically, O’Connor breaks away from the politics and social causes (for the most part) and focuses on her (or someone’s) sexuality, relationships and life experiences. Musically, the set is the usual mix of cathartic pop, slightly funky pieces and gentle yet stirring moments. The new album has more teeth though; O’Connor not holding back the raw emotion on jagged cuts like “The Voice of My Doctor” and “Take Me to Church.”
BUY IT?: Yes. More than 25 years into a truly eclectic career, the woman still possesses one of the most haunting and seductive female voices on the planet.
KAREN O — Crush Songs
THE GOOD: Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O offers up a solo record.
THE BAD: Practically an album of finished and unfinished demos, Crush Songs is a very off-the-cuff intimate affair. Don’t expect a fully realized studio effort.
THE NITTY GRITTY: According to the liner notes, O wrote and recorded these songs in private when she was “crushing a lot.” So there’s a sense of urgency, perhaps getting the tunes on tape before the current crush dissipated and all of the emotion disappeared. Most of the tracks are lo-fi studies of just O and her acoustic guitar, yet some boast rudimentary drum machines, echo and double-tracked voices. A couple even sound finished to the point that they would probably make decent YYY cuts (“Day Go By” has definite potential).
In the end though, Crush Songs feels messy and self-indulgent —compelling only to those rabid fans that must hear absolutely everything this woman has ever recorded
BUY IT?: Meh … only obsessive Yeah Yeah Yeahs people need apply.
PHASED IN AND
CYMBALS EAT GUITARS — Lose
THE GOOD: New Jersey indie rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars bring the noise on their third full-length.
THE BAD: The guys make you work for it. Lose is good — maybe even great — but it takes a few spins to fully sink in.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After some line-up changes, CEG now feels more like an actual band and less like a group of temporary players subject to the whims of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Joseph D’Agostino. Lose is more cohesive than the first two records.
Bringing in elements of loud shoegaze, early Pavement and sprawling Built to Spill, the guys make a big noise that falls somewhere between post-punk’s sloppy urgency and progressive rock’s intricate unpredictability. Some tracks like soaring opener “Jackson” twist and turn, unafraid of changing textures and tempos, while others such as “XR” spit fire and get to the point. “Child Bride” is achingly tragic. “Chambers” gets down after dark. Who knows what’s next?
BUY IT?: Yes. If nothing else, Lose remains intensely interesting.
GRACES DOWNFALL — Change Adjust Continue
THE GOOD: NEPA’s own Graces Downfall releases their third full-length.
THE BAD: Fresh? Exciting? Maybe not.
THE NITTY GRITTY: OK, these guys are tight. The band fires off a scorching mix of what used to be “alternative” with a fierce layer of metal over the top. I suspect there are probably more than a few Staind, Tool and Papa Roach CDs lurking in these dudes’ old music collections.
But that’s the problem. GD is everything you hated about the late 90s and mainstream aggro-rock in general. Nothing here is as bad as … say … Puddle of Mudd, but it’s hard to take the heavy-handed social commentary of an angst-riddled song like “Scranton” seriously. And closing cut “Leah” is easily the most cloying ballad about a kid since Creed’s “With Eyes Wide Open.” Her smile so perfect/Without a tooth.
BUY IT?: I know the band has legions of local fans … so support them if you must. The rest of us will just move on and never speak of Change again.
ROYAL BLOOD — Royal Blood
THE GOOD: British duo Royal Blood studies the basics on their tough debut.
THE BAD: Nothing “bad” — just old fashioned blues-based rock ‘n’ roll. No innovation, but the record cranks.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Following other modern “revival” acts such as Wolfmother and Rival Sons, Royal Blood is simply the latest English collective supposedly saving “real” rock. You get a mix of those aforementioned acts along with some Raconteurs/Dead Weather Jack White-type stuff and a sprinkle of the Black Keys.
All the songs come in around three minutes so there’s no room for elaborate solos or progressive posturing. Tunes like “Out of the Black” and “Careless” make their point and get out of the way for the next blast of power-packed rocket fuel. Vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr cites Queens of the Stone Age as a major influence and you can hear that. Royal Blood is crunchy and tight, but also melodic in all the right places.
BUY IT?: Sure. The album may be flawed but it leaves us wanting more.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Its officially big beer season again. Summer is great for uber drinkable lagers, pilsners and blondes. In Autumn, on the other hand, its time to break out the big guns. Big, thick ales loaded with malt and hops are called for. Aggressive stouts, IPAs and the like come into season when the leaves start to fall.
This week, I’m sipping on Ballast Point Brewing’s Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale. While I’ve had plenty of imperial stouts and IPAs, this might be the first imperial red I’ve had. Imperial basically means that it’s high in alcohol content. While a regular red ale might have an ABV of 4 to 8 percent, Tongue Buckler clocks in with double digits at 10 percent ABV. This means it has quite the kick.
The brew poured a dark amber, murky red color. It obscured most of the light shining through the glass. The liquid itself was nice and thick. It looked like syrup pouring out of the bottle. There was about a finger and a half worth of head that lingered for quite a while. It left copious lacing down the side of the glass as it dissipated. Bubbles rose continuously through the liquid, promising ample carbonation. This was a very pretty beer.
First sniff was all malt. There was an almost overwhelming amount of sweet, roasty, toasty malt in the scent. It triggered the same pleasure centers in my mind as a big batch of fresh baked cookies would. There was more to the scent, however. It just took a moment to breathe and come out. The malt was accentuated by sugary caramel notes and contrasted by pungent and piney hops. There was a lot going on in the nose.
This beer was not for sipping. I would have dishonored it had I done anything other than take a big gulp. My tongue was instantly hit with a big sweet malt blast. I had expected this and relished it. Just as it started to fade, however, there was a wall of hops backing it up. It was certainly comparable to an IPA in that department. There was a slight bit of alcoholic burn mixed in as well, which is to be expected for a beer that strong. Honestly, it was a bit much at first. I like really malty beers and I like really hoppy beers. I also like milk and orange juice, but weird things happen when you mix them together.
In time, this faded. The tongue became acclimated and the larger flavors faded. The intricacies of the hops started to show. The sweet and bitter started to cut and tame each other perfectly. Without the huge hop wall, it would have just been too sweet and syrupy after a while. Instead, each sip made you want more so that you could keep chasing each side of the flavor equation with the other.
Tongue Buckler is a good one and aptly named. At first chug, the tongue does indeed wish to buckle. In time, however, it stands up to the challenge that is this beer and is greatly rewarded in flavor and alcohol. Its a great autumn brew and will leave you feeling all 22 ounces of its warm and fuzzy inside of you. With its 10 percent ABV, that’s a lot of warm and fuzzy indeed.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Lets talk about that magical wizard that lives inside every beer — yeast.
Yeast takes the sugar that exists in a liquid and turns it into alcohol. It’s a divine sort of alchemy that has resulted in every brew you’ve ever had. These organisms have been getting us drunk for as long as we have been drinking. Where do they come from, however?
Originally, all yeast was wild. It existed in the air and inside organic material where it would feed. To make alcohol, one just had to leave something sweet out long enough. The yeast in the area would eventually find it, eat those sugars and leave it bubbly and boozey.
Nowadays, such is not the case. We’ve made it much more difficult. Instead of relying on just any old yeast to do the dirty work, we select strains based on all kinds of qualities. Different yeasts impart different flavors and can even affect the alcohol content of a brew. We’ve seriously upped our quality control game since it all began.
All of these yeasts were also once wild. We’ve since learned how to farm them. When one of those wild guys settled down in a brew and added some awesome flavor, we wanted to know how to keep that yeast around. Sure, any yeast would get us drunk, but some didn’t taste quite so good. If we found one we liked, we’d feed it to keep it around. Feeding it would make it reproduce, which would mean more yeast for more beer. It’s a never ending cycle of awesome.
Different yeast strains are at least partially responsible for the different types of beer. Lager and ale yeasts even ferment beer in different ways. With all these yeasts, who would want to go back to wild fermentation?
The answer? A lot of breweries. Some styles, such as Lambics, count on the wild yeasts that exist in the regions they are brewed in. There is something exciting about the rusticness of it all. It’s like eating wild game — except, you know, it’s beer.
This week, I am drinking Riserva, an American wild ale brewed by Weyerbacher. It promises an ABV of 11.4 percent, making for an exceptionally boozey brew. This is paired with raspberry puree and oak barrel aging to produce an exceptionally promising beer.
The pour was a pink-tinged amber with a decent amount of head. It left some rather nice lacing down the side of the glass. The scent was slightly musty with definite notes of raspberry and a bit of an oaky scent. There was just the slightest funk to the smell, which promised some sourness.
The taste certainly delivered. At first, all I tasted was the sour. It wasn’t overbearing, but it did drown out the more subtle flavors. As the tongue quickly acclimated, the raspberries hit full force. There was no telling where the sour ended and the tart berries began. This was all laid down upon a great oak backbone that lent a great amount of sophistication to the brew. There even existed a slight bit of black pepperyness on the back end.
This was an exceptionally smooth drinking beer for the amount of alcohol in it. The wild yeast imparted complexities to the brew that one would be hard pressed to find in other brews. As with every beer they brew, Weyerbacher has made another great one. Riserva — with its raspberry and oak pairings — really lets the wild yeast shine.
JJ — V
THE GOOD: Swedish duo JJ is back with a more ambitious third album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These two (producer/instrumentalist Joakim Benon and vocalist Elin Kastlander) feel like a modern indie folk act upon first listen. Their music is low-key and tranquil, soft and inviting. Go below the surface though and you’ll find many strange flavors to savor. A pinch of the electronic and twinges of hip-hop weave in and out of the darker passages with an unpredictable yet harmonious mix as the end result.
Now on V, it appears the two are reaching for a bolder and bigger sound. Tracks like “Dynasti” and “Fagelsangen” are fuller and more layered than past efforts with the melodies soaring higher than ever before, the rhythms more pronounced. Kastlander is also coming out of her shell more as a vocalist, bringing her charming personality more to the forefront.
All elements combine to create an album that is both gorgeous and achingly romantic; an emotional rush turning on tears of joy.
BUY IT?: Surely.
MUSIC GO MUSIC — Impressions
THE GOOD: Bodies of Water side project Music Go Music returns with their second.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Anchored by married couple David and Meredith Metcalf (under the pseudonyms Torg and Gala Bell), Music Go Music could be considered the ultimate indie guilty pleasure. Their records are nothing but seamless beats, chugging guitar riffs, rolling keyboards and big, beautiful hooks. Galloping tracks like “Tell Me How It Feels” and “Part of Me” sound like contemporary takes on Abba classics. Soaring pieces such as lead single “Love Is All I Can Hear” and “Never Get Over You” are emotional roller coasters colored with deep shades of melancholy.
Impressions is the kind of record you go into only for pure pleasure. There’s no depth and there isn’t supposed to be. Music Go Music seems completely unapologetic about what they do — but that’s what side projects are for. The band has all the fun and we as listeners bask in the glory.
BUY IT?: Yes.
TENNIS — Ritual In Repeat
THE GOOD: Colorado duo Tennis (husband and wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore) get bolder on their third.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What started out as a quaint little study in gorgeous indie pop has remained so, only the sound has progressively gotten bigger. On Ritual, there are even moments with muscle; the forceful push of opening cut “Night Vision” immediately comes to mind.
At its core though, the album is still an inviting set of precious melodies delivered by Moore’s tight soothing harmonies (one part gothic Cocteau Twins, one part vintage Andrews Sisters). Musically, we roll from the swaying “Bad Girls” to the pre-Beatle vibes coloring “Timothy” to the Baroque flavored “This Isn’t My Song.” The atmosphere rarely changes, but the sounds and styles do. The record never falls into a rut.
Lyrically, the tales told are more personal and not completely carefree (the duo’s first record was largely inspired by an extended boat trip). So changes abound.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Mike Evans is a super cool radio guy who doesn’t mess around when it comes to music. Sounds appears weekly in electric city and diamond city. Send email to: email@example.com.
NOISE FROM THE SHADOWS
SPOON — They Want My Soul
THE GOOD: After taking time off to recharge their batteries, Texas indie rockers Spoon return with a rock solid eighth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman/songwriter Britt Daniel and his crew could take their blend of no-nonsense soulful rock with its airtight rhythms and bruised guitars, make the same album over and over again and not too many people would complain. Their stuff always turns out sneakily intelligent and incredibly infectious.
Perhaps the secret to Spoon’s longevity though is the fact they could keep making the same record, but don’t. Every jewel in the catalog has its own unique twist. On Soul, the band sounds more aware (proud?) of its identity than ever before. Songs like “Knock Knock Knock,” “Let Me Be Mine” and the title cut buzz and hum like a well oiled machine yet still retain a slightly dangerous spontaneity. This train can spin off the rails at any time, but we’re still grooving.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.
INTERPOL — El Pintor
THE GOOD: New York indie rockers Interpol have regrouped and now offer their fifth.
THE BAD: The band has yet to top their first two records (2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights and 2004’s Antics). El Pintor also doesn’t, but it’s a step in the right direction and comes in at a not-too-distant third.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Now a trio, the band took time off after touring behind their weakest, 2010’s maudlin self-titled effort. They sound re-energized. While El Pintor doesn’t reek of innovation or much progression, the songs are certainly better.
There are moody bits harkening back to the band’s haunting debut; slow burns like “Breaker 1” and “Twice and Hard.” For the most part though, the set is big on jagged guitars and rhythms stacked with forward momentum. Cuts like “All the Rage Back Home” and “Everything Is Wrong” retain the dark atmosphere, but also pack on the forceful backbeats and killer hooks.
BUY IT?: Yes. Then dig in deep or just enjoy the ride.
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 — The Physical World
THE GOOD: Canadian dance/punk duo DFA79 (drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler) return with a blistering sophomore effort.
THE BAD: Ten years is a long time to wait for a second album. Expectations may be too high.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guys broke up due to “creative differences” after touring for 2004’s genre-bending You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. The two later shook hands in 2011, played some shows and finally got around to recording the Physical World with producer Dave Sardy (Cold War Kids, Nine Inch Nails, OK GO).
We get 11 fiery anthems in 36 minutes, with the record’s sequencing frantic and leaving little room to breathe. Tracks like “Right On Frankenstein” and “Gemini” blur the lines between punk and the electronic, garage rock and even nu metal. The duo madly jumps amongst the varying styles with wicked abandon. The end result is punchy, loud and catchy — not necessarily a bold step forward, but it gets the job done.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
The Apple of My Eye and the U2 in My
At least it’s not a free @Fergie record lurking inside your device. #itcouldbeworse #freeU2
U2’s Bono is a charitable man. Over the years, he’s lent his support to causes such as Amnesty International, Chernobyl Children International, Clinton Global Initiative, Every Mother Counts, Food Bank For New York City, Global Fund, Greenpeace, Keep A Child Alive, Live 8, MusiCares, NAACP, Not On Our Watch, ONE Campaign, Oxfam, (RED), Red Cross and War Child, just to name a few.
But the man who puts so much of his time and effort into impacting the lives of others may have overstepped his rock star boundaries earlier this month by inserting himself and his band of Irish brothers into your Apple device, all without your much-needed consent.
On Sept. 9, Apple inserted the band’s Songs of Innocence into the online accounts of half a billion iTunes users. Like most, I really would have preferred being able to choose whether or not to add the new record to my account. Instead, it automatically shimmied its way into my library without my permission. To say the least, people were not too happy with the stunt.
Are we so jaded as a society that we don’t even like free stuff anymore ?
Is music still valuable and do you expect to pay for it?
Is the music industry so damaged that they can’t even give away music theses days?
This whole debacle comes down to the power of choice. People didn’t choose to give up their own assumed personal space (iPhone or iPad storage) for U2 to simply mosey on in and put their digital feet on the coffee table.
The biggest problem I see is that Apple made a very personal choice for us. They decided that U2 was exactly what we needed and most people would be pretty pumped about a new free album. It’s like going home, opening your closet and finding that Apple has decided to equip you with 30 neon-colored Bananarama T-shirts when you really would have preferred more flannel prints and durable denim.
I made the joke earlier that it could be worse — at least it wasn’t a new Fergie record. I only use Fergie as an example because she annoys me and I would never want one of her records eating up my storage, but the point isn’t about the artist in the crosshairs. It’s about the choice that was made for us.
Wouldn’t it have been better for Apple to provide its users a credit on their account so they could actually choose music, movies or apps they wanted in their lives?
Was Apple prepared for the U2 backlash? It sure doesn’t seem like the thought even crossed the company’s mind as it was forced to quickly come up with a way to remove the unwanted album from our devices.
Now, who’s going to come over to my place and get rid of these Bananarama shirts?
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: David Garza Overdub (Atlantic) 2001
P.S. I like U2, but Songs of Innocence is not a great U2 record. I don’t blame the band for taking a huge iCheck from Apple and setting it “free.”
Editor Tom Graham is a musician and singer/songwriter rooted in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
FLIGHTS OF FANCY
BLEACHERS — Strange Desire
THE GOOD: Jack Antonoff, mastermind of Fun, starts a new band and calls it Bleachers.
THE BAD: Fun isn’t finished, so it’s difficult to look at Strange Desire as little more than an accomplished side project. Maybe forget all the “band parameters” and just go with it?
THE NITTY GRITTY: The album’s first half isn’t all that different from a Fun set with Antonoff churning out tight catchy indie pop anthems like the seamless “Rollercoaster” and fist-pumping sing-along “I Wanna Get Better.”
The second half of Strange Desire finds our boy stretching beyond previous boundaries, collaborating with the likes of electronic pixie Grimes (the liquid “Take Me Away”) and legendary avant-garde artist Yoko Ono (the ghostly “I’m Ready to Move On/Wild Heart Reprise”).
Antonoff ends up creating something miles apart from Fun and yet this new music somehow complements the work of his already established band. Longtime fans will find themselves challenged in spots, but they should all discover much to embrace.
BUY IT?: Sure.
BASEMENT JAXX — Junto
THE GOOD: British electronic duo Basement Jaxx (DJ’s/producers/composers Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton) are back with their seventh full-length (and first in five years) Junto.
THE BAD: A Basement Jaxx record has never sounded this “safe.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first half of Junto finds the guys stuck in a dance-pop rut, cranking out a half dozen house cuts with textbook rhythms and interchangeable guest vocalists taking the leads.
The second half sees the boys getting more adventurous so there is some recovery. Cuts like the off-center and cheeky “Buffalo” and the stomping exotic “Mermaid of Salinas” recall some of the more lively jams from earlier triumphs Rooty (2001) and Crazy Itch Radio (2006). But even those vast improvements might be too little, too late. Junto puts you in an indifferent mood early on, like being trapped at a party that just isn’t happening. Maybe dive into the record’s second half first?
BUY IT?: Your choice. Hopefully the next set will be more exciting.
LETTING UP DESPITE GREAT FAULTS — Neon
THE GOOD: Texas-based indie dream-pop outfit Letting Up Despite Great Faults returns with their ethereal third full-length.
THE BAD: A handful of the songs feel half-cooked — petering out before reaching their final glorious destination. After awhile though, Neon becomes more about an overall vibe anyway, with the individual parts forming a much greater whole.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman and founder Mike Lee keeps things beat-driven but airy. Annah Fisette adds more Technicolor to the proceedings by offering up female vocals of which Lee can play off; the two voices ending up somewhere between the Postal Service and vintage Book of Love.
One detects shades of early Cure during the faster jagged bits and snippets of mid-period New Order within some of the basslines. Then you have the obligatory comparisons to contemporaries like M83 and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
The entire brew becomes something very retro, melodic, rhythmic and hypnotic. So dance or drift — the choice is entirely yours.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Ben is Back
It was announced earlier this week that the newly realigned Breaking Benjamin will play two all-ages shows this weekend. On Friday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 20, the band returns to the stage of Gator’s Pub and Eatery (formerly Brews Brothers West/VooDoo Lounge), 75 Main St., Luzerne. The band recently announced its new lineup including founder Ben Burnley and new members Shaun Foist, Aaron Bruch, Jasen Rauch and KJ Wallen. Breaking Benjamin went on hiatus in 2010 citing Burnley’s heath concerns. Burnley has since been involved in a legal battle with former bassist Mark Klepaski and guitarist Aaron Fink over the rights to the band’s name. Both Klepaski, Fink and former drummer Chad Szeliga have kept very active within the local music scene since the band’s hiatus and breakup.
Tickets are very limited and are on sale now through the links below. Tickets are $35, only available in advance and limited to 700 per night. Tickets are available through Ticketfly (Friday ticketfly.com/purchase/event/685837 and Saturday at ticketfly.com/purchase/event/686829.
Dragster Motor Kings celebrated the release of its new record with a special in-store performance at Joe Nardone’s Gallery Of Sound, Mundy Street, Wilkes-Barre. The band consists of Bill Lieback on vocals/drums and Eric Ritter on guitars, both formerly of local act, NewPastLife. All songs on the Dragster Motor Kings EP were written by Lieback and recorded at Windmill Agency Recording Studio in Mt. Cobb. Songs included on the debut include “Feels So Good,” “Morning Is Beautiful, “Bury Your Soul” and “Piggy.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/dragstermotorkings or dragstermotorkings.com.
An event in memory of Kathleen Cavanaugh Talerico, who died in January 2014 after falling victim to domestic violence, Kathleen’s Crusade takes place this Sunday, Sept. 21, from 3 to 7 p.m., at the Radisson at Lackawanna Station Hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton. Admission to the event is $20, with all proceeds benefitting the Women’s Resource Center in honor of Talerico. The day features music from EJ the DJ and a photobooth provided by Mike Walton Productions.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: My Brightest Diamond This Is My Hand (Paper Bag/Asthmatic Kitty) 2014
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
A lot of beer styles are named after the color of the brew. We have blondes and browns. There are black ales and ambers. The hue of these brews is a good indication of what you can expect from the taste. From the nuttiness of a brown and the light bodied maltyness of a blonde, the colors correspond with tastes that we know and love.
Today, I want to talk about a color of ale that doesn’t get enough respect. It has been called the color of love, seduction and violence. When we’re angry, we’re said to see this vibrant hue. It brings about feelings of fire and passion. I’m talking about the color red.
While it is relatively easy to find a brown or amber ale, finding a red ale isn’t quite so simple. The most well known is the infamous Killian’s Irish Red. Smithwick’s is perhaps a bit more traditional. Both are delightfully malty and delicious. Knowing the qualities of these two brews, it should be easy to pin down what a red ale is, right?
Unfortunately, not so much. They don’t really exist as their own style as far as the Great American Beer Festival, a sort of governing body on beer styles and quality is concerned. They’re lumped together with Ambers to create one overly broad group. Most people who have had a red ale can tell you that there is something that sets it apart from an amber ale. There is something distinctive about a red ale that makes it what it is.
They might just not be able to tell you what that thing is, however.
Despite the lack of official classification, there is a general consensus. The thing that makes a red ale a red ale is the malt. It’s not so much the variety of malt, though that plays into the flavor of any beer, but the process it undergoes. The malt in a red ale is toasted, just like that of a porter or stout. The difference is that the malt in a red ale is stopped earlier, when it has turned a toasted red color instead of that black of a stout or porter. This enhances the malt tastes with some tasty toasty roasted flavor.
This week, I’m drinking Stoudts’ Revel Red. The pour was a beautiful dark red color with a khaki head that left lacing down the side of the glass. There was the familiar scent of caramel and sweet biscuit in the nose. This was also accompanied by floral hops and a bit of pine. This was a bit more hop scent that I was used to in a red.
The taste was great. It led with the sweet toasted malt flavor. It was like honey and biscuits. This was followed up by a decent, but not overpowering, hop bite. It cuts through the sweetness in such a way that keeps it from becoming cloying and leaves you wanting more. The bitter hops linger slightly on the tongue.
This was a great take on the red style. The hops added a rather nice touch, adding both depth and drinkability. Whatever it was that makes a red ale a red ale, Revel Red has it. If you’re looking to travel farther into the world of reds, this is a good pick. In this particular case, red must indeed be the color of love.
THE INTENSITY VARIES
STAGNANT POOLS — Geist
THE GOOD: Indiana indie duo Stagnant Pools (brothers Bryan and Douglass Enas) give us a fiery, spontaneous second effort.
THE BAD: It takes a while for Geist to sink in — what seems one-dimensional at first sounds more fully realized later. Give it a fair shot.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After releasing their first album, Temporary Room, two years ago, the brothers were rightfully compared to a lot of noise-infused acts like Joy Division, Sonic Youth and especially the Jesus and Mary Chain. Those feedback-heavy elements are certainly present on Geist.
However, there’s now another vibe running through this wicked live-to-tape album that was completely recorded and mixed in the span of about five days. I was reminded of the better American rock bands that were an offshoot of the grunge movement almost 25 years ago — rough-around-the-edges outfits like Screaming Trees, Paw and Jawbox. There’s a very effective “murkiness” flooding Geist; a fresh take on some long dormant sounds.
BUY IT?: Sure.
REIGNING SOUND — Shattered
THE GOOD: North Carolina indie rockers Reigning Sound come back sharper after a five-year hiatus.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/guitarist/songwriter Greg Cartwright has always been the one constant in this band of revolving-door musicians; a slave to the garage-rock ethos since long before garage rock was the “new” thing at the turn of our century. Back in 2001, the White Stripes and the Strokes got the glory. Cartwright was just as authentic.
Subsequent years and releases have seen more roots and country elements sneaking their way into the tunes, but Cartwright has never sacrificed rawness. Shattered finds the band with a fresh lineup and a sound that’s equal parts contemporary (Wilco and Jack White) and a throwback to our distant blues/rock past (Canned Heat and Country Joe & the Fish). There’s even a dash of Memphis soul sprinkled over a few cuts.
Ballad (“I’m Trying”) or forceful rocker (“North Cackalacky Girl”) — Reigning Sound tackles them both with equal skill and passion.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
THE LAST INTERNATIONALE — We Will Reign
THE GOOD: Politically charged New York rockers the Last Internationale unleash a blazing debut.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This down-and-dirty power trio consists of newcomers Delila Paz and Edgey Pires, along with veteran drummer Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave). And while their music may not be quite as incendiary as RATM’s, there’s still a lot of fire (and a definite agenda) in tunes like “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Indian Blood” and “Killing Fields.”
Musically, Reign is straight-forward rough-and-tough blue collar rock ‘n’ roll — no frills, no B.S. The band, along with veteran producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, the Offspring), gives this lean, mean album plenty of muscle. The brazen bits show their razor-sharp teeth, while the more delicate pieces roll around in a nice bluesy swagger. Paz is already a fierce bad-ass rocker chick and the band itself is airtight.
BUY IT?: You must. We Will Reign is one of this year’s finest debuts.
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?
NoNoNo — We Are Only What We Feel
THE GOOD: Swedish trio NoNoNo delivers a bouncy debut full-length.
THE BAD: Feel is catchy, but incredibly hollow.
THE NITTY GRITTY: We essentially have two producers and a female vocalist conjuring up modern indie pop in the sing-song folksy half-acoustic, half-electric tradition of contemporaries like Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This is the stuff wholly embraced by editors who cut movie trailers for teen flicks, ad men pitching ideas to cell phone companies and modern rock radio programmers who like to keep it dull and not too “edgy.”
You get by-the-numbers feel-good fluffy music that sets your toes-a-tapping and turns your brain to mush. The trio actually scored a genuine hit last fall with the joyfully whistling “Pumping Blood” (included here). Feel is nine more tracks cut from the same cloth — infectious little stompers that bleed into one another after about 15 minutes. Nothing disagreeable, but nothing very memorable either.
BUY IT?: Whatever.
BISHOP ALLEN — Lights Out
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rockers Bishop Allen return with their first proper record in five years.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Lights Out works on different levels. On the surface, it’s a damn infectious indie pop record. Songs like bright opener “Start Again” and the slightly melancholy “Good Talk” are built with decent beats and better melodies.
Listen again and complexities begin to bubble to the surface. Lights Out is much more varied than you initially thought. Amongst all the sheer pop bombast are tunes like “Black Hole” and “Shadow;” gentler emotional moments made even more distinct by Darbie Nowatka’s female vocals. Tracks such as “Hammer and Nail” and “Bread Crumbs” dial up the album’s quirky elements; nothing wrong with these off-center rhythms and weird lyrical images.
It all adds up to a mostly upbeat collection that can enhance your next intimate get together, Sunday morning lay-about or headphones session. Lights Out is worthy of your undivided attention yet doesn’t demand it.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
PHOX — Phox
THE GOOD: Wisconsin indie pop outfit Phox releases a decent debut.
THE BAD: The set loses momentum around its middle and never fully recovers. This is definitely a record of highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by the low-key yet charming Monica Martin, Phox could cozy up to other modern folk-influenced acts like Lumineers and Mumford and Sons. They certainly use enough acoustic guitars and banjos to warrant the comparison. But Phox also injects a healthy dose of twee into their sound, recalling European female-fronted acts like the Concretes and Camera Obscura.
Intentional or not, this band defies simple categorization and that keeps things interesting. While floating through this eponymous debut, one experiences many flavors, from the gently rolling “1936” to the intensely melancholy “Laura” to the more monumental “Raspberry Seed.”
BUY IT?: Give Phox a shot. Though not flawless, the record finds the band establishing an almost “international” style and laying the groundwork for even better releases further down the road.