Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thank God We're Hot Chicks With Super Powers

And now, dear readers, it is time for the post I have been dreading having to write for almost a year now.

Buffy Season 7 - Part 2

Joss Whedon, what the fuck were you thinking? Unlike many, I loved Buffy right up until the end of the sixth season, yet even I wept silent tears of grief as I watched season seven. But before we get into that, lets start out by noting the things that were good about the episodes in this DVD collection. Sadly, this will be a short section.

There are a grand total of two decent episodes on these three discs. In 'Lies My Parents Told Me', much of the action is set in one of Spike's flashbacks as he relives the immediate aftermath of becoming a vampire. The writers take their obligatory (for this season) journey into stupidity by wedging in some dopey Oedipal nonsense behind his character, but the flashback is still great for two reasons. One, James Marsters is actually a decent actor (unlike many on this show) and makes the best of the lame material. And two, Drusilla. Specifically the line “You want to bring your mum wif us...?”

The other good episode is 'Storyteller', the obligatory redemption episode for Andrew, one of the villains from the previous season. Once again the writers do their best to ruin it by deciding for no good reason to waste time on a full series exposition for the first half of the episode, but they make up for it with a lot of good humour centred around Andrew's character, who was one of the few characters left in the show with some life left in them by this late stage in the tale. It also ends with the only truly successful redemption scene of Buffy's entire run, with Andrew tearfully admitting to Buffy that he murdered his friend (and tears of remorse being the only thing that can close the portal that the murder/sacrifice opened up. Nice. See Joss and co, you do still know how to do this stuff right! Sometimes.)

Lastly, they don't fuck up the season finale. It's nothing out of the ordinary, and is very predictable (best summed up by Television Without Pity's recap: “Anya dies. Spike dies. Buffy lives”), but at least it was competently executed, defying fandoms collective low expectations at the time it aired.

But argh... the badness! After six years of cheesy but consistent character and thematic development, it all goes out the window here. I never understood what the deal with Buffy's constant speechifying and the climactic scene where she is abandoned by all her friends was all about. Is she supposed to be in the right or in the wrong? My interpretation is that every character involved is an idiot. Buffy for refusing to admit her error in leading her young charges into a slaughter, and then proposing to do it again, and all the rest for casting their friend, leader and saviour out on the street when she's the only person likely to save them from the impending apocalypse.

The case for the prosecution may also list a general lack of unforced humour, haphazard plotting and worse than usual acting (curiously enough, Sarah Michelle Gellar does better than usual in this department. I suspect the sense of maturity that Buffy gives off in this season, like she's looking at the big picture and seeing further than the others comes from Gellar phoning it in because it's her last season, she's sick of this shit and she just doesn't give a fuck). The nadir of the series comes in the penultimate episode when Buffy faces off against Caleb, an evil Catholic priest imbued with the power of a god. He also happens to be misogyny incarnate, and to their credit the writers don't overdo this. They set up a very nice climactic battle in which Buffy (feminism incarnate), has a chance to kick his arse. But then what happens? Buffy gets knocked on her back, is about to be penetrated killed by an axe, when Angel busts in and saves the day with a strong manly punch to the jaw, looking for all the world like a leading man from a 1930s movie. Sure, Buffy still gets to deliver the killing blow, but what the fuck?! The moral of the story is that the strongest woman in the world still always needs to be saved by a man? I'm certain that the writers (in this case Douglas Petrie and Jane Espenson) didn't intend that interpretation but Jesus... for fucks sake... don't you people ever think about these things before you write them down in a screenplay?!

The DVD extras are nothing super interesting, just the usual self congratulatory stuff. In the past Joss Whedon has been surprisingly open about admitting the flaws of his creations, but there's no hint here that he's even vaguely aware that people might not have been as happy with this effort as they were with earlier ones. There's also a curious collection of scenes from the wrap party, in which they interview every major actor and behind the scenes person from the show, with one notable exception (hint: it's the person the show is named after).

But lets not dwell too much on the fact that its last season was shit. As no doubt you have all realised by now, I honestly believe that Buffy was the best thing to ever be shown on TV, ever. I will acknowledge that it often vacillated erratically between nonsensical cartoon goofiness and overwrought melodrama, that a lot of the acting was pretty terrible and that for every well thought out, subtly drawn allegory there were two episodes where the conceit was bashed over the head of the viewer with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. Despite all that, it was one of the wittiest shows of all time, and although the serious side of the show didn't always work as well, it more than made up for it with its limitless charm and constantly inventive originality.

Most importantly, it deserves respect for introducing complex and long running plots into the land of television, paving the way for Lost, Heroes, the new Doctor Who and the rest of the current crop of smart(er) TV, and most of all for being one of only a few pop culture phenomena to promote a 'girl power' message which was genuinely feminist, and not just chauvinism dressed up in a funny hat and glasses (did you hear the Spice Girls are doing a comeback tour?)

Lastly, a spot of good news. Early reports have it that the new Buffy comic series (season eight) is not too bad. I won't be getting it until it comes out as a collection but I'm very much looking forward to it. More good news. Angel is being resurrected in comic book form too!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Books With Pictures. Two Of Them

Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots
by those guys from Penny Arcade

If you play video games and use the internet (and obviously you already do the latter) then you know what Penny Arcade is already. If not, then you will most likely be completely bewildered, confused and probably offended by every thing in this book.

This collection is the first in a series of compilations of the webcomic, and it's surprisingly worthwhile. These guys were worth a few laughs almost right from the start; before we are even ten pages in we get to one of my all time favourites of theirs.

The book itself contains the expected extras, a couple of introductions, a few pages of sketches and a rant by the authors at the end which is quite good. It's about webcomics as a business but the point is extendible to the entire arena of internet commerce, and it's mismanagement by big business. There is also a short commentary from the writers for every strip. For some reason they neglected to say exactly which of the guys wrote each commentary, which is slightly annoying (although it's always obvious from context when it matters), but they do make the book less superfluous, (considering that the entire archive is available online for free). Of course, a lot of the comments on the earlier entries are along the lines of “Wow that really sucks. Lets move on to the next one” or “Apparently we were really pissed off at these guys. So pissed off that we depicted them getting flayed alive. I can't remember what they'd done that was so bad now” (there's a little lesson there about saying things in anger) and quite frequently “Yeah I don't know what the hell we're talking about here either.”

The number of variations on that last comment that appear is telling. If you're not immersed in the subculture (and I showed my favourite strip to my sister in order to verify to myself that this is the case) all of this may as well be megaGAMERZ 3133T, and sometimes it doesn't make sense to anyone, even the authors. But it's all part of their charm. Even though How Proust Can Change Your Life was the first book to make me laugh out loud in a long time, this book had me chuckling into the wee hours for the whole three days it took me to read it.

Lucifer: Exodus
by Mike Carey

The only reason I bought this was because I am incapable of leaving a bookshop with only one purchase, and it was the only vaguely interesting comic I could find to accompany Penny Arcade.

I'd become bored with the last few collections of Lucifer, and I had little interest in continuing the story. Not much changed my mind in the first few chapters of this collection, although I was pleased that the Nickelodean style of art that plagued alternating issues up until now has finally dropped out of the series.

To my surprise I found myself really enjoying the second, major storyline of this collection. I believe that it is because the main plot, which has plugged steadily onward for book after book with one jaw dropping, mind blowing cosmic event after another, none of which have dropped my jaw or blown my mind, was set aside for a slightly more low key arc which focused on a smaller bunch of secondary characters that I rather like. I might just pick up the next volume after all.

See also Lucifer Volumes 1, 2&3, 4, 5, 6

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Good Result

But needs improvement:

Online Dating


Monday, June 25, 2007

Mike Patton?!

Peeping Tom - Live at Enmore Theatre, Sydney, June 21st

I was not terribly excited by Mike Patton's latest project Peeping Tom on record but it was only a disappointment by Patton's standards and considering that far and away the two best concerts I've ever attended were both for Tomahawk (one of Patton's other bands) it was a no brainer to grab a ticket to this show.

The Enmore Theatre is a nice venue. They have thoughtfully segregated the main theatre area into two sections, one section in front of the stage and one further back. The front section is also connected to the bar, which means that the snivelling, disgusting swarm of under eighteen year olds are safely quarantined away at the back of the audience, hurrah!

We found a nice place near the front and slightly off to the side. The opening act was Tango Saloon, who played an inventive mix of jazz, latin music and Morricone style western film music. Remind anyone of Secret Chiefs 3? There's no explicit musical connection but I thought that their drummer looked familiar and wikipedia verifies that he is in fact Danny Heifitz, formerly of Mr. Bungle and who joined Secret Chiefs 3 on their recent Australian tour. Tango Saloon are a fantastic band, very skilled performers all and with highly original and creative songs. They're based in Sydney so I shall make an effort to keep abreast of their comings and goings.

Tango Saloon

As for the headliners, the essence of the concert can be summed up by acknowledging that Mike Patton is the coolest guy alive. In concert he's full of boundless energy and wit, and simply exudes charisma. Watching him makes me realise why musical legends of the past such as Elvis or Jim Morrison are so idolised. As much as I appreciate them on record I've never quite understood why people loved them quite as much as they do. I now suspect that there's something about these guys (i.e. charisma) that can only be witnessed in person.

Peeping Tom is more or less a hip hop band, and they had quite a few people on stage. A bass, guitar and drums rhythm section were tucked away on stage left, while opposite them were a DJ and a keyboards/synth guy. Once these guys took the stage and began playing a spacey intro the crowd's chant of “We want Mike” finally bore fruit and he took the stage with a female co-vocalist on each arm. They then busted into a cover of Marvin Gaye's 'Desperate Situation', which was then immediately followed by my favourite Peeping Tom song 'Mojo'.

Peeping Tom take the stage

It was just brilliant seeing Mike Patton with this band. Tomahawk's music is melancholy and eerie, so as you might expect Patton's performing persona is a little different for this band, as the music is far more upbeat and fun. Mike jumps around the stage and engages in constant audience banter and encouragement. Best frontman ever.

Imani Coppola

The setlist consisted of the entire Peeping Tom album, plus a few covers (the aforementioned 'Desperate Situation' and 'Across 110th Street' by Bobby Womack), solo spots and, much to my delight, 'Get Up Punk!' from the collaborative album Mike Patton did with the X-Ecutioners.

The only partway decent picture I got of Mike Patton

Some complaints:
  • More munters than I expected, I thought this band would draw a more mature (by which I don't mean older) crowd.
  • The DJs solo piece went on for too long. I was bored.

A few highlights:
  • The two backup vocalists were rapper/beatboxer Butterscotch and singer/violinist Imani Coppola. The violin was a nice touch but Butterscotch almost upstaged Patton with her unbelievable beatboxing solo, in which she combined the abilities of a drum machine and the sound effects guy from Police Academy, and sang at the same time! You could hear the audience's jaws collectively hit the floor.
  • Some random guy managing to get on stage and hug Mike Patton. Patton hands him the microphone and the guy uses his moment of glory to say “Whooooooooooooo!” and stage dive into the crowd. Security was ready to pounce on him but Mike stayed their hand, “Hey, leave that guy alone, he's my buddy. Me and him go way back” claiming to have met him in a whorehouse in Kings Cross. Later on a girl got on stage and started laying big wet kisses on Mike's cheeks. He just stood there and said “I'm not looking, I'm not turning around to see who that is...” and she got dragged away by security.
  • The last song of the main set, 'Sucker', was dedicated to Mike's favourite Aussie rock band, Wolfmother. I laughed.
  • Mike giving some dude in the front row shit for no reason, “C'mon, laugh ya little rugrat!”
  • 'Get Up Punk' and 'Mojo'. Fucking awesome.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Doors To Fire

Isis – Celestial

On the hearty recommendation of some drunk dude at the Isis concert I made an effort to pick up a few of their older albums. Celestial is their first full length release, and while it's good it doesn't live up to the standard set by their later albums.

Panopticon, In the Absence of Truth and to a lesser degree Oceanic all consist of flawlessly arranged compositions that ebb and flow from moody ambience to powerful, crushing climaxes. The songs on Celestial on the other hand are a more just a collection of great riffs strung together. Awesome, passionately delivered riffs mind you, but at this stage in the band's career their songwriting craft hadn't matured into their later brilliance.

Lest I damn this album unfairly by comparing it to the masterpieces that succeeded it, I must note that there is no denying the awesomeness of the title track, specifically it's kick arse opening riff and the spacey ambient outro. There are plenty of great moments to be found on this album, just not as many as on their later ones and not as sublimely composed.

Isis – The Red Sea

Curiously enough if we go back in time a bit further to one of their earliest EP releases we're back into the realm of total brilliance. The Red Sea differs a lot in style to their later albums, being far heavier and just generally more metal. The opening track, 'Charmicarmicarmicat Shines to Earth', is a doom metal song almost like something Sunn O))) or Boris would do. The rest of the album finds Isis on more familiar territory but with a fiery anger not found on their later albums. The songs are nowhere near as complex or dynamic as their later work, but nonetheless if all you want is music that rocks out like a motherfucker then you can't go wrong with this one.

I still wouldn't rank this EP as highly as Panopticon or In the Absence of Truth, but it still comes with the Wildebeest Asylum guarantee of awesomeness.

Celestial is worthwhile, but not essential. However it must be respected for marking the turning point at which Isis changed from talented but derivative purveyors of sludge metal to being one of the greatest bands in the world and for more or less creating the entire genre of post metal.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Random New Blog Of The Day

I'm prepared to suffer the shame of admitting I read more than a few Babysitters Club books during my misspent youth in order to tell you that BSC Headquarters is a damn funny read.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sepherah Chokmah

Secret Chiefs 3 – Book M

Secret Chiefs blew me away totally with their live show last month and I was compelled afterwards to buy a CD in order to comfort me from the disappointment of not being able to go to the second gig (as usual the merchandise stall was all sold out of t-shirts in my size).

Book M is similar to their next album Book of Horizons which I have owned for some years. Trey Spruance and co blend traditional music, surf rock, psytrance and death metal together in an unlikely but sublime brew. On Book of Horizons they actually separated the different styles of the band into different sub bands and attributed each song to one of these bands, while on Book M the mishmash of influences is more... mished and mashed.

Take for example 'Zulfikar III', which closed the main set at their gig and from what I can tell is a real fan favourite song. It opens with spacey atmospherics which are shortly accompanied by drums and synthesisers in a nice dark groove that wouldn't be out of place on an Infected Mushroom or Juno Reactor record. Before long it's joined by an understated but forceful heavy metal guitar riff, and the melody is stated as a soaring call and answer between two violins. In the hands of most bands this would come out a mess but here it's brilliant.

To my ears the band are not quite as competent multi instrumentalists as they would later become on Book of Horizons as I can hear a few bits and pieces that sound not quite right, but other than that this is a great album that's every bit as good as its successor.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sequels To Beloved Classics Are Always Better Than The Originals

Sam and Max: Freelance Police Season 1

Telltale Games have done a great job with the new series of Sam and Max, keeping a timely release schedule for all six episodes and for the most part maintaining a high standard of quality throughout. Considering that this was the first high profile successful implementation of a episodic model for a video game, it's impressive that they pulled it off and I have very high expectations for next year's season.

The gameplay was generally very good and there's not much to add to my review of the first episode, although it must be noted that there were occasional instances, especially in the last episode, where the puzzles were far too obscure and non-intuitive and I was forced to resort to the most shameful act a gamer is capable of, looking up an internet walkthrough. Mind you this is a flaw that almost every adventure game ever released has suffered from so it's to be expected to a degree.

The quality of the writing varied quite a bit throughout the series. The first two episodes were competent, although you could tell that the writers were still finding their voice for the series, and the third, based around the lame premise of a casino run by a Mafia gang that dressed like teddy bears, was a bit of a slump. However they rebounded strongly with the fourth and fifth episodes, which were absolutely hysterical. The former because of it's brilliant plot; Sam and Max unwittingly kill the president of the USA, and Max ends up having to run for the office against a giant, malevolent robot Abraham Lincoln (and Ralph Nader). The fifth episode doesn't have such a strong plot (the internet turns evil) but makes up for it by being packed with clever dialogue and jokes. The last episode felt a bit rushed in comparison, as if their tight release schedule was finally catching up with the company, but it was still worthwhile, and I'm very much looking forward to season two.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Heart Shaped Box

by Joe Hill

I picked this one up because of a rave review by Neil Gaiman. Once again however it seems that an artist I love has tastes that both bewilder and disappoint me.

For those who are in the dark, Joe Hill is the pen name of horror writer Joseph Hillstrom King, whose reason for using a pseudonym is obvious once you know that his father's name is Stephen. As it happens it's almost comical how much Hill's style resembles his father's. Sure he's sexed things up with a lot of modern rock references (Trent Reznor gets namechecked dozens of times) but fundamentally it's the same mainstream sleaze and horror mix that has raked in huge royalties for King senior for so many years.

Heart Shaped Box starts with a brilliant hook; a semi-retired heavy metal icon buys a ghost over the internet, with the expected horror novel consequences. For the first two chapters it's fantastic stuff, fun, goofy and spooky all at the same time. However the author makes a fatal mistep in explaining the mystery behind the ghost and its connection to our protagonist a mere three chapters in, abruptly removing all suspense and any chance at genuinely scary horror (which admittedly he does pull off rather well in the first two chapters). For this reason, among others, the plot is a bit of a failure. A good horror story requires mystery and despite so much potential in the setup Hill pisses it all away almost immediately. Nor is there much suspense to be found being concerned for the characters either, as they're neither sympathetic nor interesting. The themes and deeper meaning of the story are integrated well but far too obvious. (There's this GHOST right? And it's from his PAST. And it's CHASING him.)

On the other hand, while How Proust Can Change Your Life is a breezy, petitely dimensioned two hundred pages but Heart Shaped Box is over three hundred and fifty in large paperback format and I finished them both in about the same time. This is attributable to one genuinely respectable talent that Hill has inherited directly from his father.

I've read a few mainstream novels in my time, or at least I've tried. Tom Clancy and John Grisham's offerings were both hurled viciously against the wall (literally) in disgust at their offensive stupidity before I managed to finish either novel. I did make it to the end of The Da Vinci Code, but was choking and gagging the whole way. Stephen King, although he is similar in stature to these authors in a commercial context, has kept me entertained more than a few times because he is simply a better writer by miles and his son shares this skill. His prose is nothing more than workmanlike, but it's the platonic ideal of workmanlike writing. Simple, direct, and great tasting contentless brain candy. While I was staying up well past midnight on a school night to devour this novel I was struck by the image of myself eating an entire packet of salt and vinegar potato chips. You know it's junk and it'll make you feel ill the next day but it just feels so good and satisfying to keep chomping on mouthful after mouthful until it's all gone.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

How Proust Can Change Your Life

by Alain De Botton

I've never read Proust and although the author of this book is not the first person I've heard to describe him as the most brilliant novelist of all time, I don't think that I am yet ready to tackle all seven weighty volumes of his masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. Y'know... there's a new Erikson out and Penny Arcade to read and all...

In any case How Proust Can Change Your Life makes a decent introduction to this celebrated novelist. It succinctly summarises the themes and lessons of his work and dwells on the qualities that make it so respected, while also informing us in casual asides of the author's (that is to say, Proust's) eccentric and entertaining life and behaviour. He was surprisingly intellectually lively for a hypochondriac who preferred not to leave his bed.

It helps that the author (that is to say, De Botton) is a fairly decent writer himself. The tone is a little overly mannered for my taste but his wit and good natured enthusiasm for the subject make it great fun to read. To my surprise I found myself laughing out loud before I was even a chapter in, and then realising that it was the first time a book had made me do that in a long while.

It certainly did whet my appetite to try some Proust, but cautionary early reports from someone who has dived into In Search of Lost Time have kept me away from the bookshop. It is now on the list, but it's still a long way behind Erikson...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Night And The Silent Water... Still So Dark

Opeth - Morningrise

We've skipped an album on my reverse journey of Opeth albums. My Arms My Hearse came between Still Life and Morningrise, but I'm sure my loyal readers will forgive me for skipping it, I haven't been CD shopping for a while. Morningrise is their second album and according to your average metal elitist on the street also their best. I'm going to risk being beaten to death the next time I go to a metal concert and come out and say that it's my least favourite out of all their albums that I've heard (which is everything except My Arms My Hearse and Orchid). Yes, I even prefer Ghost Reveries.

Morningrise is a decent listen, but the riffs are nowhere near as sublime and the arrangements not nearly as flawless as on Blackwater Park or Deliverance. I hate to say it but at some times the melodies have a lifelessly plodding medieval style that is reminiscent of, god help me, Satyricon. Particular offenders are the opening track 'Advent' and 'Black Rose Immortal'. The former song is just plain average while the latter contains some really good stuff but unfortunately not enough to fill up its twenty minute running time. On the other hand the obligatory acoustic song, 'To Bid You Farewell' is up to their usual standard (i.e. brilliant) and the bonus demo track 'Eternal Soul Torture' is also very good if you can get past the production issues, bringing a final blast of real metal where the rest of the album spends a lot of time noodling around on acoustic guitars.

And also I must note that I have only good things to say about 'The Night and the Silent Water', a mournful epic written about the death of Mikael's grandfather, which completely deserves it's reputation as a fan favourite.

I've said it before and I'll now say it again: even bad Opeth is great music.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You Know You Have Too Much Porn When...

... you have to tap in random characters every time you save a new image because the odds are that any given filename will be already used.

You know you have way too much porn when those strings of random letters start having to be ten or more characters long.

You know that the internet has made this all too easy when you just give up and start using another directory. And end up with the same problem in less than a week.

God damn you Babeonaut!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Queen's Birthday Emo Kid Amusement Park Extravaganza

Come Together
Luna Park, June 9th & 10th

So last weekend was Queen's Birthday over here (happy fucking birthday you worthless old bag!), and in the interests of getting wasted in new and exciting environments I attended the Come Together music festival.

Some ska band

The festival was held over two days and the venue was Luna Park, site of former concert going shenanigans involving Lamb of God / Killswitch Engage and Nine Inch Nails. The amusement park was actually open while the festival was on and tickets to Come Together were valid for unlimited rides on the attractions, so there was a bit of amusement to be had in seeing drunken metal heads mingling with preschool kids and their families in the queue for the ferris wheel.

Some other ska band. No idea what they're called but they were pretty good.

The venue was well suited to the festival. They split the stage in two and were very efficient at switching between bands, I don't recall waiting more than ten seconds for the next band to start after the last one finished, compared to say the Big Day Out where you are routinely waiting fifteen minutes between bands for say Marilyn Manson to finish throwing a tantrum at his roadies.
Yet another random ska band. I don't think I even stayed to watch any of their gig but took this photo of them sitting on one another's shoulders while playing.

The two days of the festival were fairly clearly divided into 'punk and hardcore' day and 'rock and metal' day. Due to my lack of reading comprehension skills I showed up nice and early on the Saturday only to realise that it was hardcore day and the only band I wanted to see were Norma Jean who were not on until about nine that evening. Since it was punk day the average age of the kids attending was probably about fifteen. I did my best to try and appreciate some of the earlier acts, and some of the ska bands that played were pretty good, but I couldn't stand the little shits in the hardcore audiences, who think they're superior to emos because when they listen to angry music they wave their arms around and pretend to hit each other. I spent most of the day out the back in the bar.

Some pop punk band. They sucked but I liked the way this photo came out.

As well as Norma Jean the other band I made a point of checking out was Carpathian, just because I've heard of them a little and they have a somewhat metal sounding name. They weren't too bad, and they certainly put the metal in metalcore with some brutal riffs, but I almost felt embarrassed standing next to these teenage kids windmilling their arms around in order to work out their frustrations about how unfairly their dad treats them. The band themselves were certainly not averse to encouraging this behaviour; urging “all you little fucking emos" into performing the wall of death and other such behaviour.

Carpathian: it's not a real metalcore concert until the singer calls the audience a bunch of faggots.

Norma Jean were OK but nothing special, and by this stage in the evening I was fairly drunk and cranky, and very sick of teenagers so I went home to coma and get up again for the next day.

Norma Jean: Damned by mediocrity and all day drinking

Sunday was much better. On the way through Luna Park someone recommended Regular John to me and they were playing as I arrived. They were enjoyable, reminding me a lot of The Have, or maybe a kind of grunge Led Zeppelin. It was also weird to notice that suddenly all the kids in Sydney are wearing Seattle style checked flannel. Is this a sudden fashion trend or is it just because it's been getting cold?
Regular John looking regular

Next up were Mourning Tide who were a fucking joke. Enjoyable in a very cheesy way but I sadly suspect that everything I found so funny about them was not intended to be that way. They sounded an awful lot like Guns and Roses only with death metal vocals and seemed to be as much about cock rock posturing as playing music. I felt sorry for Psycroptic, waiting patiently on the next stage to begin as Mourning Tide went through at least three drum fill packed fake endings to their last song.
Mourning Tide. This photo doesn't quite do justice to the posing.

I'd heard good things about Psycroptic, a death metal band from Tasmania, and they were one of the bands I was keenest to see. They played technically accomplished brutal death metal along the lines of Suffocation but I suspect that that style of music is reaching the limits of its appeal to me. It was a decent concert but nothing that really impressed me. I did feel a lot of sympathy for the band, who managed to open up an enormous circle pit that no one danced in, while in front of the stage were a huge, almost entirely female, gaggle of teenagers trying to be metal. “So this is what it has come to.” I thought to myself, “One of the meanest fucking death metal bands in Australia literally reduced to playing for a handful of fifteen year old girls.”
Psycroptic again. Bonus points for fucking rocking.

Next up were Ink. Their music was uninspiring, they made me think of a more metal version of Linkin Park, but they definitely got points for being the coolest looking band of the day. They also had hot girls in sexy black outfits dancing on stage and throwing giant black beach balls into the crowd. Believe it or not this is actually pretty typical for what passes as goth culture in Australia.

Ink. Believe it or not I forgot to take a photo of the dancing girls.

At this point I went to get something to eat and then of course on the way back I needed a drink...

[Scene Missing]

Some time later I shuffled out of the bar and on a whim decided to see a band I'd never heard of before called Mammal. As it turned out, they were fucking awesome. For some reason Australians seem to have a particular talent for funk metal. The first comparisons that came to mind for these guys were Rage Against the Machine or Faith No More, but on reflection they sound most like what the Red Hot Chilli Peppers would if they didn't suck. At any rate for the first time in two days the whole arena was packed out and going off. Popular opinion has it they were the best band of the festival and I would whole heartedly agree.

Mammal. Rocking.

I was tempted to stick around for Karnivool, but I had a vague feeling that I'd heard them before and didn't like them. I did come back out for Cog, who I did enjoy. They had a vaguely mathy style that for once actually did deserve to be described as mathematical, in a way that even Meshuggah doesn't.


Lastly, Shihad. I was surprised to realise just how popular they are over here (and even more so by the number of people who expressed disappointment to me that Blindspott cancelled). It was good to see these guys again, it's been four years since the last time I caught them live, and even then it was only because Fur Patrol were opening for them, having gone a bit dark on Shihad after the Pacifier debacle. But when you're a stranger in a strange land you take your Kiwi rock where you can find it so I rocked on up to the front of the stage for these guys, and had a pretty good time. They're still a good live band, 'Wait and See' and 'My Mind's Sedate' still rock and Jonny Toogood still looks like a cherubic schoolboy. The setlist was weighted towards new stuff, which was decent but not any kind of a return to form. Like a lot of bands these days they seem to want to reinvent themselves as U2. The old songs they played were 'My Mind's Sedate', 'Wait and See', 'Comfort Me' and 'The General Electric'. The first two were the highlights of the set, but I was surprised to find once again that 'Comfort Me' isn't all that bad. Maybe it just seems better in comparison to the rest of the Pacifier album. Anyway, it was a nice set to close out the night.


Lastly the headliners were Grinspoon, so I went home. Well actually, to the casino, but that's another story.

Monday, June 11, 2007

You Gotta Put Down The Ducky...

...if you wanna play the saxaphone!

via Uncertain Principles

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What A Sea To Swim In

Norma Jean - O God the Aftermath

Norma Jean was recommended to me as combining the technical insanity of Dillinger Escape Plan and the intensity of Converge. That's a reasonable description but it doesn't tell the whole story. Their music leans far more in the direction of Converge, and while there is some rhythmic wildness going on it's nowhere near the level of Dillinger. What sets these guys apart from the other hardcore I've been listening to is that they contain an element of pop punk (or at least pop hardcore), which surprisingly enough I quite liked. Against all expectations it fits well when a Converge like thrash riff suddenly segues into a more conventional metalcore chorus, with soaring vocals and straight up punk riffs.

This album took a little while to grow on me but I've come to really like it. The song names are a bit precious (each one is prefixed by a cute portmanteau, such as 'disconnecktie' or 'bayonetwork') and the lyrics, while reasonably eloquent, are typical emo bullshit with a dash of Jesus love, so the Wildebeest Asylum official recommendation is to stay away from the lyrics book in order to preserve maximum enjoyment of the album, but despite that there's some very fine musicianship and songwriting on display here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Just So You Know

Bethesda have released an uninformative but tantalising trailer for Fallout 3...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mediocre Music In Brief

Listed in ascending order of shittiness.

Lamb of God – Ashes of the Wake

Ashes of the Wake is Lamb of God's most recent album before the mainstream breakthrough Sacrament. It's a perfectly decent record but I have absolutely nothing to say about it. The riffs are rhythmically complex and very catchy (and are a lot more metal than Sacrament) and it's delivered with respectable technical precision by all members of the band, but after I'm finished listening to it I'm just left with an underwhelming feeling of 'Meh. It was OK'.

Burzum – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

My Burzum listening schedule is still fairly haywire. I've skipped one of the older ones, meaning that this is the third album, and therefore one of the mid-period classics. However I'm still not that impressed. For the first half an hour it's a total bore, retreading the same old stripped down riffs, ghastly vocals (his voice cracks like a school boy at one point during 'Inn i slottet fra drømmen') and grungy production that I found endearing but ultimately lacking substance on the first Burzum album.

Having said that I do really like the fifteen minute ambient closing track 'Tomhet' (Emptiness), which makes me hold off a little before judging this guy to be the most overrated musician this side of The Edge.

Fats Domino – This is Fats
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die Number 5

Like the last album in this series, Louis Prima's The Wildest, this is a soft jazz album, but while I found a lot about The Wildest to enjoy, This is Fats was just a total bore. It's completely gutless with no swing or bite. Some of the later songs perked up my ears a little but by and large this is a dull affair.

Next up, Duke Ellington. My expectations are high.

The Blinding Light – The Glass Bullet EP

This came into my collection along with Converge's Jane Doe and Old Man Gloom's Christmas so I was half expecting yet another major musical revelation. These guys play fast, intense hardcore very much in the vein of Converge, and with a hint of Dillinger Escape Plan's rhythmic insanity. But despite being so similar to bands that I love, for some reason this EP does absolutely nothing for me. I'm at a loss to explain why, since it contains so many elements that have been proven to light my aesthetic fire in a big way, but even with a mere twenty minute running time I found the whole disc to be a serious chore to sit through.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

Preaching to the Guy Who Ate the Choir

Angel Season 4 Part 2

My Angel rewatch has finally come to an end with season four (I did season five a couple of years back), even though it took me a whole year to get through this last collection.

As was the case with earlier seasons the plot was very well done. The writers tied up all of the numerous loose ends hanging around from three years of back story (leaving it to the final season to resolve the character arcs) and did it in an effective and elegant way. Yes, they did cheat a little (toward the end it is revealed that almost everything that has happened to the characters since Angel began was part of a plan by the Big Bad), but surprisingly enough it still all makes sense. I will also admit that the 'everyone loses their memory of all the bad stuff that's happened to them' twist at the end would be a horrifying cop out if I didn't know they were going to reverse it partway through the next season. Watching this show again now it seems that, with their long running, intertwined plots, Angel and Buffy were the forerunners to today's rash of 'smart' TV shows with elaborate plots, such as Lost and 24.

On the other hand I was not so impressed with the handling of the characters this time around. I don't believe that, at conception, any of them were intended to be taken this seriously, and putting them through their angsty, melodramatic paces never feels right. At the same time I don't think that the grim, miserable situations that the characters find themselves in are ever given the depth they require. Over the course of season three and four Angel's son Connor essentially becomes a damaged psychopath without conscience or anything to live for, finally becoming a servant of evil and when that doesn't work out trying to kill himself and take a building full of innocents (including his step mother slash ex-girlfriend) with him (evoking unpleasant parallels with the Virginia Tech massacre). This is a pretty disturbing and even frightening scenario so you'd expect Angel's final confrontation with his son to generate some decent dramatic heat, but in the season finale Angel does little more than put on his same old sad eyed 'suffering' face. However we may take comfort in the fact that they at least get a pretty cool fight scene.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, this season wasn't funny enough. I watch these shows for the lulz dammit.

Angel was never as good as Buffy at it's best, but it was still well worth watching. The first season was certainly very goofy and rough around the edges, but had genuine charm. Later on it lost that charm but was still quite worthwhile for the story. The best season was undoubtedly the last one, in which they ditched a lot of the gloomy emotional baggage from the earlier seasons and reinstated the fun and humour that had gradually been lost over the years. And in the end, this is the lesson we learn from Angel the television show: a TV show about a crime fighting vampire doesn't really need a whole lot of drama and seriousness.

Season Five
Season Four Part 1
Season Three Part 2
Season Three Part 1
Season Two Part 2
Season Two Part 1

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Random Sunday Link

I know I'm really late with this, but in case you haven't seen it there's a really interesting article in the Washington Post where they get a world class violinist to play for spare change in a subway station in order to see how many people stop and listen. The unsurprising answer is 'not many'.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Random Friday Link

Moshpit or Orgy?


by Irvine Welsh

You may remember Irvine Welsh as the fella what wrote Trainspotting. If you've read that book or seen the movie then you'll find his novel Glue to be in familiar territory, following the lives and loves of four working class lads from Edinburgh as they get drunk in bars, start brawls at the footy and take shitloads of drugs. The story is divided into four chapters, each set roughly a decade apart, starting when the boys are five years old and just beginning school.

The style of the writing is a little obtuse. A large portion of it is written in phonetic Scottish dialect, which I thought was wonderful as I love Scottish accents, but others could easily find it irritating. Welsh also makes an inexplicable decision to use hyphens as opposed to quotation marks to indicate dialogue, which I thought to be needlessly obstructive to the ease of my reading.

However if that doesn't bother you then it's a right barry read, yeah? Despite the perpetual grimness of their economic and social situations, the characters display a joyous, irrepressible lust for life throughout, and it's endlessly entertaining reading about their dubious intimate lives and extra legal shenanigans.

While the central sections were enjoyable and highly addictive reading, I found the end a bit lacking. The story in the final section took an abrupt turn to the depressing and I found the redemptive note at the end unconvincing, primarily because I'd found quite a bit to dislike about a few of the main characters by the time we got there. Still I can appreciate that the flaws these characters have is part of the books message, which (to simplify) is a tribute to genuine blokey mateship. All of our friends are dicks sometimes but the friendship wouldn't be meaningful if it couldn't survive the occasional hiccup, be it having an argument over a girl, getting in a drunken punch up with one another or covering up a murder.