The Downside of Welding


For as awful as 2016 was, 2017 is starting off really great. I haven’t been posting as regularly or started my novel, but that’s because I started writing part-time for a local weekly magazine.

And my day job has gotten better as well. I’ve moved up from ‘unskilled labor’ to ‘maintenance apprentice.’ I’m extremely excited about this move. I’ve always wanted to learn a useful skill and now I finally have the chance. It sucks having to work second shift, but it’s a great opportunity and they’re paying for me to go to school.

The only problem with learning to weld?

Every time I spark a stick I get this song stuck in my head.

 

Helmet “Aftertaste”


(18 March 1997, Interscope)

Helmet are one of those deceptively brilliant bands. A cursory listen will leave one thinking this is a simple, caveman rock band with no depth and a modicum of talent. And the caveman description would be somewhat appropriate. They called their third album Betty and opened it with the track “Wilma’s Rainbow.” I can only assume these were references to the most well-known cave women in pre-history.

Most of the songs on Aftertaste are pretty formulaic. Simple, syncopated riff+angry vocals=Helmet. The strange thing is Page Hamilton’s ability to sing in a tone so close to yelling, but still so melodic. It’s the perfect balance of rage and tunefulness. I haven’t heard anyone else combine these elements and produce such a satisfying product.

Opener “Pure” relies on one chugged chord for the main riff and a strummed octave chorus, but it creates a beautiful wall of sound. This is a band that uses negative space better than any other band in existence. The brilliance is not just in the notes they play or don’t play, but in the spaces between those notes.

The most well known cavewomen in pre-history

It’s easy to let an album like this fade into the background. To be honest, most of the songs sound so similar it’s difficult to tell them apart. But every now and again you hear something like the guitar solo of “Driving Nowhere” or the superb noise of “Broadcast Emotion” and it’s like catching a glimpse some mythical beast rising from the murky depths. The bass heavy intro of “Renovation” is hard to ignore as it hearkens back to “Milktoast” from Betty.

After a few listens light finds its way through the cracks in the stone to illuminate cave drawings I missed on the first pass. I’ve been jamming to Betty in my car for the past few days thinking it’s a superior product to this one, but then I hear “Like I Care” for the second time and I’m amazed that I listened to it with anything other than… amazement.

 

I could go on and on about this album, but mostly I just want to- wait, what the hell? Did you catch that? There’s a string of like four songs that clock in at about 2.5 minutes and sound like they’re cut off in the middle. Is that a problem with my Spotify account? Or is is supposed to be like that?

I’m not even sure how to classify Helmet. Hard rock seems most appropriate. They’re a bit too heavy to call alternative, but not quite heavy enough for metal. And even though Hamilton is an accomplished Jazz player with chops to spare I don’t think prog or fusion fits. Wikipedia calls them post-metal, but I’m strongly opposed to defining any type of music by saying it came after some other type.

I imagine if Goldilocks were to find this in the three bears’ record collection she would describe Aftertaste as just right.

Price Check


In case you somehow missed it, one of Donald Trump’s main proposals for his first budget is to increase defense spending by $54 billion. I guess it’s not enough that we spend as much as the next seven highest spending countries (or about the nominal GDP of Switzerland).

 
We need to spend more than the next NINE countries! Let’s spend as much as Saudi Arabia’s economy!

 
And can’t stop wondering: Can you put a price on peace?

 

It’s at least $700 billion.

 

 

 

Marcy Playground – Self Titled


marcy_playground_-_marcy_playground_album_cover-1(25 February 1997, Capitol)

I was driving in the car with my girlfriend the other day when the Seven Mary Three song “Cumbersome” came on the radio. She told me she was really into Seven Mary Three when she was younger and listened to their album all the time. That blew my mind. It never even crossed my mind that Seven Mary Three would have an album and fans. To me they were just something that was always there. Like a DirecTV satellite dish that you mow around because you don’t want to take the time to pull it out of the ground. That’s how I thought of Seven Mary Three.

It wasn’t until today that I realized other people must think of Marcy Playground in the same way.

“Sex and Candy” is just as prevalent than “Cumbersome.” I hear it on the radio. I hear it at the gym. I hear it at Walmart. It’s all over the place; just like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Possum Kingdom.” But I actually own the album.

It’s not a bad album. It’s Folksy, Post-Grunge AOR. There are songs that I really enjoy and a few that I can’t tell from one another. Opener “Poppy’s” is held down by quirky guitar riff. Songs like “Gone Crazy,” “One More Suicide” and “Vampires of New York” are simple folk tunes made interesting by the wry vocals.

It’s something I enjoy, but when I listen to it and find it difficult to write more than 300 words about it I understand why they were a one-hit wonder.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack “Sucker Punch”


sucker punch(22 March 2011, WaterTower Music )

I won’t hold it against you if you’ve never heard of this movie. It did fly under the radar, but if you took the time to check it out you were in for a treat

Sucker Punch was directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and starred Emily Browning (Pompeii, Legend) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, X-Men: Apocalypse). Essentially the movie is a live-action anime. There is a plot, but it’s not important. What really brought the film together were the glorious, special-effects driven battle scenes with giant samurai, steampunk Nazis and dragons. In my humble opinion, there’s nothing better than scantily clad women battling dragons.

Of course, none of those fight scenes would be worth a damn without the proper musical accompaniment. The Sucker Punch soundtrack is not John Williams or Hans Zimmer, but it ranks among the greatest film soundtracks of all time in my book.

It’s brilliance is in how it takes familiar songs and gives them a new spin. Instead of making a mix tape of b-sides from popular artists , producers Tyler Bates and Marius de Vries take old songs and have trip-hop acts cover them. This gives continuity to a seemingly random collection of tracks and makes them flow seamlessly from one to another.

Star Emily Browning sings three tracks. Opener “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is my least favorite version of that song, but considering the other two versions are so damn awesome that’s not really an insult. It’s still worth checking out. She also does a cover of the Smiths’ “Asleep” which isn’t bad, but I can live without it.

There’s only one Bjork song I recognize. “Army of Me” is a brilliant track and the Sucker Punch remix takes all the crazy screeches and Yoko Ono-isms and makes it truly stellar. The song works great on its own, but listening to this version it’s apparent it was used in a film. I’ve never heard of Emiliana Torrini, but I love her version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” It runs a little long, but when something sounds that good you make exceptions. The best part is the opening guitar riff played note for note on an organ.

Skunk Anansie turns in the best version of “Search and Destroy” I’ve ever heard. I expect it may be the best version of that song I ever will hear. This should be the definitive version that’s required listening for all aspiring punks. I’m sure it’s sacrilegious, but I’ve never cared much for the Stooges. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden have turned in lukewarm versions of the song but Skunk Anansie are the ones to tap into the primal nature and transform it to the monster I knew it could be.

(Make sure your socks are on tight as this has the potential to knock them off. You’ve been warned.)

Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino close the album with a cover of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug.” I wasn’t familiar with this song at all before seeing the movie. I was surprised to discover that it’s a cover and wasn’t composed for the film because it fits so well.

Now that I look back at the track list I’m surprised that there are so many songs I don’t like. Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar turn in a performance of “Tomorrow Never Knows” that isn’t bad, but doesn’t do anything different than the original. There’s something called “I Want It All / We Will Rock You Mash-Up (Queen cover)” right in the middle that is truly terrible. I’m sure fans of hip-hop and Queen will enjoy it, but my love of Queen isn’t strong enough to override my distaste for hip-hop.

The last song Emily Browning sings on is a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” with Yoav. This is the most disappointing track on the album. Somehow they manage to take an awesome song with great musicians performing and it still manages to fall flat. I guess they can’t all be zingers.

ws_sucker_punch_1920x1440Now that I really examine this album I’m surprised to discover that I really only enjoy about half of the songs. But it’s a testament to how fucking awesome those tracks are that I didn’t even realize I didn’t like the rest of the album until I sat down to write a review.

Even if you fast forward through the boring parts like you used to do with VHS porno tapes, Sucker Punch is a film worth watching. It’s a classic in the same vein as Queen of the Damned or Escape from LA. 

Don’t Have To Live Like A Refugee


 

Damn, we’re only a week into the Trump presidency and I already wish I lived in an alternate reality; just like Trump supporters do.

A few months ago I was talking to a Canadian follower, Mike Ladano, in the comment section of “Icky Trump” and we got on the topic of the refugee crisis.

Do people worry about something bad happening? I asked him.

Oh yeah people are uneasy. Heck I’m uneasy! It’s naive to think ISIS will not use this tragedy to their advantage. It’s also naive to assume every country will be able to screen out all the bad people. But it’s a humanitarian crisis and people are split. A lot of “not our problem” vs. “Canada is the kind of country that helps.” A lot of “not worth the risk” vs. “we have to try to help”. And each side points to headlines around the world to make their points. 

This sentiment basically sums up how I feel about the issue. It would be naive of me to think that a few bad apples won’t make there way in with the rest of the bunch, but I’m not heartless enough to support turning away tens of thousand of people fleeing war, oppression and destruction. I’d like to think that America is the kind of country that would help; but sadly, I’ve been proven wrong.

I have a daughter and of course I worry about her, but the addition of Syrian refugees isn’t going to change that. I live in a community filled with people who think they need to own fully automatic AR-15s and whatever other type of high capacity weapons they can get their hands on because it’s their right to defend themselves against the tyranny of the federal government.

No, I’m not worried about refugees.

16265621_1435604136481766_5452606032854278941_nAnd the crazy thing about this: It’s not all based on a sense of righteousness or wanting to do the right thing. I honestly don’t think that bombing the shit out of Daesh is the way to defeat radical Islamic terrorism. Sure, we have enough nukes to kill every living thing on the planet seven times over, so we have the firepower to turn everything from Turkey to Iran into a glow-in-the-dark parking lot, but is that the answer?

When we send a drone strike to Yemen or Somalia or Sudan and kill a terrorist is that the end of the story? What about the terrorists’ friends? Or wife? Or brothers? Or children? These are people who will say “America killed my friend, my husband, my brother or my father. Is drone warfare eliminating terrorists or breeding them? If we send in a bomb to kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi how long to you think it would take before he is replaced? It took him eleven years after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, but with Assad on the ropes and the region in chaos, it won’t take long for someone else to rise to power.

And will they be any better?

I don’t want to come off like some sort of world-peace, patchouli-smelling hippie, but I don’t think war is helping anything at this point in history. I know Saddam Hussein was not a good guy. I know that Bashar al-Assad is not a good guy. I know that the terrorists getting hit by drone missiles are not good people. And yes, I know Donald Trump is doing what he thinks it right. The point that I’d like to make is I don’t agree with him.

We could send 325 million Americans to Mesopotamia each armed with 20 million bullets and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. You can’t kill an ideology with a bullet. I think Trump is making it a lot easier for people who want to hate America to feel justified in that feeling. I know his rise to power has made me question my patriotism. How can I love a country that allows something like this to happen? A country that causes chaos in a part of the world then turns its back on those affected?

od6I’m not an expert on the subject, but didn’t I hear once that the best breeding ground for terrorists is refugee camps? If we want to stamp out radical Islamic terrorism shouldn’t we be welcoming people fleeing and showing them that we’re the good guys? Shouldn’t we be treating these people the way we want to be treated? Didn’t someone important once say ‘as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me‘?

The truth is that we can’t show Syrian refugees we’re the good guys because we’re not the good guys. I want to believe that there is hope (and I do see some), but it’s getting hard to believe. Calling America a Christian nation is an alternative fact.

I keep telling myself I’m doing some good from behind this computer. That I’m working and bettering myself and giving to charity and raising a caring, levelheaded daughter all that is enough. But I don’t really think it is. What I’d really like to do is sell all my possessions, join up with the UN, or Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services or the Peace Corp or just fly to Turkey and see what I can do. I don’t know much about carpentry, nursing, medicine, peacekeeping or soldiering, but I’m a fast learner.

But I know that doing that wouldn’t be enough either.