Friday, May 15, 2015

Like Some Doll You Thought You Could Throw Away, I Found My Legs

So my favorite girl rockers of the past few years broke up after a single LP. Wild Flag called it off in early 2014 because of difficulties getting Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss, Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole in one place to record a follow-up. Am I sad? A little, but I feel a lot better after the end of last year. That's when I discovered that Brownstein and Weiss got in touch with Corin Tucker and got Sleater-Kinney back together, and Timony formed Ex Hex with Laura Harris and Betsy Wright. Better yet, both bands had albums on the way! Now that they've both finally dropped, we're blogging about them today.

A reunion album by the last, best-known, and possibly most accessible band of the riot grrrl movement? Tch-yeah! This one seems to have taken the hipster music world by surprise. No record leak, no buzz or hype, almost no hint that the girls had gotten back together to make new music. So let's see what we got!

What I Liked: 
Okay, it's official. The Sickest Riff Of 2015 Award is quite likely to go to S-K for 'Bury Our Friends'. The song is an epic allusion to their comeback; and a blistering, aggressive piece of punk rock. And the ladies don't stop there - the whole album is a rockfest of dramatic proportions. Tucker and Brownstein haven't lost their ability to wield a hard-hitting guitar sound, backed by Weiss' tight drumming. I like how they can make atonal licks sound so good at times. They write lyrics that make you think, give you something to chew on mentally. 'Price Tag' starts the disc with its theme of overextension - or buyer's remorse, more likely. 'Surface Envy' and 'No Cities To Love' both put a troubled and slightly gloomy verse together with an upbeat chorus, to good effect - the former being the more dualistic of the two. I like the super upbeat and poppy feel of 'A New Wave' - which I could actually see being on the Ex Hex disc reviewed below! It's such an energetic song, with a neat vocal hook (...but a fit would be more FIT-TING! FIT-TING!) that I keep getting stuck in my head. The irony of a true rock anthem being titled 'No Anthems' is not lost on me, but it's a true face-melter, and prepares you for the sinisterly cathartic 'Gimme Love'. My personal favorite from the album is, as you probably guessed, 'Bury Our Friends'. It's just so heavy and makes such an impact when it hits you - and I dare say it blows AC/DC's 'Back In Black' out of the water as a comeback statement! 'Hey Darling' brings the mood up again with a touch of melancholy. If that wasn't in there, it'd just be too sugary. And 'Fade' sends the album out on a big rock ballad sound. It has a very Doors-like or Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd quality, somehow. It's spacey and dark and delightfully transcendent. 

What I Didn't Like: 
Y'know, this may be as close to a perfect album as I can think of. Nothing truly offends me, although I can see how their occasional atonal moment might turn off some people. 

An Observation:
I sprang for the deluxe edition of the vinyl, which is pressed in white, has a really nice slipcover and inner package, and a two-song bonus 12". The bonus disc is the songs 'Heavy When I Need It', a sunny ode to adaptability; and 'The Fog And Filthy Air', a spooky, gnarly rocker that sounds just as it's title indicates. 

In Conclusion:
I think I enjoyed this too much. It's one of the best albums of 2015, at least so far. I don't know how this could be topped.

What I Liked:
Side One gave me the impression of a punk cover band for Canned Heat. Every track is so upbeat and sunny - sunny! - that it's got this sunshiney hippie vibe, after a fashion. Much of both sides sound very three-chord caffeinated - there's no lack of energy here. It's largely well-done, simple, stripped-down rock, if not strictly punk. Timony can shred like few I've heard - if all those solos and licks are completely off-the-cuff, I'm impressed, and if they're not, they still sound damn good! The slightly slower 'Waste Your Time' has a nice hook that gets better when the vocals join in on it, and opener 'Don't Wanna Lose' features a delightfully fun chorus. While Side Two slows down at first with the stomptastic 'Hot And Cold' - seriously, the song is all epic, big, meaty 70's hard rock - it's just as good. 'Radio On' is another classic, if comparatively low-key rocker, and 'New Kid' is the closest to punk that the ladies get. It's the only song that I could hear the Ramones cover! Most of the lyrics are pretty clever, if about somewhat pedestrian stuff like parties and overdoing it at same and relationships; but 'Everywhere' seems to hide a transcendent double meaning I haven't deciphered yet. 'Outro' is kind of an opulent almost-arena-rocker with a slow beat leading the album out; I like that it's a little dreamy-sounding. Best Songs: 'Don't Wanna Lose', 'Hot And Cold', and 'Waterfall', although the rest of the album is a great second tier.

What I Didn't Like:
The downside to having the greater part of the album be so upbeat and sunny and fast-paced is that the songs are all very similar. It can be hard to tell some of the lesser material apart in memory. There's a lot of what seems to be riffs all in the same key. Timony wrote much more complex and interesting material, musically speaking, with Wild Flag - where has that gone? Next album please, Mary? The lyrics, like I said earlier, could also use a little more depth, but I consider that a nitpick.

In Conclusion:
While I still think Mary Timony had a sonically better deal in Wild Flag, Ex Hex promises to be an awesome act, and I hope they can stay together for even just a little longer than Wild Flag. This has proven to be an eye-opening debut and an unabashedly good rock album.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

There's Not A Hell Of A Lot You Can Do, It's Lights Out For You

Just before I started my week-long break from work, I dreamt of a power outage there. The worst part is that it was as complete darkness as could be without being completely unrecognizable. As though I could see five feet in front of me in black-and-dark-gray, and the rest was a vast bubble of nothingness. No emergency lights, no natural light from the skylights, no smartphone screens used as flashlights. Just oppressive, inky blackness and a mind-numbing panic.

Am I being sent a message?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

You Can Fly Anything Right

Ray is a friend of mine. He's also a pilot. I've wanted to get some photos from the air of western Pennsylvania, and he's been dying to go flying. So when the opportunity to go this past Friday came, I jumped at the chance and we went up for a really nice flight. We ended up delayed and the air was more turbulent as a result, but I still think everything went well. Below are the awesome results. 

Taking off!

Hey, there's Lernerville Raceway. 

This is a really nice shot of Freeport, with the Route 356 bridge in the background, the Norfolk Southern bridge over the Allegheny River near the center, and the Kiski Junction's bridge over the Kiskiminetas in the lower right corner. 

Here's Leechburg, and across the Kiski is West Leechburg. Both the highway bridge and the footbridge can be seen clearly. 

We flew as far as Avonmore - here's a good shot of the town with the National Roll aluminum mill quite prominent. The railroad bridge at bottom center is one I didn't even know existed. Unfortunately, it's rather inaccessible.

Here's an empty Shelocta coal train waiting to head back to the mines on the recently-constructed branch line. 

A few minutes later, we happened to see this loaded coal train headed east towards the Conemaugh Dam. A large portion of the railroad line was relocated in the 1960's to accommodate the higher waters east of the dam. 

Shot of the day! We had to circle about four times waiting for the train to cross the bridge, but for this, it was worth it. The stone arch bridge beneath the newer railroad bridge is on the line's old alignment which is now a bike trail. 

Heading back, we passed the mothballed West Leechburg plant, once operated by Allegheny Ludlum. 

By contrast, the Baghdad plant still operates - as a matter of fact, we happened to catch Kiski Junction using their new switcher locomotive to work the plant. It's the red object at the center of the photo. 

The last major photo I took was of Schenley. The KJR bridge over the Kiski is at bottom, Lock and Dam No. 5 is at left,  and prominent in the photo are two of the last buildings from the whiskey distillery that once operated here. 

Our intrepid pilot.
Thanks, Ray!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Questions, Questions I Can't Answer

Maybe you can help me with these. I'm at a loss.

What is that spice you find every once in a while in certain brands of pepperoni that tastes like licorice?

Hey, Colin Meloy - what is Decemberism, anyway?

What would happen if, instead of anesthetic, you were given a synesthetic before surgery?

Who else has the irresistible urge to pronounce the frequently asked questions page (FAQ) as 'fuck you'?

Is Husker Du considered heavy metal? I can't tell just from listening.

Whenever I watch one of the new Star Trek movies, why do I keep wanting to call Lieutenant Uhura 'Princess Uhura'?

How come every time I say something crazy, people take it to mean I'm normal? (Or, by what standard do they judge such outbursts?)

Why does my job give me heartburn? (It's not like I'm eating it. [Oh, wait, I know the answer to this one.])

Thursday, April 2, 2015

He Says "What You Want This Time?"

Whiskey is liquid sunshine.
-George Bernard Shaw

I like to get hammered on Friday night
Sometimes I can't wait so Monday's all right

'Mixologist' is a stupidly unnecessary word. 'Bartender' got along just fine for decades without any help, thank you very much - excepting the bouncer, of course.

...the solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of someday easing my fit into a mold...this is very important, so I want to say it as clearly as I can:

I've waited too long to have you hide in the back of me
I've cheated so much I wonder how you keep track of me

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
-Sir Winston Churchill

Maj. Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Capt. Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world...
-from Casablanca

Alcohol is no different from a guitar amplifier - it just makes the music in your head louder.

I ain't seen my baby since I don't know when
I been drinking bourbon whiskey, scotch and gin

I drank to drown my sorrows, but the damned things learned how to swim.
-Frida Kahlo

There is nothing dangerous about the merely mundane. It is just a kind of emptiness...

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.
-from Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

I've been sittin' here drinkin'
I'm just as lonesome as a man can be

Lord Hinjo: Nothing says 'Condolences on the loss of your uncle' like a ninja death squad in the night.

You pour six jiggers of gin into a glass and then you drink it while staring at a picture of Lorenzo Schwartz, the inventor of vermouth.
-'Hawkeye' Pierce

All good drinkers write. 

She's whiskey in a teacup
She gives blondes a lousy name

Thanks to Whiskey & Misanthropy for the inspiration.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Boys Are Back In Town

This sounds like a joke. To most comics readers, the premise of Archie Andrews and Frank Castle sharing space in the same comic - the same story! - sounds like a complete farce. One of the most violent anti-heroes in comics' history with the most wholesome teenager ever? Get real. Besides, Punisher's a Marvel character, and Archie has his own eponymous publisher. They'd never come to an agreement that would let this be printed, right?

It exists.

As the editor's pages clearly state, it began as a joke, but by the summer of 1994, Batton Lash, Jon Buscema, and Stan Goldberg had created the world's most bizarre comics crossover. The plot followed the Punisher, hot on the heels of an East Coast drug dealer known as 'Red'. The kicker is that 'Red's description is a match for everyone's favorite average teenager Archie Andrews - and the trail leads straight to Riverdale. (Hijinks ensue.)

If you still think I'm making this up, I can assure you I'm not.

Look out behind you, Frank! It's a teenager!
I own the damn thing. I ended up getting the Archie-printed cover, and until recently I didn't even know that there was a second, Marvel variant cover.

Apparently, this led to a minor trope of Archie crossovers, including meeting the Predator, KISS, the cast of Glee (which does make some sense), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Archie Comics now owns the license to the current TMNT comics), and Jason of the Friday The 13th film franchise (under the title Archie at Crystal Lake). Better yet, while doing some reading, I found reference to other crossovers such as The Punisher Meets Eminem, an issue of The Avengers where the eponymous team appears on The Late Show with David Letterman, Superman Vs. Popeye, Groo The Wanderer Vs. Conan, and of all things, Superman and the Nesquik Bunny.

And I thought Archie Meets The Punisher was a spoof.

Turned Upon Me, Took Me By The Hair

I noticed that an old, and very good, post of mine has been getting some attention recently. It concerned the TV bumpers Cartoon Network used to use for the Adult Swim block back in 2007-08. They were fairly creative, in my opinion. Most of them used a tilt-shift photography technique in order to make the subject of the photo appear to be a model. I actually stayed up with my old point-and-shoot camera to record this intriguing bit of TV ephemera. Since there seems to be a bit of interest in the idea, I decided to post the entire series just for the heck of it.

And here's a random scene from Inuyasha just for the hell of it.