Friday, October 31, 2008

Album(s) of the Week: Phish- Live Phish 13, 14, 15, & 16

Live Phish 13- 10/31/94
Phish had played Halloween shows before 1994, but it was this year that their true Halloween tradition started. For the '94 and '95 shows, they let fans vote on an album; whichever one garnered the most votes, they would perform it, live, on Halloween as a 'musical costume', sandwiched between the usual two sets of music. For the '94 show, The White Album by the Beatles won.
The '94 show is legendary for a few notable reasons. The first is that it was, up to that point, the longest Phish concert ever. With the summer festivals and the epic nine hour set at the turn-of-the-millennium Big Cypress, this was surpassed. Regardless, the '94 show is also memorable for the lengthy first set, with a Halloween-themed story during 'Harpua' about playing a Barney the Dinosaur record backwards to hear Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs.' As for the performance of that Beatles double album masterpiece, well, it's done pretty well. Phish performed the songs faithfully, adding their own twist here or there ('Glass Onion' references a Phish song or two instead of the Beatles; 'Don't Pass Me By' is played faster; 'Helter Skelter' features a sweet barbershop harmony on the "I got blisters on me fingers!!" yell) to try to make it their own. Oh, and drummer Jon Fishman got naked on stage during the portion of 'Revolution 9' where Yoko says "If you become...naked."
The third set begins with a tease of Led Zeppelin's 'Custard Pie', jokingly suggesting that they were about to perform the Zep's double album Physical Graffiti. Otherwise, though, I would argue that this show is mostly noteworthy for the sheer spectacle and unique-ness of the event. Musically, the band has played much better shows. Certainly the first set 'Reba' is rightfully considered one of the best ever, and there is tight/interesting playing as per the typical '94 show, but improvisationally, there isn't a lot going on here.
Live Phish 14- 10/31/95
It says a lot about Phish--and their fans--that rather than the better known Tommy, the choice for the Halloween '95 musical costume was Quadrophenia. A better all around album than Tommy in some people's estimation, Quadrophenia is both more ambitious than Tommy and more accessible. Which, really, fits in well with the Phish modus operandi.
As with the '94 show, the first set is full of great playing and Halloween fun, including another 'Harpua' narration about a dream which bassist Mike Gordon had about raccoons (even naming one as 'Rocky', in reference to the song 'Rocky Raccoon' from The White Album) as well as a set opening 'Icculus' in which "evil Halloween spirits" beat up 'The Helping Friendly Book.' With some improvisational meat in the 'Run Like An Antelope' and 'Free', I honestly think this is the best first set of the four Halloween shows.
The Quadrophenia performance is very straightforward. It was during this time in Phish's career that they were trying to write simpler and more direct material, resulting in the release of Billy Breathes in 1996. The band had always struggled to play ballads and at the same time, they were growing in popularity and playing ever-larger venues. So, in that regard, Quadrophenia was like a crash course in how to do both of those things. I'm not overly familiar with Quadrophenia, but it packs as much punch as it does introspective pause. At any rate, the addition of The Giant Country Horns (Phish's sometime backing brass section) makes this performance feel bigger and fuller than it really is.
The third set gets off to a roaring start with an epic 40 minute version of 'You Enjoy Myself.' 1995 was a huge year for Phish, improvisationally speaking, particularly for this song, which saw many "best ever" versions throughout the course of the year. This one gets really spacey and out there, so listener beward. Beyond that, it's a fairly standard set, though the addition of the Horns is always a treat. The encore for the show included an acoustic rendition of The Who's 'My Generation', after which the band ceremoniously trashed their instruments. Nice.
Live Phish 15- 10/31/96
Most Phish fans have their favorite Halloween performance, but it would be hard to argue that any of the four are more important for the band than this one. During the course of '96, the band admittedly struggled with transitioning their improvisational style from frantic, spacey, and experimental rock to a more rhythm based groove/funk style. While this funkier direction wouldn't truly crystalize until 1997, it was with this musical costume performance of Remain In Light by the Talking Heads that things started to shape up.
The first set of this show is suitably Halloween-y, with an opening 'Sanity' that quickly segues into 'Highway To Hell' before settling into 'Down With Disease', which, along with 'You Enjoy Myself', is evidence of the move toward a funkier style. A rare 'Colonel Forbin's Ascent'/'Fly Famous Mockingbird' performance has a narration about a giant David Byrne and an evil mockingbird.
The Remain In Light cover is exceptionally well done. Reportedly the band were exhausted and hadn't rehearsed it as much as they would have liked. Some shakiness is evident in the beginning of 'Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)', but once things get cooking, they never let up. The Giant Country Horns return from the '95 Halloween musical costume along with the addition of percussionist Karl Perrazo, then with Santana. While remaining faithful to the album, Phish still manages to add their new sense of groove, best demonstrated by the sublime segue from 'Houses In Motion' into 'Seen and Not Seen.' They end with a colossal, experimental version of 'The Overload', adding in loops, vacuum cleaner, an electric drill, and a random roadie saying "where my coffee?!"
Set three has an exuberance that is almost palpable. They knew they had nailed the musical costume and now they could just have fun. A ripping 'Brother' and lengthier-and-funkier-than-usual '2001' (a song the band would continue to stretch out over the course of 1997) set the stage. 'Simple', the star jam vehicle for most of '96, gets a good funky jam before the rest of the set falls into neat place. A 'Frankenstein' encore may seem a bit obvious, but who cares??
Live Phish 16- 10/31/98
The band took a year off from Halloween shenanigans, largely due to tour scheduling. However, it's fascinating to see the development of the band from that '96 show to now. 1997 saw the fruits of the labor of 1996; now, the band was effortlessly playing funky music and ballads in large arenas, and it sounded great. In fact, '97 is widely considered one of their 'best ever' years so it's kind of a shame that they didn't perform a musical costume that year. And while many people seem to love 1998, I think, generally speaking, that it's a sloppy and uninspired year. My evaluation of a great Phish show is based on the improvisation, and in that regard, '98 is mostly a letdown. The funk of '97 continued, but by the summer tour it had become watered down and a strange combination of funk, ambient, and arena rock became the jamming style for the year. It's not that I dislike this style, it's just that I don't feel like improvisation was the focus for '98.
The first set is a good example of '98 Phish, with a flashy setlist and interesting segues but little true 'meat.' The 'Sneaking Sally Through The Alley' jam and subsequent segue into 'Chalk Dust Torture' is novel, but, unfortunately, sounds like many other '98 jams. In the end, this is a well played but surprise-free set, and there's absolutely nothing Halloween-y about it. In my opinion, it's the weakest of the first sets of the Halloween shows.
For the musical costume this year, Phish chose Loaded by the Velvet Underground. Band members have admitted in interviews that they couldn't decide on an album to perform this year, so they chose Loaded because they were familiar with some of the songs. I think this is indicative of the borderline-laziness of Phish during this era. You get the impression that they weren't taking their music especially seriously, and I would argue shows suffered for it. This musical costume also happens to be the most Phish-ified one, with the band adding improvisational jams in places where there were none, beefing up a 40 minute album into something almost twice as long. This is oddly thrilling, I have to admit, because Loaded isn't an especially good fit for Phish in its original form, at least in my estimation. It's certainly the oddest choice, since Loaded is a straightforward, unchallenging, and yet great rock and roll album. Lou Reed has flat out admitted that Loaded was his bald faced attempt to write pop songs to appeal to radio, while the album itself is a strange beast since it didn't have the Velvets's drummer, Maureen Tucker, on it at all, and featured Doug Yule more prominently than he should have been. Yule, of course, would take over the band after Reed left, which still irks fans to this day. But I digress. If Phish had done a straight reading of Loaded, it would have been boring. Much as fans might not agree, they don't excel at this kind of straight-forward, carefree rock and roll.
While I may be mixed on the musical costume, the third set for '98 is easily my favorite of the four Halloween shows. It's such a strange set for the year and for Phish in general, with a Halloween-appropriate 'Wolfman's Brother' that goes all over the place for a half hour before segueing into a decent 'Piper', a song that would see much greater performances in the years to come. The 'Ghost' that follows is incredibly bizarre. I'm positive that it's the shortest 'Ghost' ever, and those at the show claim that guitarist Trey Anastasio made a signal to the rest of the band and walked off. No one is sure whether he was angry about something or if it was the venue's curfew.
The Live Phish release includes a disc of music from the 10/30/98 show. This is actually some really good stuff, though it's funny because the band played it with the idea that their first show was performed for a Halloween dance on 10/30/83. Unfortunately, later it would be revealed that their first show actually took place in December '83. So much for a 15th anniversary.

If you're a fan of the band, you really owe it to yourself to get these shows. Even if you can't find the Live Phish releases, the tapes still circulate and shouldn't be hard to track down. Of the four shows, I would have to say that the '96 one is the best all around. I prefer bits and pieces of all four years but in retrospect the '94 show is probably my least favorite. It's a special and unique show for its time, but there's just not enough improvisational meat for me to hang my hat on.

Anyway, Happy Halloween everybody!! Whiskey Pie will return to normal programming on Monday. If you want to check out all of my month-long Halloween posts, just click the 'Halloween' tag at the bottom of this one to get them all.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Episodes and Assorted Specials

Along with 'Sick Day', 'Halloweenie' is among my favorite episodes of The Adventures of Pete & Pete. It's one of those episodes of the show I can point to in order to prove to people that this was an incredible, unique kids show that doesn't look or feel like any kids show before or since. Anyway, 'Halloweenie', along with many Pete & Pete episodes, deals with growing up. In this case, Little Pete still loves Halloween and wants to break the record for most houses visited in one night. Standing in his way are the evil Pumpkin Eaters, a group of teens who want to destroy Halloween forever, along with, in a twist, his older brother, Big Pete, who also hates the holiday and feels like an idiot for agreeing to go trick-or-treat with Little Pete because he thinks he's too old. At its core this episode is actually about all holidays, and how as we become adults some of them--Christmas, Easter, and Halloween specifically--just aren't as fun anymore because they're so kid focused. Still, it's a fantastic episode and I usually watch it around this time of year to remind myself of the childhood fun of trick-or-treating.

Retronauts is the totally great retro-gaming podcast on 1UP.com. Though they haven't done an explicitly Halloween themed episode, they once did a podcast about Survival Horror games which is just as good in my book. While this episode has the usual combination of high level criticism, historical context, and very opinionated commentary, it's a fantastic Halloween listen because a large part of the podcast is given over to talk about moments that scared them in games. It ends up having that vibe you get when you gather friends together and you all discuss scary movies or strange, eerie things that have happened in your lives or to people you know. Anyway, here's a direct link to the episode, though you'd probably be better off finding it on iTunes or through the 1UP website. For the sake of ease, it was the 8/23/07 episode though I seem to remember it's listed on iTunes as being the 8/22/07 show.
South Park hasn't had a lot of Halloween episodes, probably because they want to avoid the inevitable Simpsons comparisons. But the handful of Halloween South Parks have been universally great, even the notorious 2006 episode with the "too soon??" Steve Irwin joke. My personal favorite is probably the above pictured 'Spooky Fish' episode with the hilarious Barbara Streisand border, putting the episode in so-called "Spooky Vision." South Park also recently had a Halloween-ish episode that parodies Cloverfield, with giant guinea pigs attacking the world after Peruvian pan flute bands are...you know what, it's silly and complicated and you just have to watch it.
The Simpsons is probably the great grandaddy of modern TV shows--cartoon shows in particular--having Halloween specials. Because these 'Treehouse of Horror' episodes were purposely written to be outside the main "continuity" of the series, it freed the writers and artists to reach for brilliant heights, creating intricate, memorable parodies of well-known horror/sci fi/fantasy films along with Twilight Zone-esque tales. Counting the forthcoming episode from this year, there's been 18 'Treehouse of Horror' specials, all with the established hallmarks like spooky versions of the names in the credits, a different opening sequence often with playful names on tombstones, and the appearance of aliens Kang and Kodos. As these episodes often coincided with presidential elections, there was some great political satire to go along with the fun Halloween stuff.
Penny Arcade, my favorite webcomic, has a habit of producing creative and funny Halloween themed comics. Granted, they don't do it every single year, but if you look back through their archives, you'll fine some good stuff like the above comic about scaring kids with tales of losing a save. It's also worth pointing out the nearly-forgotten 'Fall of The House of Brahe', their only true Halloween story arc to my knowledge, which was most likely produced circa 1999/2000 for GameSpy back when Penny Arcade was doing some of their art. It can still be found here, and I recommend it to newer Penny Arcade fans who maybe didn't know it existed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween: Film Round-Up 5

Underworld: Evolution (2006)
While I liked the original Underworld, it had too much of a "vampires and werewolves meet The Matrix" vibe about it. The sequel is less bullet time-y, thankfully, though I've now watched the movie two full times and recall very little of substance to talk about. There is a needless sex scene, which so many horror movies seem to find necessary, as well as a rote "main character turns out to be really important after having a mysterious past" plot. Anyway, the ending of this movie effectively kills off all vampires and werewolves, which is ludicrous to the core even though the only difference it makes is that all future entries in the franchise will be prequels.
Species (1995)
Underused H.R. Giger creature designs and nightmare sequences! Natasha Henstridge's tits! Forest Whitaker's creepy droopy eye and pseudo-psychic abilities! Michael Madsen as a jerk! Poor pacing and a lame ending that leaves open a sequel, though the actual sequel totally ignores this set-up! Truly, Species has it all.
Salem's Lot (1979)
Unbeknownst to me, this is a TV mini-series and not a movie. Oh well. I've finally got around to reading some Stephen King, and this series does an admirable job of adapting his style to film. I'm probably alone in this, but I found the main vampire dude to be scary. Something about how fake he looks effectively made him creepier. A paradox, I suppose. Anyway, Salem's Lot is a great vampire story that takes its time and has sub-plots that don't really go anywhere, along with an 'open' ending that doesn't quite resolve the action. But these are hallmarks of the King style, so, bravo!!
Predator 2 (1990)
Call me crazy, but I've always liked Predator 2 more than the first movie. Something about the tone it strikes has always felt 'right' to me, the way it combines extreme violence and profanity with characters who have character and an over-the-top climax chase sequence with a smattering of cartoony comedy. I dunno, it just works for me. The always fabulous and crazy Gary Busey plays a suitably over the top government agent, and something about the way he and his team die in a slaughterhouse has stuck with me as an iconic idea for awhile. For what it's worth, I think it's hilarious that the film's idea of what L.A. would be like in 1997 is closer to what L.A. was like in '91-'94, insofar as gang violence goes.
The Exorcist (1973)
Though still a bit unnerving, I don't think this movie is all that scary. The random flashes of Captain Howdy's ugly mug are more terrifying to me than a little girl writhing in a bed, saying horrible things to priests or talking in backwards Latin. Whatever. I really think this one's a matter of perspective, though, because it's 35 years old and so many other horror films have happened since--not to mention, so many parodies--that its impact has been dulled. I also suspect that the entire film is an excuse to scare people into converting to Catholicism, but I know it wasn't the filmmaker's intention so...
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
A lot of people seemed to hate this remake, but I've seen both films and think this one's appropriate for its time period. I will say that the original does a much better job with actual satire and social commentary, but George Romero is the only one who seems to be able to pull it off with zombies. Dawn of the Dead, the 2004 version, is a competent zombie flick and has some great action set pieces. I recommend checking out the DVD extra which has the video diary of the gun store owner who lives across from the mall. I wish more films did this kind of thing. If I think the movie could have lost anything, it was the zombie baby subplot. I'd like to think that we live in a world where people realize what zombies are and act like, and that you can't do anything for your friends, family, and neighbors except put them out of their misery.
Constantine (2005)
This movie came out on my 21st birthday in 2005, so I take it as a personal affront that it's not very good. It certainly starts out OK, but by the end of the film it's a ridiculous mess that, from what I've read, has almost nothing to do with the graphic novel(s) it's based on. That, combined with the fact that Keanu Reeves is a terrible actor and basically plays Neo from The Matrix in every film, made me hate this movie by its end. Constantine effectively says that the evil side is incredibly powerful and can get away with all kind of stuff while the good side does nothing, especially since it isn't God who saves the day but Satan. If we're supposed to believe God is all powerful and can destroy all of reality with no effort at all, why does it seem like the 'good guys' in this film are powerless, aloof, and dogmatic idiots?? Also, like The Exorcist, it's got an undercurrent of Catholic-recruitment (not to mention, anti-smoking), so...eh.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Videogame Solipsist: 32 and onward Halloween Edition

Silent Hill 3 (PS2)
Though I still think of the second entry in the series as the best, I also really liked Silent Hill 3. I know people seem to have problems with this game, largely stemming from its brevity and a somewhat irritating plot that ties in to the first game, but for my money, it's still damn good. The cold opening of the game, thrusting you into a haunted amusement park with no idea of what's going on, is pretty memorable. I played through the entire game in one day and haven't revisited it since, so I don't have much to say about it.
Silent Hill 2 (Xbox)
I went into this game in greater detail before, so I'll just link you to that. There ya go.
Resident Evil 4 (Wii)
Hate to repeat myself, but I also wrote about this game before. Here ya go.
Resident Evil 3 (Playstation)
Resident Evil 3 is kind of like the odd man out of the series, since the team who made the much loved second game went on directly to Resident Evil: Code Veronica (a game I've never played much of because it just seemed like more of the same) and another group worked on RE3, reportedly at the behest of the American arm of Capcom who saw dollar signs spin in their eyes like 1940s cartoon characters after the success of RE2. The mechanics of RE3 are a bit more action-y than the other pre-RE4 games, new additions which I never quite mastered because I could never time the 'dodge' or 'side step' correctly. The best part about this game was the Nemesis, pictured above, who followed you throughout the game, attacking you at what seemed to be random points, in the process creating a real sense of your character being hunted that no other game has given me. I think there were something like nine different times in the game you could fight him, and he represented an interesting risk vs. reward concept because you got good stuff off of him if you managed to down him. Anyway, RE3 is a good, overlooked survival horror game, and one who's more action-y gameplay inadvertantly spelled out the direction of the future of the series.
Resident Evil 2 (Playstation)
I really hope that someday the Resident Evil series gets back to the 'dual scenario' idea, because I loved the way, in RE2, you chose between two different characters who had wildly different plots through the game yet intersected at various points. Each character also had 'A' and 'B' scenarios, so if you played, say, Leon's scenario first, your actions in that playthrough would affect Claire's subsequent 'B' scenario. I must've play through RE2 at least three times fully, through each of the characters' scenarios. The only thing I don't like about this game anymore is the awkward tank controls. It's hard to go back once you've played RE4, which is admittedly designed around action and big set piece battles, and thus doesn't have the steady, deliberate tension building of RE 1 and 2. Speaking of...
Resident Evil (Gamecube)
I never got all that far in the original release of Resident Evil for Playstation, but the Gamecube remake was excellent. It's interesting to remember just how convoluted and difficult the first Resident Evil was: there's a lot of inventory juggling, backtracking, and frustrating combat to slog through. Though it is spooky and terrifying (the addition of those huge sharks in the remake was a brilliant touch), it's impossible for me to go back to RE1, remake or otherwise. Actually, it's a great game to watch playthroughs or speed runs of, mostly because it'll give you a good idea of how far the series (and survival horror) has come.
Half-Life (PC)
This one is debateable, since there are large portions of this game that are mainly shooting or puzzle solving. I would argue that there's something very survival horror-y about it nonetheless. You're in a government installation that gets invaded by cross dimensional aliens, who slowly kill everyone and make it as difficult as possible for you to escape not only them but the government forces sent in to clean up. You may not remember Half-Life 1 as a particularly scary game, but keep in mind that you're given a flashlight for a reason. Give the first few areas of the game another go and I think you might see what I mean.
Doom 3 (PC)
I'm in the minority on this, but I totally bought into the atmosphere and terror of Doom 3. I actually think it did the whole 'extradimensional creatures taking over a government lab' thing better than Half-Life, mostly because the demons are actively transforming the base rather than just showing up to kill people. I also love the Mars setting along with the whole backstory of artifacts and such on the planet, as well an extinct alien race. As with Half-Life, this one is debateable whether it's survival horror or not, though I would argue it's actually trying to be scary most of the time whereas Half-Life just happens to be by chance as much as design. Maybe the flashlight mechanic (borrowed from Half-Life??) was annoying and the constant monster closets were more 'jump' scares than anything....but I still liked Doom 3 a lot. It still belongs on a list of 'Halloween' games, y'know??
Aliens Vs. Predator (PC)
The original Aliens Vs. Predator for PC was pants-pissingly-scary to me. While playing as the tough Predator, the Aliens are merely creepy and annoying. While playing as the weaker Colonial Marine, they are nightmare inducing. I can't tell you how scary I thought this game was, since I was and remain a huge fan of the Alien film franchise and often had dreams about the creatures without the help of a game that let me experience them in first person. So, yeah. Nightmare inducing. Oddly, whenever I tried to play as the Alien, my PC's graphics card couldn't display its alternate vision mode correctly so I couldn't get past the second or third level. I felt like it was a purposeful middle finger from the universe, letting me know that I'll always be on the receiving end of Alien claws, double jaws, and screeches that make me curl up in a ball and hope my death is a quick one.
The 7th Guest (PC)
Myst delivered a new age of PC adventure games thanks to the CD format, games which were essentially a string of difficult logic puzzles stitched together with bad 3D prerendered graphics and poor quality video/audio. The 7th Guest was that only set in a haunted house. My sister and I never got far in the game, but still remember it fondly as one creepy ass game. The ghostly clown saying "want a balloon, kiddie?!" was a running joke between us for years, and I suspect if I went back now and played it, I would giggle at how archaic it is.

Anyway, Happy Halloween!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween: Spooky Songs On Otherwise Normal Albums

Well, we're in the home stetch of Whiskey Pie's month-long Halloween celebration. All this week I'll have Halloween themed posts, including a special Album of the Week entry that is fairly ambitious (in that, it'll be ambitious for me not to ramble on for 10,000 words).

But today we're going to talk about scary music. I've already done scary movies and scary games (one more post each on those forthcoming, in fact) so it's time I gave music its due beyond the videos I've been posting. Rather than talk about 'scary albums', because I don't own any I think are scary all the way through, I'm going to explore some songs that are surprisingly creepy considering the majority of the rest of the music from the albums they come from is straightforward in comparison.

Aphex Twin- 'Grey Stripe' (a.k.a. track four of the second disc of SAWII)
Actually, Aphex Twin probably deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for tucking away scary songs on his albums. In the case of Selected Ambient Works Volume II, the order of the day is mostly free floating texture and mood pieces. But 'Grey Stripe' is a terrifying song that sounds like indescribable echoes through deep space and the howls and shrieks of alien lifeforms as they bound through the corridors and ventilation shafts of some haunted space station. It's unsettling and unforgettable.

The Beatles- 'Revolution 9'
I may have told this story on here before, but the first time I listened to The White Album it was on a Fall afternoon. I just happened to put it on to coincide so that, when I got to the side four of the vinyl version, the sun had gone down and it was dark and cold outside. 'Revolution 9' is an infamous piece of musique concrete that most people hate and skip when they listen to the album. I never skip it, but it's still creepy as hell. Even while listening to The White Album with a friend, it leaves you with an eerie feeling that the final song, 'Goodnight', with its Disney-esque majesty, only partially dispels.

Boards of Canada- 'The Devil Is In The Details'
While much of the music and album artwork of Boards of Canada trades on psychedelia and the darker aspects of the 60s, this song takes things a bit further, with a horrifying female voice talking to you over the sounds of a disembodied child crying in reverse (??) and bizarre tape loops. Eeek.

Brian Wilson- 'Mrs. O'Leary's Cow'
So much history has been built up about the Smile album that it's hard to get past it and put this album in the context of 1967 even though it wasn't finished until 2004. Reportedly, while originally recording this album (and going crazy on drugs, naturally) Brian Wilson thought that this song had caused a fire in his area. True or not, 'Mrs. O'Leary's Cow' forms part of the 'Elements Suite' of Smile representing fire--another tale says that Brian Wilson made the band and gathered orchestra put on plastic fire helmets while recording the song. Its title references the cow that--true story--started the great Chicago fire all those years back. It's intense though short, mostly notable because of its supposed historical fire causing and for helping 1967-era Brian Wilson seem even crazier than he already did.

Can- 'Aumgn'
You could probably play this song in a haunted house and get away with it. 'Aumgn' is the most extreme and experimental song that Can ever produced, a 17 minute monolith that is indescribable. Spooky sounds, tape loops, screeching violin, keyboards, free jazz, free noise, scatter shot percussion...and at the heart of it all, Damo Suzuki saying/singing "AAAUUUUUMMMMMMMMGGGGGNNNNNN" over and over, slowed down, stretched out, treated with effects, or brought back and forth in the mix. The whole thing crescendos with a rising synth chord, frenetic tribal drumming, and a whole lot of studio trickery. Mind blowing.

Low- 'Don't Understand'
This is Low at their most gothic and deliberate, slowly building the tension of the spiralling keyboard atmospherics until the primitive death march led by drums kicks in. Then Alan Sparhawk holds a gun to our heads and relates how he doesn't understand while leading us through the woods to the spot where he'll leave our bodies after offing us. At least, that's what I picture in my head when I listen to this song.

The Microphones- '(Something) Cont.'
The Glow Pt. 2 has an otherworldly vibe that I can't explain. You really have to listen to it on headphones to get the full effect, but it traffics in sonic extremes. There are many quiet moments that linger, with barely audible sounds spread throughout, taunting you. Reportedly there are foghorns from boats at various parts of the album though I've only noticed a few. But on the other end of the sonic extreme, there's noisy storms like this that move in and then off like thunder, scaring the shit out of you before another unexpectedly catchy moment of lo-fi indie rock restores you to your senses.

Miles Davis- 'Rated X'
If you didn't know this song was by Miles Davis before listening to it, you would have no idea. It features no trumpet at all and comes from his late-electric era circa 1973/1974, when he would occasionally play atonal organ blasts during live performances to shake up and/or signal transitions to his band. This track, released on a compilation, is spellbindingly crazy, with a pounding drum/bass beat that predicts all manner of beat driven experimental electronic music to come. Over that we are assaulted with churning wah-wah guitar and ear splitting, Phantom Of The Opera-pissed-off-and-high-on-cocaine organ "chords." There's a remix of this track on an album by Bill Laswell that is actually listenable but therefore not scary. If you need a song to clear guests out of your house/apartment at the end of a Halloween party, here you go.

Pere Ubu- 'Thriller!'
No, not that 'Thriller.' This is a spooky instrumental with incomprehensible vocal samples, a slow, stumbling drum beat and guitars lazily detuning and tuning themselves. Eventually, odd scratching/chewing sounds show up and bury the rest of the mix. A very spooky song and one that, if memory serves, ends side one of Dub Housing in an oddly appropriate fashion.

Sonic Youth- 'Providence'
In all fairness, once you read that this song is simply a combination of an overheating amplifier, an answering machine message from Mike Watt, and Thurston Moore plunking away on a piano, it loses some of its power. But like all great double albums, 'Providence' is an anomalous, creepy track that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the album but sort of does. Anyway, yeah. Spooky.

Sufjan Stevens- 'John Wayne Gacy, Jr.'
The song itself is actually quite pretty, if a bit sad. When you realize he's singing about infamous clown/child murderer John Wayne Gacy, it instantly becomes creepier than anything you've heard that week. Certain lines from this song give me chills and that's because this stuff really happened and is not just some lame ghost story.

Talking Heads- 'The Overload'
Primarily known for being a funky and vibrant album, Remain In Light leaves us with the intense conclusion of 'The Overload', all oppressive atmospherics, David Byrne's monotone delivery, and zombified drums. Phish took this a step further when performing the album live on Halloween '96 by adding an electric drill (!!) and stage antics (including a random crew member saying "where's my coffee?!") that confused the audience.

The Velvet Underground- 'Sister Ray'
Actually, the entirety of the Velvet Underground's second album is crazy and off-the-rails. But 'Sister Ray' brings the built-up tense atmosphere to its inevitable conclusion, rolling up into one 17 minute ball of evil all the drugs, sex, violence, and terror that marked the songs of the Velvets up to that point. The first time I listened to this song I was genuinely frightened of it because I didn't know what to expect. Now, I find it oddly exhilarating. Sometimes it's nice to just let go and become one with your inner nihilist psychotic drug addict.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Album of the Week: Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago

Every November, thousands of people sign up to try to write a novel (50,000 words or more) in just 30 days. Known as NaNoWriMo, the idea is to encourage people to get off their asses and start writing rather than putting it off. Not to toot my own horn, but I participated last November and managed to do it. Today, I got an email saying that I get a free paperback proof copy of my novel for 'winning.' Of course I'm pretty excited about this, because it's actual physical evidence that I can finish something creative. That kind of excitement--being able to create something and see it birthed into the world as a physical object--must have been equally titillating for Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, who recorded For Emma, Forever Ago and self-released it, eventually getting picked up by indie stalwarts 4AD (in the U.K.) and Jagjaguwar (in the U.S.). Flash forward to last month and he's performing on 'Live With Conan O'Brien.'

It's an inspiring story, and one I can now vaguely relate to. The interesting tale of this album's creation is a bit better than my "I wrote a novel in a month because I felt like it", though: recorded in remote Wisconsin, after the breakup of a band and a relationship, For Emma, Forever Ago was put down in a few months time mostly by Vernon who had originally intended to spend said time recuperating from the events of the previous year. The story could've out shined the album, but here Bon Iver has released one of those special and rare singer/songwriter albums that have their own unique feel and atmosphere but belong to a rich tradition of other special and rare singer/songwriter albums.

It's easy to romanticize the 'suffering artist' because it seems like so much great art is born out of pain and desperation. Indeed, there is something...damaged about needing to express yourself even though you fear the judgment of others and doubt the quality of your expression. Maybe it's egotistical, but artists are people who have to express their ideas, emotions, and feelings in some manner instead of just keeping them inside or only talking about them like most people. Yet great art doesn't demand pain to happen. I would argue, though, that the most human of art comes from deep emotions. It can be pain, but it doesn't have to be. I mean, I like Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited but Blood on the Tracks is, to me, his most human, moving, and memorable album even if he denies it has any basis in reality. So it is that I find For Emma, Forever Ago great art, because it is movingly human in its searching lyrics and longing music. Vernon may not be directly expressing his feelings here, and I don't exactly know what some of the lyrics refer to, but I still somehow understand them on an emotional level that goes beyond explainable comprehension.

It's partially a matter of taste, but once your critical faculties are up to snuff it's easy to spot counterfeit emotion and bad poetry from truth and genius. And I find both of the latter in this album. Yes, the lyrics are fantastic, but Vernon's voice is painfully naked and deserves praise. It takes some amount of courage and skill to sound this vulnerable and this sure of yourself at the same time. With his wounded falsetto chorsues and wispy low moaning, he could be singing the alphabet and it would still be devastating. Meanwhile, whether planned or not, the album itself seems to thaw as it progresses, a return from the frozen Wisconsin wilderness. At the same time, perhaps an acceptance and recovery from big changes. The last lyrics of the album seem to acknowledge that whatever love has ended will never come back, but he'll always have the memory of that love; the loss of it, however, has not destroyed him or irrevocably changed him for the worse:

This is not the sound of a new man
or crispy realization
it's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
your love will be
safe with me


It's always easy for me to forget albums like this when I'm discussing my 'best of the year' lists with the other music nerds and obsessives. These kinds of records, well, they don't change the world, create new genres, or instantly make scenes and sound-alikes sprout up in their wake. No, For Emma, Forever Ago is a familiar but fantastic pleasure, like spending a day off with a pot of tea, a new novel, and a rainstorm. The environment is well known but the novel is not. So it is with this album. It's one of the 2008's best (though technically it was self-released in 2007, so...) and a low key, strongly human piece of loss, pain, and recovery.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Primer: Phish Part 3- A Picture of Nectar

There's always been a disconnect between studio releases and live work for jam bands. On one hand, your studio albums should try to appeal to as large an audience as possible to bring in new fans, but, on the other hand, if you dilute your sound down too much you risk losing your core fanbase and washing away everything that makes you so unique. Studio albums by nature can't replicate sprawling two hour plus live shows, and since that's the primary artistic canvas that jam bands paint on, studio releases come off as atrophied and reserved versions of the band. When a band does put real effort into a honest-to-goodness, stand-on-its-own-merits studio album--as Phish did with Billy Breathes and the Grateful Dead did with American Beauty and Workingman's Dead--they can indeed produce some great work...but it doesn't have much to do with their live shows. I feel sorry for those who bought Billy Breathes based on the glowing reviews and wandered into a Phish show during '96 or '97. Well, maybe I'm more jealous than sorry...

In the end, the bulk of Phish's studio output ended up feeling like blueprints for what they could do live. Though none of these albums are bad, they're still held back by the format of a single hour-ish CD of music. Even at their poppiest and most produced, Phish are still too weird, prog rock-y, and psychedelic for most people, so one wonders why they even bothered trying to reach the mainstream. However, A Picture of Nectar does an admirable job of turning out a polished set of songs while simultaneously giving a good sample platter of the band. At 16 songs it covers more ground than even the double disc Junta, and is a studio version of a song-y first set. Sorry, I lapsed into jam band parlance there for a second. What I meant to say was, it's got a lot of songs but little extended improvisation.

The real strength of A Picture of Nectar is its startling diversity. One of the most trumpeted aspects of Phish is their variety of music, and nowhere is that best evidenced studio-wise than on this release. Though the albums begins with the relatively straightforward rock of 'Llama' and the ballady instrumental 'Eliza', the album quickly veers off the road with bluegrass ('Poor Heart'), complicated jazz-rock ('Stash'), crunchy experimental funk-rock ('Tweezer'), tangy Latin ('The Landlady'), spoken word ('Catapult'), and sprightly ragtime ('Magilla'). Though this genre hopping may seem gimmicky on paper, the band is able to pull it off with competence and personality.

There are two problems with the album from a non-fan standpoint, however. For starters, I've never liked the sound of the album. Something about the production strikes me as very sterile and digital-in-a-bad-way sounding. Maybe I'm too used to how these songs sound on live recordings, but I don't think so. The production on earlier albums didn't bother me; starting with A Picture of Nectar and ending with Billy Breathes, which has a delicate/warm atmosphere, the 'sound' of Phish albums became too....clean. As for my other problem, well, this is an admirably diverse set of songs that showcases the band's chops and personality, but it's still not a great album on its own merits. As a fan of the band that doesn't even occur to me because I like everything they do for the most part, but looking at A Picture of Nectar through a critical lens, it's a disjointed album that doesn't hang together as a whole and just doesn't flow all that well. That's all nitpicking, though. Fans should own this album no matter what, and those looking to get into this band...well, you should still start with Junta, but A Picture of Nectar isn't a bad second or third step.

Looking back, A Picture of Nectar would set the tone for most of Phish's studio albums. As it was their major label debut, one wonders if that was part of the equation. Whatever the case, most future releases would have around a dozen songs, concise song lengths, and a detached, sterile production. You get so used to the way these songs are played and the way they sound in live recordings that these studio versions are like odd artifacts. Certainly I like A Picture of Nectar, and it comes the closest to replicating the variety of musical ground covered during live shows, but I mostly listen to it as a curiosity rather than an excellent 'album' with its own merits.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Video: Alice Cooper- Welcome To My Nightmare



You just can't argue with Alice Cooper. He's everything I love about horror and goth-y stuff, half serious/dark and half self-deprecating/humorous. His music is ridiculously underrated and in much need of critical re-visitation and evaluation.

Now that I'm off my soapbox, this video is strange. I don't quite get where the interpretive dancers come in, unless in Alice Cooper's nightmares he sees interpretive dance set to his songs. I mean, what's with the mostly naked guy in the gimp mask?? You could set this part of the video to any other song and it would make as much sense. But, it's all in good fun. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Videogame Solipsist: 16 bit Halloween Edition

(Note: again, I'm not going over every horror/monster game on the Genesis and SNES...just the ones I've played)Splatterhouse 3 (Genesis)
While Splatterhouse is a series that can look forward to a rebirth during this console generation, I'll always think of it as a 16 bit series. Something about the gameplay and 'feel' of the game just won't translate well to a modern console experience, but whatever. Splatterhouse 3 is interesting because, even though your character is pretty strong, the game is still creepy and scary. The cut scenes--featuring pretty realistic looking pictures--are scary, and I've always hated the fight against the possessed teddy bear after your son is kidnapped. Perhaps the most memorable thing about Splatterhouse 3 is how difficult it is. The game operates on a time limit, so you either end up rushing through levels and dying or you keep getting bad cut scenes and outright losing because you didn't get somewhere in time. At the same time, the controls are awful and clunky. Still, Splatterhouse 3 is notable for somehow combining the beat-em-up and survival horror genres.
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (SNES)
Speaking of difficult games...perhaps all most people know about this series is how damn hard the games are. Unlike Splatterhouse 3, though, the difficulty never comes from bad game design or poor controls. No, it's just a tough son-of-a-bitch of a game in which you can't make mistakes. Overcoming the obstacles and perfecting the timing required to progress is oddly rewarding, albeit useless, sorta like teaching yourself to write with your feet. Anyway, despite having demonic enemies and classic horror monsters (zombies, skeletons, etc.) Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is more cartoony than the Castlevania series. But that's ok, because it's not supposed to be scary. It's just a legendarily hard game with great looking 2D graphics and a horror theme.
Super Metroid (SNES)
Though neither a horror game nor a monster game, Super Metroid still fits into the gray area of games that correspond to both horror and monsters. This is largely because of the fairly obvious influence of the Alien franchise on the Metroid games, giving them--Super Metroid, in particular--a creepy atmosphere. There's a pervasive sense of loneliness throughout the game, and while there are no 'scares' or terrifying things, per se, Super Metroid has always felt creepy to me. Exploring an alien planet, even empowered as you are with a power suit, is a bit unnerving at times, reminding one of the scene in the first Alien where they explore the derelict ship. All Halloween business aside, Super Metroid is somewhere in my top ten games ever, and if you haven't played it yet, you really owe it to yourself to do so. It's that good.
Alien 3 (Genesis)
Speaking of Alien...I didn't know until years later, but the Genesis and SNES versions of Alien 3 are different. Both have a similar sidescrolling shooter gameplay style, but the Genesis version is primarily concerned with you rescuing prisoners before the timer runs out and chestbursters rip out of them. This led to a bizarre situation in which, the first time you played a level, you would let everyone die so you could see where they were and thus plot a fast course to get to them all on time. Stranger still, the game is a convoluted mix of Aliens and Alien 3, such that you're still on the prison planet playing as a bald Ripley, as in Alien 3, but there are a ton of aliens and you have weapons from Aliens. I never got very far in this game and if I recall correctly the mechanics were a bit off. Ah well, it's still better than...
Alien Vs. Predator (SNES)
...Alien Vs. Predator for the SNES, which ostensibly was supposed to be a port of the awesome mid 90s arcade beat-em-up by Capcom but instead was a single player only piece of shit. It wasn't anything like the arcade game at all and was just a bad all around, making the Predator into a weak and awkward pile of garbage. On a side note, I've always wondered why sometimes the Alien and Predator crossovers are called 'Alien Vs. Predator' while others are called 'Aliens Vs. Predator.' There's never any consistency and it doesn't make sense because all of the ones with the singular 'Alien' have more than one Alien in them, not to mention most of them have more than one Predator. But, whatever. The SNES game is a pale, barely perceptible shadow of the Arcade version, which you may as well pirate because it'll never see another release due to licensing issues.
Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis)
I think there was a rule during the 16 bit era that companies would make what were NES/mostly-thought-of-as-Nintendo-franchise games for the Genesis, but they would be really freaking hard. Contra: Hard Corps. is virtually unplayable because it's so damn difficult, while Contra III on SNES is just 'typical Contra' hard. Meawhile, Castlevania: Bloodlines is ridiculously hard while Super Castlevania IV on SNES is just 'typical Castlevania' difficult. Maybe it's got something to do with roman numerals?? Well, in any case, Bloodlines is actually a really fun sidescroller which allows you to choose between two different characters (whip-y McBelmont or spear-y McWhat'shisname) and has, for its time and native platform, some incredible graphics and animation. I have to confess that I haven't played this one for years, so maybe I'm wrong about the difficulty, but I was way better at, and more patient with, 'hard' games as a kid, so if anything it's probably gotten worse. (Note: I never played Super Castlevania IV until about two years ago, so I won't be talking about it)
Haunting Starring Polterguy (Genesis)
Haunting is a game that I wish more people had played. It's actually a pretty novel concept: you play as the titular 'Polterguy', possessing objects in a house to try to scare a family out of it. Shades of Beetlejuice, no?? This game is actually really fun and creative, since most (if not all) of the objects do something unique to scare the family. You are limited by some kind of energy meter so the game is actually a puzzle game more than anything insofar as you have to figure out the fastest and most efficient way to get rid of the family. This 'possession' concept has been used in a few games since (off the top of my head, Geist for Gamecube uses it, although in different ways) but never as well.
King of the Monsters (Genesis)
I'd be hard pressed to come up with a game that appealed more to me, specifically the mid 90s version of me that was hugely into both Godzilla films and videogames. King of the Monsters may have been a bit of a counterfeit fulfillment of my dream for a decent Godzilla game, since the monsters within are generic versions of Godzilla and his foes, but I didn't care. You can't go wrong with a game that lets you play as giant monsters who trash cities and fight other giant monsters in the process. The game even rates you based on your destruction!! King of the Monsters is a fun-if-simplistic fighting game, and the kind of thing you play and never get very far in but don't care. Oddly, most of the modern day Godzilla games (specifically, Destroy All Monsters Melee) are essentially 3D versions of the King of the Monsters series.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Halloween: Film Round-Up 4

Friday The 13th (1980)
One could make the argument that it's with the emergence and popularity of Friday The 13th at the beginning of the 80s which gave birth to the slasher genre as we know it. While obvious predecessors like Halloween (which is violent, but also virtually bloodless) and Psycho were slasher flicks, most future such movies would be reading from the notes they took during this one. Friday The 13th is a decent if unremarkable horror film by today's standards, though there is something haunting and memorable about the way a summer camp and surrounding woods look at night. The ending is interesting because it's basically an inversion of Psycho: the killer is the mother. If memory serves, Jason--with the famous hockey mask--doesn't put in a proper appearance until the third entry, by which point the series also began to morph into a more supernatural "Jason is an unstoppable force" kind of beast.
Gothika (2003)
Watching this film, I realized that Robert Downey Jr. basically plays the same character in every film. Well, OK, they are different characters, but so much of his personality seems like it shines through--the way he delivers a line, his physical movement and mannerisms--that you begin to wonder if he's a really great actor with a distinctive style or a really bad actor who has limited range. But hey, Gothika!! This is one of those spooky murder mystery thrillers that come out every year and I mostly ignore them. However, this one has a nice supernatural touch and, as a review quote on a film's poster might say, "it leaves you guessing til the end." The various revelations and twists are fairly decent and believable, so give this one a try if you like movies that are more creepy than scary.
The Haunting (1963)
I'm finally going to watch The Exorcist soon, a horror film still considered one of the scariest ever made despite being almost three decades old, but I also wanted to get in another classic "scariest film ever" or two for these round-ups. Thus, The Haunting, which, like The Exorcist, is still scary to this day. While the characters and plot are interesting enough on their own, the real star of this film is the location and set design which create a creepy, slightly surreal atmosphere. The Haunting is a surprisingly modern minded film in which the characters debate about the nature of 'hauntings' and refuse to generally classify the phenomena taking place at the mansion as 'ghostly.' The idea is that, science or no, something is happening there and not knowing what it is makes it scarier. Whatever is causing the strange noises, cold spots, slamming doors, etc., it sure makes for a frightening watch. I'm rarely set on edge by movies, but The Haunting managed to make me tense even though you never see any ghosts and there are a few scares that relieve the tension. It mostly keeps building and building until one of the characters loses her mind and drives her car into a tree, letting the mansion claim another victim. "A house that was born bad" indeed. Fun story: while watching this movie a friend sent a message to my newly purchased cellphone, which I forgot I had on, and the sudden noised scared the hell out of me.
I Am Legend (2007)
This movie makes the unpardonable sin of removing entire plot elements from the book its adapted from. This is further infuriating because the novel already has been adapted twice and those movies managed to work in the interesting gray areas that this version entirely drops. At one point in the 2007 version, our hero (Will Smith, the 'go to black guy' for scifi films since the mid 90s) is trapped by a snare, suggesting that the infected creatures in the film are intelligent and trying to catch/kill him. But rather than follow this--or examine the insanity of the character after spending so much time alone with only his dog for companionship--it eventually boils down to a black-and-white issue of "they're infected and monsters, so let's develop a serum and/or kill them." Sadly, the first half hour/45 minutes of the movie is fascinating but once the action kicks in it loses all sense of atmosphere and finesse. You may as well know that in the original book version, the infected monsters are intelligent and adapt to the disease and want to rebuild the world, while our hero is a relic of the past and a crazy human who murders their people, thus becoming a 'legend' to them like vampires and monsters are 'legends' to us. So, yeah, the film pretty much ignores this awesome plot revelation and makes our hero the titular 'legend' because he cures the plague. Lame. Skip it.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
I may as well admit that I liked Freddy Vs. Jason, but that doesn't mean I think it was a good movie. In fact, it's too bad that both characters have been run into the ground so much with countless stupid reasons for their survival or return, because in the right hands you could make a good movie with Freddy and/or Jason. Anyway, tthe original Nightmare is a much more violent and serious film than many remember--Freddy Krueger was mostly just a monster here, without all the personality and one-liners he's known for. If Friday The 13th made slasher flicks more bloody, A Nightmare On Elm Street took it even further, with a literal geyser of blood at one point.

All that said, the idea of a killer who attacks from inside your dreams (....err, nightmares??) is endlessly brilliant because it puts no limits on what Freddy can do. See, horror villains like the ghosts from The Grudge or any that are seemingly unstoppable and/or have god-like powers aren't scary because you have no chance and can't get away. At least when Freddy has god-like powers it's because he attacks from inside dreams, where anything goes. But, whatever. Like the first Friday The 13th, the first Nightmare film is a must see for anyone who likes horror cinema, or anyone who has seen all the parodies and homages to these two series but not the films themselves.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Album of the Week: Deerhoof- Offend Maggie

Deerhoof are an endlessly fascinating band assuming you're a fully baptised member of the tribe who enjoy their music. They're the sort of group who elicit extreme reactions from listeners: you either love them or hate their guts and the guts of the people who listen to them. I don't think of Deerhoof as an extremely experimental band but I have a very skewed perspective. I think it's easy for people like me to forget that bands like the Fiery Furnaces and Animal Collective sound like absolute, intolerable, and pretentious crap to most people. At any rate, if you've never liked Deerhoof before, Offend Maggie will do nothing to change your mind, so you may as well just click away from this review right now and I'll count to five before continuing.

....five. OK, the haters are gone.

Offend Maggie is a mighty fine Deerhoof album. I was more than pleased to hear that the band had added another guitarist to their fold while recording the album because, in my opinion, the band functions best with two guitarists. Deerhoof's sound started to congeal into something interesting with Reveille in 2002. But it was with their next two albums, Apple O' and Milk Man, in 2003 and 2004, recorded after Chris Cohen joined, that they really started to record some great stuff. I still hold The Runners Four as their high point, being a fascinating and sprawling double album and all, but moreso I think it was because they sounded like a band. When Cohen left, their next album, Friend Opportunity, became a lean collection of experimental pop that simultaneously expanded both the band's pop and experimental sides. It's an odd album by any standard, with almost a third of its length given over to the final track, which was an 11 minute epic. Though I like Friend Opportunity, it sounded like a studio album made with little regard for live performances. Watching the now-threesome version of Deerhoof perform shortly after its release, they felt a bit limited. They did a good job of pulling off some of the older material even with only one guitarist, but Friend Opportunity was a bit too ambitious for its own good. 'Kidz Are So Small' doesn't quite translate well to the stage when the same guy playing the odd samples and keyboards has to play the guitar parts, too.

Offend Maggie is a return to the classic two guitarist Deerhoof sound and I welcome it with open arms. The more time that goes on, the more I think of The Runners Four as a masterpiece, so it's good to see the band...well, not returning to that sound, but hearkening back to it. At the same time, while Offend Maggie isn't as good as The Runners Four, it is a musical feast for fans of the band. The emphasis on this album is definitely on the instruments, from the clashing-and-interlocking guitars, bouncing Paul McCartney-esque bass lines, and the ultimate secret weapon of the band, the controlled chaos of Greg Saunier's drums. Deerhoof does their 'spastic prog rock, stop on a dime' stuff here better than ever. However, the downside of all this is that the vocals and lyrics are buried. I'm a fan of Satomi's voice beyond the surface "hey, listen to that weird Japanese chick sing random stuff!!" enjoyment of hipster irony-nauts, so it's a bit sad that I can't really tell what she's singing most of the time. Meanwhile, Saunier continues to deliver his one or two vocal turns per album with 'Family Of Others'; much like his drumming, his voice is a secret weapon for the band, with his child-like innocence and Brian Wilson-esque register.

When the initial excitement of a new Deerhoof album wears off, the inevitable conclusion is reached: it's just another Deerhoof album. You can't fault a band for sounding like themselves, but Offend Maggie is, in the end, Deerhoof doing Deerhoof. This album features some incredible songs but it would be hard to argue that there's anything entirely new about it. Again, this is not a bad thing, but Offend Maggie features some now-standard Deerhoof tropes from albums past, with the annoying/unlistenable song ('This Is God Speaking'), the repetitive-but-addictive song ('Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back'), the epic album closer ('Jagged Fruit'), and the awesome song that doesn't get the praise it deserves ('Buck and Judy'). While Offend Maggie does offer some new tidbits (the acoustic guitar intro to the title track, the sly use of pianos/keyboards here or there) this isn't really an album about change. This is a 'consolidate lessons you've learned' kind of release, putting the emphasis on band dynamics, interplay, and "let's do what we do best" songwriting. This makes for an easy, compulsive listen. Kinda like Wilco's Sky Blue Sky or Radiohead's In Rainbows in that regard, two albums that didn't do anything new but were nevertheless really damn good.

So where does this leave us?? Well, if you're a fan of Deerhoof--which I assume you are if you made it this far into this review--you should rush out immediately and buy this album. It's another great album from a band who've been on a winning streak for five years. Those of you non-fans who've made it this far into my review, well, you won't like Offend Maggie and are best served by giving Friend Opportunity or The Runners Four a try, albums that are a bit more welcoming to newcomers but still have all the elements of Deerhoof that will either excite or sicken you.