Take it From the Man! (1996) by the Brian Jonestown Massacre

Categories: 1996 and Music.

This is the second BJM record I’ve heard and it’s basically just like the other one.  All I really hear is the Stones circa 1966-67. (Maybe the odd other influence.) And yes, this is louder, it sounds better, and it’s considerably more “rock” than that music, but I have no idea why a band would devote itself so slavishly to updating a sound from 30 years ago. Also, this record is interminable. I just don’t get this band – well, I don’t get the critical acclaim this band received – and I doubt I ever will. PS The thing song Read More

Yerself is Steam (1991) by Mercury Rev

Categories: 1991 and Music.

Mercury Rev combine recent goings on in Shoegaze with psychedelia (to a greater extent than the British Shoegaze bands that inclined that way) and a knack for poppy hooks. The result is a bizarre, perhaps too ambitious, crazy record that is better than anything the Lips had managed up till that point. (Why compare them? Sorry…) To me this stuff is more interesting than the straight Shoegaze; it connects with me more for whatever reason. It does feel like there are more ideas, for one thing. Even if that last track is way too long, this is great stuff. 8/10 Read More

Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991) by Primus

Categories: 1991 and Music.

Les Claypool is probably the closest rock music has ever come to a “Jimi Hendrix of the bass,” but he will forever be underknown because of his desire to play in his own band and follow his own whims. And those whims are…weird. As others have noted, this is Funk Metal meets Frank Zappa (and other art rock). There are numerous things that might put you off: Claypool’s voice, the sense of humour, the unwillingness to make anything resembling earnest, straightforward rock music (and yet, somehow, this album spawned two minor hit singles…). But these things are actually virtues if Read More

Bullhead (1991) by Melvins

Categories: 1991 and Music.

I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to like Melvins. They make loud music, I like loud music. They have charted their own course regardless of record industry trends. They have collaborated with members of one of my favourite bands. But this, my introduction to the band, and likely one of their most seminal albums, strikes me as quite one note. I get that this is sort of the point (at least at this stage) but I don’t like my metal one-note. I get that this is likely an important record, and I hope that I can give it a little more Read More

The Scorch Trials (2015, Wes Ball)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

I did not like the first film at all. But that movie had a “high concept” that I could at least respect on some level (though it struck me as something I would have dreamed up as a teenager), even if the execution was pretty awful. But this movie is worse. Yes, that’s right. It’s worse. SPOILER ALERT if you care about your subpar young adult film adaptations… Read More

Wild Gift (1981) by X

Categories: 1981 and Music.

This is another strong set of literate, traditional punk songs from that most New York of LA punk bands. It is very much a repeat of the debut record but, if you can get past that (and I’m not sure I can), it shouldn’t matter, as the songs are as good. X’s connection to rock and roll tradition is about as strong as it gets for a punk band of their era, but this makes them rather unique and lets their songs stand out a little better than they would if they were more noisy. 7/10 Read More

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015, Francis Lawrence)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

I think, on some level, this is a superior film to the previous entry. I mean, for one thing, all that did was set things up. This (sort of) knocks them down. I will say that, as far as these things go, this series is a little less politically naive (I stress “a little” as this is still an extremely naive view of the world) than even some works for adults (i.e. revolutions eat their children). But that doesn’t excuse the laziness of the writing. Perhaps the best example I can think of in terms of the lazy writing is Read More

Informing the News (2013) by Thomas E. Patterson

Categories: 2013, Books, Journalism, Non-Fiction, and Society.

This book was written to make the case for “knowledge-based” journalism. It was sponsored by an initiative that is trying to establish that kind of journalism. The author believes strongly in the cause ans has been a crucial part of the initiative that sponsored his work here. But despite the fact that this is very much a work of advocacy, it is a compelling and informative read, touching on the history of American journalism (print, radio, TV and internet) as it explores the issues that have arisen with the rise of “Infotainment” and “Citizen journalism.” Though I question the methodologies Read More

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, JJ Abrams)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

I must say that, when I learned that the new trilogy would not follow the Grand Admiral Thrawn arc, a little part of my teenage self died. The only Star Wars books, I ever read, I enjoyed them at the time. But, upon, reflection, it’s probably for the best, as this guy was one of those villains who was too clever, so that…well, that would have been spoilers. Anyway, it’s probably for the best. Read More

The Blue Planet (2001)

Categories: 2001 and TV.

This is a beautiful nature documentary about the world’s oceans. Having watched the excellent Planet Earth earlier, this feels like a bit of a let down, just because I think Planet Earth is more magnificent. That isn’t the fault of The Blue Planet, but I can’t help feeling some deja vu and also, that the production values improved on the more ambitious one. But this is still great to look at and reasonably informative. 8/10 Read More

Bird People (2014, Pascale Ferran)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This film tells the stories of two people who accidentally meet. In that sense, it is much like numerous other films that tell individual stories and combine them with chance meetings. Only this one has a fantastical twist hinted at in the title. Why it has that twist I can guess at but I’m not sure one story having the twist and the other not adds anything to the film. Rather, why have both stories, when you can just have the one? This film is just over two hours but is deliberately paced and feels considerably longer and, when you Read More

Less than Zero (1985) by Bret Easton Ellis

Categories: 1985, Books, and Fiction.

On some level, this feels like an ’80s LA Catcher in the Rye, albeit with richer and older kids, and drugs and prostitution. I feel like this may have been Ellis’ intent, I also think that the acclaim that greeted it upon its release likely was due, in part to that comparison, however misguided. Holden is a compelling character because so many of us can relate to him, if not his situation (I never went to boarding school). Clay is not as relatable – few of us are this rich and few of us are this world weary at 18. Read More

Jay Jay Johnson with Clifford Brown (1953) aka The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson Volume 1

Categories: 1953 and 2001.

This is some extremely solid bop featuring all around great playing from a great trumpet player, a decent tenor (also plays baritone, which is cool) and the man some consider the greatest jazz trombonist ever. Johnson doesn’t get as much time as the reissue title (or his role as leader) would suggest, but his solos are still good and he’s ably assisted by the other horn players. Nothing to dislike here, for sure. 9/10 Read More

After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967) by Jefferson Airplane

Categories: 1967 and Music.

It’s been ages since I’ve listened to the other Airplane records from the era but, from memory, this is their most overtly psychedelic and experimental record, with a “freak out” and some jams (and more than a little Hendrix worship). It’s the weakest of their classic records in my mind, and they don’t quite find a balance between wanting to write accessible, political songs and wanting to expand my musical consciousness. That being said, everyone was doing stuff like this, and this has dated better than some of the other albums from the era. 7/10 Read More

From the House of the Dead (1980) by Leos Janacek, performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Staatsopernchor conducted by Charles Mackerras featuring Jiri Zahradnicek, Ivo Zidek, Vaclav Zitek

Categories: 1924, 1928, 1978, 1980, and 1992.

This disc pairs Janacek’s last (and shortest?) opera with two unrelated chamber pieces performed by an entirely different orchestra, grumble. Read More

1971 (2014, Johanna Hamilton)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is an interesting, albeit brief, look at a crime in 1971 that resulted in the first ever whistle blowing on the American government (to my knowledge, anyway). A bunch of radical hippies broke into an FBI office and released the files to the press and Congress. The film is your standard talking heads + pictures documentary (with the exception of some brief reenactments) but its value is in the story which had never been told previously (at least on film). Fascinating stuff, and relevant given the state of affairs today. 7/10 Read More

The Boxing Girls of Kabul (2012, Ariel Nasr)

Categories: 2012, Movies, and Sports.

This TV episode-length documentary concerns a group of girls in Afghanistan who are boxing, and competing internationally. Like any film that focuses on people doing something their community thinks they shouldn’t, this is illuminating. Afghanistan, as a society, obviously doesn’t approve of women boxing (and, at one point, sports in general) and yet these women train, and these men train them. And though these women are not good enough to compete internationally, they do anyway. And their perseverance is a model for us all. And we also get a portrait of the attitudes of those that believe women shouldn’t box, Read More

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010, James Nguyen)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

I have seen a lot of bad movies in my life (though fewer recently) so I have pretty high (low?) standards for my “Worst Movies of All Time” list. For me, a film has to be have zero redeeming qualities about it for me to consider it one of the worst films ever made. Most movies do not fit that definition. Even my last few 1 star reviews were of films that had at least one redeeming quality. This film, on the other hand… Read More

Billy Budd (2010, Francois Rousillon)

Categories: 1951, 2010, Music, and TV.

To some, Billy Budd was the greatest English-language opera ever written when it premiered, to a few its even the greatest English-language opera ever. (To those people I say, have you ever heard of John Adams? But anyway…) I did not love it when I first heard it, for any number of reasons, the biggest being that Britten’s music is entirely too conservative for me. I do like a few of his pieces but, for the most part, I prefer my 20th century music a little more interesting than Britten. But I will say this live production from 2010 (filmed Read More

The Peep Diaries (2009) by Hal Niedzviecki

Categories: 2009, Books, Journalism, Non-Fiction, Psychology, and Society.

This is a relatively interesting and amusing book about how modern technology and modern culture have created a brave new world that we don’t really understand how to navigate (and which could have all sorts of unintended consequences for us. However, the book suffers from a number of problems which make it not among the best books to examine this particular moment in human history (and there are a lot of these books). First, Niedzviecki tries to give all the different things he covers one name: Peep. Obviously that didn’t stick. And the problem is that he comes off as Read More

Nothing’s Shocking (1988) by Jane’s Addiction

Categories: 1988 and Music.

Unlike the follow up, I really like this one. The production’s better, even if the song’s aren’t. (Everything’s a little more raw and unhinged.) Whether you think of this as hard rock or some kind of metal, there was nothing really like this being made in the late ’80s; funkier and way weirder than the Gunners but way louder and cooler than any other mainstream hard rock band at the time (that I’m aware of). I can hear a lot of ’90s rock in this record. And though a number of bands may have done this better, it sure sounds Read More

The Royal Scam (1976) by Steely Dan

Categories: 1976 and Music.

My first Steely Dan record doesn’t really endear me to them. (Nor does reading that Aja is mellower…) I love jazz, but I can’t say I love R and B with a jazz influence, which is what this sounds like to me. Too much R and B, not enough jazz, for my tastes. I like some of Fagen’s lyrics – a lot of them – and I think I would like this band if they were a little more into jazz rather than “jazzy.” But this is just not my thing. It’s well done, it has surprisingly decent lyrics, but Read More

Warren Zevon (1976)

Categories: 1976 and Music.

Try as I might, I just can’t get into Warren Zevon. I don’t find him nearly half as clever as he was made out to be by some fawning appraisal I read of him years ago (which has, unfortunately, coloured everything I’ve heard of his since). Some of his lines are indeed incisive and/or funny, but not that many. And a lot of time he just seems to be to be deliberately contrarian, such as with the song that opens this album. I don’t love his music (though I’d rather listen to this record than some of the records he Read More

Rising (1976) by Rainbow

Categories: 1976 and Music.

For some reason, when I first listened to this record, I felt like the keyboards completely dominated it and Blackmore was reduced to a sideman. That’s not true at all, and I have no idea why I had just a hard time hearing Blackmore’s solos when I was casually listening, as they are as great as ever. The music is actually pretty good for this kind of metal too, and maybe Dio’s lyrics are better this time out. But, for whatever reason,, I still prefer the debut. 7/10 Read More

Fly Like an Eagle (1976) by Steve Miller Band

Categories: 1976 and Music.

This is my first Steve Miller record, and I don’t get it. It makes sense that it’s his most popular, as there are 3 radio hits here. But it’s oddly constructed. It’s book-ended by tracks that try to sound futuristic (a ’70s attempt at it), with lots of ARP. As if Miller had just found out about this instrument the Who and the Floyd were fooling around with in 1970. But in the middle is straight ahead roots rock and roots pop, some okay covers and some completely unnecessary ones. But at least they don’t date themselves like his ARP Read More

Agents of Fortune (1976) by Blue Öyster Cult

Categories: 1976 and Music.

This is my first exposure to BOC. They’re a weird band. They try to walk a line between almost an Alice Cooper Light kind of ghoulish arena rock and a more serious hard rock band. They’re impressive musicians (I like the lead guitarist particularly, who sometimes sounds like he should be another band) but honestly I cannot tell whether they are a purposively dumb hard rock band, a serious hard rock band, or something else (certainly some of their songs are light and poppy enough that it sounds like they had dreams more of radio play). I think there’s a Read More

Rocks (1976) by Aerosmith

Categories: 1976 and Music.

The first time through this, I didn’t like it as much as Toys in the Attic. Aside from the opening track, there are fewer hits and the songs sounded weaker on the whole. But this is a dirty, perhaps deliberately poorly sounding record. (Listen to the piano on the last track – that piano sounds terrible). At a time when most rock bands were still trying to sound as perfect as possible in studio, and over-rehearsing the shit out of everything, here is a band that sounds messy, unpolished and raw, despite the commercial success of the last record. It’s Read More

Songs for Beginners (1971) by Graham Nash

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Graham Nash is my least favourite member of CSNY. Crosby is a great singer and an interesting guitarist. Stephen Stills is a good singer, a good guitarist and had interesting musical ideas. Neil Young is my favourite songwriter and one of the most unique guitar players in rock. Nash appears to pale in to comparison. But though Nash’s lyrics are often full of mindless hippiness and pseudo-profundity, they have aged far better than Crosby’s bizarre “hippy paranoia” and his “did I just blow your mind?!?!” persona, and better than Still’s blustery self-righteousness (all the more hypocritical for his real life Read More