Category Archives: Reviews

Jimmy Fallon – Blow Your Pants Off

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The last three years have seen Jimmy Fallon evolve his professional personality into quite possibly the most endearing in all of late night while pushing the format of the late night show by imbuing every facet of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with sincerity and a passion for making the best show he and his crew can possibly create. The sincerity of Fallon mixed with the knowledge and respect he has of music and the backing of the best band in late night, The Roots, are a perfect combination for the unique approach to comedic music on display throughout Blow Your Pants Off, Fallon’s first album in a decade.

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June 13, 2012 · 9:00 am

“The Magicians” Reaction

This morning I finished Lev Grossman’s 2009 novel The Magicians. At the end of the book, Quentin Coldwater, the protagonist of the story, is approximately the same as me, but the story begins when he is 17, preparing for college. Due to the amount of time that is covered in 400 pages, the story can lurch forward at times and cover huge swaths of ground in the matter of a couple of chapters. If The Magicians didn’t so clearly flesh out its characters or do such assured world-building, that could create major issues. But Grossman undoubtedly knew precisely what he wanted the world (worlds I suppose) to be and it prevents the story from ever faltering.

 

As I thought back about the book, I realized that the memories of my own college experience are similar to the way the story is told and my emotions and entire worldview were similar to Quentin’s and I have no doubt that the majority of the readers of the book felt the same way. Though the story infuses many, MANY fantasy elements – it is about magicians and a magicians college in upstate New York who desire to visit a mystical land known as Fillory – it never overwhelms the story and takes many cues from Tolkien and C.S. Lewis without directly biting from those influences. It’s an immersive and robust world, but realism permeates throughout. Though Quentin provides our point of view, his love interest, Alice, becomes the pulse that keeps the story human and unexpected. She goes through the gamut of emotions that Quentin tells himself he is feeling, but she does it almost always as a means of coping or in an attempt to help someone else.

 

The set piece that provides the climax of the story is unsurprisingly epic but is surprisingly full of twists and a set of ever-evolving possible resolutions. Callbacks of small bits and pieces are important to the story’s final act, though I have no doubt that the speed at which the story will be consumed will pose no problem for the majority of readers. The ending leaves an opening for a sequel without requiring one. It is a strong self-contained book that has an ending that is more positive than the chapters leading up to the end would lead one to expect, but it never forsakes the characters. Momentum is a large component of the novel and it is never lost from the time that Quentin chases a slip of paper into a garden until he looks out a window at his friends at the end. It’s a novel of nuanced and visceral moments in equal measure that has me on edge preparing to start the sequel.

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Marc Maron – “This Has to Be Funny” Review

 

Marc Maron is in the midst of a wave of success. On the heels of the popularity of his WTF podcast he has earned a deal to broadcast several episodes of the podcast on NPR and has scripted a pilot for development. Those familiar with Maron’s comedy know that the majority of his subject matter hinges on his psychological unease and things that do not go well in his life, leaving listeners to wonder what a new album could comprise if positive things are happening for Maron. That question is addressed in the intro, with Maron assuring his crowd that he is not happy or well and that he cannot handle the things that are going well. With that statement, any worries subsided and the album impressed with the way that Maron continues to explore the emotions that inform his daily life and the places his experiences went.

 

Early on, Marc Maron explores the relationship he has with his notebooks and why he doesn’t use Moleskines, his conversations he has with himself and his cats and the way his mother explained why she raised him the way she did – all with the emotional exploration that permeate every story he tells. These lead to the beautiful three-part centerpiece of the album of “Texting While Driving,” “The Creation Museum” and “A Situation In My Head.” These three stories work well to define the way that Maron seeks to empathize with every one of his listeners and find the shared emotional experience that keeps him from truly feeling alone. From there, the jokes are more riotous and not always as grand in exploration, but they’re involving from an emotional standpoint that differentiates Marc Maron from so many other comics.

 

Maron sounds like he is doing better on “This Has to Be Funny.” He is not nearly as dark as he was on his previous album, “Final Engagement,” and it lends itself better to repeated listens. Just like on his WTF podcast, the best moments are shared moments of emotional catharsis that ask to be listened to again as a way to feel like a part of something more than the darker inclinations that the mind tends to explore. Marc Maron has been fighting his personal demons for many years and it is finally sounding like he is happy and doing well compared with where he could have been. It has allowed him to create my favorite comedy album of the year without it feeling as though the listener has gone through the emotional ringer with him as his work has done in the past. “This Has To Be Funny” is an album bursting with emotion and laughter at the same time, the components of the best times in life and as a listener it is great to share in a positive time with Marc Maron.

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Mansions – Dig Up the Dead

During strong emotional moments in our lives, good or bad, we have difficulty putting our thoughts together in any clear way. Words get jumbled. There is feedback from the adrenaline rush to the brain. There is frustration that distorts reaction, causing the mind to jump from subject to subject, playing back all the moments that fed into that specific situation. It casts doubt, pushing our minds to wonder if just one thing had been done differently, would it change the outcome being experienced. In retrospect, events never seem as momentous as they do as happen, but our minds still recreate many of those same feelings. It’s the beauty of catharsis, the build up and release that frees us emotionally. On Dig Up the Dead, Christopher Browder explores the mind’s experience in an audible way.

Dig Up the Dead kicks off with the title track that has Browder’s distinct vocals being slightly further back in the mix and a slight echo to go with the words. There is room for everything to breathe, much like when we’re looking at a situation in retrospect and find our words echoing and playing over and over again. “Blackest Sky” and “Not My Blood” follow with the fuzzy guitars and distorted vocals that make up the backbone of the album. It’s a change for Mansions, but one that fits well. In place of vocals backed by acoustic guitar and solid drumming, we have a consistently strong rhythm section, fuzzy guitars and distorted vocals on many songs. There is an earnestness to the slight quiver in Browder’s vocals that endears listeners and makes the songs feel susceptible. It’s a beautiful contrast to the muscle the songs exhibit.

“City Don’t Care” is more subdued, but still has a pulsing drum beat that propels the song. It deals with the feeling of being lost in a big city, something universal, but specific in its exploration. The rest of the album continues strongly with two of the album’s highlights in the latter half.

There is a hint of reverb in place of distortion in “Seven Years” that sits well within the song’s context. There is a closeness and an immediacy to the song that draws the listener into the demons Browder is struggling to exorcise. With the repeated question of, “Will it be me and me alone?” we find ourselves asking the same questions Browder asks himself. It’s a song with a lot of big questions, but full of self-assuredness. The album closes with “Yer Voice.” It’s a superbly-executed exercise in meshing the sound of all the music Browder has created to this point in his career and a powerful finish to an excellent album. The song sees him relishing the work that he has had to put in to reach this point and realizes he is better off because of the tumultuous moments he has experienced, because he has reached his position because of honesty and sincerity. The song and album close with the lyrics “And the one thing that I need is the dreams back in my sleep, where they belong/I’m where I belong, you’ll see/This means everything to me.”

Having an artist confident in their craft and their position is a tremendous experience and leads to important art. Christopher Browder hasn’t had an easy trek in the music industry, but with his talent has persevered to create one of the most engaging albums of the last couple of years and has earned all the success he will achieve with Dig Up the Dead. It’s an album that is a quick listen, but is full of earworms and important topics. It’s easy to recommend to anyone, no matter their musical preference and I recommend you listen as soon as possible.

(Click the album cover to be taken to the Mansions site to order or download directly from the band.)

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The Weeknd – “House of Balloons”


 

The rise of minimalist music in indie rock and now in hip-hop and R&B has been in reaction to and in contrast to the polish populating every area of music in the last decade. The minimalism leaves a lot of burden for the artists behind the music to create something engaging in the places where the music is not. The style also allows a lot of open space to toy with structure and content within the songs. The Weeknd use the lack of stylistic flourishes to create something in sharp contrast to the direction of mainstream R&B music. The xx and How to Dress Well are obvious touchstones, but The Weeknd is something different than both of those acts.

 

House of Balloons is an album (I guess technically a mixtape) full of desperation, destruction, loneliness, regrets and despair. The music is still seen through the lens of girls, partying and sex, but that is the bokeh portion of the image, with the aforementioned attributes being the focal points. Opener “High for This” is an vivid introduction. Rather than penning a song about getting a girl alone and setting up candles and putting on some Luther Vandross, Toronto singer Abel Tesfaye shows his vocal chops with a tale of sex that his partner is gonna wanna be high to experience. It is far from caressing her skin and being gentle and, as a listener, I’m putting together the pieces of the dark lyrics that contrast the addictive chorus. Later on the album, we have “Coming Down,” a song about how Tesfaye desires a particular girl only when he is on the come down from a night of the untold.

 

Therein lies the beauty of what The Weeknd has put together. We’ve all had moments of self-mutilation, when we desire that person who either brings out the worst in us or we seek only when we feel we’re at our lowest. “Wicked Games” is my favorite song on the album and its bridge encapsulates what you can expect lyrically:

“Bring your love, baby I can bring my shame

Bring the drugs, baby I can bring my pain

I got my heart right here, I got my scars right here”

 

There is nothing that goes untouched throughout. In “The Party & The After Party” Tesfaye speaks of a girl that goes by Rudolph who will likely OD before he can take her home to meet his mother. “What You Need” features a sample of Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” which undoubtedly points toward the influence of How to Dress Well on the music. The major difference is that How to Dress Well approaches lo-fi R&B from a point of turning it into something that sounds like R&B without actually being R&B, whereas The Weeknd approaches the sound from a talented singer who turns the sound into something human, in all of its glowing inadequacies. The songs meander and evolve, but never lose their power or their grasp on the ears. I find myself constantly humming the refrains of these songs or feeling the fuzzy, euphoric riffs when my mind has nowhere to go.

 

(Click the cover art above to be directed to The Weeknd’s site to download the album for free.)

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Lost – “Not In Portland”

 

 

In which Richard Alpert rears his ageless head.

The first insight we get into Juliet prior to the Island shows us what has happened to her over the three years she has been there, both good and bad. On the good side, she is now supremely confident. She carries herself with strength and strides with a purpose, which is in stark contrast to her past. Back when she had wavy/curly hair, she was uneasy, uncertain and fairly timid. She didn’t consider herself to be anything special or possessing any qualities to be desired by anyone. A great deal of the damage was done by her ex-husband Edmond, but her fears are deep-seeded. After coming to the island, she had a male figure just as detrimental to her psyche, but Ben has proven to be someone who holds things over people’s heads rather than someone who attacks the emotional foundation of individuals. He has kept Juliet from the one thing she loves, her sister, and has kept her out of Juliet’s reach, pushing Juliet to the cold, detached demeanor with which she operates. He has pushed her to calculate her every move and attempt to take advantage in any slight crack she might see in Ben’s plans which forces her to lose some of herself along the way. She no longer reacts with joy – only cynicism and disdain.

The episode shows us the foundation for how Juliet ended up on the island. We meet the ageless (literally!) Richard Alpert, his lackey Ethan Rom (creepy as ever!) and learn about Mittelos Bioscience and how it is privately funded, which means freedom – they’re pretty much interchangeable, try it out! She is receiving the offer to continue her science in an arena that allows her to expand upon the testing she is currently doing on her sister and solidify what she has hypothesized. She doesn’t have the confidence or the vilification to go, though – until she goes home and finds out that her sister was finally able to conceive  and have a kid, the one thing she has always dreamed about. When she is sorting out why she is a mess and she can’t go, in an off-hand comment she says the only way she would be allowed to go would be if her ex-husband were hit by a bus and later in the episode HE GETS HIT BY A BUS and Juliet realizes the coincidence (don’t mistake it for fate?) when she sees Richard in the morgue and is overwhelmed. This was her breaking point, but being freed of her ex-husband allowed her to pursue a dream, only to have it become a nightmare.

On the island, in the operating room, Juliet takes charge of the proceedings as she shares with Jack that Sawyer and Kate won’t actually be able to get back to their side of the island since they are on a different island. Ben wakes up, though he can’t feel anything, and realizes the gravity of the situation and speaks with Juliet, ensuring her that, should he live, she will finally be able to get off the island. Juliet decides her best chance to do so is to help Sawyer and Kate get off the island and heads out to save them. What Kate and Sawyer have been doing is running from Danny and his cronies with the help of Alex who is clearly her mother’s daughter, what with her penchant for building hiding places in the ground.  The main thing we learn through this is that Danny and his asshole friends cannot shoot worth shit. Horrible. After hiding Kate and Sawyer, Alex assures them she will help them get away if they help rescue Carl from Room 23 (which is being protected by Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). They enter Room 23 which appears to be an acid trip without the acid and is full of subliminal messaging in the most non-subliminal way possible. They make it to the beach, Danny shows up, Juliet kills Danny and provides a walkie for Kate to radio back to Jack. Then, in one of the strongest moments of coalescence on the show, the beach story from Kate and Jack’s surgery come together perfectly. I thought it was slightly contrived the first time I watched but now find myself enjoying that moment as much as any during Season 3, if not the entire series. There are a lot of elements at play, foreshadowing and referring back to earlier in the series, but they’re balanced by the emotion and the clarity of the vision we see. I wish the episode had ended here and done the Juliet portion first, but I can’t complain too much. Overall, a really strong episode in what would have been Lost‘s return from a mid-season break and a strong season thus far.

*”If you have to, kill them.”

*”Nice to mee ya, Sheena.”

*”This a hobby of your’s, Underdog, digging holes?” “Yep. That and basket-weaving. Want one?” Alex, FTmfW!

*”Because I’m going to help your friend’s escape.”

*”If here were hit by a bus. How ’bout that?! That would work!”

*”Aldo? Hah.”

*”Don’t get mad at me because you were dumb enough to fall for the ol’ wookie prisoner gag.”

*”Because you’re insufferable and you’re mean. Well, you asked me for the truth Mom.” I think he was actually talking to Jack.

*”Promise me you’ll never come back for me.”

*”We’re not quite in Portland.”

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