Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #1

#1: Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume I: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness by Coheed and Cambria (2005): Once again proving that bands that like concept albums also like long album titles, Coheed and Cambria gives us the top concept album of the last ten years. Much like The Dear Hunter, judging Coheed’s concept album credentials on a single album is unfair, as all four of their current albums (and one upcoming album) consist of a single story. For fans of Rush’s 2112, this science fiction epic takes places in the fictional universe known as Heaven’s Fence. The story is a bit complicated, and Tolkienian in detail. Thus, the band has helped the layperson by issuing a series of comic books that masterfully illustrate the tale of Claudio Kilgannon and the other inhabitants of Heaven’s Gate. Musically, Coheed and Cambria have often been compared to Led Zeppelin in their more rock-driven tunes like the album’s first single “Welcome Home.” The band also includes brilliant reworkings of songs from their previous albums incorporating them into new songs usually with a new vocal melody and different lyrics. For example, “The Willing Well III: Apollo II: The Telling Truth” (another long title) features a reprise of the song “Blood Red Summer” from In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. Album highlights: “Welcome Home” and “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #2

#2: Act II: The Meaning of, & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading (2007) by The Dear Hunter: Deer Hunter creator, songwriter, and front-man Casey Crescenzo fashioned the story of the Dear Hunter as a six album endeavor, this being the second installment. The band certainly is prolific; Act II originally featured around two hours of music, which had to be cut down to just under 80 minutes to fit on a single disc. Set at the turn of the twentieth century, the story follows the birth, life, and death of the main protagonist, known only as the Dear Hunter. Act II begins with the death of the Dear Hunter’s mother. Following her demise, he travels to a nearby brothel to learn more about his mother to whose profession as a former prostitute he owes his birth. While there, he falls in love with the working woman Ms. Leading, but their love affair falls apart as our protagonist cannot deal with her line of work. Although a modern progressive rock band, The Dear Hunter creates a musical atmosphere in Act II that places the listener at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although it would be more appropriate to put the complete works of the Dear Hunter here rather than only one album, this is their coming-of-age piece. Album highlights: “The Procession” and “Red Hands.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #3

#3: De-loused in the Comatorium (2003) by the Mars Volta: As one of the intellectual and musical descendents of Pink Floyd and Genesis (Peter Gabriel-era), the Mars Volta created a real gem with their debut album, De-loused in the Comatorium. Based on a short story written by singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and sound manipulator Jeremy Michael Ward, De-loused follows the main character Cerpin Taxt through a rat poison and morphine induced coma. Upon waking, he becomes unsatisfied with the real world and plunges to his death. Many songs feature a jazzy beat with a bit of flamenco flare wrapped around hard rock guitar riffs and the Robert Plantesque swooning of Bixler-Zavala. The Mars Volta made experimental instrumentation and odd time signatures cool again with De-loused in the Comatorium. Album highlights: “Inertiatic ESP” and “This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #4

#4: Blood Mountain (2006) by Mastodon: Great for the lovers of progressive metal, fantasy, and dark humor, Mastodon’s third full-length album follows the story’s protagonist up Blood Mountain (a real peak in Georgia), as he searches for the Crystal Skull. Upon acquiring the Crystal Skull, he hopes to place it at Blood Mountain’s apex. Along the way, the main character meets some crazy creatures such as the Cysquatch (a single-eyed Bigfoot that can see the future) and the Birchmen (a group of tree people who combine to form one giant tree). Mastodon pays homage to their concept album predecessors Genesis, through their song “Colony of Birchmen,” a slight name change from Genesis’s track, “Colony of Slippermen.” Like other Mastodon albums, Blood Mountain features magnificent artwork, a feature highlighted in the video for “Colony of Birchmen.” Album highlights: “The Wolf is Loose” and “This Mortal Soil.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why Do Cities Hate Cougars? Part III

According to Jane Goodall’s foreword to Listening to Cougar , there were 7 attacks on humans between 1992 and 2002 – less than one a year and not all were fatalities. To put that number in perspective, 533 people were killed by hornets, bees, or wasps during roughly the same period and 208 by dogs.

Robert Busch explains in his book The Cougar Almanac that the majority of attacks involve juvenile cougars who have left the tutelage of their mothers, but have yet to master the art of hunting (much like our friend in South Dakota, a 2 year old male who may have also been pushed to the fringes by more dominate males). Other attacks, he says, are often perpetrated by mother cougars protecting their young. Several attacks including one in 1990 in Colorado and one in 1993 in California involved people jogging. Busch explains that cougars, like many other predators, have a natural chase instinct. It’s the same instinct that makes your house cat chase laser lights and pieces of string.

Overwhelmingly, these attacks also happened not in cities, but in rural areas or nature preserves. One of the most well known occurred in Caspers Wilderness Park in southern California in 1986 when a cougar snatched a five year old girl from alongside a creek in the park. Fortunately, she survived the attack. Surprisingly, the parents of the girl did not call for the extermination of cougars, but rather won a $2 million dollar suit against the county because they were not thoroughly warned about the possible danger of cougars.

How much of the policy of executing cougars who wander into cities has to do with sound wildlife management and concern for the public good, and how much has to do with governments striving to avoid potential lawsuits?

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #5

#5: Trainwreck (2005) by Boys Night Out: One of the more tightly-knit storylines, Boys Night Out’s Trainwreck follows the Patient, a man who accidently kills his wife during a dream. Following her death, the Patient is hospitalized, but ultimately convinces the Doctor (the story’s other main character) to release him, which he promptly does. Following his release, he feels overwhelming guilt for his actions, and cuts off his hands. Back in the hospital, the Patient begins hearing the voice of his dead wife, a part performed by the band’s female keyboardist, Kara Dupuy. To combat the madness, he begins composing a song in his head. Again, the Patient convinces the doctor to let him out (just because you go to medical school doesn’t mean you have good judgment), this time to visit friends and family, who the Patient ends up poisoning (“So come over to my house…we’re having strychnine and sirloin”). The last few songs focus on the Patient’s plummet toward a tragic death at his own hands with the Doctor watching in horror. Album highlights: “Medicating” and “Relapsing.”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book Review: State of Fear by Michael Crichton

Ok, so the book I am going to briefly review here is a couple of years old, but I've been in college since the time this book was published and only recently made my way out. Now I have both enough time to read it and enough time to write a blog that no one will read.

Michael Crichton's State of Fear focuses on a eco-terrorist group's attempt to initate a series of attacks to highten awareness about global warming while a group of characters attempt to foil their plans. I have been, in the past, a fan of Crichton's stories. They usually feature a white-knuckled adventure capped off with elegant detail acted out by broad, three dimensional characters. I have several problems with this book, but will only mention two here. First, while many of Crichton's novels have an agenda or are seen as a warning (i.e. don't clone f'ing dinosaurs because they will soooooo eat you!), this book read as a polemic against global warming. This is the point to which many reviewers criticized Crichton. For me, it was annoying to say the least.

The plot of the novel focuses on several attempted eco-attacks meant to mimic climate change in order to highten awareness. In the real world, the teams assembled to fight terrorism usually consist of the military or the CIA or the FBI or some federal agency with trained professionals. People trained in combat and so on. Crichton's team consists of a college professor, 2 lawyers, a billionaire's assistant, a billionaire, and an actor. Move over Delta Force, take a seat Navy Seals, no need to call the A-Team. I almost stopped reading because of this. How did Crichton expect the reader to believe that these people would have been doing what they were doing. At one point, one of the lawyers mentions that he had never fired a gun, but by the end of the book he is running around shooting terrorist with machine guns. It's just assinine.

Of all the book I have read by Crichton, this is by far the worst. Both of Crichton's two previous books, Prey and Timeline, were well-written, exciting, and the people involved had a reason to be involved. Their role in the actions of the story were imperative to the plot, while in State of Fear, you begin wondering why the people going after the terrorists keep calling up the fucking lawyer to go hunt them down. The lawyer is the main character of the story, but he shouldn't even be there.

Grade: D+

Other Crichton books (if you're interested)...Prey: B+, Timeline: A-, Eaters of the Dead B-