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-

What's Really Wrong with the BCS

To no surprise, Alabama will be playing Texas in the College Football National Championship game on January 7th. Bama certainly deserved it...Texas not so much. If you saw the Big 12 Championship game, you saw a Nebraska team that should have beaten Texas, losing on a last second field goal. If Nebraska had any offense whatsoever they would have won because Ndamakong Suh and the Blackshirts completely dominated Texas. The only point of what I am saying now is that once again a team from the Mountain West Conference - TCU - gets shut out of the big game.

So, the problem with college football is that the BCS rankings are subject to preconceived notions about which teams should be the best - things that are reflected not only in the rankings but in the strength of schedule numbers. I mean, Cincinnati somehow jumped TCU in the BCS poll despite the fact they should have lost. What the BCS needs is a memory, so it can remember what happened the year before and not let it happen again. For those of you who do not remember: Florida (the SEC Champion) played Oklahoma (the Big 12 Champion) for the BCS championship last year, while Utah was snubbed despite an undefeated season and played Alabama, a team that lost a hard fought SEC Championship to Florida finishing with one loss. Results: Florida dominates hapless Oklahoma and despite Utah being from the "pathetic" MWC demolished Alabama.

I think everyone sees where I am going...Alabama is going to destroy Texas this year. In one way though, the BCS does have a memory. See, they learned their lesson from last year by matching TCU not against Florida but against fellow non-BCS conference team Boise State. Don't get me wrong, it will be a great game, but the BCS did it to save face not because it would be a good game. They knew if TCU beat the shit out of everyone's favorite SEC conference runner-up (the same way Utah did last year) the college football drones might actually notice.

Everyone talks about playoff, but if the BCS could figure out that matching a crappy team like Texas against Alabama simply because they are in a big name conference, doesn't work. Please for the love of all that is good, let the MWC winner play in the big game against the SEC and I guarantee they will show up, unlike Texas or Oklahoma or Ohio State or whatever overrated team that has lost to the SEC in the last how many years.

P.S. Tim Tebow is a baby. I wonder if Colt McCoy would have cried on the field if they would have lost (like they should have). He almost lost the game when he threw the ball out of bounds with only a second on the clock. After the game, he said (like the cocky bastard he is) that there was 15 seconds on the clock and he knew exactly what he was doing. For the record, there was 7 seconds and he had no idea what was going on. That would have been a perfect way to send McCoy to the second place finish in the Heisman behind Alabama's Mark Ingram. Either way, shouldn't change the result. See Tebow crying below.

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #6

#6: What to Do When You Are Dead (2005) by Armor for Sleep: Lightly based on a book of the same name by world-renowned psychic medium Craig Hamilton-Parker, What to Do When You Are Dead follows the main character from his apparent suicide in “Car Underwater” to his spirit’s ascension (or descent) by the end of the album. In between, the ghost of the main character visits familiar places from his lifetime, attempting to cope with his death. The band also managed to methodically incorporate the five steps of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) into the lyrics. To top it off, the album also included a guidebook of suggested activities for the afterlife if you perish. Album highlights: “The Truth About Heaven” and “Basement Ghost Singing.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Do Cities Hate Cougars? Part II

When a cougar wanders into a city in the West, the policy for most wildlife management agencies is to euthanize the animal. The reason: "When a lion comes into a heavily populated area like this one, there is the potential for something to happen" (South Dakota GF&P Wildlife Manager). Although cougar attacks on humans do take place, they rarely (if ever) take place in heavily populated areas. Moreover, death from cougar attack averages less the 1 per year. Pretty good odds. Here is a list of the 10 ten causes of death not realated to illness or disease (according to the National Center for Health Statistics) that you are much, much more likely.

1) Unintentional Motor Vehicle Traffic, 2) Unintentional Poisoning, 3) Unintentional Fall, 4) Suicide by Firearm, 5) Homicide by Firearm, 6) Suicide Suffocation, 7) Unintentional Unspecified (whatever that means), 8) Suicide Poisoning, 9) Unintentional Suffocation, and 10) Unintentional Drowning.

You are about 43,000 times more likely to die from a traffic collision than you are from a cougar attack. I have yet to hear a case of the Department of Motor Vehicles euthanizing bad drivers, though.

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #7

#7: Kezia (2006) by Protest the Hero: One of the more creative organizational themes, Protest the Hero’s Kezia tells the story of woman named Kezia set to be executed by firing squad. The album features 3 songs from the perspective of a prison priest, 3 from a prison guard, and 3 from Kezia, with an exclamation point retrospective finale song. The effect is a climax of Biblical proportions every third song. Outside of the story, the musicianship is extraordinary on all fronts. The band also crafted a rather comedic video for their single “Heretics and Killers,” which featured the band members dressed as the evil flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, who have been forced to find new work following the Wicked Witch of the West’s untimely demise. Album highlights: “Heretics and Killers” and “Divinity Within.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Do Cities Hate Cougars?

So, I've been following this story about a cougar who wondered into a neighborhood in Rapid City, South Dakota a couple weeks back. The state's Game, Fish, and Parks people tranq'd the cat while it cowered in a tree and then took it to a vet to be euthanized. Read the full story here:

About a week later, the Rapid City Journal published another article after some had asked the question "if the big cat was already out cold, why not just relocate it." And of course the bullshit answer given by GF&P, the supposed wildlife experts, was that relocation never worked. John Kanta from SD GF&P said that they have done it "6 times that I can think of" without success, which is code for "it might have been a failure before, but I don't really care enough to actually find out how many times we've tried. Now quit asking questions, so I can get back to aiding in the annihilation of a species or two." Here is the link to that story:

What may be more appalling is that Kanta says that the majority of citizen in the area support their cat killing program. Just read some of the comments from the second story. No surprise that the main argument made is the ever infamous "you don't live here, so you don't what it's like." Well, there is at least one person with a soul in the Black Hills area who wrote: "You're welcome to release the lion in my backyard. I chose to live in the beautiful Black Hills and share my property with quite an assortment of wildlife. I'm more concerned about gunhappy people shooting beagles, horses, etc, and deer jumping out in front of me while I drive..."

This citizen's statement helps remind us that wild animals like cougars did not invade our space, we invaded theirs.

I could go on and on, so look for more posts in relation to cougars in the near future.

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #8

#8: Catch Without Arms (2005) by Dredg: The band already had two concept albums when they released Catch Without Arms, and although those albums had more concrete storylines, this release truly showed the bands musicianship and creativity. The band intended the album to consist of two groups of songs that argued against each other; more or less polar opposites. Also well-known for their artwork, created by bassist Drew Roulette and singer Gavin Hayes, the pair created an abstract painting for each song, which featured elements of the meaning behind the song. Album highlights: “Bug Eyes” and “Ode to the Sun.”

Grammy Nominees Revealed

In a CBS special last night (one that I could only stand for about 5 minutes), some of the Grammy Nominees were announced. I have to admit, I stopped caring about who won Grammys a long time ago. The best music, according to the jerkoffs that choose the winners, are some of the artists I loathe most of all. Anyway, I still always check to see who gets nominated in the hard rock, alternative, and metal categories. I honestly can't say where they come up with these nominees. For example:

Best Hard Rock Performance - AC/DC, Alice in Chains, Linkin Park, Metallica and Nickelback.
Best Metal Performance - Judas Priest, Lamb of God, Megadeth, Ministry, and Slayer

First of all, Linkin Park and Nickelback haven't made a hard rock album in years and AC/DC has been washed up since about 1988. Alice in Chains is probably still hard rock, but Alice in Chains died when Layne Staley did. And shouldn't a band named METAllica be nominated in the category of metal.
Speaking of the metal category, I have only one point. All these are good metal bands, but only one of them (Lamb of God) does anything relevant to today's music scene. If the other four bands were involved in the same race say in the 90s, then someone would care. It's not like Best Pop Vocal Album features KC & the Sunshine Band, the Beegees, and the Jackson 5, it has the Black Eyed Peas and Kelly Clarkson (who might be pop washed up, she has been around for awhile).

The Grammys air sometime in February...I think...who cares.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years #9

#9: The Everglow (2005) by Mae: The group’s second album helped to propel them to a major label deal for their next album, and gave us some great songs. In order to appreciate the concept, one must have the associated booklet, as it is meant to read like a storybook featuring illustrations for each song. The first track “Prologue” even encourages the listener to follow along in the booklet, while listening to the album. Album highlights: “Someone Else’s Arms” and “Painless.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top 10 Rock Concept Albums of the Past 10 Years

As promised, I will be bringing you content more frequently. If you have been reading this blog for the last couple of months, you might remember a post I made about a list featuring the best concept albums of all time. I posted a few of my favorites back then. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a top 10 essay of concept albums in the past 10 years that I initially had plans to do something with, but never did. The following is the introduction to that essay and #10 on the list. Check back each day (if I remember) to read a new entry on the list. Enjoy!

During the late 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, some of the most influential and respected rock bands of our time popularized the concept album. Of these, the most well-known include Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, The Who’s Tommy, and The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. For those who don’t know, a concept album is merely an album composed of a series of songs united by a theme. The popular ones, like Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy, tell a specific story, ones which have been made into movies with Hollywood’s greats acting out every wonderful song. Yet, the concept album is not a new idea (not even in the twentieth century, as one could consider Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen composed during the nineteenth century to be the precursor to some of the later works), but it has within the last 10 years or so, seemed to have made a strong comeback.

Most recent “best of lists” include Green Day’s American Idiot. A massive commercial success, the album resurrected the band from the droves of pop-punk mediocrity. Although popular success often defines greatness in the music industry today, the following list of the top 10 concept albums of the last 10 years does not necessarily take that into account. In contrast, this list focuses on story, theme, lyrics, musicianship, creativity, and visual art, all parts of a complete project.

#10: Songs for the Deaf (2002) by Queens of the Stone Age: Considered by many to be one of the best albums by the Grammy-nominated artists, Songs for the Deaf just makes the cut. The collection of songs and their respective interludes are meant to take the listener on a trip from the Mojave Desert to Los Angles, all the while tuning into local radio stations. The group brought in legendary drummer Dave Grohl, enhancing the credibility of the project. The music videos for the album featured scenes of the band in or on an automobile. For example, the video for “No One Knows” features members of the band driving in a truck at night when they hit a deer. After believing the dear to be dead, they load it into the truck only to have it wake up and wreak havoc. Album highlights: “No One Know” and “First it Giveth”