By Colin Caccamise
This movie is AWESOME. I hate to shoot myself in the foot in the opening paragraph of this review, but this movie is seriously that good. This series (the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy) is one I hold in very high regard, not to say this film doesn’t have it’s faults (what film doesn’t?) But as a science-fiction film, this film ticks off all the boxes that makes a repeat viewing experience for me.
Let’s start with the soundtrack: a raucous run from 90’s hard rock like The Sisters of Mercy to 70’s psychedelic rock icons, The Doors. The entirety of this musical accompaniment provides the proper feel to this story of good friends, good brews and good times. In addition to the rocking tunes, Steve Price creates a well-rounded secondary soundtrack that moves the film along with its eerie pacing. All in all, I’d buy the album and rock it in my car on my way to a pub crawl with the lads.
Soundtrack score: 4.5 out of 5
Cinematography is up next, and as this is an Edgar Wright film, simply put: the man knows how to shoot a film. Building on the fast-paced, almost frenetic edits of seemingly mundane tasks like bathroom usage and breakfast (Shaun of the Dead) or pouring pints (Hot Fuzz) and the heavy close-ups when it comes to a brawl (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), this film brings out the best elements all of his films and weaves cinematic gold. The similar elements in all the pub sets play into not only a in-joke of the film, but also the worrying trend of homogeneity in popular culture. Camera work is tight, it doesn’t seem like there’s a frame being wasted at any point in this film. Thumbs up to the crew and editors of this film.
Cinematography score: 5 out of 5
Out of all the stories that Edgar Wright has committed to film, only Scott Pilgrim vs. The World might eke out a better story than The World’s End. Simon Pegg as Gary King, an recovering addict attempting to relive his failed youth with attempting to complete this unfinished pub crawl. His performance shows how badly the rose-tinted glasses of the past can affect our future. However, my surprise was how the focus shifts mid-film from Gary to Andy (Nick Frost) as he first tries to avoid, then embraces the lunacy of Gary’s quest and ends up unleashing all his frustration on the unsuspecting robot invasion. This tonal shift definitely changes up the Frost/Pegg dynamic casting Nick Frost as the true hero for once instead a sidekick.
Story score: 5 out of 5
In summary, there are two ways of how I look at how this holds up against the other films of both the trilogy and the director’s other films:
Rank of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy:
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
2. The World’s End (2013)
3. Hot Fuzz (2007)
While I love all these films, Hot Fuzz is extremely slow to pick up and really the last 20 minutes are the moments to remember. The World’s End is better in the sense that the action begins in the the second act and doesn’t stop or falter. Shaun of the Dead, however invests us more emotionally in the characters and thus the third act and outcome are more cathartic to the moviegoer. Though if I was hard-pressed for which Edgar Wright film would be my favorite? Well…
Rank of Edgar Wright Films:
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
2. The World’s End (2013)
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
4. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Whereas Shaun of the Dead is my favorite of the Three Flavours trilogy, I have to admit The World’s End is a better shot film than it’s predecessors in the trilogy. However, it is not as well shot as Wright’s adaption of the Bryan Lee O’Malley series Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Pilgrim is a whirlwind of violence, wit, humor and pop culture that few films have come close to matching, but none can best. The final word on “The World’s End”?
Repeat theater viewing, DVD must-have, 5 stars.
by Sean Holmes*Waives fingers* You WILL go next year.
When I first heard from my colleagues at Castwave Studios that we were going to Intervention, my thoughts were level with my shoes. In other words, my expectations were low. Then, I went to the event. I couldn't have been more incorrect.
Intervention (internet + convention) is what would happen if the Geekdom, Nerdism, and combined interests of the internet (minus the porn), jumped out of your devices into neatly arranged convention tables. Add the most friendly people you can imagine, another addition of a heaping teaspoon (F**k it! the whole container!) of Retro Gaming from MAGfest, and this cliched recipe analogy is complete.
Words fail to describe how awesome it was to be networking for Castwave Studios. The activity that really drew me in to love this convention so much was the NETWORKING! I mean the REAL PERSON-TO-PERSON networking you simply CANNOT get through social (thumbs up your butt) media that has made an entire nation into lazy cattle. Not to say Social Networking is not valid -- in person is just simply better.
Thumbs up for getting out of the house!
Even from the convention floor, stuck at our table (photo above), we were constantly in contact with convention attendees and even the vendors themselves. Sharing similar interests with your fellow nerd is one of the finer things in life and why the Hotel business is still booming. I recommend this convention to anyone who has enjoyed things on the internet. Which is to say, EVERYONE. Please check out the numerous links from the convention attendees this year.
LINKS TO YOUR ZELDA (ha)
Bonus Vines from Intervention
"Man of Steel" variant poster by Martin Ansin (courtesy of http://blog.mondotees.com/2013/06/11/man-of-steel-timed-edition/)
By Colin Caccamise
Believe it or not, I've always been a fan of the Big Blue Boy Scout. Yes, even after his sleep and resurrection*, even after Richard Pryor**, and YES, even after "Electric Blue" Superman***. I still find the idea of a hero who is straightedge and infallible (in most respects) more wholly appealing the gritty, "dark and tortured" heroes that the comics industry has vomited out since the mid-eighties. Superman might have the most basic set of super-powers imaginable, but it's his actions as a paragon of right that sets him above all others.
Having said that I will admit my trepidation when I heard Superman was being rebooted (again). Some of that fear was assuaged when I heard that Christopher Nolan of "The Dark Knight" fame was coming on (albeit as a producer). But, that worry came back faster than a speeding bullet when I heard who was directing, Zack Snyder. We've had a tenuous relationship at best, I loved 300, despised the omissions in Watchmen and I straight up didn’t get Sucker Punch.
Closer and closer to this premiere came along and as more information was released, I started to hope (dangerous in this day and age.) When the extended trailers were released, I said to myself "I will go to the midnight release." This is something I haven't done in awhile as I work an odd shift in my day job, which hinders certain social get-togethers. But as this was an event to me, I felt it necessary to enjoy the experiences of my youth.
And now: a slight tangent...(don't worry, this will all tie into my thesis)
Midnight showings in the mid 90's to early-2000's were an event, an epic party to celebrate, not only the film's release, but the material and the culture surrounding it in general. But ever since Michael Bay came on the scene and perverted well-loved franchises to simply make more money instead of respecting both the source material and the fans he was claiming to make it for, using nothing more than tits and CGI explosions? We as nerds found ourselves surrounded less by our own kind and were found to be rubbing elbows with the beer-swilling, hazing, corn-holing types we spent our formative years attempting to escape from. We looked to films like these to escape from our boring lives, because they suck, we don't need a constant reminder for us in the theater.
Speaking of the midnight premiere, we start to watch the film and, after first five minutes, I feel like I’m slipping into the world they’re creating to explain Kal-El's exodus from Krypton to his wandering days. Yet, some jackass in the back of the theater wouldn’t stop yelling "Woo!" every time Clark does something awesome (which is a lot). I don't know if it was a need to satisfy his need for some attention or drunken douchery, but seriously...motherfuckers like these need to be castrated or receive some other form of corporal punishment. It's this kind of behavior that causes people to not want to go to the theater anymore, we don't allow this kind of shit in a bar...why a movie theater?
After the movie, I was perplexed by the mixed reviews that the film was getting from people who I saw it with. Most of the complaints I heard boiled down to "TOO much destruction" and not enough character development. My responses to those statements were of disbelief. When it really boils down to it, there is just as much destruction in "The Avengers" as in this film, however the counter to this argument is that Avengers had the Whedon humor to counter-balance the destruction.
Let's gloss over the fact that Loki gauges a man's eye out for the Unobtanium or whatever mcguffin that Will Turner's dad needed for Loki's portal. Let's skip the fact that half of New York was curb-stomped by an alien invasion fleet, yet instead of sending in tactical jet fighters in to draw off their aerial attacks? FUCK THAT, NUKE EM. The one thing that Man of Steel did better is that it fucking took death more seriously than the Avengers did.
No jokes during battle, no witty comebacks, no close-ups on Henry Cavill's ass in spandex. It’s a reminder to you that life can end easily and quickly and this realization (which is not always a welcome one) only serve to intensifies the battle between Superman and Zod. I got a headache soon after this semantics argument. But that wasn’t the only complaint I heard.
“It’s a Superman reboot, why are they rebooting Superman, we don’t need this!” Actually, after “Superman Returns”, yeah, we kind of did. Besides, Batman did the same goddamn thing and you all ate that shit up like gangbusters. This movie is basically setting up the “Justice League” film as the previous crop of Marvel films were setting up the Avengers movie. But why would you blame them? This is the natural order of things, Marvel presented the Avengers, now DC responds in stride, and hopefully better then their previous attempt.
In closing, if I had to sum up my feelings on this film? This movie rocks; the sequel will be even better (a la Dark Knight). Seriously, the sequel has the goddamn Batman in it (World’s Finest WOO!) I actually see DC/Warner Bros. taking the lead for who produces a better superhero film in the next few years.
Hey, at least they aren't making "Guardians of the Galaxy"...
* See Max Landis' "The Death and Return of Superman"
** Yes, Richard Pryor was in Superman 3, and no, he wasn't funny...at all.
*** Yes, Electric-Blue Superman was a thing. The less said about this, the better.
A reference to the Simpsons episode "Dead Putting Society" (Season 2, Episode 6)
It all starts somewhere....
Believe it or not, when I plopped into a recliner at my friend Justin's house a few months back to watch the Super Bowl, I hadn't planned on hopping on Twitter. I had planned to maybe to check my Facebook feed every few hours to see the bandwagon fans scream about bad calls or switch loyalties at the drop of a hat. So, in the first few minutes of the "Big Game", already bored by the lackluster commercials and Jim Harbaugh already throwing a tantrum, I decided to hop on Twitter and look at what the internet thought of the game thus far.
BEST. DECISION. EVER.
I began tweeting more than I had in the last few months as well as my cohorts at Castwave Studios. So, I bring you, UNEDITED and UNALTERED, the Live Tweets of Castwave Studios: Superbowl 2013 Edition.
This tweet came about after a particularly annoying CBS promo claiming "60 Minutes" was "the #1 News Program". LOL no.
There was a "Got Milk" commericial where Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is running through an cavalcade of issues he could stop (if he was 1930's Superman) but chooses not to because why? He needs milk for his kids' cereal! WORST SUPERHERO EVER.
by Jordan Hazelwood
They brought a cave troll.
Mr. Zack Patterson recently invited most of the Castwave Studios troupe, including myself, to join in on an episode of his video game podcast Severed Dongle, particularly for his discussion on motion controls. As it turned out, the assembly’s opinions on the subject were as myriad as they were furious and we ran the clock pretty long, so I was not able to find an opening to talk about the game I had rented for just that occasion. It’s no big deal, I can just conjure up my review now. This is Sorcery, the 2012 wand-em-up exclusive for the Playstation Move.
The story begins in Generic Tolkein-esque Fantasy World #9959 where we find young Finn, who’s bored with his lot in life as a Sorcerer’s Apprentice that presumably consists of animating brooms to bale water and putting up with Nic Cage’s constant mugging. After an average day spent faffing about on ancient elven burial grounds, Finn inadvertently attracts the attention of a sinister demon-possessed fairy queen. This is especially bad news to Erline, Finn’s sassy grimalkin friend, who is actually the queen’s runaway daughter polymorphed into the body of a cat. Note: I originally didn’t intend to spoil that plot point here, but come on, look at the box art again. You could just tell that a fairy princess was bound to show up at some point!
It's Adventure Time, with Erline the Cat and Finn the Human!
Eye of Newt and Saw of Mitres, Sweat of Troll and Cramp of Writers
As for the gameplay, to tell the truth, the first third or so of
the game was an absolute slog. The controls require the PS3-chuk for movement, and the Move itself served as my magic wand, meaning I fired magic missiles by flicking the Move at my targets, meaning I initially missed nine out of every ten shots because magic wands do not come equipped with iron sights. I also strongly disliked the system of exposition for this far-out fantasy universe, consisting of Finn acting like a completely hapless cretin, obliging Erline to explain everything more complicated than breathing to him. I suddenly miss the days when video game characters would hold up signs saying “Read the Manual for Details”. I also suddenly miss the days when video games had manuals. Next came the part of the game that took my well-worn gamer maxim of “When the game tells you where to go, go everywhere else first” and kneed it hard in the groin when I came to a Y-intersection and Will-o-Wisps appeared out of nowhere and beckoned me down the right path. Naturally I went left, upon which a door slammed shut behind me barring my return and Erline perked up, “Protip: Wisps point you in the direction of vitally important magic items”. Hey, Erline! Protip: Screw You! And then there’s the Professor Snape-approved portion of the game where I had to concoct potions to give Finn permanent character buffs. This involved laboriously adding every ingredient one by one to a cauldron through motion gestures (and I swear, potions that call for sprinkling grave dust made me twist my wrist back and forth for what felt like two minutes at a time), then swirling the Move upside down to stir the potion, then shaking the mixture inside the bottle despite the fact that I just stirred it (Bartender, a Potion of Heroic Might, shaken and stirred), and then I could throw the Move back towards my face to simulate drinking it. Any other video game would handle everything I just described with one or two button presses. Is fostering the illusion of performing every single tactile sensation involved in brewing physics-defying cocktails really important enough to risk carpal tunnel syndrome?
I have a flame-nado. Your argument is invalid.
But I kept plugging away and, to tell more of the truth, I’m really glad I did. Once the painfully obvious exposition was finally over, I noticed that Finn and Erline’s voice actors had very genuine chemistry, and their characters underwent decent arcs over the course of the story. I also felt that the exploration element was strong, especially for such a linear game. Yes, the wisps do point the way to some of the magic goodies, but others are pretty deviously hidden and I legitimately missed a few of them on my first playthrough. Lastly, combat was a grim, taxing and unrelenting waggle-fest in the early game when I only knew the standard issue magic missile, but it really opened up later after I learned several more spells, most of which could combine with each other in very cool ways. There was a point about two thirds through the game when I was jumped by a horde of spiders and surly sylphs, whereupon I held the Move aloft above my head and drew it down and across to summon a whirlwind that Hoovered up the spiders, then I spun the Move clockwise and thrust it forward to set said whirlwind and spiders on fire, then I flicked forward rapidly, sending a flurry of missiles through the flaming whirlwind which sprayed magical pyrotechnic death on all of the straggling sylphs. Then I thought to myself, “Wait, has this game officially started kicking ass?” Shortly thereafter, I discovered the lightning nexus, allowing me with two lateral motions to summon a raging electrical tempest out from beneath the ground. Then I thought to myself, “Yes. Yes it has”.
All and all, I enjoyed my time playing Sorcery, even though I completely finished it and snagged the platinum trophy within a week. I would definitely recommend it for a rental, if you are like me and are insanely lucky enough to live within driving distance of a place that still rents PS3 games. Sorcery definitely convinced me that the Playstation Move is the ideal controller for magic wand simulators. In one or two years, I’ll be sure to write that on its tombstone.
P.S. Do you guys remember how Resident Evil 4 had that creepy Australian merchant guy who kept showing up out of thin air to buy and sell your swag? Sorcery has a similar character, except he’s a Scottish dwarf played by Steve Blum. Sorcery: One, RE4: Zero.
by Justin Eisenstadt
[Note: the opinions here do not necessarily represent those of CastWave Studios.]
It is of no concern to me whether you believe me or agree with me. The fact is, I have a compulsion to share my ideas because doing so liberates me from the burden of my own thoughts; if I do not share them, then they take up space in my head and weigh me down. Respect my opinions as I respect yours.
I set out to write a fantasy novel about rock and roll and have discovered that I am instead writing a novel about faith and religion. In a previous essay, "On Failure and Safety Nets," I explained why I do not believe in God. I have concluded that my religious beliefs can be summarized as such: I am an atheist who has faith.
Faith is believing in something without proof that it exists. Madness is believing in something in spite of proof that it does not exist. Many people seem to struggle with the distinction between proof and the absence of proof, so I will say this: the absence of proof proves nothing.
We can all (hopefully) agree that extremists are dangerous regardless of what side they are on. Extremism is not limited merely to those of the religious persuasion. Believing that there is a rational explanation for everything is, simply, irrational. I believe that there are, and always will be, things we cannot explain: the purpose of existence, the nature of consciousness, and what happens when we die, just to name a few. That is what I have faith in. I have faith in the unknown. Therefore, there is nothing irrational about believing in God because, ultimately, it doesn't even matter.
What matters in this world are actions, not beliefs. Being a (insert religion here) does not automatically make you a good person. That seems fairly obvious, right? I'm not saying anything that everyone does not already know here. If your faith causes you to do good and righteous things, then you are a good and righteous, then you are a good and righteous person. If your faith causes you to do hateful things, then you are a hateful person. Nothing written in any book can make you otherwise.
And to those who would argue for moral relativism, allow me to state tenet number two of my personal faith: every sane person has an inherent ability to distinguish right from wrong. Unless you are a sociopath or suffer from some kind of mental illness, you know, deep down, whether your actions are just or unjust (relative, of course, to the values and mores of the culture in which you live). Social, institutional, and cultural implications inside, what allows us to distinguish right from wrong comes not from any explicit code of ethics but from that innate human phenomenon known as empathy (not that other animals don't possess empathy as well). Empathy allows us to detect when another living thing is experiencing pain, and whether or not we are the cause of that pain. Don't look to God to tell you right from wrong. Look inside. Trust your instincts; you know them to be true.
God is simply an idea, but ideas have incredible power - the power to make and unmake the universe, in fact. So when you say you believe in God, you are really saying you believe in the idea of God - and that is equally valid. Of course, ideas are like assholes; everyone has them and most of them stink. Still, one of the greatest things about being human is having ideas and getting to defend them. Just remember that actions speak louder than words.
[There will most likely be a part two to this, to be posted sometime in the not too distant future.]
Pictured above: Assholes.
by Justin Eisenstadt
Now, I know that movie reviewing is really Colin and Sean's joint, but my little brother Adam dragged me to see this movie (by offering to pay for me) and I find myself compelled to offer some thoughts about a film that, while not the worst thing I've ever seen, does represent everything that's wrong with comedy today. And by that, I'm referring to Seth Macfarlane.
Unless your utterly pretentious claim of not owning a television is actually true, then you already know that Seth Macfarlane is the hugely successful writer, comedian, voice actor, and a number of other words that end in "-er" who is responsible for the show Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show. And I assure you that I fully intended to use the singular term, "show."
Ted is a movie about a boy named John Bennett who makes a magical Christmas wish that brings his stuffed bear to life. The two vow to remain best friends forever and 27 years later, John is now a directionless tool and Ted is an obnoxious, racist asshole. John has inexplicably managed to gain the love and devotion of Lori Collins, played by Mila Kunis. However, John's immaturity and Ted's insufferable antics are putting a real strain on John and Lori's relationship. How will John be able to choose between his loudmouthed pothead bear and his incredibly attractive, funny, and intelligent girlfriend who makes more money than him and constantly puts up with his bullshit?
Alright, now that I've deconstructed the incredibly complex plot of this film, allow me to explain why, in spite of its huge box office success and bewilderingly positive public and critical reception, this movie is just plain shitty and quite possibly heralds the decline of comedy in cinema as we know it. Now, I don't actually believe that statement, but I do find it quite troubling that so many people enjoy this movie.
I understand of course that humor is completely subjective. So when I tell you that I only laughed at about five lines in the entire two hours of running time, I realize that's not going to be all that helpful to you as a reader and potential viewer. The thing that's troubling to me is why it fails not only as a comedy, but simply as a film.
Spoiler: One of these girls has problems controlling her bodily functions, and that is apparently hilarious.
At the end of the day, what brings this movie down is the same thing that caused Family Guy to go from a novel and humorous show to one that is tired, grating, and at times nearly un-watchable. Seth Macfarlane has become so successful that he no longer has anyone to tell him when his ideas are bad. He has no editor. Or, he simply refuses to listen to anyone. If you cut about 20 to 30 minutes off this movie, it would be at least decent - not great, but decent. As it stands, it's just full of line after line of jokes that are stupid, painfully obvious, or just downright offensive. I'm convinced that Seth put literally every single joke that popped into his brain into the script and refused to cut a single one.
Seth Macfarlane's idea of humor is pointing at a cute, anthropomorphic character and saying, "Hey look, guys, this thing that shouldn't be talking is making a bunch of pop culture references and saying inappropriate things. Isn't that outrageous?" Let me ask you, if you had a friend and he suddenly made a racist statement about black people or Jewish people, you'd probably just let it slide, right? He probably just didn't realize that wasn't funny. And he did the same thing two or three more times, well he's probably just very slow at picking up on things. But if he continued to make unfunny racist jokes, you'd probably sit him down and say, "Look, Steve, we think you might have some serious issues that need resolving."
Seth Macfarlane apparently does not have any friends that are willing to do this. Look, I'm a really laid-back guy and I don't get offended when someone makes some crack about Jewish people. But the sheer number of times that Seth Macfarlane continues to "poke fun" at the Jewish people in the entertainment he creates is getting even me concerned. There's a scene in this movie where Ted and John, drunk at a party (and by the way that party scene was about three times longer than it needed to be), are discussing their idea to open an Italian restaurant.
In case you're wondering, that dude in the foreground is Flash Gordon.
Ted says emphatically, "Hey, I've got an idea! Let's make the restaurant inclusive. Like, if a Jewish person comes, we won't say anything, we'll just let him in!" John, taken aback, replies, "Why would you even say that?" Ted says, "We don't say it, that's the point."
"Why would you even bring it up?" "We don't bring it up, we just let him in." Marc pauses, and says, "Um, ok, right, so Jewish people are allowed in." Ted affirms, "Yes. But no Mexicans."
I realize I've already broken my promise of keeping this review brief, so I'll end on this note. Seth Macfarlane is a funny guy. Really, in spite of all I've said, I do think he's a funny guy. Clearly has some issues to resolve, just like our friend Steve, but a clever and witty comedian nonetheless. However, he's a shitty writer. He can't tell a proper story, so he pads it out with extraneous dialogue and Family Guy-style cutaway gags. And the fact that the American public seems generally okay with this offends me far more than any racial slur that Ted spouts off in this movie. As someone who aspires to a career in writing fiction, let me leave Seth with this message that he will never read: no amount of pop culture references can make up for bad storytelling. If you just want to tell jokes, do stand-up. Film is for telling stories.
by Justin Eisenstadt[A few notes: This post is of a much more personal nature and the opinions stated here do not necessarily represent those of CastWave Studios. Public Allies is an Americorps program that provides young adults with full-time non-profit apprenticeships and rigorous leadership training. It's a great program and I urge you to learn more about it here.]
I no longer fear failure. We’re old friends, failure and me. I experience it day after day, month after month, year after year. This may come as a surprise to those who assume I have my shit together, that I am deserving of praise for the things I have accomplished: college graduate, straight-A student, Eagle Scout, respected by my friends and peers. But if I get to decide what constitutes success for me, then I should also get to decide what constitutes failure, and in spite of whatever accolades I may have garnered, believe me when I say this – I am, or more accurately, have been
a failure. Here’s the thing, though - defeat is permanent, but failure is only temporary. Failure is an action, but defeat is a state of being –and we are only defeated when we admit
So why am I a failure? Because day after day, month after month, year after year, I have failed to be the thing that I know, deep down, that I am meant to be: a writer. I have wanted to be the next Stephen King since I first learned who Stephen King was, and yet, almost 20 years later, I have yet to finish even a single novel. I’ve started and abandoned many, and dreamed up countless more, but I’ve never finished a single one.
People like my dad and my brothers always ask me, “What happens if you fail?” No one ever asks me, “What happens if you succeed?” This fear of failure, coupled with the idea that I need to be “realistic,” has driven me to do many things that have moved me further away from goal rather than closer to it. It drove me to major in Mechanical Engineering, then it drove me to major in Computer Science, and – sad to say it – it is what drove me to do Public Allies. I think that in spite of whatever reasons I gave about social justice and helping the community I may have initially given, the real reason I joined was because even a nebulous notion of “working for a non-profit” seemed like a more reasonable life plan than being a writer.
Well, I’m done being reasonable and I’m done being realistic. It’s time for me to admit that writing is more than just a hobby, it is my career, and it is the only career that I will ever be happy doing. I’m sure that, phrased like that, that statement becomes immediately obvious and straightforward, but you have no idea how long it’s taken for me, thickheaded as I am, to finally appreciate a fact that millions of people before me have already realized – that your day job and your career are not the same thing, that in fact they may have absolutely nothing to do with one another. And that’s totally okay.
I am not “destined” for anything. I decide my life’s purpose, not society or fate or the intractable whims of an invisible deity who expects me to live in service of him. I have no personal lord and savior, and I have no interest in preserving the status quo. The truth is that there is no status quo. The only constant is change, and you can either embrace it or resist it. Or, you can take the third option – you can cause it.
Ten months in Public Allies have exposed my strengths and failures in a way that four years in college did not. I lack the organizational skills and time management skills, not to mention the selfless devotion to the community, necessary to ever achieve anything more than “adequacy” as a non-profit leader. I might become an above average leader, but I will never excel in this field for the same reason that I will never be a good father – frankly, I’m just too self-centered. That is not to say that I don’t care about others; to the contrary, I have a deep and unshakeable faith that there is good in humanity, that even in the darkest corners of the world, hope takes root and stubbornly fight to break through into the light.
I am an observer, standing at the edges on the outside looking in. I often call myself insightful, as do others. Break apart the word insight and look at it literally: “in” and “sight.” To find truth, we gaze within ourselves. We internalize external stimuli and filter them trough that fleshy supercomputer known as the brain in order to distill meaning. This, to me, is the true magic. This is why I do not believe in God, although I certainly do not begrudge anyone their personal beliefs. But allow me to explain what I mean. To look at a world that was created specifically for us by some all-powerful being and call it beautiful is not to appreciate it but simply to state the obvious. But to see beauty in a universe that is chaotic and random, to find meaning in a world that is inherently meaningless – that is what it means to truly appreciate life. We hear a sequence of pitches and rhythms and our brains call it music; we see a bunch of multihued splotches on a canvas and our brains call it artwork. We don’t just perceive patterns; we create them.
Writing is a lot like an iceberg – even though the written word on the page is all we see, it’s only 10% of the process; the other 90% of the process takes place under the surface. The same thing applies to people. I’m a quiet guy, and I tend only to speak when I feel I have something worth saying, but as you might gues, there’s a lot going on inside my head. Often, there’s far too much, in fact. One benefit of Public Allies is that I have gotten better at sharing my ideas and am more focused about my goals.
So what are
my goals? Allow me to lay them out: finish a rough draft of my novel by the end of this year. Have a completed final draft by the end of next year. Hopefully, find someone to publish it by the end of 2014. Headline a show for 100 or more people within the next six months. Record my first album by the end of next year. Make CastWave Studios a legitimate business within the next two years. Move to Seattle and become completely independent within the next five years.
Those are unrealistic goals, perhaps, but not unattainable. And what separates me from all the thousands of other people who also want to be published authors, recording musicians, or podcasters with hundreds of thousands of subscribers? Nothing really. I’m sure they all want it just as hard as me. I’m sure most of them are just as talented. The only thing that will separate me in the end is the outcome; I will either succeed or I will die trying. The third option, giving up and relying on my “safety net,” is no real option at all. I will close with this thought: safety nets are dangerous. If you spend your whole life building a safety net, you never actually do the thing you want to do. I’m shredding the safety net. I’m not afraid to fall.
by Justin Eisenstadt
As most people know by now, I am a huge fan of the progressive rock music from the late 1960s through mid-1970s. If the term "progressive rock" (or "prog rock" as I will refer to it henceforth) seems weird and scary to you, then you need to: 1) calm down, because those are just words and words cannot actually hurt you, and 2) click this link
and read about this genre at ProgArchives.com, which contains far more information than any reasonable person could ever possibly use. You'll also find reviews, previews, an extremely active forum, and their Top 100 Prog Albums of All Time (and I'm quite proud to say that Close to the Edge
by Yes is the #1
album on that list). This site is a great resource if you're looking to dive into the world of 20-minute songs, overly zealous use of keyboards, and complex lyrics about sci-fi and fantasy.
King Crimson, founded in 1968 by Robert Fripp (who has been described by music writer and critic David Kamp as a "Tiny British guitar god of nutty-professor mien") could arguably be credited with inventing the genre of progressive rock practically overnight with their incredibly influential 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King
. However, that's not the album I'm going to review today.
No, the album I want to talk about today is their 1981 album Discipline
, released after a seven-year hiatus. It combined 80s the new-age sound with the dark and heavy sounds of the 70s. King Crimson has undergone numerous lineup changes throughout their decades-long career and has constantly redefined their sound, but Discipline
represented a far greater paradigm shift than any KC album released before or since. The band's previous album, Red
(1974), was a magnificent accomplishment considering the band was down to just three members and Fripp, by his own admission, had completely lost his damn mind and genuinely believed that the world was coming to an end. I highly recommend that album as well, and just as a taste I'll throw in a track from Red
entitled "Starless," not only the best song on that album but one of the best songs King Crimson ever recorded.
Two months prior to the release of Red, Robert Fripp declared that King Crimson had "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever."
In 1981, Fripp formed a quartet consisting of himself, Bill Bruford (the longtime drummer for both King Crimson and Yes, as well as many other excellent prog bands), bass player Tony Levin (a session musician who has played on 500 albums, and who Sean would know best as the bass player in Liquid Tension Experiment), and singer and guitarist Adrian Belew. Fun fact: this was Robert Fripp's first time ever being in a band with another guitar player. Fripp called this quartet Discipline. Within six months of forming, the group decided to resurrect the King Crimson name.
Now Adrian Belew is a very interesting guy. He has an incredibly unorthodox approach to guitar playing, and is capable of coaxing sounds out of his six-string that sound more like animals and machinery than a musical instrument. In addition, his singing voice sounds eerily similar to that of David Byrne, frontman for the Talking Heads. What's especially interesting about that is that Adrian Belew actually toured extensively with the Talking Heads. Listen to the first track off Discipline, "Elephant Talk," which demonstrates Belew's Talking Heads vocals and his ability to make a guitar sound like an elephant.
Holy crap, that was weird, right? BICKER. BICKER. BICKER. Well, we're just getting started. Yep, this album is the musical equivalent of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster - it's like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. But it's not quite Animal Collective or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum weird - unlike those bands, this is still oddly enjoyable. The songs on this album don't really have traditional verses, traditional choruses, or, well...traditional anything. I believe that much of this album's brilliance stems from Robert Fripp, the mad scientist, finally learning to release some control and let the talents of his fellow musicians shine through. Perhaps that's why this album is widely considered by fans to be the band's greatest album after In the Court...
The other star of this show next to Belew is Tony Levin. On this album, Levin introduced the band to an instrument called the Chapman Stick, a ten-stringed bass-like instrument invented in the 1970s that is played purely through two-handed tapping. "Elephant Talk" was led primarily by the Chapman Stick, playing a sort of Go-Go style bass line. Now turn up the volume and listen to track two, "Frame by Frame," which sounds like being in the middle of a factory that's churning out creepy rock and roll. Welcome to the machine.
Now, I'm not going to go through every single song on the album, but there are two more songs that I feel it is imperative that you listen to. Both feature some truly breathtaking weirdness from Adrian Belew. The first is called "Indiscipline," and even I have to admit that this song is downright terrifying. Apparently, the lyrics of the song are based on a letter that Belew received from his then-current wife, Margaret Belew, about a sculpture that she had constructed. And I sort of wish I hadn't told you that, because the lyrics are far scarier when you don't have any clue what "it" is. The other song is track five, "Thela Hun Ginjeet," which is, of course, an anagram of the phrase "heat in the jungle." In the middle of the song, there is a voice recording of Adrian Belew talking about a run-in with a group of London Rastafarians and the police. Belew was unaware that he was being recorded while telling this story and had no idea that the recording was going to be used on the album. He wasn't exactly thrilled about that, but he was a good sport and went with it.
So that's King Crimson's Discipline. If ever there was an album to be enjoyed under the influence of mind-altering substances, this would be it. What's even stranger than the album itself is the fact that it was actually pretty popular when it was released, especially among die-hard King Crimson fans. In fact, the new sound was such a hit that Adrian Belew has fronted the group ever since, taking his place in the hallowed ranks of King Crimson singers including Gordon Haskell, John Wetton, and my favorite, Greg Lake. And if you have any nightmares (or even just really cool dreams) after listening to these songs, just leave a comment below and perhaps I'll consider adding a disclaimer next time.
by Justin Eisenstadt
Astute observers may notice that I only review albums on Justin's Jukebox that I actually like. As such, I don't consider Justin's Jukebox so much of a "music review" podcast as I do a "music recommendation" podcast. After all, you wouldn't put songs on a jukebox that you did not actually want to hear!
There are albums that I really like, there are albums that I love, and then there are albums that I could not possibly imagine living without. Plastic Beach, the third studio album by the virtual band that made virtual bands popular, Gorillaz, falls into all three of those categories. It was released in 2010, and I am fully aware that the fourth Gorillaz album, The Fall, was released last year, but neither that album nor the group's first two albums latched onto my soul with such tenacity in the way that Plastic Beach did. Two years after its release, I still listen to this album constantly.
I received a promotional copy of this album about a month before it was released when I was an intern at 98 Rock. It's ironic that an album I now treasure so dearly, an album that has claimed a slot in my illustrious Top 5 Favorite Albums list, was one that I did not have to pay for and in fact was not even on my radar. Up until that point, I considered myself only a casual Gorillaz fan at best. Because I did not watch their music videos nor go to any of their shows, I was (and still am) missing out on a good 50% of the intended Gorillaz experience.
I was not immediately hooked upon first listen, but after repeated listens this album will sink its hooks deeper and deeper into your subconscious, reeling you in. There is so much variety here, so many ideas jammed into one package, that you will continue to discover new elements that previously escaped your attention. The number of cameo appearances here is staggering: Snoop Dogg, Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals, Mos Def, Lou Reed (the principle songwriter of The Velvet Underground best known for the gender-bending "Walk on the Wild Side"), veteran R&B singer Bobby Womack, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, Mark E. Smith, Bashy, Kano, Little Dragon, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and my personal favorite, hippy-dippy hip hop trio De La Soul. You may remember that De La Soul won a Grammy for their collaboration with Gorillaz on the song "Feel Good Inc." I've loved De La Soul ever since my buddy Tim introduced me to their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising and particularly the track "Tread Water," a song which my girlfriend Lena finds terrifying (this will be a common theme during this review).
Speaking of common themes, let me give my interpretation of what this eclectic collection of hip-hop, art rock, funk, electronic, and orchestral music is all about. In both a figurative and literal sense, this album is about garbage. Damon Albarn, the creative genius behind the Gorillaz and the producer, composer, and maestro of this album, was inspired when he compared two landfills that he visited, one in Mali and one outside London, and compared the way that two countries dealt with garbage. In a more abstract sense, this album is also about the detritus of pop culture that accumulates in the collective consciousness, the bits and pieces which wash up on our shores and get recycled and rehashed and remade. There is a deep, biting, and even melancholic criticism of consumer capitalism in the guise of songs about microwave breakfasts ("Superfast Jellyfish"), fast cars ("Stylo"), and game shows ("Sweepstakes").
This is a truly post-modern album (and God help me for the shit-storm the use of that term is going to unleash); it is a pastiche of styles, references, and even artists. Compare the mash-up of Arabic rhythms and odd Reggae-style rapping of "White Flag" with deceptively simple keyboards and Lou Reed's deadpan vocals on "Some Kind of Nature."
The two tracks which really define this album are "Superfast Jellyfish" and "Stylo." This first one is a bizarre hip-hop collaboration between Damon Albarn, Gruff Rhys, and De La Soul which features samples from a 1986 commercial for Swanson's microwave "Great Start Breakfasts." I love it, but Lena finds it utterly terrifying (probably because of the repeated references to King Neptune and his water-breathers and "dying like rabbits"). "Stylo" opens with a pounding electro-funk beat that serves to highlight Mos Def's deft and understated rhymes and a an unforgettably commanding Bobby Womack, who, at 68 years old, is kicking serious ass.
Before I wrap things up, I just want to highlight one more song that is a must-listen that might get passed over coming as it does as the penultimate song on the album. "Cloud of Unknowing" is basically just a synth and Bobby Womack, whose soaring, slightly gravelly singing serves to expose the emotional core of this album. After all the snark and satire, this song is refreshingly sincere and optimistic. Make sure you stick it out and get to this song. You can skip the last one if you want to.