Saturday, August 27, 2005

Rise Against--The Unraveling Reissue

Featuring two former members of 88 Fingers Louie (who I never much cared for), Rise Against's debut, The Unraveling, was first released in 2001. At the time, I didn't think it was very good. Not as bad as some of the worst Honest Don's or Fat Wreck Chord releases, but I had it rated really low as far as something I wanted to listen to. In fact, it soured me so much I never gave 2003's Revolutions Per Minute, which was a huge leap forward in songwriting and sound quality, much of a chance. It wasn't until Siren Songs of the Counter-Culture was released in 2004 that I came back around to this band. So, yes, I'm a bandwagon-jumping major label poser, sue me. The conventional "punk rock" wisdom seems to be that RPM is the best album, but my favorite, as slick as it is, is SSCC. There goes all my street cred, but, after having gotten way into the latter Rise Against albums, I went back to The Unraveling to give it another shot.

What I discovered was that the production by Mass of Sonic Iguana ("specialized in recording punk rock") and Rise Against wasn't their best work. In my opinion, the drums and low-end are too high, the vocals too buried, it's somehwat muddy overall, and it doesn't do a lot of favors to the music or the band. (This seems to be more of a factor on car stereos and portable players when I've listened to it). Their self-produced Transistor Revolt demos sounded just as good or better ("Reception Fades" and "The Art of Losing" were re-recorded for The Unraveling). But, it turns out the songs, while certainly not as strong as their later work, weren't really bad at all, and actually, pretty good (I particularly like "Great Awakenings," "Six Ways Til Sunday," and the Henry Fool sample before "Reception Fades.") I still find the album on the long side, but, overall, very solid melodic hardcore. This is not pop-punk, folks. As bastardized and meaningless as that term has become (esp. for an early-90s pop-punk fanatic), this still ain't it.

The remixed and remastered re-release adds two bonus tracks, "Join The Ranks" (another song off the Transistor Revolt demo) from 2001's Fat Music Vol. 5: Live Fat, Die Young compilation and "Gethsamane" from 2003's OIL Chicago Punk Refined compilation. They do have a compilation track, "Obstructed View," off Your Scene Sucks (2002) that was not added. Even without the bonus tracks, though, this is the rare reissue that is worth rebuying and is absolutely the version you want to pick up if you haven't got it yet. Bill Stevenson (Blasting Room producer, drummer for the Descendents, ALL, Black Flag, and Only Crime) did an excellent job remixing and remastering this release. All the instruments are in the right place in the mix and the overall sound is now crisp and punchy.

The packaging has been improved, as well. The booklet layout is much more readable and there is a letter from Tim reflecting on how far they've come in the past five years. Overall, this release is one of the more worthwhile reissues to come down the pipeline lately and not simply a crass attempt to cash-in on Rise Against's current popularity.

Original album: 6/10
Remixed & remastered album: 8/10

For fans of: Gorilla Biscuits, Bad Religion, Good Riddance, Dag Nasty, Strike Anywhere, 88 Fingers Louie

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Against Integrity?" Only if you've got the mentality of a grade schooler...

First off, it is official, Against Me has
"sold out". For the love of Johnny Rotten, the young punks might as well have signed to a major label instead of sticking it out with Fat (for now). Egads, they've hired a PR firm, are playing huge arena shows with Green Day and Jimmy Eat World, touring all 50 states, probably soon to be appearing in Rolling Stone & Spin, on the Conan O'Brien show, TRL, and sucking Clear Channel dick to get played on the radio, who knows?

But, more importantly, who should really care?

I haven't seen such an asinine backlash against a band since the days of the Gilman kids making "Billy Joe Must Die!" graffitti in the hallowed halls of that dive. "What is punk?", "Who is/isn't punk?", "Who has sold out?" Same pointless, boring rehash of discussion surrounding bands since I was like 12 years old arguing w/ buddies about which band was "speed metal" vs. "thrash metal" vs. "power metal" and who were just "poseur hair bands." I mean, ya-awn.

Anyone with any kind of clue should realize that the only important thing about music is whether you dig it or you don't. Regardless of personal politics, personalities, financial statements, or what logo is on the sleeve. Sometimes I've outgrown a band, sometimes maybe they've outgrown me. Sometimes they just start putting out music I don't find particularly interesting, and, yes, sometimes they just plain start to really suck.

That's how it goes. Bands that put out the same album over and over again are just as uninteresting as bands who try new or unexpected (and unsuccessful) musical directions. Sometimes it works, often it don't. You go along for the ride or you bail. Pretty simple, really.

Now, it's rare for a band to totally abandon their core sound and still be any good, sure. In those cases, I've always advocated giving up your name recognition and starting a new project rather than try to keep cashing in with the name while your guitar player is really putting out solo material.

However, what can be really exciting is when a band starts off as a relatively straight-forward simple act and gets more mature, learns to play their instruments, writes better songs, and challenges themselves to put out better and better music with each release. Again, sometimes learning to play their instruments is a real death knell (Less Than Jake comes to mind; they starting going downhill around the time Chris learned to play guitar in my opinion).

Any music scene has only a relatively small percentage of great bands and an even smaller percentage of bands that have the potential to transcend their own genre and become something truly special.

I believe Against Me is one of those truly special bands. Seeing them live, you just know they should be playing to sold-out audiences, getting Grammys, and everyone should just dig on this band. Sure, it will suck when your mom asks you to play the new Against Me record and all the jocks have pink lightning bolt t-shirts, but damnit, some bands deserve to be heard and make a living playing music.

With Searching for a Former Clarity AM may have jumped the gun a bit, making their "fuck you" album in response to growing popularity (their In Utero, Vitalogy, or Insomniac) before the soccer moms and jocks have jumped on their bandwagon. What remains to be seen is if it's their Dear You. Perhaps it will be their Pinkterton.

Insomniac always struck me as somewhat of a petulant album, with Green Day trying to prove they were really more "punk" than they ever were to begin with. Vitalogy was just a terrible-sounding album that I thought was meant to shed PJ of as many fans as possible (it kinda worked). Hard to say where Nirvana would have ended up after In Utero. They were on the road to disbanding before Cobain blew up. Pinkterton was a commercial flop and put Weezer on the brink...but it seemed to grow in popularity with the emo kids long after its release, as did Dear You. Weezer survived to see another day, but Jawbreaker imploded shortly after Dear You's release and subsequent backlash from the kids over their having "sold out" and making such a slick and different-sounding record.

Now, I've seen Against Me compared to the Clash a bit, and I can't put my finger on exactly why, but that comparison always comes to my mind as well. Trying to describe AM's sound to someone is difficult. Billy Bragg meets the Clash, but y'know, w/o the British accents, is about as close as I can do it. They have their own unique blend of punk, folk, country, and blues. I'm currently on the fence about whether I think Clarity is destined to be a critical sucess but commercial flop. As a general rule, I truly dislike bands writing songs about writing songs, being in a band, touring, fighting with fans, struggling with "selling out," etc, etc. To me it signals real trouble if that's all you have left to write about. In my opinion, it takes what can be a universal art form and reduces it to an elitist and narrow audience of who can relate to such songs.

However, I have to say it doesn't bother me so much with this record. I think it is a great album. One of my favorite songs, "Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners," is exactly the kind of lyrical subject matter I would usually disdain with extreme prejudice. The redone songs from the never-to-be-officially-released Stolen Demos are excellent, even if I do personally slightly prefer some of the demo versions. I feel those five tracks ("Miami," "How Low," "Joy," "Holy Shit!," and "Problems") are among the strongest on the record. The first single, "Don't Lose Touch," is a fitting first notice to fans with a death-grip on their 1st pressing Axl Rose LPs that there is something different going on here (lyrically and musically, as well as what they can do with their reactionary message board postings).

This is sure to be a divisive record even for their current fanbase (I'm pretty sure the old guard fans all shouted sell-out when they signed to Fat and have moved on to hoping This Bike is a Pipe Bomb never sells more than 100 records), and I'm not sure yet if it's the type of record that will immediately catapault them into superstardom. It will certainly be interesting to see the reaction this record gets and Against Me's response to it. Can they move past the, seemingly excessive at this point, Cobain-level angst over their growing popularity and the hater 16-year-old couch potatoes and armchair QBs so heart-broken that Tom isn't playing their local laundromat in front of 5 people?

I really hope they get to pow-wow with Green Day a bit during those arena shows. I can think of no people better suited to mentor AM than Billy Joe, Dirnt, and Tre.

If they can get past the haters and come to grips with their identity as artists, I think they can make some more amazing music down the road and continue to be one of the great bands of the decade. Even at their worst, they're still better than most.

Release Date: Sept. 6th
One Sheet
MP3: "Don't Lose Touch"

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Wedding Reading Explained

As noted on the program, the reading was titled "The Variorum Camper: Backend of Forever (Part VII)" by Dale Porter and Reni Krunks, ed.

There is no such poem by that title. "Variorum" means:
Main Entry: 1var·i·o·rum
Pronunciation: "ver-E-'Or-&m, "var-, -'or-
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin variorum of various persons (genitive plural masculine of varius), in the phrase cum notis variorum with the notes of various persons
1 : an edition or text with notes by different persons
2 : an edition containing variant readings of the text

I'm sure absolutely no one paid any attention to it, but the editors ("ed.,") were half-assed psuedo-anagrams of our names, as we put together the reading from the following sources:

In the very midst of wild, intoxicating passions, their hearts were sober and serious…
-a line from the short story "Patriotism" by Yukio Mishima

Love is not two people gazing at each other, but two people looking ahead together in the same direction...
-don't remember where this came from

True love helps you find things
you didn't know were missing
in your life. It helps you fill spaces
you didn't know were empty.
-Kobi Yamada

I love you not only
for what you are,
but for what I am
when I am with you.
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

For it was not in my ear
you whispered, but into my heart.
It ws not my lips you kissed, but my soul.
-Judy Garland

Wedding Music

Wedding Favor CD Tracklist

Track # Song Artist
1 Flower Moby
2 Where is My Mind? Pixies
3 Today Smashing Pumpkins
4 New Girl Suicide Machines
5 Million Bucks ALL
6 Bill Riley Red Hot
7 Boss Lady Detroit Cobras
8 Call it a Day The Masonics
9 Got the Bull by the Horns Johnny Horton
10 Gee Baby Gee The Sisters
11 We're Gonna Get Married Bo Diddley
12 Let's Elope Baby Buck Griffin
13 Charlie Brown Theme Vince Garibaldi
14 Swing Life Away (PGA ver.) Rise Against
15 Last Caress Nutley Brass (Misfits)
16 I Wanna Be Sedated Nutley Brass (Ramones)
17 Woo Hoo 5, 6, 7, 8s
18 Astro Zombies Nutley Brass (Misfits)
19 Battle w/o Honor or Humanity Tomoyasu Hotei
20 Pink Panther Hollywood Studio Orchestra
21 Sixteen Reasons Connie Stevens
22 Such A Night Elvis Presley
23 Crazy Love Van Morrison
24 Father and Daughter Paul Simon
25 Whispering Pines Johnny Horton
26 Que Sera Sera Doris Day
27 Groovy Kind of Love Mindbenders
28 Could I Have This Dance? Anne Murray
29 Last Date Floyd Cramer
30 I Believe in You Don Williams
31 T.S.R Against Me!

1-14 = preceremony/guests arrive
15 = groomsmen & groom w/ parents processional
16 = bridesmaids / flower girls / ring bearer processional
17 = bride processional
18 = recessional
19 = wedding party intro
20 = cake cutting
21-22 = from dinner music CD
23 = first dance
24 = father-daughter dance
25 = stepfather-daughter dance
26 = original mother-son dance song (changed at last minute to 'rainbow connection' by kermit the frog)
27-29 = generations dance (longest-married couple gets bouquet)
30 = last dance
31 = last song

Appetizer Music

Track # Song Artist
1 Peanut Vendor Jack Costanzo
2 Cancion del mariachi Los Lobos & Antonio Banderas
3 Volare Nelson Riddle
4 Amen Donald Byrd
5 De Camino a La Vereda Buena Vista Social Club
6 Peter Gunn Twist-Tequila With a Twist Ray Anthony
7 Prende Me Vela Abelardo Vasquez & Cumanana
8 Cha, Cha, Cha, D'Amour (Melodie Amour) Dean Martin
9 Some Kinda Hate The Nutley Brass
10 Hybrid Moments The Nutley Brass
11 Jitter Bug Angelo Badalamenti
12 One Mint Julep Earl Palmer
13 You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You Dean Martin
14 C'Est Si Bon Eartha Kitt
15 Funnel of Love Wanda Jackson
16 Bernie's Tune Curley Hamner
17 Aint That a Kick in the Head Dean Martin
18 Begin the Beguine Ann Margaret
19 That's Amore Dean Martin
20 Rock House Ernie Freeman Combo
21 Watermelon Man King Curtis
22 That Old Black Magic Keely Smith

Dinner Music

Track # Song Artist
1 Sentimental Journey Doris Day
2 Moon River Henry Mancini
3 Santa Lucia (traditional) Elvis Presley
4 Cielito Lindo Pedro Vargas y Mariachi Vargas
5 Fever Peggy Lee
6 Sixteen Reasons Connie Stevens
7 I Love You a Thousand Ways Lefty Frizzell
8 Such A Night Elvis Presley
9 More Bobby Darin
10 Ring of Fire Johnny Cash
11 Eat Steak Rev Horton Heat
12 Cattle Call Eddie Arnold
13 Behind Closed Doors Charlie Rich
14 Waylon (So Long Hoss) Drag the River
15 Wagon Wheel Old Crow Medicine Show
16 Rusty Cage Johnny Cash (Soundgarden cover)
17 Wave That Flag Brian Henneman
18 Nouns Schoolhouse Rock
19 Welcome to the Jungle Richard Cheese (G'n'R cover)
20 The Man Comes Around Johnny Cash
21 Number of the Beast Zwan (Iron Maiden cover)
22 Down Under (acoustic) Men at Work
23 Hybrid Moments (live) Drag the River (Misfits cover)
24 Skulls Lemonheads (Misfits cover)
25 Drown Smashing Pumpkins
26 Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not) TV Themes
27 Right After the Dance [Alternate Version] Buck Owens

DJ played one or two tracks off my provided dance music CD for the dance portion (maybe just Willie Nelson's 'Stay All Night, Stay a Little Longer,'); mostly his own choices and guest requests. Last song was 'Hit the Road Jack' by Ray Charles, which was the DJ going off the menu when he was supposed to play Against Me's 'T.S.R.' (found on the wedding soundtrack CD).

Otherwise, this should cover it if you were wondering 'what was that song?'

Friday, August 19, 2005

Report from the Islands--w/ pics!

Wedding pics are up now on Steve's website.

8/5 - Rehearsal dinner. Mom outdid herself on the backyard. Great time.
8/6 - Wedding. Went 99% according to plan. DJ did as expected w/ the music. Screwed up a couple places, but one wasn't entirely his fault; not sure what happened to the winding down music.
8/7 - Back to Oakland.
8/8 - SFO to Honolulu, short layover, on to Kauai.

8/9 - First of 'take it easy' days, drove to South/West coasts, making many stops. Swing bridge, Glass Beach, Spouting Horn (blowhole), 17-mile beach (talked to a local family camping out there w/ a quad, would've been nice to carve some dunes out there). That beach out on the West Shore was a little hard to find. Turned into the Pacific Missile Range Facility entry and Mr. Army w/ the M-16 wasn't too stoked. Saw the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," went to various lookouts. Last one the road was closed so hiked a mile up to the last lookout to see an amazing view of the Na Poli Coastline. We might make it back up there to do part of one of the hiking trails.
8/10 - Second 'take it easy' day. Drove to North Shore. Most happening part of the island, including all the rich people hangouts. Hit the northern most beach. Water too cold for me w/ the mild weather (not 'cold' by California beach standards by any means, though). Erin loved it. Hit Queen's Bath lava pool on the way back.

Nice water, that was way fun. "Secret Beach" and "Secret Lava Pools" not exactly worth the hike in/out. Other lava pools we went near a seculded beach (by 4WD road) were awesome. Also went to a bird refuge and lighthouse. Only sight-seeing place we've had to pay to get into (3 bucks ea.) so far. Those 2 'take it easy' days weren't all that 'taking it easy' as you can see. Had a late dinner at Duke's. Really good fish (I had 7 spice ahi, which was pretty spicy and Erin had some white fish cooked 'firecracker' style that was also very spicy). Good stuff.
8/11 - My dirt bike adventure. This ride is as much fun as you can take. The better rider you are the more fun this will be and the better sights you will see. But, being on an unfamiliar bike on unfamiliar terrain sent my riding skills back to the dark ages. Even so, this dual-sport ride (we ended up riding on roughly 70% paved, 30% dirt) was a blast. The Yamaha WR450 seemed a little lighter than my Katoom (at least slimmer w/o the big gas tank) w/ a little more snap. Did rutted, slick fire roads (wet red clay, luckily not too much mud) w/ a few water crossings. Bit it going down a relatively minor downhill section to come to a little waterfall and took a dip into the river while riding a rocky trail out of that section. All told, rode 100 miles around the north shore and man was my ass sore. Only took 1 pic on the entire trip though. Had a GREAT filet mignon & lobster dinner at a Japanese restaurant (tapayama? whatever it is when they cook in front of you). I'm officially hooked on ahi sushi too.

8/12 - Helicoper ride: I did it, it was pretty amazing, I don't think I need to do it again. I told the pilot when we landed that the ground crew was going to need a crowbar to get me off that seat. My fingers were sore from holding on so tight too. Didn't help that there were no windows and I felt like I was hanging half out of the rig. But, no windows is really the way to go. Got some decent footage with the MiniDV camcorder shooting from the hip. Pretty damn good considering it's the first footage I've shot right out of the box.

8/13 - High-priced salon massages are not a good thing to do at 10am if you expect to do ANYTHING else that day. Laid about the pool and were totally worthless after that. Celebrated our 1-week anniversary.

8/14 - ATV Tour was pretty fun. They let you cut loose a little; I had it pitched sideways around every corner. Cool scenery, and went through a 1/4-mile long tunnel. Ended up at a waterfall. Water was on the chilly side. Erin jumped off the falls; I stayed dry. Got some cool pics.

ATV Tour also had a CD we bought w/ some other pics of us. I was the only guy the tour guide had seen in 5 years to show up in 'full' gear, and I was truly a huge dork, but, hell, I had it w/ me for the MotoHawaii ride, so I figured I might as well use my own stuff. Luckily, I didn't make too much of an ass out of myself (some other guy managed to almost flip his quad and fell off). Went to a local swimming hole w/ a rope swing, waterfall, and more jumping off rocks (for Erin).

Saw 2 other way cool waterfalls (Wailea and Opeekea).

Also drove out to BFE and did some off-roading w/ the jeep (had to be near where I was riding on the MotoHawaii tour--similar terrain and water crossings anyway).

8/15 - Shipped my riding gear back home (too heavy to take to Molokai w/ our other luggage), got breakfast, and Erin did some snorkeling. I wasn't a big fan. Ever since I almost drowned in Chico I'm not so into water that is any kind of active. Apparently there were a lot of sea turtle out past the breakers, but Erin didn't make it out that far either.
8/16 - Tried to kayak, but for the life of us, could not find the kayak rental joint near where we were going to try to attempt to get a ride in before we had to go back and pack and get to the airport. So we just drove around and had lunch at the harbor. Kauai has 3 or 4 kayak river trips we'd like to do sometime.

8/17 - Molokai. Mule Ride. Along the cliffs. 1,600+ ft. elevation change from top to bottom. Took ~90min down, faster on the way up. Got about 60 seconds of useable MiniDV footage from the colony. Mule ride way too bumpy and not a lot of spots to get clear shots over the cliff. I can't decide what was more nerve-wracking, the helicopter w/ no doors or riding the mules down that trail. Riding up wasn't so bad. Another amazing adventure that I've done, it was cool, but not sure I need to do that again anytime soon. We visited the east-end jungle and found a nice beach to hang out at for a while. Saw some great sites along the way, then tried to catch the sunset on the west side, but didn't make it. We did see the harbor on the west side, which was cool. Molokai was very mellow and a great place to go if you want to do nothing (because you won't have much choice to do anything else). Our hotel was on right on the beach, and the bar/restaurant was RIGHT on the beach (breakers didn't start for about 200 yards out, so it was like being next to a lake).

8/18 - Molokai to Honolulu. Honolulu to SFO. Worst seats ever, didn't recline and right up against the bathroom--got to hear every flush, yay!. Baggage either went on to Chicago or never made it from Honolulu. Apparently it has been found, though, and is allegedly en route to our house.

All in all, we had some awesome, amazing adventures was a total blast for both of us!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

All I Can Say is..."dude, duh"

'Ben Weasel' version 2.0 will be a band, but it will be a band whose personnel can constantly change according to my needs and whims; the illusion of a solo gig that masks a legitimate band, minus all the real-band baggage.

...I've been going at this all wrong! New band, schnew band! It's my stuff - why not put it out there under my own name? And the great thing is...when somebody screws up and gets canned, or quits, the fans won't even be able to discuss it properly. How can you complain about someone getting kicked out of 'Ben Weasel'? It's brilliant!

Took the guy 10+ years to figure that out?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Deep Impact Armageddon

This kind of stuff fascinates me:

They Sing the Comet Electric (refers to recent July 4th NASA sniping of a comet)

But, I found this bit particularly interesting:

The Electric Universe model is broadly dismissed as pseudoscience by scientists. Indeed, its Wikipedia entry was recently deleted after users successfully argued that it did not constitute a legitimate theory.

And, yet, no one had a problem with the Creationism entry?

I guess 'deleted' means something different to Wired, though, as there is an entry, it has just been reclassified as a 'concept,' not a 'model.'