Tag Archives: Music

Mastodon: Emperor of Sand (A review…kind of)

I don’t listen to much heavy metal music. I’m not a fan of the Cookie Monster screaming vocals of some lead singers, and the music is usually either too complicated for me to understand what’s happening or so simple that it sounds like someone just got a guitar that has a demo mode.

I’m picky.

In fact, there are only two metal bands I enjoy: Tool and Mastodon. And Tool is more prog-rock than metal at this point (not a bad thing!). That leaves me with Mastodon, a band that is everything I enjoy about heavy metal rolled up into one crazy/scary/cool/loud/creative package. If you don’t like metal music, this band won’t change your mind. But, if you have even the slightest bit of interest in having your face melt off due to extreme rock power, I highly recommend you give them a chance.

Their latest album, Emperor of Sand, was released last week. I like it. I like it quite a bit. There’s a song on the album called “Scorpion Breath” and another called “Jaguar God” and those are perfect song titles. It’s a concept album about a guy lost in the desert and there are ancient evils in the barren landscape. The music is strange and diverse. Instruments pop up for a few seconds and fade away like ghosts. It sometimes sounds like there are monsters lurking behind the guitars and drums, with electronic growls and buzzes. And some of the songs are even catchy, which is rare for a metal band.

It’s not Mastodon’s best album. That would be 2009’s Crack the Skye, which featured 10-minute songs about Russian czars and out-of-body experiences. Since that album, Mastodon has gotten a bit more radio-friendly. (i.e. The songs have gotten shorter/less weird.) Thankfully, Emperor of Sand brings back the weird and wild…though the songs are still too short for my taste. (“Scorpion Breath” is only three minutes! Boo!)

My musical taste is…unusual. My “Recently Played” list on Spotify features jazz great Thelonious Monk alongside Cher, Bob Dylan, Lorde, TV on the Radio, Paul Simon, Chance the Rapper and Tom Waits. And today, after I re-listen to the Emperor of Sand album, there’s some Beauty and the Beast action…because that’s a tale as old as time.

This is my playlist right now. My day is wonderful!


Daily Transmission #9: Another Online Opinion About “La La Land”

La La Land is a fun movie. The 8,000 online articles and Tweets about the movie and “the return of musicals” and how “the country really needs this right now” are not so fun. Shut up. Stop talking about this movie as if it’s Hamilton 2. Why are so many people falling over themselves to praise La La Land?

It’s just a fun movie. There were many fun movies this year. There are many fun musicals in the universe. Why is this one placed on such a high pedestal? And remember — I liked the movie. It’s not a bad movie. It’s a fun movie.

I would have enjoyed La La Land even more if I didn’t go into the theater expecting the most amazing piece of cinema since Edison first captured moving images with chemicals. There’s a level of hype around La La Land that is impossible to live up to. It seems movie bloggers and critics want La La Land to be a perfect, amazing thing and hope to make it so by will and word count alone.

La La Land is not the greatest artistic achievement of the new millennia. It is a good, fun movie. I’m glad I saw it. I might see it again in a few years.

But come on…it’s not like this is Jesus Christ Superstar. JCS was a movie worthy of hype. JCS is a pop-art masterpiece. JCS is my favorite movie musical.

In Middle School, my summer job was mowing lawns — or rather, mowing lawn. I mowed one lawn. It was the lawn of a family friend who took pity on my lack of employment and offered me $20 a week to mow the lawn. To pass the time (because how could a Middle School kid ever get anything done without rockin’ tunes?) I would listen to rockin’ tunes on my budget walkman at max volume while mowing the lawn. This was before I had a CD walkman and in a decade when “iPod” was how toddlers asked to use the bathroom, so I could only listen to cassettes. The Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack (film soundtrack, not Broadway) was in my walkman for most of the summer. I had it memorized. I wore the tape out. I loved it. I still love it. I still know most of the words.

If you haven’t seen the movie/stage show Jesus Christ Superstar, here’s the best way I can describe it: Hippies out hippy themselves with their hippiness.

It’s goofy and corny. The acting is over-the-top terrible and the songs sound like they were written by theater kids who stayed after rehearsal to mess around with the piano until their parents pick them up. The anachronistic use of modern weapons and clothes is so forced it hurts the brain. And the “twist” ending is laughable. But it works. It all works so well! It works much better than it should!

It’s a movie of its time. And that’s okay.

No one would make a Jesus Christ Superstar movie today, or if they did, it would be too bland and boring, without any of the heart or sincerity of the 1973 film. They’d get Armie Hammer to play Jesus and Olivia Munn to play Mary Magdalene. Terrence Howard would turn the soulful, complicated Judas into a stale loaf of a character. Seth Rogen would be added as a disciple for unneeded comic relief. There would be big budget special effects and soft makeup that would hide the sweat and grit on the faces of the actors. And a new song and scene set in China would be added to get those precious Chinese movie dollars. It would be too safe.

The 1973 movie was not nominated for best picture (though a few actors received Golden Globe noms). It did not light the world on fire with its box office take of $24 million. It’s remembered more for being controversial (Jesus…singing?!?) than for its music or staging. But it was weird and wild and unlike anything else. And it existed. It actually happened.

That’s why it’s my favorite movie musical.

La La Land is okay, too.

Daily Transmission #2: Last Year’s Soundtrack

I’m not a music nerd, so forgive me if my year-end list is a little obvious or lame. Here are the songs I’ve listened to the most in 2016. Some are new songs, others are songs new to me.

Let’s not fight about this.

“Fill In the Blank” by Car Seat Headrest
It sounds like something from high school that was transported into the future where I listen to it as an adult.

“Lady Luck” by Richard Swift
This came up on my Spotify’s Discover playlist, and is one of the few times when Spotify totally gets me. I don’t know who Richard Swift is, or if his other music is any good, but I loved this song all year.

“715 – Creeks” by Bon Iver
That’s not the correct way to spell the song’s title. The actual title is made of symbols that would require me to hit the control key, or shift, or F7 to generate the accurate text. But let’s just call it Creeks. Bon Iver’s latest album, “22, A Million”, is a weird collection of alien folk rock that sounds like it was made by an artificially intelligent keyboard with a beard. I like it…I think. I listened to the album, and this song in particular, a lot during a very rough August/September period of the year when my family was dealing with a great loss. As such, this song is now associated with that time and those feelings.

“Famous” by Kanye West
Kanye West is an asshole, but I’m glad he exists. Too much pop music is safe and precious. If a pop star dares to try anything new, or say anything strange, Twitter will attack with enough ferocity to kill a career. But Kanye does whatever the hell he wants, and I admire that even if he’s also an egotistical sack of stupid. Plus, this song is great.

“Frankie’s Gun” by The Felice Brothers
Makes me happy, even if the subject matter is grim.

“I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Makes me happy, even if the subject matter is corny.

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
This is an old song, but I “discovered” it this year and put it on most of my playlists. If you haven’t heard the song yet, listen to it. It’s weird in the best way.

“Super Mario World” by Logic
“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my God!” It gets in your head and lives there all day.

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Jimmy Smith
I heard this jazz song for years, thanks to the Casino soundtrack, but I re-discovered it this year. So good! So jazzy! So cool!

And that’s about it. There are some other great songs, but too many to mention here.