>On the Subject of Banners, New and Olde

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looks more like me than… i dunno, me?

Oh what hey?? Yes you may have noticed that there is a new and wonderful banner at the top of this blog. It was created by none other than the ever-talented KC Green, a man who makes comics on the internet that are pretty much great all the time. Forever and ever amen.

Seriously though, I asked KC to help me out with this banner and he finished it within – I don’t know, a week of me asking him for it?? I gave him the basic idea of what I wanted it to look like, but I did not need to tell him much ‘cuz he pretty much nailed it as you can clearly see. He is a stand-up dude, he really is, not to mention that he is probably my favorite cartoonist on the web right now. Hey friends, here is a question: have you read Gunshow yet?? Well if the answer is “no” then congratulations, you have never read the funniest comic ever made. Or what about Horribleville? Come on, get with it people! These are all the best.

I have written about KC in this blog before but it was a long time ago and probably not very well worded. So I will just end this by saying that hey you should give this man all your money unless you are some kind of fool. Also KC was cool enough to make an extra-long post in his LJ about this whole mess, including all the full-size completed album covers he nicely drew for me! Yes, including the entire Hanson Middle Of Nowhere cover!! God I can’t imagine how he must have felt, sitting there and drawing such a thing. THANKS AGAIN KC THE BANNER IS GREAT.

But now I would also like to give a long-overdue thanks to long-suffering blogfriend Stephen Winchell, artist of Phil for many years, who drew the last couple banners I proudly displayed here. Steve’s banners were instrumental in building a “look” for this blog (whatever that might be), and he made them without me even soliciting him to do it, so I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

as you can see, Steve was nice enough not to draw me as the pathetic loser i really am

Steve’s way of drawing me was the jumping off point for KC’s, so I guess Steve had a little bit to do with this eh?? I don’t know why he draws me that way but there is nothing I can do to stop him. But I have to thank him. He also likes to draw me vomiting, for some reason. Here, see:


Wow. So thanks Steve, thanks KC, these banners are the best, I don’t deserve them etc. etc. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more requested reviews! The next one might be the most bizarre one yet, if it is the album I think it is. Who knows?? Stay tuned blogfriends.

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>Requested Review: "Wilco (the album)" by Wilco

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adorable.

My good buddy Matt Hoffman has been waiting for his requested review for a good long time now. And with good reason – he’s been waiting since, what, July? Poor guy.

Matt asked me to review Wilco’s new self-titled album (Wilco (The Album) as they call it), which I have had sitting in my iTunes since its release without having actually listened to it once in its entirety. I can’t explain why this is; a few songs have popped up here and there, but I guess I have just been distracted with other records, which tends to happen often (I have a horrible attention span). But I consider Wilco to be one of my favorite modern rock bands, and so it is a little weird that I have ignored their new release for such a long time. I haven’t heard Dinosaur Jr’s new album yet either, which came out around the same time as Wilco’s. Do I just not care anymore?? Oh jeez.

No, I don’t think that’s it. I am just not a man that gets very excited about new music releases from anybody (which is kind of weird since I run a music blog but let’s get past that for a bit), so I just kind of let them fall by the wayside. The only new release that I have been excited about recently has been the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic – ’cause, y’know, it’s the Flaming Lips and all that. But I am also a pretty big Wilco fan so I still have no real reason to not be all excited about this album too! What is the deal here??

Hey it doesn’t matter let’s just talk about the album we have here. Wilco (The Album)‘s first track is called “Wilco (the song)” and for the life of me sounds like a song that is actually about the band itself, which is the weirdest thing. I could be completely wrong here (and feel free to correct me if I am) but I think Wilco are quite possibly the first band to write a theme song about themselves since, oh I don’t know, the Monkees? But that’s the thing, ‘cuz the Monkees’ theme song was the first track on their first album, not to mention the opening theme song for a TV show based around them (and hey it wasn’t even WRITTEN by them). Wilco, I will say, are the first band to write a track about themselves as the opener of their seventh studio album after a decade-and-a-half career in the music industry. “This is a man with arms open wide / A sonic shoulder for you to cry / ay, ay, ay, on, Wilco / Wilco will love you, baby.” Hmm.

But besides that bizarre moment of self-mythology, Wilco’s new album is not really anything new. I know I sound like kind of a dick saying that, but it’s true; Wilco (The Album) shares the same down-home chilled-out atmosphere as 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, but you’ll hear some Yankee Hotel Foxtrot here and some Summerteeth there, and maybe even some hints of their earliest records. I wouldn’t know, myself, because I’m a terrible Wilco fan and the only Wilco records I have heard are all the ones I just listed above. I’m a shallow shallow man.

Oh man I was going to talk about those other Wilco albums before but I forgot to! Let me fill you in. 1999’s Summerteeth was the first Wilco album I ever heard and it is still my favorite. It’s pop magnificence, man! Catchy hooks and great production and “A Shot In The Arm” and all that. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pretty good and I love “Heavy Metal Drummer” and all but I am not as crazy about it as so many other people are. I haven’t heard it in a while, maybe that’s my problem, but it’s a little too moody for my tastes. Would you hate me if I told you I kinda like Sky Blue Sky a little better?? It’s such a pretty album! I admit that it’s not a “sonic masterpiece of this decade” or anything like that but it’s just so amiable that I can’t help but love it. “You Are My Face”? “Side With The Seeds”? “What Light”? Get out of my face, those are so good.

So in that context I would say that Wilco (The Album) sounds like a mix of Sky Blue Sky‘s mellow atmosphere and Summerteeth‘s immaculate pop songcraft, which is why I am confused that I don’t like it a lot more than I do. I don’t dislike it or anything, but I have listened through it four or five times now and my only reaction as been along the lines of “oh, that was pleasant.” Pleasant, but nothing that grabs me, you know? Sky Blue Sky was “pleasant” too but it kind of sucked me in in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint. Maybe I just liked the songs better?

That might be the case. My favorite songs here are the straight-up pop songs: the aforementioned “Wilco (the Song)”, the groovy “Sonny Feeling”, and the wonderful “You Never Know,” the first single from the album. “You Never Know” is honestly a great single and probably the best and most inviting pop song Wilco has written since Summerteeth. Every time it comes on I have to sit there and listen to the whole thing, it makes me feel so good! And that cutesy George Harrison-esque guitar solo near the end? Jeff Tweedy are you trying to paralyze me with powerpop fanboy glee?? Man, what a good track.

There are a couple vaguely “artsy” songs on here, too – “Deeper Down” recalls Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with its unusual structure, and “Bull Black Nova” repeats this bizarre monotonous piano riff for a while before descending into a guitar jam not unlike Sky Blue Sky‘s “Impossible Germany.” But besides these songs and the aforementioned pop-rockers, Wilco is a pretty mellow album, almost to a fault. Songs like “Country Disappeared” and “Solitaire” are quite lovely, really they are, and Tweedy’s duet with Feist in “You and I” is nice and all. But it feels a little drab and there are times when I feel like they are retreading old ground – does “I’ll Fight” sound a bit much like “On And On And On” from the last album or am I just paranoid? The whole album smacks of a “been there done that” sort of feeling for me. I think it’s fine for a band to consolidate their strengths and write songs in a signature style that they know they’re good at, and clearly this is what Wilco did on this album. I just feel like most of the songs are not as good as songs on previous releases.

But really – I’m being overly negative. If you are a casual Wilco fan I’m sure you’ll like this album, because it certainly is a Wilco album! Jeff Tweedy sings on every song and there are guitars and catchy hooks and Americana and all that. Also the word “Wilco” is on the cover of the record so you know what you’re in for. And “Sonny Feeling,” hey, that’s a fun little track huh? I think I would honestly like Wilco (The Album) a whole lot more if they’d stuck with the fun pop-rock of those aforementioned few tracks for the whole album, but that’s just me and I am not the wisest man alive.

Matt, do you like it? I’m sorry if you do because I have been a dick in this review like always and I’m sorry to do this to you. I mostly like it! It just feels a little slow and samey sometimes. What can you do?

Whatever. I’m happy Wilco are still around. And when else am I gonna be able to compare them to the Monkees? Never, ever again. That is something to cherish. Oh, how I wish I could write this review of Wilco’s 2009 release Wilco (The Album) for the rest of my life.

But no, I can’t do that. Then when would I ever get to Limp Bizkit??

(Oh, and Matt – do you have a blog or a website or anything? If so gimme a shout and I’ll link to it.)

>Requested Review: "Time" by the Electric Light Orchestra

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remember the good ‘ol 1980s??

Ahh yes, finally, a requested review from none other than good blogfriend and Phil writer Benjamin Vigeant! I’m not sure if anybody remembers this, but Ben was nice enough to request an album review of me about a year ago, the first time I actually bothered to ask people for requests in the first place. He actually requested a comic-review, if you can believe that, and I obliged him by writing one of the worst reviews/comics I have ever made. It was mean-spirited, obnoxious, and – worst of all – horribly horribly drawn. And it barely even mentioned the album he requested in the first place! I would like to delete it forever, but who am I to edit my own past?? I don’t believe in that. I will at least not bother to link to it here – if you really want to fish it out of the archives, God bless you.

So now I hope I can make up for past mistakes with this, what I hope will be a proper review of the album Time by Jeff Lynne’s Electrical Light Orchestra, released in 1981. I am under the impression that Ben asked me to review this one ’cause he knew that I would like it – and, well, he’s right! I will admit that my personal history with ELO is a little limited; the only album of theirs I’d had before I heard Time was A New World Record, which I have always loved. But still, I admit that I feel a little out-of-place giving Time a positive review without being able to compare it to their more well-regarded 70’s albums; I’ve only heard Eldorado a couple times and I haven’t even approached Out Of The Blue. So what I’m saying is, Time could be a complete piece of shit and I’m just so green-behind-the-ears that I can’t hear it!!

Well, OK, I’ll get Time‘s most obvious flaw out of the way right now: it has to be one of the most dated-sounding pop albums I have ever heard. Everything about it, from the synth-drenched orchestration to the vocoder-filtered vocals to the “CRAZY FUTURISTIC” lyrics, screams “I AM A POP ROCK ALBUM RECORDED IN THE EARLY NINETEEN-EIGHTIES.” So I would say that your enjoyment of Time will mostly be based on how many early 80’s production cliches you will be able to stomach in the span of 45 minutes. I, personally, find it to be more cutesy than disgusting, but I am sure there are plenty of listeners who would not share my views on this. These people will not like Time in the slightest.

Oh, and it’s a concept album too! A sci-fi concept album! I probably should have brought that up earlier. What from I can tell, the “plot” (and I use that term loosely) of this album follows some guy from the year 1981 (the year this album was released, coincidentally!!) who is kidnapped by some time-traveling nogoodniks and sent to the year 2095 for some reason that is not really explained. He tries to have sex with a robot, misses his girlfriend a whole lot, and I think is sent back to his own time in the end having learned absolutely nothing. I guess the future is a pretty depressing place, and he doesn’t like it there so much. So he sings about going back to 1981 a whole lot, and then he does. I guess that’s it? Don’t ask me, I am not a genius raconteur like Mr. Jeff Lynne.

But let’s just forgo all of that right now. Time, despite its near-crippling corniness, is a good album ’cause it’s full of those fun and catchy melodies Mr. Lynne and company have always been known for. How can we, as a nation, deny the sheer hookiness of epic rockers like “Twilight” and “Hold On Tight,” the adorable reggae-tinged “The Lights Go Down,” or the wonderful balladry of “Rain Is Falling” and “21st Century Man”? We can’t, we can’t. These songs are so good that you can easily ignore their silly lyrical themes – I mean, I think “Rain Is Falling” is about a time machine or something, but who cares when the melody is just so good?? That’s “Telephone Line” quality, my friend. There are also some neat moments of moodiness here, like the piano melody of “Ticket To The Moon” and the dark synth patterns of “Another Heart Breaks.” Then there is what I would say is my favorite song on the album, “The Way Life’s Meant To Be,” with its lovely flamenco-styled guitar and a melody worthy of A New World Record. What a catchy song! It reminds me that my favorite songs on this album are the ones that sound like “classic” ELO: songs “Rain Is Falling” and “Twilight” would probably fit right in there with their 70s work. But again, that is a somewhat presumptuous thing for me to say, considering that I have barely heard any of their 70’s albums in the first place! Man I should get on that.

There are a couple songs that should be brought to your attention, however. Those would be “Yours Truly, 2095” and “Here Is The News,” far and away the two corniest songs on this record. Mr. Vigeant himself singled these two out just for their totally silly lyrics, and I have to agree with him. The former is a rumination on the protagonist’s new robotic future girlfriend, described as he writes a letter back to his human girlfriend in 1981 (“I met someone who looks a lot like you / she does the things you do / but she is an IBM”). My favorite lines: “She has an IQ of 1001 / She has a jumpsuit on / and she’s also a telephone.” The latter song – easily the most ridiculous on the album – is meant to be a newscast from the year 2095, broadcasting a whole lot of FUUUUTURISTIC events (“The weather’s fine, but there might be a meteor shower”; “A cure’s been found for good ‘ol rocket lag”) over an insistent synth beat and random spoken-word snippets from FUUUUTURE TELEVISION. These are moments of such pure cheesiness that I just can’t help but love them. Suffice it to say, if you can brave these two songs, you are probably going to enjoy Time just fine; if not, I guess I can’t blame you.

But y’know – in the end it’s just a fun pop-rock record. 45 minutes long, full of 3-to-4 minute songs that won’t wear out their welcome. Nothing that’s going to blow you away I’m sure, and there’s plenty to scoff at here for fans of music that isn’t totally embarrassing and dated. But you cannot argue with these melodies, man! They are just so good. I found Time to be a very entertaining trip down melody lane (ha ha) and I am sure you will, too. I’m not sure if this album would appeal to many outside of the hardcore ELO fanbase, but that’s just their loss, huh?

So thank you Ben for recommending this album, and I hope this review rights the horrible ways I have wronged you in the past. I also thank you for not requesting another comic review, which I am sure would have turned out horrible (not because of you – because of ME). That goes for anybody who may request a review from me in the future: do not ask for more comic reviews, ever, please. Not that you would anyway.

So let’s end this with the video for “Twilight,” full of all those early-80’s lightshow effects you all love so much.