Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Pins: Girls Like Us

Photo lifted from
Continuing with my theme of poorly timed reviews, I am not going to review The Pins latest release Wild Nights which came out this last July but I am currently fascinated by their 2013 release Girls Like Us.

Clearly influenced by punk and early post punk bands, this Manchester crew keeps their efforts true to the bands of their parents youth. Joy Division, The Smiths (albeit without the guitar work of Marr) and The Fall all get nods on this record. 

The entire effort is a 1980 punkapalooza. No overproduced, 120 BPM, Max Martin scribed, Corpcore poprock to be found here. This record is awash in the punk rock, DIY ethos that drove so much great music in the post disco era. Droning, driving guitars, relentless percussion and vocals with just enough Ian Curtis Mancunian dirge to moisten the corner of the eye of this nostalgic old man's eye. Meanwhile, all my 16 year old kid hears is the fresh, raw, and rebellious style that got her old man hooked on this great music years ago.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Force Awakens, a couple times today actually...

You know you can hear the music in your head
The new Star Wars...firstly, no plot discussions or spoilers here. It took me 2 cracks at seeing this today. I ended up paying for 2 admissions because one of the younger team members developed a seriously upset stomach and needed to get some air. Bleergh. I made it through approximately 2/3 of the movie before having to bail. It's a good thing that she's cute and loves her dad. :-) She did rally and all is well. Once the rest of the crew emerged from the finished movie we headed back to CR where I dropped the fam off and maneuvered to a late showing to get the rest of the movie in. Note that I am $23 into total admission for this movie (2D the first time and 3D the second) but it was worth the additional expense.
I am normally ambivalent at best about 3D. Typically it is an excuse for the filmmakers to develop cheap tricks that emphasize the 3D effect. Not so in this case. The use of 3D is clearly a welcome enhancement to the film. At times it is simply visually stunning while supporting the film rather than existing for its own sake.
The movie itself has enough stand alone plot and strong enough story to bring along new fans while being self-referential and "canonical" enough to keep us geezers excited about what is ahead for the franchise. Several of the original cast members reprise their roles and many nods are given to the originals with both plot points and props/visuals/references. The space chess set of "Let the Wookie win" fame gets some love as does the floating orb that young Luke Skywalker trained with on his new lightsaber both make an appearance. There is a new tavern scene reminiscent of the Mos Eisley bar. Beyond the Star Wars universe, there are several subtle clear bows to other films. Apocalypse Now gets some love, for example:
Do you smell that?? Smells like...TIE fighter exhaust.
E.T. gets a nod in the aforementioned tavern, the John Ford classic,The Searchers, gets checked throughout. That movie is such a part of all the Star Wars movies at a DNA/cellular level that I am not sure that is even intentional anymore but it is clearly there. Note that I am not implying that this is derivative, because it is not. I do appreciate a respectful tip of the cap to other great filmmaking however.

There are several new characters introduced with plenty of room in the plot for the next few movies to grow into. This has been done with a deft, almost organic touch rather than some bolt-on, deus ex machina to drag the audience along. 

As I mentioned, $23 on this movie. Money well spent.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Road Tunes: The top 5 road trip albums.

Al Jolson's new cylinder phonograph keeps me on the road!
We're not talking about the leisurely, Cialis ad inspired drive around the bay with the ever so MILF-y hawtie of distinction. If you, your boner pills and the idea of wiggling around on top of the mature yet still broodingly attractive hotness is not enough to keep your attention for a few minutes while completing your drive home from the gala at the club then you'll need to find another barely read corner of the internet to address your musical selections for THAT drive.

This post is more about the minivan full of kids, cross country, Griswold-esque banshee run to the in laws. Maybe the just got off work, catch up with the guys, 9 hour drive that you HAVE to complete because you are sure as hell not going to miss the "Kill The Keg" special at the small town bar where everybody is fishing sort of road trip. I.e., a run not for the weak of will, bladder or fortitude.

"I  just passed another Kojak with a Kodak"
#1. Gang Of Four: Return The Gift
          - Guitar chords so sharp you can shave with them. Angry, pasty, art school socialists with a
            perverse dance funk addiction. All of this dressed up in 21st century recording by the original
#2. Toadies: Rubberneck
          - 90s alt-pop at it's finest. The guitar riff in "Possum Kingdom" is iconic of the 90s.
#3. Iggy Pop: Beat 'Em Up
          - Just listen. Srsly. A collection of drive fast and punch people songs without peer
#4. Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three
          - The Uberpunks, covered by a who's who of bad ass punk. Some of them elder statesmen of
             them elder statesmen of the genre but still crushing it.
#5. The Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique  
          -  SHAKE YOUR RUMMMPA!!. Crazy- pre litigation sampling and killer rhymes. When you
              think to yourself, "ya know what? I need to hear some Funky Snakefoot by Alphonse
              Mouson mashed up with a bit of Afrika Bambaata." this is the record for you.

I'm fairly confident that I can build a playlist of these gems and go all old Convoy style trucker. Logbooks and common sense right out the window.

"When will that sharp witted fellow at BMLA begin posting again?" - No one ever

There is enough going on culturally, geopolitically, musically and personally to throw a few ill informed and poorly written opinions to the wolves here. Topics that may include our reaction to the ISIS attacks, the new collegiate culture wars that are bubbling to the surface, various musical tidbits, some personal child rearing issues, maybe some ruminating on being back in school. Never a dull moment in the funhouse that is my thought processes.

I've got some time off coming up, stay tuned for some more blathering.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The old demon wormwood

The 2005 re-legalization of the purchase of absinthe in the US had been piquing my interest and I finally went out and grabbed a bottle to assuage my curiosity. When you have a roster of fans like Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, Baudelaire and Van Gogh endorsing it, I believe it is worth a try.

Note that my only other previous experience with what was alleged to be absinthe was during the mid 80s with some Czechoslovakian knock off that I am convinced was primarily composed of Soviet T-62 tank fuel, Czech hooker sweat and crushed up peppermint candy. I thought I was going to die. Note that I am a guy who has made many questionable booze selection decisions over the years (home made "schnapps" from a grocery store water jug at an SEC football tailgate, celebratory "rum" from a Prestone jug in the Caribbean) and that alleged absinthe is at or near the top of the list of bad ideas. Yeesh...

I brought this along to a friend's get together that was attended by a group of folks that know their booze and  I knew there would be a few hearty souls willing to dance with the Green Fairy.

After perusing a couple of quick youtube videos on how to properly serve absinthe (without the absinthe fountain mind you. Although my inner gadget nerd would certainly like one!) I was off to the races as were my fellow guests.

Before getting into the booze itself I'd like to briefly touch on absinthe's reputation. One guest at the event recoiled at the offer of absinthe as if I'd just pulled out a balloon full of black tar heroin. A vast overreaction, in my reasonably informed opinion. To summarize, in the late 19th century two groups usually at odds with each other, the American temperance movement and French wine producers, revved up their hyperbole machines and built an entirely unscientific case to ban absinthe which served their divergent aims. The temperance movement was out to ban any booze and the winemakers had seen a significant dent in their sales as absinthe became more and more the drink of choice in the salons and studios of Paris. All of this hysteria was built on agenda driven reporting of several murders that were blamed on absinthe, specifically the wormwood from which it is made. The chemical compound Thujone (a psychoactive drug) was portrayed as the driving force behind Absinthe turning us all into green eyed murder machines. While Thujone is present in many absinthes it is only in trace and entirely non effectual amounts. The bigger issues with the highly publicized murders was a much more common and deadly combination of domestic violence and raging alcoholism. The Lanfray murders in particular were committed by a father who did in fact consume absinthe before killing his entire family, right after a day long bender of cognac and wine. I suspect that the winemakers were in a big hurry to omit that last detail. The bottom line is that consuming too much absinthe will in fact turn you into a drunken knucklehead. I hold up my friend's negative reaction as a primary example of effective if less than truthful marketing. Therefore, drink up Shriners! Expand those horizons with confidence that after one sip of absinthe you will not be filled with a combination of career ending torpor and homicidal demon rage.

Now to the liquor itself. The bottle that I purchased is (pictured above) Absente brand absinthe. From what I've seen it is an excellent starter entry into the varied absinthes available. It is a traditional "verte" style absinthe which makes for the highly appealing look of the cocktail as a bit of water is poured over a sugar cube into the liquor. As the water and alcohol mingle the booze turns a beautiful, semi opaque jade that is visually captivating. Absinthe typically brings strong anise flavors and mint and this is no exception. As alluded to above, the tradition is to very slowly pour a bit of water over a sugar cube into the beverage through a slotted spoon. This gives a sweetness that compliments but doesn't overwhelm the drink and is very pleasant to imbibe. Note that this brings me to the only real danger of absinthe in that it is tremendously tasty but still packs a wallop as it comes in at a robust 110 proof. Tread lightly my Bohemian artistes!

Speaking of Hemingway, here is a cocktail recipe of his called Death In The Afternoon that looks quite tasty. For a further, better informed look at the topic I suggest The Real Absinthe Blog who blessed us with that recipe.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Prairie Organic Vodka

Prairie Organic Vodka, distilled in the wilds of Benson, Minnesota was brought to my attention via Wayne Klein, spirit guru extraordinaire. Wayne has always been a reliable guide on the way to the summit of Mt. Booze and this suggestion was no exception.

The production methods and organic bona fides are first rate. Prairie is a clean, opulent vodka with a downy, sublime hint of the corn from which it is produced. Right out of the freezer this is a brisk treat and over ice at room temperature assuredly allows the subtle flavors to shine. There is a hint of sweet melon to complement the virtue of the essential corn on the finish.

I have been experimenting with various vodka infusions but frankly, this beautiful work of distillery shouldn't be tinkered with. Save the flavored experiments for other, lesser vodkas. This treat should be shared as is.  

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: The Lion The Beast The Beat

Grace Potter and The Nocturnals released their new album, The Lion The Beast The Beat in June of this year.

They are touring like crazy to support the latest record and they are putting their efforts into a worthy cause.

There has been a big question mark regarding just exactly what type of music GPN plays. They have clearly tinkered around in several different genres. When they first came out of their native Vermont there was a decided swamp rock/jam band sensibility to them. The record previous to this was their self titled breakthrough album that featured more of a commercial, country rock heart with a couple ballads and some Memphis blues numbers as well. Grace even stepped aside to do a duet with Kenny Chesney. Normally, I'd shy away from this combination but between Grace's commanding vocals as well as her wide range of instruments that she is adept with and a band that is an absolute ass stomping rock and roll powerhouse I was on board.

A week after GPN's headlining stint at Coachella they played the IMU at the University of Iowa where myself and a minivan full of the local Catholic school dads went to see them. I will say that this was one of the best shows I've seen in some time and was not disappointed in the least. They blew the proverbial roof off the mother.

Then there is this. 5 out of 5 dads in the coolest rock and roll minivan ever approved.
I wasted no time in grabbing the new record from GPN. I can appreciate artists that evolve, look for a fashion and genre fit or just flat out play what's in their wheelhouse at the moment and this record demonstrates that process quite successfully

The Lion... brings a mess of Ann and Nancy Wilson to this effort. At it's core, the record sweats the huge 70's guitar riffs that drove Heart during their finest years, straight.ahead.rock. Grace's voice is as big and reckless as the 70's chick rock icons ever were. Add in some Wilco-esque keyboards, a bit of druid/art rock and funk to leaven the mix and they seem to have hit the sweet spot here.

The opening, title track brings all of this to the table. It opens with a preamble that reminds me of Kate Bush and bleeds into pulsing kick drum and gut punching guitar number. Grace then lets her voice off the chain, leaving little doubt what this band is capable of.  

The song "Stars" is a moving, almost formulaic power ballad. The song is built for radio but damned if this band doesn't have the brilliant chops to make that irrelevant. Big guitar, bigger voice, love the song. I cry at movies all the time. Sue me for being a big old softy.

"Timekeeper" follows after "Stars" and is lyrically heartfelt as "Stars" feels constructed. There is a heavy dose of world weariness and an urge to hang onto times when they are good. I can make a flattering comparison to Neko Case here. The disenchanted inflection on the line "I am too young to be feeling this way" is a heart breaker.

When the band broke out "Turntable" during their show it was a remarkable moment in a great show. It is not the most lyrically nuanced song but it is a great archetype of what rock and roll should be. Pounding drums, guitar, guitar, guitar and a hot chick singing semi suggestive lyrics. I've been down with that since I was 14, why would I not be down for that now?

The production is smooth and glossy with just enough calculated grit to focus on the band's strengths. There is a decided guitar-centric lean toward commercial viability that is evident. On the other hand, Grace and the band have such an abundance of unabashed, innovative talent that any attempt to force them into a conventional structure is doomed to failure. This record might make the No Depression crowd a bit uneasy but I suspect that most of them are cranking this record and singing like hell when no one is around. I know I am.