Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Buckethead - Electric Sea - 2012

I feel a little bit bad getting you started on Buckethead, simply because the man redefines the word "prolific." How can I tell? "Electric Sea" is his thirty-fifth album. I mean, seriously, the man must be recording all the time. That said, you'll probably end up finding you like a branch of Buckethead's material and are significantly less interested in another.

I'm the same way - I love about a third of Buckethead's stuff, I can go either way with a third of it and a third of it only appeals to me when I'm in a very, very specific mood.

The Buckethead stuff that I think appeals to the widest swath of people is, by my reckoning, the following records: "Electric Tears," "Population Override," "A Real Diamond In The Rough," "Shadows Between The Sky," "Captain EO's Voyage" and "Electric Sea." These albums are also generally the least "heavy."

See, here's the thing about Buckethead - the guy is a guitar genius, and he experiments a lot. So there's no guarantee from album to album that anything will sound even vaguely the same. Sometimes he's doing acoustic soundscapes. Sometimes he's doing thrasher metal. Sometimes he's doing wobbly funk guitar. Sometimes he plays in Guns'n'Roses. He can literally do anything he wants to with a guitar. I saw him live a few years back in Santa Cruz and it was a crazy show, and he wandered through a dozen different styles during that concert.

"Electric Sea" is a good jumping on point - with the Enrico Morricone-esque "El Indio," the soft rain-like acoustic dances of "Beyond The Knowing," to the relaxed oceanside sunset of the title track. You'll get a good idea of the kinds of things that Buckethead can do when he's in that kind of mood. If you find it appeals to you, follow my list and you should get a lot more stuff you'll love. If you like what you hear, but you want more thrashy, fretboard lightning, you can explore the long "Bucketheadland" and find a lot more metal-type stuff there, but again, you'll find his range of metal is as broad and varied as the rest of his stuff. ("It's Alive" is sort of a great sampler platter of most of the styles you'll find represented, so maybe start there.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Catherine Wheel - Ferment - 1992

Catherine Wheel's song "Black Metallic" was a shot in the arm that made me start listening to music in an entirely new light.

This is another one of those "120 Minutes" discoveries, but man, "Black Metallic" was a song that absolutely haunted me. I remember listening to in on a Monday afternoon after school, and then going out to a Homer's Music (Nebraska's mini music chain) to pick up a copy of the album it was on, "Ferment," right after school on Tuesday.

"Ferment" is one of the albums I've bought the most over the years - a copy was in the collection of CDs I had stolen from my truck in 1997, a copy was in the collection of CDs I had stolen from my car in 1999, a copy was in the collection of CDs I had stolen from my car in 2002 and the album was reissued in 2010 with a bunch of new material. So I've given Catherine Wheel quite a bit of money for this album, and each and every time it's been absolutely worth it.

"Ferment" is gothic. It's not goth, but it's got a certain weightiness to it, a density you don't find on a lot of music. The very first song on the album, "Texture," is as advertised. You can practically feel the sheets of guitar work, shimmering like glittering steel in moonlight. This sort of sets the stage for what you're going to get on the album, something best listened to at night if you ask me. It's full of hefty melodies and epic sounds. They aren't quite shoegaze, but you can hear they aren't that far from it. The band didn't like being lumped into the shoegaze genre, but it's easy to see why a lot of critics lumped them into the field - the guitars are truly epic, and dwarf most of the other sounds. But Rob Dickinson's voice is just too prominent for them to be pure shoegaze, and the band constructs songs a bit more traditionally than often falls into the shoegaze wheelhouse.

On later albums, the band would move away from this sort of cathedral-of-guitar field and into a bit more traditional britpop/rock, which was a shame. It's not to say the latter albums aren't excellent, because they are, but "Ferment" (and the follow-up "Chrome") were moments that have yet to be replicated or matched. The band split up in 2000, and none of the projects they've taken up since then have been quite as remarkable as these, although Rob Dickinson's "Fresh Wine For The Horses" contains a number of good-to-great songs (and the special edition also includes a second disc of him doing a number of songs from his back catalog, including some of the best of Catherine Wheel, acoustically...)

There's nothing I can do to actually top hearing "Black Metallic" for the first time, so take seven-and-a-half minutes of your day and hear one of the most glorious epics ever released as a single... Aw man, the video's the short version, with only four and a half minutes...

Score! Here's them doing the song live on "120 Minutes" at the full length with a bit to grow on! Neither version is as perfect as the seven minute and twenty seconds you'll get on the album, but you can try each and see what connects best with you... Also, as I write this, "Ferment" is SIX BUCKS on iTunes... you're practically stealing it at that point. No reason you shouldn't get a copy...

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Losers - 2003-206

I was trying to find something big but not TOO big to write about this week, and then it dawned on me - I could write about "The Losers" by Andy Diggle and Jock, which most of you have probably never heard about.

"The Losers" ran for 32 issues at Vertigo, its intended length. (For some strange reason, people often think the book got cancelled, even though the story ends exactly where it needs to...) It's collected in 5 slim trade paperbacks or 2 larger trade paperbacks, to tie in with the release of the movie, that wasn't terrible, but wasn't amazing either, despite a marvelous cast, but more on that in a bit.

It's a classic sort of revenge tale, with a group of spec ops troops getting revenge on their CIA handler who fucked them, but it's also got a lot of other big political elements that were relevant at the time, and a lot of which are still relevant now, including "the war on terror," race relations in the US, the CIA's involvement in global politics and a bunch of other stuff.

This is the book that put Andy Diggle on the scene for me as a writer, and I've mostly followed his writing career since this, although he's certainly one of the more up-and-down writers I tend to follow. Some of his projects have absolutely been amazing (such as his run on Hellblazer or his Green Arrow: Year One, a lot of which provided the foundation for the "Arrow" TV show) and some of them, well, some of them have not (*coughcough* AdamStrange *coughcough*). Mostly, though, Diggle's known for writing great dialogue and keeping stories spinning.

Jock's art, however, is certainly an acquired taste. I very much enjoy Jock's angular, almost chunky, style, because it usually fits for the type of material he's working on. It's noir-ish, and Jock has a very excellent grasp of how to darken in a scene, how to use lighting and how to give striking perspectives, but some people think his artwork is a little too raw for their liking, and I can understand that. Like I said, he's not an artist for everyone, but I dig him.

That's Jensen with the glasses..
"The Losers" is a fun tale in the tradition of "The Dirty Dozen," and the team of agents is all sorts of crazy. The plot takes a number of twists (and the last arc is maaaaaybe a bit bigger than some people can handle, a little too world super-villain and not enough grounded reality) and you're always going to be guessing where it's going to go next. The story is a complete package, though, so you'll have a nice resolved ending and feel like you've been on a big journey over the course of it. You can get the whole thing in "Book One" and "Book Two" on Amazon for your Kindle for $25, or in paper for $35 or so.

Now, about the movie... So here's the deal. It's got a lot of actors I really like in it - Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Chris Evans (who basically steals the show in most of his scenes, and put him on the map for me, which made me psyched when he was announced as Captain America...) but it's... a good part of it's just a mess. The film is at its best when it's adhering closely to the source material, which means the helicopter bit at the beginning, Evans in the skyrise with the finger gun, the bits about the cash... but despite all of these amazing things they got right, oh my god what the living fuck is Jason Patric doing? Patric isn't a bad actor, but he's not even in the same movie. It's like the main cast gets they're doing "The Dirty Dozen" and Patric is convinced he's in "Batman & Robin"... you know, the one even Clooney is ashamed of. Also, the movie sticks to mostly the first act or two of the books, and the further it veers from the source material, the more it falls apart. If you're interested, read the books FIRST and then go back and watch the movie so you can enjoy the bits that are translated extremely well from the book (and to watch Evans actually dominate the role of Jensen) and then you can sort of let the rest of the stuff slide off your back...

Here's the trailer, to whet your whistle. Go buy the two books, even if the last act can get a bit operatic. You'll love them. I know I did.