Meditations: Judging by the Cover

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Badlove (1999)

If you were an album sitting in a record store up until about 1995, the only thing that got you out of the door and into the hands of some bell-bottom wearing teenager that wasn’t the quality music, but whatever the hell was displayed on your cover. Didn’t matter if you were the Rolling Stones or Engelbert Humperdinck; all were at the mercy of whatever the hell the artist had decided they wanted their potential customers to see decorating their records.

Still, dozens of artists broke this rule like it was going out of style, and you can find about a million awful covers with a quick google search. While taking a deep dive into that rabbit hole of awful fringe album covers would truly be magical, I’d actually like to look at a few records that I think are great as far as the music is concerned, but leave a few metric tons to be desired as far as the visuals are concerned.

But before diving into this, what qualifies as a “good” album cover? Some of you might respond by saying that “all art is subjective and up to interpretation”. Some of you are stupid.

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Meditations: The Gang Makes a Top Ten List

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So I’ll just come clean and say that I really don’t watch The Office. Now hold on, before you reach for that molotov cocktail, let me make it absolutely clear that I have seen a good chunk of its episodes and have found most of them to be pretty enjoyable. While I do like the show, I could never really get into it too much. Call me an intolerable postmodern pseudo-nihilist sludge hipster, but, I like my sitcoms a little bit spicier than your average bear. That’s why when I’m looking for something to watch while eating an amount of Chick-fil-a most doctors would call “questionable”, my first choice is always FX’s black comedy sitcom, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Created by Rob McElhenney in 2005, the series has graced us with twelve full seasons worth of the depraved and twisted adventures of, “The Gang”, which is basically what would happen if you were to boil the very worst that humanity had to offer down into five people named Charlie, Dennis, Frank, Mac, and Dee who own a bar called Paddy’s Pub. From musical theater to cannibalism, the gang does just about everything but actually run their bar as they try to find more and more depraved ways to bide their time. While each of the show’s 134 episodes share an equally warm little spot in my heart, the title of this article says that I’m going to rank them, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Keep in mind that this is just my own list and that opinions are normally pretty awful so break out your finest rum hams and milk steaks, because things are about to get extreme.

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Meditations: Some Quick Updates on The Longplay

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Fellas, it’s been a good time and a half since I’ve updated all of you beautiful sea urchins on the status of my beloved weekly radio show, “The Longplay”. Seeing as this lack of updates on the status of the show wasn’t really a big deal to anyone I was just going to let it slide, but that was before I woke up screaming in the middle of the night last night after I remembered that the deadline for my blog was today… so here we are.

Now let me be clear, the Longplay is still dedicated to bringing you full length classic albums accompanied by commentary from the show’s very handsome and talented host (me), but instead of that being the game plan 100% of the time, it’ll probably go down to a nice and kosher 60% of the time.

If the past few panel shows that I’ve done have taught me anything, it’s that I like having people in the studio to banter with, so expect more of that in the future. Don’t worry though, these guests won’t entirely consist of my stupid friends. In fact, having actual local musicians as guests for semi formal interviews is something I’m also going to try and incorporate. Basically my goal is to appeal to the people who hate my voice by filling my show with people who aren’t me. It’s ideas like this that earn me the big bucks.

All that being said, it will still mostly just be me in the studio, so you have nothing to fear if you’re one of those regressive mofos who fear change. I’m trying to spice up the variety of albums I pick, as I’ve been a little worried that things are getting a little samey. Expect more EP showcases, live albums, films scores, and possibly even comedy albums in the near future. I’m also due in for another local music showcase, so keep an eye out for that as well. Episodes are also going to start going longer because there isn’t anyone after me.

And finally, I must mention that The Longplay does have a facebook page, which can be found right here https://www.facebook.com/longplayUIC/. Now I would say that i’m trying to expand the show onto other social media platforms, but I don’t feel like lying right now. Give the page a like, and I promise that I will make Zuckerberg give your personal information away to only the finest Azerbaijani opioid smugglers.

If the parts about local musical guests and local music showcases made you say “hey, I’m a semi established local musician or comedian with music released on Spotify, maybe I should speak to this man”, than feel free to contact me through the facebook page. Be warned though; I’m incredibly unlikable.

And that’s about it. Make sure to tune into The Longplay every Tuesday from 9pm to 10pm on UIC Radio to watch me go back on all the promises I made here in real time.

Meditations: Talking about David Byrne’s “American Utopia” and New Music by Old People

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David Byrne is one of many musicians currently suffering from the rare condition called “old age”

People often dismiss new music put out by older acts and artists, arguing that these projects are nothing more than sad attempts by old people to recapture their former glory.  While not always wrong, putting on this mindset can make you a bit oblivious to some of the great tracks that these aging veterans have been able to put out.

For example, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Roger Waters both released some of the finest material of their careers just in the past couple years.

Gilmour’s “Rattle That Lock” (2016) was a fantastic showcase of incredibly solid tracks that covered a lot of musical ground from psychedelic funk to jazz, all while featuring some vocal and guitar work that rivaled even his most celebrated Floyd moments.

Waters’s record, “Is This The Life We Really Want” was released the following year and was just as solid; serving less as a conventional album and more as one long suite that eloquently tackled the issues plaguing our society with his now signature razor sharp lyrics and emotional delivery.

These are just some of the many records released in the last few years by aging rockers that have broken through this stereotype with flying colors. That being said, there is still reason that this stereotype exists.

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Meditations: Look Who’s Back

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We’ve all been curious about how it would go down if he came back. How would people react? Would he manage to get to the same level of influence that he was back in his heyday, or would he barely even be able to function due to the shock of seeing the modern world? Who exactly am I referring too? Adolf Hitler, of course.

This question is answered in the 2015 German film “Look Who’s Back”, (known in Germany as “Er Ist Wieder Da”. The film was directed by David Wnendt, and is based off of the satirical novel of the same name by Timur Vermes.

The film opens with Adolf Hitler, played damn near perfectly (or perfectly to me at least, I’ve never met Hitler) by German actor Oliver Masucci, suddenly waking up in a park where his bunker used to be. Disoriented and in shock, Hitler wanders the streets of Berlin and asks random people for information on his situation, but everyone thinks he’s just some crazy street performer. Eventually, he manages to be taken in by the owner of a small newsstand. From there, Hitler spends his time reading about what the world has gone through in the last seventy years. After staying a few nights in the newsstand, Hitler eventually meets a small time director named Sawatzki, played by Fabian Busch. The two then go on a cross country journey to make something that can be pitched to the TV network Sawatzki used to work for.

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Meditations: Navigating the Monty Python Films

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If re-watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian last night has taught me anything, it’s that the three films and a TV show that the legendary English comedy troupe managed to bless us with are, in my meaningless opinion, some of the finest pieces of media ever produced by a multi-cellular organism. I’m sure that this is nothing new though, as the three films are so universally well liked by everyone that I don’t actually think I’ve heard anyone openly jeer at them. That is, nobody except Derek, but honestly screw Derek.

Yet somehow, despite their ubiquitous nature in both the comedy and film worlds, as well as the endless references that people seem to make to them, there are still many sad, hopeless fellas out there who have yet to be exposed to their brilliance. If you happened to be one of the “people” I’m referring to,than you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a comprehensive guide to navigating these comedic epics.

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Start With- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): The one that everybody seems to like the most The Holy Grail seems to be many people’s first introduction to the world of the Pythons. I know for a fact that it was mine at least, and I fondly remember watching it for the first time at a friend’s house. I knew for a fact that I liked it, even though I didn’t understand a word of it.  

This title is well earned, mainly due to the fact that it’s the most digestible of all of the Python media. I use the word “digestible” because of the fact that while it is the most easy to follow for newcomers, this is still a Python film, which means that it still fires off  jokes and weird, high concept visuals at the rate of a rabid money on speed.

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Like You Care: My Top 5 MCU Films

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So Black Panther just came out and it was pretty good. Another addition to the canon of the monstrosity that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film managed to set itself apart from the others through its originality, social relevance, and the introduction of a villain that was for once more interesting than a piece of driftwood.

It’s so good in fact that it’s inspired me to start a whole new series of articles called “Like You Care”, a list series where I’ll be ranking some of personal favorite things that will cover everything from movies to music to pasta sauce. One thing to note is that these lists will be tackling my personal favorite entries, and because of my horrifically poor taste, may not always be the best.  Because of the release of Black Panther and boundless originality, the first will cover MCU films. Continue reading “Like You Care: My Top 5 MCU Films”

A Quick Tour Through My Paltry Vinyl Collection

Ah, Vinyl; the Bitcoin of the hipster. Remember when you were on the brink of extinction, only to be resurrected by a bunch of pasty fellas sporting ironic mustaches and unironic superiority complexes? I do, mainly because every time I walk into a Barnes & Noble I see the pile of new $50 vinyl reissues get larger and larger like the world’s most overpriced tumor.

“Ok, we see where this is going, you don’t like the resurgence of vinyl. Stop being such a d*ck.”

Actually you’re wrong; I love vinyl… I just like making fun of its comeback even more. In fact, I even have my own little collection right here at home, do you want to see it?!

“No”  

Too bad!

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Meditations: Leonard Leauge

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I regret making this.

Ok, I think it’s been long enough… i’m just going to say it. Are you ready? Alright, here we go…. (inhale)… the Justice League movie sucked.

Granted, it wasn’t as bad as Batman vs Superman or Suicide Squad, but the there’s no denying that the two hours of pedestrian acting, obnoxious CGI, and weird story decisions that made up the movie could suck a golfball through a straw. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the film underperformed at the box office, which I guess isn’t correct on my part because I just now mentioned it.

It’s all a damn shame too, because I genuinely enjoyed Wonder Woman.

Despite all this though, Justice League give me something that I would never in a million years expect it would give me; a newfound love and appreciation for the works of Leonard Cohen. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

It all started when I went and saw the film with a few friends during my first few days back home for Thanksgiving break. Ironically, while the film is a bit of a dumpster fire, I do remember it having a very well crafted opening credits sequence. A montage of how nations around the world dealt with the tragic (yet ultimately meaningless) death of Superman, the sequence did a good job of painting a world that had lost its protector (but it’s OK he comes right back about halfway through the movie). While the imagery of black flags bearing Superman’s insignia and a sad looking Ben Affleck were powerful, what really makes it all work is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” by Norwegian pop artist Sigrid.

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Batman and Flash watch as their box office and Rotten Tomatoes score plummet.

It’s one of the better covers I’ve ever heard, and I was humming the tune long after the film was over. I actually at first believed that the cover was an original song by a talented and clever up and coming pop artist. Once I went to check her out Spotify however, the weird Norwegian pop that started playing quickly reminded me that I still live in the modern music industry.

It wasn’t until I watched Red Letter Media’s Justice League Half in The Bag Episode that I found out who actually wrote the song. During the review, host Mike Stoklasa, mentions off hand that he knew he was in for a bad time time when the opening credits of the film were accompanied by a  crappy Leonard Cohen cover.From there, things made a lot of more sense, and I immediately went digging for the original version.

Up until that point, I had only really known Leonard Cohen as the hallelujah guy who “probably died or something”. Once I finally got a chance to pick through his discography and read up on the man. It took only a few days for me to quickly fall in love with the man and his discography. His songs were contemplative, thoughtful, and could genuinely make me feel really emotional times. Cohen’s low and almost conversational vocals and silky smooth classical guitar playing was a hypotonic combination, and during those first few days I remember listening to songs like “Suzanne” “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” and “Who by Fire” on almost near constant repeat.

Then there are those lyrics… those sweet, sweet leonard cohen lyrics.

Those were the reasons and that was New York. We were running for the money and the flesh, and that was called love for the workers in song, probably still is for those of them left,” you don’t get that anywhere else.

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The man himself.

The timing was also pretty good, as I was already going through the obligatory college freshman folk/americana singer songwriter phase, so adding Mr. Cohen to my Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and Warren Zevon filled playlists was a very natural choice.

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Aquaman is still lame.

The whole thing has me a little frustrated if I’m being honest. It made me realize how narrow minded I can be when it comes to music, which can be a little problematic considering that I pride myself on being a music aficionado. I could name you every Pink Floyd or Beatles song, but somehow it took watching a lame superhero movie for me to come to appreciate the discography of one of the great american songwriters. It’s a little embarrassing actually.

So what’s the moral here? Same old crap really: have an open mind, try new things, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket  blah blah blah…

But in all seriousness though, you would do well to keep your ears open. Who knows, maybe the opening credits of Fifty Shades Freed will be just as life changing.

 

 

Off the Rails

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Courtesy of ItaliaRail

The following is a free form, stream of consciousness type of article style that i’m trying out. You have been warned.

Right now, I’m sitting in the darkness of a train car with my fingers crossed that the WiFi will work. In a few minutes, I’ll begin the five-ish hour journey back to Chicago from a Model United Nations conference in St. Louis. By the look on the faces of my club buddies, I can tell that this is going to be a pretty quiet and sleepy ride home.

I’m ok with that… In fact, I’m thankful for it. Like most college students, I have a lot of sh*t to do, and a long train ride seems like the ideal place to do it. By this point I’m passing on top of a bridge overlooking the whole of the city. Compared to the Chicago variant that I’ve grown up with, the St. Louis skyline feels a lot more humble, but still looks beautiful under the crimson light of the setting sun.

I’ve never actually been to St. Louis before. I mean, I’ve driven through it several times, but have never stopped to appreciate it. Much like its skyline, the city itself feels like Chicago’s more low-key cousin. Instead of the Sears Tower there’s the Arch, which in my mind has always seemed like an odd juxtaposition to the rest of the town, which for some reason keeps reminding me of a much larger and nicer version of Elgin.

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