B Movie Weekend

Depending on how you look at it, I either saw four or five movies this weekend—all but one of them on Sunday. There was somewhat of an overarching theme running through all of them; enough that I felt like a report about them could be turned into a blog post. So, here goes.

Friday night I was out til 4 AM, and couldn’t sleep when I got home because I was too wired. I ended up getting maybe 3 hours of sleep total, then had to wake up to be at work by 10 on Saturday. Because of all this, when I got home on Saturday afternoon, I crashed so hard that I didn’t wake up until after 9 PM. The house was dark, it was raining and windy outside, my roommate was out playing a show with his band, and it seemed like the perfect time to dig further into a 5 DVD boxed set of noir movies that was left behind by a former roommate when she moved out.

My selection for the night was “Asphalt Jungle”, a 1950 movie that marks one of the first appearances of Marilyn Monroe. She really wasn’t all that prominent, though—she plays the mistress of a middle-aged lawyer who is tired of his also middle-aged wife, and was in the movie for all of 10 minutes. The middle-aged lawyer is much more important, as he’s living like he has plenty of money, but is actually broke. He’s got an insecure bookie looking up to him who’s convinced he can do anything, and this bookie has a crooked cop in his pocket. He also has a couple of small-time hoodlum friends, and knows a safecracker with a young wife and baby who’s down on his luck. Into this whole mess walks a renowned German mastermind of bank and jewelry-store heists. He’s just been released from jail, and wants to pull off one last big job before heading for Mexico to retire. This convoluted cast of characters isn’t going anywhere pleasant, but that should be obvious from the outset.

The movie was directed by John Huston, who was much better known for his higher budget work, but he’s not at all ill-matched to the different requirements of a crime movie. The opening scene is an extended set piece in which one of the hoodlums, apparently fresh from knocking over a gas station or liquor store, walks around the sort of rundown neighborhood that doesn’t really even exist in most cities today, hiding behind pillars and in darkened doorways as police vehicles cruise by. Eventually, he happens upon a diner that looks just as rundown and abandoned as everything else he passes, but happens to be open, where he passes off his gun to the man behind the counter before being picked up by the police. The only extended dialogue that occurs in this scene is between the cops and the counter man, and it occurs through the distortion of a radio that the counterman has turned up on purpose. The gist of what’s being said is clear to the audience, but for the most part, you can’t actually hear any of it.

The air of confusing oppression generated by this scene holds throughout the movie, even on the rare occasions when the scene shifts to some ritzy, decadent place (either the jewelry store where the heist happens or the lawyer’s house). These characters are all muddling their way through the world without a map, and none of them seem to have any real morals. You can feel the tension, the fear generated by the fact that all of them are at the end of their respective ropes, and you sympathize with them. The criminals pulling the heist are the heroes of the movie, and you find yourself wanting them to escape, even as it becomes obvious that they can’t. This is a relentlessly downbeat movie, in which everyone’s got something to hide and no one can be trusted. Evidently the studio suffered a degree of remorse for its depiction of such an amoral universe, because the final scene has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and consists of a police commissioner giving a sermon to the audience about how important the police force is in protecting the citizens of the country and making this world a safe place to live in. It’s unsurprising and almost amusing in hindsight, just adding a further reminder of how different America was 50 years ago than it is now.

The next morning I woke up at 11:15, just in time to get up, get a shower, and meet up with a friend to go see “Grindhouse”. This is the movie (or movies) that makes me unsure of how many movies I should say I saw this weekend. It’s being billed as one movie, but it’s so much more than that. Not only does it consist of two feature-length movies, it also features four fake trailers that resemble the sort of B-movie trailers that were commonplace in the 70s, and a few other minor tidbits that enhance the impression of being at a grindhouse theater during that era. The whole thing is about four hours long, which I was afraid would sorely try my patience. Nothing could be further from the truth—the entire viewing experience was a blast.

The first of the two features, Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror”, was the sort of movie that straddles the line between action and horror. There were zombies, but instead of building up their presence slowly, with scares and foreboding, the movie was incredibly fast-paced, and spent most of its length depicting bloody, pyrotechnic zombie vs. human battles. There was plenty of fighting, and plenty of outrageously over-the-top gore, but very little attempts at actual frights. This type of movie, while fun, has never appealed to me quite as much as the more true-to-form horror movies that build themselves around scares. While I enjoyed “Planet Terror”, it wasn’t mindblowing or anything.

The second movie, Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”, was far more up my alley. It began rather slowly, by following a group of pretty young girls in their adventures around town on a slow afternoon. Eventually, they ended up at a bar, where they ran into a guy who called himself Stuntman Mike. It was at this point that the movie played a truly surprising bait-and-switch gambit, and if you don’t want it ruined for you, skip the next two paragraphs.

With over a third of the movie finished, Stuntman Mike, through the use of a “death proof” stunt car, killed all of the girls in a truly gruesome auto accident—which wasn’t really an accident at all, since he engineered the whole thing. While he’s recuperating in a hospital, we see lawmen discussing the possibility that Stuntman Mike engineered the accident on purpose, but they ultimately don’t feel that they have enough evidence, and he’s let go. This is when the movie truly gets rolling.

Now we meet our real heroes—not the original group of bar girls, but another group of four female friends, two of which are Hollywood stuntwomen in their own right. One is even portrayed by actual Hollywood stuntwoman Zoe Bell (responsible for stunts on Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”), who plays herself. Stuntman Mike is stalking this quartet, hoping for a repeat performance, but what he doesn’t realize is that this time, he’s met his match.

OK, I’ve given away enough of the plot. “Death Proof” is not the nonstop thrill ride that “Planet Terror” is, and therefore is probably a much better second half of the feature than it would be. However, I think this has led a lot of people to dismiss it unfairly, as slow or boring. It’s far from either, and what’s more, it has more of what Tarantino’s first two films led me to expect from his filmmaking than anything else he’s done since. Granted, it doesn’t have the time-shifts that dominated “Reservoir Dogs”, “Kill Bill”, and “Pulp Fiction”, but it does feature the wonderful, hilarious extended conversations that gave us so much insight into Tarantino’s characters in those first two films. Through listening to the two different groups of girls talk, the viewer forms a different impression of each, and comes to sympathize with our heroes, even as the original group reveals themselves as shallow, vain, and superficial. At first, Tarantino’s method of exposition may seem strange for a movie created as an homage to B-movies, but in the tradition of the best B-movies, it manages to subvert and transcend that aesthetic, even as it holds true to its spirit. “Death Proof” is an outstanding movie, perhaps the first truly A-list Tarantino effort since “Pulp Fiction”.

Now, you’d think that after I spent 4 hours in a movie theatre, I’d be ready to stop looking at moving images on a screen. And ordinarily, that’d be true, but “Grindhouse” had an effect on me that is exceedingly rare with modern movies—it made me want to geek out and watch more movies. My friend was feeling the same way, and when we got back to his house, I went through his extensive DVD collection and pulled out “Dirty Harry.” This movie is loved by some and hated by others, but it’s definitely the sort of movie that everyone expects you to have already seen. However, I had actually never seen it. As soon as my friend heard that, we had to watch it.

I gotta say, I was surprised. Having always heard about “Dirty Harry” within the context of 80s action movies, I was expecting that sort of thing—fast-moving, high impact, not too much intelligence. What I didn’t realize was that “Dirty Harry” was made way back in 1970. Clint Eastwood was fresh from his stint working with the incomparable Sergio Leone, and the “New Hollywood” movement was in full swing. This movement was what happened when, at the tail end of the 60s, studio heads threw up their collective hands, conceded that they were out of touch with the moviegoing public, and surrendered control to the new wave of younger directors. It resulted in a lot of iconic movies, but since there was a much bigger element of risk-taking involved in moviemaking at the time, it also resulted in a grand number of spectacular flops.

What they all had in common, though, was a greater opinion of the audience’s intelligence. Plot direction was subtle, and narration tended to be much less overt, with the audience being shown various pieces of a puzzle that they ultimately had to put together in their own head in order to follow and enjoy the movie. The fact that so many of the movies that were made in this fashion have come to be regarded as classics may say quite a lot about potential underestimation of public intelligence by the mainstream entertainment industry, but since movies like “Charlie’s Angels” also do really well, who can tell?

Anyway, I was knocked out by “Dirty Harry”, at least at first. The movie moved slowly and silently, cutting down on dialogue in favor of long, understated sequences in which everything you needed in order to understand what was going on was shown, instead of watching characters sit in a room and talk about these necessary elements (as is much more common in action movies—presumably because it can be gotten out of the way quicker, in favor of explosions, car chases, and fight scenes). A lot of these shots happened at night, too, and despite the movie’s bright Technicolor, I found myself thinking of “Asphalt Jungle” and the other 40s and 50s noir movies I’ve been watching in recent months. Since I’ve loved those movies, this was a high compliment to “Dirty Harry”. Halfway through, I found myself absolutely loving the movie.

Then, two-thirds of the way through, something happened that knocked me out of the movie in such a dramatic way that it was hard to get back into it and enjoy the final third. Those of you who’ve seen “Dirty Harry” (and at this point, I assume that’s pretty much everybody) know exactly what I’m talking about—the scene where Harry breaks into the stadium, beats up the murderer, and drags the information about the girl he buried alive out of him. Now, this didn’t bother me much at all. With the girl’s life at stake, Harry felt like it was necessary to take risks with the law in order to save her. That made perfect sense. What didn’t make sense to me was that, in the very next scene, the cops were letting him go, and ordering Harry to stop all surveillance on this guy, whom they all knew was a killer. Granted, a lot of murderers that everyone knew committed the crimes they were accused of have walked due to technicalities. That wasn’t my issue with the film. Instead, I felt like I was being lied to by the writer and director in being told that the cops would not only let a guy like this go without even trying to convict him and take him to trial, but also that they wouldn’t keep observing him. I know the history of this movie—that it was made by conservatives at a time when liberal mentalities held sway, and that to some extent the movie was intended as a propaganda piece for a more firm law-and-order mentality. That said, I feel like they overplayed their hand with this plot point, and asked the audience to accept something that was completely implausible based on everything most people know about how our law enforcement system works. The only way to put forth their point about how “we need stronger law enforcement in this country” was to depict a law enforcement system that was far weaker and softer on crime than any American law enforcement system was or ever has been.

After 10 or 15 minutes, I calmed down, and was able to enjoy the movie’s dramatic climax, but a great deal of the wind was taken out of my own personal enjoyment of “Dirty Harry” by this one particular point. I feel like the movie could very well be a classic, had the writers tried harder to keep things plausible, rather than taking the easy way out in order to hammer their point home. As it is, I can see why opinion on this movie is so sharply divided. It’s unfortunate, too, because so much of it is so well done. It could have been perfect if it weren’t for that one thing.

Even after “Dirty Harry”, we still decided to watch one more movie. This may not have been a good idea, since by this point my eyeballs were really starting to burn, but for better or for worse, that’s what happened. Fortunately, the movie we saw was very good. It was “The Conversation”, a Francis Ford Coppola movie that’s not nearly as well-remembered as his other movies of the era, such as “The Godfather”. Perhaps it’s because this one is not as epic in scope, lasting less than two hours and focusing on Gene Hackman as a surveillance specialist who tapes a conversation between two people in a public park, then becomes obsessed with what the conversation could mean. While “Dirty Harry” reflected the influence of the “New Hollywood” movement, it was still far from being part of it. However, “The Conversation” comes from right in the middle of that movement, and it’s totally obvious throughout the movie. Many of the scenes are depictions of Gene Hackman, by himself, puzzling over the conversation in question. The more of it that he hears, the more chilled and upset he becomes about it. Other than the final plot twist at the end of the movie, though, there’s very little real plot to describe. All of Hackman’s interactions with other characters in the movie exist primarily as illustrations of his own character, making it more and more obvious that his work has made him paranoid and unable to get close to any other people. Based on what’s actually occurring in his life throughout the movie, though, his paranoia seems more and more justified as things go on. At one point, around the two-thirds point, he tries to open up a bit more, and interact pleasantly with a group of people that he knows professionally. This ends up backfiring in an unpleasant manner, which turns out to have far more to do with the main plot of the movie than it might have seemed at first. All of this is put together to set up the twist at the climax of the movie, which I would be completely remiss to even hint about. Suffice it to say that it is frightening, but ultimately satisfying, and results in a truly bleak final scene. This isn’t a movie for those who want happy endings, but it is a great example of the kind of understated genius that the “New Hollywood” movement produced at its height.

After that, I went home and went to sleep. I’d seen enough movies for one weekend.

Note: I started this post on Monday, but wasn't able to finish it until today. If it seems weird to be posting about my weekend on a Thursday, that's why.



A few quick jams.

I'm on Benadryl today, and don't feel up to writing a decent-length essay, but I did want to talk about a few things that I've been really stoked about over the last few days. So here are a few quick capsule reviews, with one MP3 each. Enjoy.

The Chocolate Watchband

I originally heard these guys on the "Nuggets" box set, where they have three songs. I enjoyed all three, particularly "Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)", which mixes a truly great set of garage rock riffs with perhaps the best "hippie redemption as revenge on mainstream society's arbitrary restrictions" lyrics I've ever heard. However, when I downloaded their first album, I found two of the songs that had already appeared on the "Nuggets" box, a bunch of Rolling Stones and Motown covers, and some cheesy instrumental filler. Figuring (as is often the case, unfortunately) that the singles collected on the "Nuggets" box were the only really great songs the Watchband ever turned out, I ignored the rest of their output for years. Recently, though, I ran across a download link for a one-disc "Best Of the Chocolate Watchband" compilation, and discovered that this band had actually produced a lot of great music that I'd never heard before. Apparently, their management was the sort of sleazy, cigar-chomping stuff of legend, which totally misunderstood the genius of this band of rowdy teenagers that they'd happened upon, and therefore buried that band's greatness, for the most part. Between replacement of David Aguilar's vocal tracks by session singer Don Bennett, overdubbed instruments to dull the garage-punk attack of the band's basic tracks, and album-padding instrumental filler added to albums consisting of less than half a dozen legitimate Chocolate Watchband tracks, the two full-length albums released by the original Chocolate Watchband are horrible at representing the true talent and legacy of the band.

Fortunately, this "Best Of" compilation avoids all of that crap. For the most part. Until 2005, long after this compilation was assembled, the only available version of their famous first single, "Let's Talk About Girls", was one with Don Bennett singing on it. Bennett's vocals aren't bad, sounding somewhat like Arthur Lee of Love in his most R&B moments. However, true Watchband singer David Aguilar has a much better tone, resembling Mick Jagger at his snottiest and most glottal, perhaps how Jagger would have sounded had he been a true street punk and not an art school graduate. Similarly, the sides cut by the original Watchband resemble the Platonic form of The Rolling Stones as they are often remembered. Those who, like me, have tracked down all of the mid-60s albums by The Stones only to find themselves disappointed at just how mannered even the most raunchy Stones tracks sound will feel a visceral thrill at their first listen to The Chocolate Watchband, just as I did. The Watchband enjoy breaking out sitars and sitar-like guitar effects just as much as Jeff Beck and Brian Jones did during that time period, and their use of said sounds is far more delightfully sleazy. Their tempos never get all that wild and wooly, but by laying back and riding the Bo Diddley backbeat, they create a nice air of foreboding menace that, for all the mythology, doesn't show up nearly as often in most garage rock bands as it should. The "Best Of" compilation puts together almost all of their four original singles (leaving off only the B-side to "Let's Talk About Girls", "Loose Lips Sync Ship"), the two tracks they recorded for the soundtrack to "Riot On The Sunset Strip" (the second of which, "Sitting There Standing", reaches whole new levels of raunchy garage recorder-grot), two tracks from their second LP, "Inner Mystique", and an unreleased version of "Milk Cow Blues." Unfortunately, it also collects 5 ersatz tracks, two of which interrupt the CD's flow by taking tracks 5 and 6, the other three of which are safely buried at the end of the album. Received internet wisdom is that this stuff is still pretty decent, though less garagey and more folky and psychedelic. I'm here to tell you, though, that these songs aren't very good at all. Track 6, "In The Past", is a cover of equally obscure garage rockers We The People, and I do intend to track down the original, which I have no doubt is superior. Three of the other four songs are instrumental, and none of them are very good. But the 13 true Chocolate Watchband tracks here are phenomenal. I'm now on the hunt for the double disc "Melts In Your Brain, Not On Your Wrist" compilation, which apparently devotes its entire first disc to the tracks recorded by the real Chocolate Watchband (2o in all, meaning I'm still missing 7), and its second disc to all of the ersatz tracks (some of which, like the Don Bennett vocal numbers, are probably decent in their own right).

Chocolate Watchband - Sitting There Standing


I've long been a Nick Cave fan, and while I do like his post-1993 work, in which he stepped away from heaviness and turned toward more of a dark, Satanic cabaret approach, I didn't at first. It was disappointing to me that he felt the need to leave noise and anger and dissonance in general behind. Although I grew to love the sort of richly dark balladeering he's been doing for the last decade or so precisely for its thick, eloquent feeling of decadence, I still find myself regularly returning to his old Birthday Party and early Bad Seeds albums for a good shot of the noisy freakouts that I still most closely associate with the name Nick Cave.

Now, with Grinderman, that old, noisy Nick Cave is back, at least temporarily. Here, he joins with Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis (who also worked with him on the soundtrack to Cave's dark Australian Western film, "The Proposition"--perhaps that was what sparked this collaboration in the first place), Bad Seeds bassist Martyn Casey, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks/early Sonic Youth drummer Jim Sclavunos. Cave is the only member credited with electric guitar on the band's Myspace page, and although I'm not really sure when I'm hearing Warren Ellis's amplified violin and bouzouki work (truthfully, I'm not sure what a bouzouki is), and when I'm hearing Cave's own assaults on the 6-string beast, the fact is that I'm hearing some truly glorious noise on this CD. The music reminds me of The Birthday Party at points, so much so that, when I first heard the single in a record store, I asked the clerks if it was a Birthday Party record I didn't own. It's not just that, though--there are also moments that remind me most of Pussy Galore and other 80s underground bands who seemed to be dedicated to reducing rock n' roll to its simplest and most primitive elements. Driving, repetitive, minimal basslines backed by simple, pounding drum patterns are often the only steady instrumentation carrying these songs forward, but for all that, the songs move powerfully and generate angry, ominous grooves. In contrast to The Birthday Party, this album is very clearly produced, with plenty of space for all of the instruments contrasting The Birthday Party's usual claustrophobic feel. The fact that both Cave and Ellis tend to lay back on their own instruments, filling in lead sections for the most part rather than ever playing as rhythm players for the band, adds to this impression of space, and makes Cave's voice stand out even more clearly than it already would just by virtue of its natural power. A lot of times, in fact, this album is more quietly foreboding than in your face causing panic and terror. It has its moments of the latter, though, as on the devastating noise solos of "No Pussy Blues", which alternates brilliantly cutting lyrics like "I petted her revolting little chihuahua but still, she didn't want to" with blasts of sexual frustration distilled into howling guitar and violin feedback that's enough to make you jump when it first kicks in. Who says old men lose all of their anger to complacency? Nick Cave is here to tell you they're lying.

Grinderman - No Pussy Blues


I've spent the last few years throwing myself heavily into the investigation of the garage rock and psychedelic underground of the mid-to-late 60s and early 70s, and sometimes I get frustrated, thinking that at least some of the more obscure nuggets that I've been digging up are obscure for a reason, i.e. that they're just not as great as the information I'd been given about them led me to believe. I had been going through a period like that recently, in fact. However, the same source that provided me with the download of "The Best Of The Chocolate Watchband" also hooked me up with a lot of really rare late 60s and early 70s psychedelic rock albums, almost none of which had I ever even heard of. This has been a welcome development, as it's gone a great distance towards restoring my faith in the idea that there are a lot of amazing psych and garage albums floating around out there that I still haven't discovered yet. I haven't had a chance to absorb even half of the albums I downloaded yet, but the early favorite out of the pack is an album by an obscure band from San Fransisco called Shiver, who recorded their lone album in 1972.

There are occasional vocals on this album, but what really stands out is the instrumental attack. Shiver are a power trio, and they recorded their album live to two-track, with no overdubs, so this keeps things raw and primitive. This fits well with their songwriting style, which is rollicking and frenetic, mixing the acid-psych influences that are obvious in the many lengthy guitar solos that take up most of this album with a propulsive drive that feels more like biker rock. In some ways, they resemble Hawkwind, but instead of filling their band with over half a dozen people and adding woodwinds, poetry, and weird analog-synth trickery, they keep things bare-bones and just slam the pedal to the metal. The soloing is wild and wooly, eschewing any real flashy pyrotechnics in favor of creating a mood through long, soaring notes and runs. Perhaps this reliance has more to do with lack of prodigious talent than a specific design, but it doesn't matter, because the results are outstanding. The 9 songs here take up most of an hour, with "Alpha Man" running the longest, at nearly 15 minutes. This kind of wild psychedelic jamming seems like it was probably a big influence on bands like Dungen, which is cool, and my brain is too scrambled by Benadryl right now to come up with a satisfactory concluding sentence.

Shiver - Tough As Nails




Today's Anthem

I haven't had the internet at home for a while, and at first that meant an end to file sharing for me. Occasionally I'd go over to a friend's house and get an MP3 disc from him, which would hook me up with a dozen or so new albums, but for the most part, I was limited to what I could buy--which wasn't and isn't very much, unfortunately. But recently, I've made a discovery. You see, the music message board that I love most is run by a major-label recording artist, and he has very stereotypical major-label recording artist views about file sharing. I happen to disagree with him almost entirely, but it is his board and I respect his feelings, so neither I nor anyone else shares full albums on his message board.

The discovery I made was that not all music message boards work in the same way. In fact, it seems to be far more standard for message boards and file transfer websites to operate as a sort of file sharing network that works without use of a torrent or downloading program. As soon as I found out that a board that most of my friends post on (which I normally hate due to the sheer amount of drama that seems to occur on it) has a ton of full albums posted on it every day, I started lurking it. And within a couple of weeks, I felt bad about merely downloading stuff off that board, and joined in order to upload things on occasion. I still avoid the drama laden threads that seem to be that board's usual stock in trade, and there's nothing on my user profile that would let any of the kids on that board that I don't want to interact with figure out who I am, but I'm on there, and I'm downloading records to beat the band.

Here's what that has to do with today's anthem. A lot of the stuff that gets posted on this board is stuff I've either heard or heard of, but every once in a while something will get posted that I have no clue about. Generally, I don't bother to download these things, as enough things get posted that I actively want without my checking out stuff I've never heard before. However, every once in a while, something will look interesting, or I will just be bored, and I'll download something I have never heard of.

This was the case with the demo by the band Polar Bear Club. The person who posted it posted a picture of the band playing along with the link to the file, and they looked like they were rocking out, so I figured I'd go ahead and give it a chance. Truth to tell, though, I didn't expect too much. The people who post on this message board's tastes tend to run towards the scattered remnants of the emo scene of the mid to late 90s--which is not to be confused with the modern emo scene, which is far more melodic and pop-oriented than the original emo scene was. No, the unfortunate fact is that most people these days call the old emo stuff "screamo", which is the most appalling name for a genre that I've ever heard, and I really try to avoid using it. Anyway, I was worried that Polar Bear Club would be run of the mill third rate Saetia worship, or worse. But, I figured, what the hell.

Well, I needn't have worried. While Polar Bear Club does hark back to the emo scene of the mid-90s, they remind me of what was best about that scene, rather than the many bands who took from that scene the misguided lesson that songwriting wasn't important as long as you had plenty of cathartic screaming climaxes to your songs. Polar Bear Club leaves the cathartic screaming climaxes out of their music for the most part, instead structuring their songs around tough, loud, yet melodic riffing, and dual-vocal singing that is gruff and occasionally breaks into screams but for the most part contains real melodies. The best song on the demo is the first one, "To The Engravers", and it's this one that I keep returning to over and over. It begins with quietly strummed guitar, over which both vocalists begin singing, "Whoa-oh-oh!" Soon, the rest of the band comes in with a driving guitar riff that complements the melodic "whoa-oh"s of the vocalists perfectly. After a few repetitions, the band changes into an equally driving verse, before dropping into a half-speed chorus. The whole time, the intensity of the song never abates. Despite being structured more like old-school emo, similar to Ordination Of Aaron or something, the sheer anthemic nature of the chorus reminds me of bands like Latterman or the best work by Hot Water Music--that kind of triumphant, energetic roar. It makes you want to go out and conquer the world or something, and when it's over, you just want to hear it all over again. At least, I do. That's why it's today's anthem--because I've played it at least 10 times so far, and I don't intend to stop now. I guess this is why it's a good idea to take chances on new stuff sometimes. Check it out for yourself--hopefully you'll love it as much as I do.

Polar Bear Club - To The Engravers



Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures

I got into Maximo Park around the time their first album was released in America. I’m sure it had been out in England for a while by that point—a lot of British bands that I love have delayed American releases. I’m not sure why, but I sure do hate it. Anyway, I read a review of “A Certain Trigger” in The Big Takeover (which I’m sure longtime readers have by now realized is a big source of new music recommendations for me), and it sounded like it was right up my alley. Sure enough, I loved the album; it had that great mix of 70s punk snarl and 60s rock n’ roll melody that has been so thankfully prevalent in the wave of new bands coming out of the British Isles since the turn of the milennium (The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, etc.). Not all of the songs were equally great—Maximo Park as a band were at their best when they focused on melody rather than energy—but the highlights of the album, such as “Graffiti”, “Apply Some Pressure”, “The Coast Is Always Changing”, and “Now I’m All Over The Shop”, were good enough to more than make up for the few songs that dragged or blended into the background. I played the record a lot.

Now, along comes a new full-length by Maximo Park, “Our Earthly Pleasures”. I was quick to secure it from the usual sketchy online sources, since right now my money situation is bad enough that I can’t even entertain the thought of purchasing albums. I couldn’t be sure of the direction they would take, after all, and it was entirely possible that the new album would be devoted to the sort of less-than-perfect songcraft that provided the first album’s few lulls. If that were the case, I would have saved myself $13 by downloading it first.

Actually, though, quite the opposite is true. The album starts out incredibly strongly, with “Girls Who Play Guitars”, which has the same melodic-yet-aggressive energy that made the highlights from the first album so wonderfully catchy. It starts off with vocalist Paul Smith announcing, “You’ve been with me a year to the day. 365 days watching me decay.” From there, he goes through a litany of things “we used to talk about”, in a manner that suggests that this relationship is crumbling, and he knows it. By the end of the song, it’s obvious that he isn’t the only one who knew—the last verse begins “When you lie on my bed and you label me a friend, don’t you know how much that hurts?” Despite its exuberant musical tone, “Girls Who Play Guitars” reveals itself to be a song about getting dumped. It’s an incredibly strong song with which to begin the album, both musically and lyrically, but its lyrical tone seems like a foreboding sign where the rest of the album is concerned.

“Our Velocity” follows up, and is a bit less strong in the musical department, at least at first. This song goes heavy on the loud guitars and punk snarl, which is not where Maximo Park’s strengths lie. In fact, “Our Velocity” seems for its first two minutes to be following in the footsteps of the less engaging songs from “A Certain Trigger.” However, everything changes at that two-minute mark. Suddenly, organist Lukas Wooller’s instrument rises to the forefront of the mix, playing an ascending melodic hook. The guitars follow the organ line with an ascending rythmic line of their own, and the riff that this combination creates sends the entire song upward into a completely different dimension of catchiness. Overtop of all this, Smith sings in a pleading tone, “I’ve got no one to call in the middle of the night anymore. I’m just alone with these thoughts.” The emotional frisson created by the music and lyrics here takes Maximo Park in a direction they’ve not previously explored. Before, their melodic hooks were just that; catchy, poppy tunes, lying somewhere on the border between power pop and punk rock. This one section of “Our Velocity”, though, is something else, something more emotionally evocative. It’s new territory for the band, and as the album continues, their exploration of this territory continues apace.

The third song here, “Books From Boxes”, is the first song on the album that makes no use of distortion on the guitars. Instead, the band builds a melodic tapestry, creating one of their softest songs without losing any real emotional power. As Smith narrates a story of watching a lover pack belongings in preparation for leaving, the listener starts to realize what the overall theme of this album is. It’s true; this isn’t just a song or two about breakups thrown onto the beginning of a record. “Our Earthly Pleasures” is a breakup album, and the trauma and regret that infuses these songs lyrically also invades the music. On “Russian Literature”, there is some distorted guitar, but the increased volume is offset by Wooller’s choice to play a piano rather than his usual Undertones-like organ. His choice to do so gives the song some of the dramatic feel of piano-heavy songs by Bruce Springsteen, but the rest of the band pounds away at the choruses in a manner that retains Maximo Park’s usual punk feel. By the end of the song, which started out subdued, the music has risen to a fever pitch, and Paul Smith echoes this with his powerfully delivered cries of “I can’t live my life feeling nervous about tomorrow!” He seems to be singing from the position of someone still caught in that hellish limbo between the decision to end a relationship and the point at which it really sinks in that it’s over. These are the declarations of someone trying to rationalize the decision to surrender something that you want more than anything to hold onto.

“Karaoke Plays”, the fifth song on the album, is the third straight in which overt guitar distortion is eschewed, and it’s starting to seem by now that Maximo Park has moved towards a different method of creating powerful sounds in their music. As on “Russian Literature”, “Karaoke Plays” is a song that relies on a dramatic performance rather than crunching guitars, buzzing organ, or snarled vocals to make things feel heavy. Lukas Wooller compromises here between his usual loud organ and the acoustic piano of “Russian Literature”, playing a tinkling electric piano that sounds like a refugee from 70s lite-rock radio, but playing it in a manner that the keyboardist for The Carpenters would never have imagined. Guitarist Duncan Lloyd also scales back his attack, laying down one track of mostly undistorted chords (except on the choruses), and another of melodic, arpeggiated leads. The verses are subdued, and the pre-chorus builds up to the chorus with an ascending melodic riff. Paul Smith proves many times over the course of this album that he’s an incredibly talented lyricist, often capable of using simple phrases to powerful effect by placing them in the perfect musical context. This pre-chorus is one of the best examples of this, as he sings, “I waited up for you, but you didn’t come back home. I waited up for you. Couldn’t you come back home?” From there, the guitars kick in the distortion and the band drops to half-speed, in a manner reminiscent of American emo bands like Taking Back Sunday. They get the same effect from doing so as a lot of emo bands do, too, and the chorus of “Karaoke Plays” is one of the most powerful moments on the entire album.

The next song, “Your Urge”, starts out quietly, as a lot of the other songs on here have. It’s interesting, in fact, just how little Maximo Park have used their previous poppy punk formula on this record. On first listen, I found myself thinking that it was a much less heavy album, but that they weren’t losing any of their power by making that change. There’s just a lot more emotional drama in play here, which makes up for the loss in overtly punky musical gestures. Where “Your Urge” is concerned, it’s probably the quietest song on the first half of the album, at least for the first two and a half minutes. However, starting at the two minute mark, they depart from the verse-chorus structure the song tentatively took on towards the beginning. For a minute and a half, they play a repeating bridge riff over and over, hitting it slightly harder on each repetition. Overtop of this, Paul Smith talks of ill-considered actions undertaken in the attempt to forget an empty feeling within. “I empty out my pockets at the end of the night. Another scrawled first name, another sense of shame.” The song seems to be sung to one of a series of one-night stands, and as the climax of the repeated bridge is reached, Smith sings, “The pinkness near your iris reveals that you’ve been crying, but I don’t know what my crime is, behind my crumbling veneer.” The whole thing collapses at this point, and the band goes back to the quiet verses that began the song, repeating them a couple of times before trailing off completely.

If there are lulls on this album, they come during its second half. The increased sense of emotional drama surrounding Maximo Park’s music on “Our Earthly Pleasures” is probably much harder to maintain than their previous standard of catchy, melodic punk tunes. Unfortunately, this means that tunes that would have worked well in the era of “A Certain Trigger” have a higher standard to live up to now, and can seem like lulls where before, they would have seemed like highlights. This is definitely true of “The Unshockable”, which is a bit too repetitive to stand with “Certain Trigger” era tracks like “The Coast Is Always Changing”, but is only a hairbreadth away from measuring up to that song’s level. Following the steadily upping ante of the first six songs on this album, though, puts this song in a poor position, and it doesn’t quite measure up in that light.

Luckily, “By The Monument” quickly brings us back to the previously set standard. Musically, it continues the trend of undistorted guitars, and piano rather than organ, and lyrically, it’s nearly the best song on the album. Smith is still telling the story of living through the grey area before the breakup sets in. “I heard that you were seeing someone—not such an insignificant other,” he says. Meanwhile, all he’s left with are mementos: “In my wallet with your photobooth smile, and I, with my waterproof jacket. Posterity has hold of us now. Am I just waiting for the next chapter?” Or clinging to the tail ends of the last one? When he sings, “We found a hotel bar to sustain our last night in vain,” I find myself thinking of my own final attempt to feel the magic in an old relationship that had already ended. And who couldn’t relate to the final line in the song? “I’m just wasting my time, with you on my mind.”

“Nosebleed” is nearly “By The Monument”’s lyrical equivalent, and is its musical superior, boasting the best of the softer, more emotional melodic hooks on the entire album. The band doesn’t kick into a louder, distorted riff even on the chorus, focusing on melody, with Wooller once again playing piano. And Smith contributes his most smoothly sung vocal. The not-insignificant other shows up again in the lyrics here, and Smith still seems to be asking what exactly his former lover sees in this new guy. Over the ascending melody of the pre-chorus, he sings, “He changed his look for you, but you changed your life for him. Was the verdict worth the trial?” Then in the chorus, he laments, “Last night I dreamt we kissed on a bench in the evening.” His dejection over the letdown he received upon awakening is a feeling that any lonely person can relate to.

“A Fortnight’s Time”, like “The Unshockable”, features instrumentation that fits more closely with the songs on “A Certain Trigger” than it does with this album. However, unlike “The Unshockable”, “A Fortnight’s Time” does not end up feeling like a lull on this new album. This is due to the strength of its melodic chorus, on which Paul Smith again shows his gift for the well-placed simple phrase. “Would you like to go on a date with me?” he asks. He follows this with an apology of sorts; “I know it’s old-fashioned to say so.” The lyrics to this song aren’t nearly as weighty as those on most of the album, and don’t seem to have much of anything to do with the after-effects of a breakup. Instead, this tune is just what it sounds like—a catchy tune about asking a girl out. In both its fundamental simplicity and its hooky catchiness, it harks back to 60s pop in the same way that songs like “Graffiti” and “Now I’m All Over The Shop” did on the first album. A lot of the songs on “Our Earthly Pleasures” might be a bit hard to get used to for those who loved the first Maximo Park album unreservedly, but songs like this one and “Girls Who Play Guitars” should help to ease the transition.

“Sandblasted And Set Free” will also help with that transition, and perhaps even moreso than the songs here that sound more like “A Certain Trigger”. This is because this song, while having the instrumental feel of the quieter, more melodic songs, it’s constructed more like a song from the first album, with a strong melodic chorus that’s poppy rather than emotional and dramatic. It retains some feeling of drama just due to the quieter instrumentation, which centers around Wooller’s organ rather than Lloyd’s guitar, but the punky hook is still what brings you in. The same is true, in fact, of album closer “Parisian Skies”. However, the passion in Paul Smith’s voice on the choruses, as he declares, “I don’t think she knew how much I loved her”, is undeniable. The hook on this song is catchy, but it also manages to be emotional at the same time. This might actually indicate a new direction for Maximo Park to take on their third album. However, for now, the progress their sound has made with “Our Earthly Pleasures” is quite sufficient. As good as their first album was, this one is quite a bit better. I’ll be buying a copy as soon as I can possibly afford one.

It was hard deciding which songs to post from this album, as at least 9 of them are good enough to serve as representatives of the quality of the record as a whole. But here are two that I like a lot, and hopefully you'll like them enough to track down the entire record yourself.

Maximo Park - Karaoke Plays
Maximo Park - A Fortnight's Time



Constantine: Hellblazer; Vol. 1, "Original Sins"

There was a time when comic books were my life’s focus. This was in the mid to late 80s, before the onset of puberty distracted me, not with girls, but with a desire for a place in the world where I belonged—and, failing that, heartrending angst over not being able to find such a place. The angst was most easily soothed through immersion in music, especially the varieties of underground or “alternative” music (back when such a term carried an air of intrigue rather than a stigma of dilletantism) that posited their existence as within a subcultural or even countercultural community. I did my best to submerge myself in these supposedly anti-mainstream communities, and forgot all about my pre-pubescent interest in comic books, for a long time.

While I was gone, the medium of comics changed, in a variety of ways. The collector’s market peaked, then collapsed. The creative focus shifted from artists to writers. And somewhere along the way, the comic book industry started creating work of real literary merit on a regular basis. At least, so it seems to me now, looking back over everything that happened in the 15 to 20 years I was gone. It seems somewhat strange to say that a 70-plus year old narrative medium has only been in the habit of producing work with real literary merit in the last decade or so, especially when I was so hooked on the medium 20 years ago, a decade before this increase in quality that I mention. And it is strange, but stranger (and more unwelcome) is the realization that most of the stuff I loved as a 10 year old seems cringeworthy to me now. Granted, there are some gems that stand out—Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and Batman, which blew my mind as a child, is still some of the best comic writing I’ve ever read, and although I don’t love his art, the work he produced with artist David Mazzuchelli is as outstanding visually as it is narratively. And of course, anything Alan Moore ever turned his hand to is gold, as far as I can tell, no matter how far back in his creative history that you go. I will forever regret the loss (to shifting adolescent interest and the desire to make a quick buck that could be turned around into used LP purchases) of my copy of Miracleman #2, an Eclipse reprint of several stories Moore wrote in 1982 for a British title called Marvelman. That one comic shines in my memory as a long-lost cherished favorite, even though I barely remember any of the story; it’s probably a lot of the reason that, to this day, I reach for comics with Moore’s name on them without a second’s hesitation. Even Larry Hama, whose work as long-running author of the toy tie-in comic G.I. Joe was better than it had any right to be, produced some pretty amazing stuff. But for the most part, I have to admit that the stuff I loved back then is pretty crappy. Tom De Falco and Ron Frenz’s work on Amazing Spider-Man in the mid 80s captivated me at the time, but now seems ham-fisted. Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars story, John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, and the many writers and artists that worked on Captain America during the years in which I subscribed to the title, all fare even worse in my unflinching adult eye.

So what changed between then and now? What’s different about today’s comics that allows me to love them, even though I turn up my nose, for the most part, at the work I loved as a kid? Well, I don’t know enough about what happened in the interim between periods in which I was paying attention, but I have a few guesses. First of all, the writing style changed. The turgid, pulp-influenced style of guys like Stan Lee was perfect for a sort of overcaffeinated, campy rush that would captivate a prepubescent audience, but its ability to translate to adult readers was limited at best, requiring a fair bit of nose-holding in order to get past the cheesy scripting and enjoy the good ideas that were often there, under the surface. However, I think a point must have arrived sometime in the 90s where the medium realized as a whole that its audience was adult rather than adolescent, for the most part, and that, where said audience was concerned, writing of the Alan Moore/Frank Miller style was much preferable to the Stan Lee standard. Ham-fisted narrative captions with frequent winking references to things the reader almost certainly already knew, along with thought balloons that telegraphed the motivations of characters through completely unbelievable inner dialogue, were thrown out the window, and a new technique called “decompression” was introduced. Although, I must admit, I don’t like putting it that way. I’ve read “compressed” comics and “decompressed” comics, and as far as I can tell, the difference is that “decompression” includes room for character developments and subplots that reveal themselves at a realistic pace. Instead of every issue of a comic book seeming to exist solely for the purpose of a dramatic battle scene that takes up a third of the issue, story arcs stretch out over several issues and include a lot more plot and character development than they ever used to. I started to realize how welcome and potentially brilliant this method of storytelling could be when I read a 6-issue story arc from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man. The arc supposedly revolved around Doctor Octopus, but by halfway through the fifth issue, Spider-Man had dealt with the villain satisfactorily. The last one and a half issues were focused entirely on Peter Parker’s struggles to deal with the fallout his actions as Spider-Man had caused in his personal life. I was hooked. This is the kind of storytelling I like, no matter what the medium. And the more I looked around, the more I discovered that this sort of storytelling was now commonplace. Thank God.

It wasn’t just the narrative form that changed, though. Although it is a bit appalling that comics cost fully 5 times as much as they cost when I first started collecting ($3 as compared to 60 cents), this price increase has been accompanied by a dramatic improvement in printing technology. I never really noticed that the comics I was reading in the 80s looked crappy, any more than I noticed that they almost always featured cheesy writing. But these days, it seems obvious. Comics produced before 1992 or so generally feature lurid, unappealing colors and smudgy lines, which can make even the best art from the time comparatively hard to look at. I hasten to add that the art teams on these older comics were not responsible for this problem—some of it appears to have been the fault of the cheaper paper used for printing at the time, while other aspects seem more likely to have been the fault of now-outdated technology. However, these unfortunate aspects are generally preserved even in modern graphic novel reprints of earlier series. I’ve come to associate these artistic shortcomings with the narrative shortcomings I see as common in older comics, and therefore, I often cringe when I pick up a graphic novel collection and discover the telltale signs of an era I consider subpar. As I’ve said before, I realize that not everything published before a decade or so is crap, and therefore I’m willing to give things a chance most of the time. After all, my copy of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen looks like absolute crap, and yet it’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read (although I think it’s a bit overrated in Moore’s oeuvre—if you ask me, “Promethea” is his true masterpiece. More on that in a future installment). For the most part, though, I go into these older graphic novels with the expectation of doing some slogging. I always hope for enjoyment, but I generally feel like I’ve lucked out if they’re merely mediocre and don’t suck out loud, as a lot of 80s era comics do.

Which brings me to “Original Sins”, a graphic novel collecting the first 9 issues of the Constantine: Hellblazer series. While the character was created by Alan Moore during his work on Swamp Thing, he never wrote for John Constantine’s own series, and “Original Sins” is written by Jamie Delano, a name I’m unfamiliar with. I do enjoy the character of Constantine, but I first encountered him in a storyline that takes place long after his character had been established—Neil Gaiman’s introductory volume to the “Books Of Magic” series. The idea of this snarky, foul-tempered British lout, who chain-smoked and binge-drank and called himself a magician but often appeared to weild no real power at all, was mindblowing to me. I didn’t necessarily seek out his other adventures, but when I came across them, as written by Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis, I enjoyed them quite a bit. In fact, nearly every name I associated with A-list quality in modern comics had written at least one or two Constantine stories in their time. All of which left Jamie Delano with quite a lot to measure up to. And when I opened “Original Sins” and saw that telltale smudgy art and lurid coloring, I had to wonder. Perhaps it was the later work by Ennis or someone like him that made Constantine into the awesome character that I saw him as. Maybe the Delano stories would compare to the Ennis stories in the same way that De Falco’s Spider-Man stories from the 80s compare to Bendis’s of today—flat and lifeless, with one-dimensional characters.

For the first third of the volume, it seemed to be shaping up as exactly what I was afraid of. The double-sized first issue began a storyline that finished up in the second issue, one that reminded me of my recent explorations into Doug Moench’s 80s run on Moon Knight. I was really excited about Charlie Huston’s recent Moon Knight revival, and decided to check out some of the original series. What I found was interesting, and would no doubt have blown me away at the time, but by today’s standards, the writing was tame, and hewed too closely to earlier conventions of comic book writing that drag down the narrative flow. I was feeling the same way about the first two issues of Constantine: Hellblazer, especially when I saw that the storyline ended after only two issues. While some of the more overt horror elements showed potential, I was less than excited about most of what I was discovering, and ended up putting the book down for several days before reading the other 7 issues that made up the graphic novel.

When I eventually picked it back up, I was prepared for a slog. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by issue 3, a tale in which John Constantine attempted to disrupt the activities of a gambling demon by tricking him into thinking that Margaret Thatcher would lose the 1987 election for British Prime Minister. Now this was the Constantine that drew me to the book in the first place! While I was disappointed that said storyline was over after one issue (someone like Garth Ennis could have made an entire graphic novel out of this premise), I found my enthusiasm for the remaining issues renewed. And things got even better after that. Perhaps it just took Delano a couple of issues to find his feet.

The narrative style that Delano uses for the later issues in the volume, while still not quite on a par with the best of today’s graphic novel writers, is much improved over most 80s comic book writing. Each issue tells a self-contained story, but also contains links to the other issues in the series. In fact, even the storyline of Mnemoth the hunger demon from the first two issues, which seemed so self-contained at the time I was reading it, comes up again in later issues. The reference points are at times minor and subtle, and for most of the volume, it’s hard to tell where the whole thing is leading. While the main storyline of each issue is wrapped up by the end, there are often elements left unresolved, and Constantine is left wondering what their significance might be, with no way to determine such a thing. However, these elements all reappear by the end of the volume, and mingle with other plot details that were seemingly unimportant and unconnected at the time of their introduction to create a much more significant overall picture. This type of writing works well as a graphic novel, once you get used to it, but it seems to be designed for the episodic nature of monthly comics, in a way that comics today often aren’t. Each issue is a self-contained narrative, but also enhances a larger story arc, thereby keeping the reader’s interest for future issues, while also satisfying the casual customer who only picks up an issue every now and again. In fact, while I tend to like the currently popular storytelling method quite a bit, there is something to be said for the idea that modern comic writers could take a few cues from Delano’s approach on this volume.

The art of John Ridgway also stands out at various points in “Original Sins.” While the smudged, lurid look of 80s pages is impossible to avoid reproducing, Ridgway’s unconventional page structures, which often incorporate overlapping panels, manage to look good despite these limitations. His use of double-page spreads, an uncommon technique at the time, is also quite creative, as on pages 58 and 59, or pages 172 and 173.

By far my favorite art in this volume, though, is Dave McKean’s covers for each issue. He uses collage art to mix illustrations with photography and even cut-up letters and numbers, for a psychedelic effect that both suits and enhances the dark, foreboding feel of John Constantine’s world. I actually would have been happier seeing his art fill the entire book, instead of being reserved for covers, but I’m sure the techniques he used to create these covers were too time-consuming to allow for 25 or so pages being produced every month.

In the end, while this isn’t the best work I’ve read in the Constantine: Hellblazer series, I’m glad I took a chance it despite the less-than-perfect reproduction techniques. It’s made me interested to see what Jamie Delano is doing these days, although from checking around the web, it doesn’t seem that he’s doing that much. That’s a shame; anyone able to produce something better than standard hackwork back in the 1980s deserves to be a household name by now.


Official Relauch

I've been making noise amongst friends for a while about how I plan to start posting to this blog on a regular basis again, for months now, and it continues to not happen. This fact is probably far more disappointing to me than to any of my friends or to anyone else on the internet, but it still bothers me a lot that I've been so remiss in my bloggerly duties. What I eventually came to realize was that I didn't want to relaunch the blog without some sort of big presentation. The most likely option for such a thing was to create a big post with lots of links to the best of my old, music-oriented blog entries, and to include with it a zip file of a mix featuring songs by all of the bands discussed in said entries. This wouldn't have been a lot of work to contemplate if I still had the internet at home, but I haven't for about half a year now, and the idea of scrounging together 20 or 30 songs from various different sources, getting all of them uploaded to my work computer, and then creating a nicely flowing mix CD, all while trying to get actual work accomplished, was just too much to bear. Therefore, the blog has languished for two months longer than I intended, and no real work has yet been done on the big dramatic relaunch post.

Fortunately, I've grown tired of waiting for myself to come up with the energy and motivation to put all of that together. I've recently begun working on admitting to myself when I have bitten off more than I can chew, and am now doing my level best to scale down any assignments I give myself whenever they appear to fit that particular description. So--in light of that fact, I've decided to stop putting off the relaunch, even if it does mean that the post that heralds it has to be less than dramatic in scale.

A few things will be changing about this blog. First of all, I'm no longer intending to focus solely on music. Music will no doubt still make up the majority of what I post about, but there are other art forms in existence that I both appreciate and study in depth, and I like talking about some of them from time to time. I've decided to go ahead and do that here, which means that this blog will now feature posts about comic books, science fiction novels, pro wrestling (yes, seriously), and any other pop-culture related interests which might buzz around in my head long enough to spur some serious trains of thought. I will be using labels (which appear as hyperlinks below the posts) to distinguish between the different subject matter I post about. I haven't messed with the navigation too much, but presumably, you'll be able to filter my posts by subject matter using these labels.

I'm not trying to post on a daily basis by any means; the time when I had the opportunity to do so was a time when I had an internet connection at home. As mentioned above, I don't have that now. However, I will be trying to post multiple times per week, hopefully at least three. If nothing else, I will make the ironclad rule that there will be one post per week. I'm not going to push myself to create magazine quality articles every time. Back when I was trying to post every day, some of the things I wrote were long and in-depth, and had been revised repeatedly, while others were short, tossed-off first drafts. That will probably continue to be the case.

Anyway, I hope all of you enjoy the new version of the blog. I'll try to make it worth your time.