Category Archives: List

List: Queens of the Stone Age Retrospective

With their new album releasing later this month, a retrospective of possibly my favorite band of the 21st century. I didn’t include Like Clockwork because it can already be found in another list, but it is well worth seeking out. 

queens-of-the-stone-age-1998-2lpQueens of the Stone Age

Rising out of the ashes of the deceased desert-rock band Kyuss, the first Queens of the Stone Age album still bears the outline of its predecessor, but it is a promiscuous, rogue offspring rather than one that adheres entirely to its parents’ wishes. Josh Homme’s band retains the pulverizing, disagreeable, sun-burnt core of Kyuss, but they wear their proto-metal influences more lightly, letting in a more diffuse palate of melancholy and wry, cunning cheekiness, as well as more air and buoyancy into the notes. On their debut, listen to them inaugurate their two-decade career reanimating the corpse of rock ‘n’ roll not by sacralizing it as it was, but by authorizing a morbid, cut-up collage of body parts strewn from the comatose bodies of different bands. They are rock’s Dr. Frankenstein, and the electric charge that gives their creation life is deceptively radical instrumentation and their unique aura of ill-natured humor.

It’s easy to pigeonhole the band as an essentially classicist, backward-thinking entity, but they outflank their primordial riff rock with modernistic touches such as Homme’s liquid, even gender-fluid Jekyll-and-Hyde voice – osmosing from masculine lizard-lounge croon to frail and effeminate on a dime – and the disquieting fragility of the staccato guitar heroics that prefer to jab into the melodies like a shiv rather than serve as their skeleton. Homme’s desert wanderers respect rock without being hemmed in by it or stymied by an antiquarian sensibility. They treat the genre not as a cadaver to faithfully embalm and preserve but as a toolkit to draw from, a toybox to play with.

Rating: A-/B+ Continue reading


Sofia Coppola: A Retrospective

Sofia Coppola’s films are all slices of a larger whole,  somewhat non-decodable without contextualizing them through their webs of harmony and counterpoint with her other films. Their best collective feature is that they all feel incomplete on their own, as though they are unable to get to the point or locate their center. Perhaps this is why no one can agree on a stable canonical ranking of films (which is for the best). With Lost in Translation having been somewhat dethroned from its “best of the aughts” high standing, her filmography is all the more embattled, liminal, unformed, and unable to coalesce today, and thus more exciting to ponder. With the release of her new film, The Beguiled, adopting a tone of diametric opposition to Don Siegel’s original Southern Gothic female-hysteria 1971 picture, let us take a retrospective look at the biggest “name” female director of the 21st century. The Beguiled maintains Coppola’s signature quality as a film that seems to erode, even vanish, before our eyes, as though thrumming with dazzling fits of impermanence, a sense very much alive in each of the films below. I won’t rank her features, largely due to my expectation that I’d change the ranking tomorrow. The benefits of a fascinatingly frustrating, liquid filmography keep on giving.

5f7f91fcd10b35c8ae733d2bed033eb8The Virgin Suicides

Thus begins Coppola’s now 19-year-old comingling of languorous directorial aura and her perennial interest in social displacement. Although it doesn’t do anything Coppola wouldn’t better with her second film, her debut The Virgin Suicides already introduces that wandering, ungrounded milieu Coppola has become so famous for, her films floating with ghostlike half-presence above the ground. Although Edward Lachman’s kaleidoscopic cinematography half-steps toward a mental world of internal signifiers, Coppola rebukes the impulse to crack open her characters’ minds. Her characters are not only un-placeable in the world but essentially unassured in their relationship to the camera. But that’s because Coppola’s icy, displaced frigidity never presumes to tear open her characters’ brains, never disposes itself to the aesthetic hubris of understanding its subjects completely. The whole film is encased in a shroud, a deathly sense of uncertainty. Continue reading

List: Top 11 Soundgarden Songs

034a23faEdited Mid-2018

Late ‘80s heavy music was rapidly dying from the self-inflicted wounds of pop success and melodramatic sheen. Meanwhile, subcutaneous cabals of alternative bands were wreaking havoc on milquetoast types from down below. Then came grunge, uniting the tribes and conjuring musical monstrosities that any fan of heavy music could bow down to. A dose of the devil made rock music dangerous again, and nothing could be more angelic than that. With the recent passing of Chris Cornell, one of the most immediately recognizable demonic-crooners in all heavy music, this list of the ten best Soundgarden songs is in memoriam.

And, perhaps, in memoriam to hard rock music as well. With heavier bands routinely sacrificing themselves at the alter of either hard-charging, indiscriminately murderous rage or, worse, self-pitying, suffocatingly melodramatic internal strife, the soul-burrowing and consciousness-questioning instincts of sonic pile-drivers are essentially irrelevant in the 21st century. Within this miasma, Soundgarden remains the rare heavy act that dared to brave a path of more resistance. Rather than picking a single emotional framework that ultimately flattens and calcifies their music, they explore more challenging, unresolved caverns of sonic and human existence, roping in musical ambiguities and clarifying an essentially ambivalent perspective. Their music is torn between vexing social recklessness and truly exhausted, pensive, introspective irritability. They are the rare band that feels both hungry and truly beaten-down, destructive and constructive. Rather than building up emotions that were already preordained and essentially determinate from the first note, they serrate and disarticulate their perspectives, infecting their music with a truly contagious aura of instability, an ambiance of the unknown emanating from no definable source and targeting no singular, easily-categorizable human emotion. This self-skeptical perspective the band adopted certainly makes writing about Soundgarden a much more ambiguous, much less certain prospect, but also a vastly more rewarding one.  Continue reading

Notes on Assorted Adult Swim Shows

moral-orelA classroom experiment, and I avoid any of the shows (The Venture Bros, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost) I included in my favorite animated television shows list for fear of double-dipping.

Moral Orel

Pivoting around the fulcrum of immanent critique, this criminally underrated Biblical assault on the Bible is both a toxic void of mid-century sitcom tropes and an exegesis on Christian norms that attacks the Bible not from without but from within. Plus, if the adherence to Foucault’s idea of accepting a text at its word and then exposing the immanent contradictions lying within it isn’t enough, it’s also brutally beautiful at times. The Davey and Goliath parody is the jump-off point, but this uncomfortable-in-the-extreme viewing experience shoots for the stratosphere aesthetically with a stunningly expressive color palette and an understanding of the living camera that expands on the tactility of the stop-motion style rather than falling back on it as a punch-line.

Admittedly, the lapses in the particular text the show targets make it a little easy, but the show never goes for the obvious joke, or at least it never tells the obvious joke in the expected way. Orel always punches up, upper-cutting social edicts while intentionally undercutting itself by drawing from a vein of social alienation and melancholy that reveals the lonely disaffection and existential crises hiding not-so-dormant beneath adherence to social ritual. There’s a tortured, tragic, harshly solemn sojourn into failure and unfulfilled expectations at the heart of Morel Orel, a show with a nasty mouth but a heart that truly bleeds. It is disturbing because of how disturbed it is, how much it reveals about the nature of the disturbance of idealism. Much like Adult Swim’s epochal (to me) Venture Bros., the dueling catalysts for the humor are the tickle that hurts and the creeping sadness of mid-century hope immanently torn to pieces by its own blind spots.
Continue reading

Album Capsule Reviews: 2011-2013

queens_of_the_stone_age_-_e280a6like_clockworkI had these written from a prior engagement, so I might as well post them, since I’m in a music mood.

Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age

It’s likely that Josh Homme’s motley crew of hard-partying vampire rockers will never top their 2002 monster mash Songs for the Dead, but the (not alternately but simultaneously) vulnerable, sardonic, and hard-charging Like Clockwork is a stiff enough cocktail to make you forget for a minute or two. There are weak-links: the scorched-earth intro “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” never rouses its jagged riff into anything more than a dogged march, and “I Sat by the Ocean” is catchy but neither as venomous nor as lascivious as it should be. (It feels like it washed up on the beach when it should be skulking out of the gutter). But after a negligible intro, the band begins firing on all cylinders. The adenoidal, whiskey-soaked “My God is the Sun” marries the parched throat of ZZ Top to the merciless churn of Black Sabbath, the phallic “Smooth Sailing” boasts a sweaty strut and a libidinal charge, and the nasty underworld of “If I Had a Tail” is pure pelvic gyration that locks into a searing groove like one throbbing aural erogenous zone.

Even better is the heaven-and-hell platter “Kalopsia” which creeps through minimalistic, neon-inflected glam menace before razing the low-level buzz of uncertainty with a merciless guitar ion storm that mows the song to the ground. And I don’t know what crawl-space the closer “I Appear Missing” emerged out of, but it might be Homme’s best song ever, a slurry of ruminative, cheeky, and bruised attitudes building ever-kindling tension for six unflappable minutes, a soul-searching twilight zone trip through the desert after the apocalypse. Individual songs aside though, it’s the overall mood, the vibe, that elevates Like Clockwork. Queens of the Stone Age remains just about the only superstar rock group with a sensibility all their own, synthesizing masculine and feminine principles, melodically creamy and ragged impulses, to create a sound that exists in a permanently liminal space between feelings and sensations. For such a helter-skelter schism of an album, the texture is remarkably balanced. As superficially muscular as they are on the surface, Queens of the Stone Age is mainstream rock’s only current suis generis.


mastodon_thehunterdeluxeThe Hunter, Mastodon

From the graveyard-crunch of “Black Tongue” to the strutting, sassy “Curl of the Burl”, The Hunter is the molten aftershock of Mastodon’s ash-speckled supernova Crack the Skye. After four increasingly proggy albums bursting toward eruption and shooting for the sky, this 2011 work is sweatier, less fragmented, and thicker on the bottom, eschewing the antediluvian, twisted psychedelia of Skye – with its knotty song structures and gonzo concept – for something so down to earth it pummels into the core. The result is simpler, no doubt, but never simplistic; “All the Heavy Lifting” is as viciously antagonistic as anything they’ve ever done and “The Hunter” submerges a ballad in the brine of paranoia.

Obviously compared to Metallica’s mainstream bid The Black Album (a band dishing out crunchier, punchier songs after a decade of increasingly robust experimentation and prog inflections), The Hunter matches those metal gods for thunder but frankly surpasses them for caustic unpredictability and epileptic energy. Even the poppiest song, “Dry Bone Valley”, unleashes the kind of moonshine-fueled, Allman-Bros-set-to-overdrive gallop that could have only been concocted in a bathtub laboratory. And the high-camp Pink Floyd Swamp Thing morass? Cling to it like a brief moment of safety, wreckage in an album that amounts to a hell of a storm. Continue reading

I Ranked Every Episode of Black Mirror

black-mirrorI’m hardly infatuated with this series, and as with any anthology, it misses as often as it hits. But that also means Charlie Booker’s witch’s brew of dyspeptic stomach-acid churn and quasi-futuristic chic does hit. More than once or twice, it even marshals something truly bracing, beyond the mere satirical sucker-punches most of its kindred television brethren manage. It’s uncanny glass-eye vision of society rapidly running out of sand in the hour glass often feels so pretentious and conceited as to be glimpsed through a monocle. But the episodes that do hit definitely nail the view-askew camera-obscura pleasures of classic Rod Serling, updated with the fangs of 21st century cynicism. Let us have a look-see. Continue reading

Hey, I’m Into Music Too You Guys!: Music Reviews from 2015-Present

tThis alphabetical list will be regularly updated whenever I listen to a new album.

Baroness, Purple: A-

A near-fatal bus attack and the loss of half your band isn’t an easy thing to overcome, but John Baizley’s merry band of troubadours trucks on with Purple, an album that coils their serpentine Southern sludge sound even as it proves this band, as if encased in a caterwauling moan as thick as  Savannah molasses, can survive anything. Loss lingers in the frayed ends of Baizley’s guitar sound, but Purple is an oddly unkempt, upbeat album from a genre that is notoriously caked in doom-and-gloom. Desperation burns and slithers throughout the album, but Baroness is the sound of a band acknowledging their specters without being defined by them, turning up the amps on life after a tentative meeting with the reaper.

Beastwars, The Death of All Things: A

Stitching bent odds and ends together to amalgamate tortured riffs and cackling solos from beyond, this is metal music in the Sabbath tradition: an unhurried, earth-burrowing, glacial holocaust that understands that the race to the top of the metal world doesn’t have to play out like a thousand-miles-per-hour speedway. The ever-nebulous “heavy” isn’t measured in the righteousness of your licks or the number of fire extinguishers necessary to douse the output of your shredding, but in the bruising, pummeling shake you feel in the darkest caverns of your gut whilst threatening the metal gods by standing atop them at ground level. Real metal doesn’t always reach for the sky; it locates more subterranean ghouls and draws them out of the crust of the Earth like a necromancer. So outside the norm they can’t just be from down under, but from down under’s underbelly of New Zealand, the mostly unknown Beastwars grab Peter Jackson’s lustrous, gawking vision of that region of the world and curdle it down to its primordial bones. An ice-cold killer of an album.

Beyonce, Lemonade: A –

A phenomenal work of insinuation over elaboration, Beyonce’s surreptitiously-released Lemonade is an animalistic bludgeon of sweat-soaked vocal pangs simultaneously lacerating and celebrating infidelity to a soundtrack of shirtless, throbbing sexual urges intonated as thoroughly as an instrument could possibly muster. An album of pants rather than lyrics, Lemonade casually but demonstratively vanquishes thoughts that Beyonce is irrelevant in the modern world, or that her inveterate charisma can’t be channeled into something this coarse and deliciously impolite. With shimmering pop melodies trampled underfoot the sheer vitriol of Beyonce’ s pelvis-stomping vocal performance and, more importantly, the cataclysm of slithering Trap-influence insidiousness she kicks up musically, it’s a veritable anarchist’s cookbook, a study guide in how to build a musical bomb. Continue reading

Favorite Modern Video Games (2003-Present)

Update mid-2019:

I’m not entirely sure, after another play-through, that I’d still put the original Bioshock on this list, particularly in light of how Bioshock: Infinite mobilizes its gameplay thematically in comparison. Admittedly, Infinite’s ideological equivocation – its assumption that both sides of a conflict are equally culpable for some apparently apolitical notion of cruelty – is far more morally dubious than the original Bioshock’s searing critique of a fallacious and limited notion of “freedom” run amok. But the gameplay of Infinite – and the way in which the gameplay itself thematizes “player agency” with more nuance than the original Bioshock ever did, casts a less luminescent light on the water-logged original for me at this point. While the first Bioshock essentially disfigures its audiences for being led so easily and unthinkingly to a deterministic conclusion, one where personal agency is nothing more than a fallacious ruse, Infinite discovers what the pragmatist William James, himself so fervently critical of American imperialism and nationalism, did during the very time-period Infinite is set: that the existential uncertainty and flux of modernity are neither fully constricting and devouring of agency nor truly liberating to the point of allowing unmediated, atomistic personal expression.

In other words: all play is always on rails, and it’s up to us to figure out how to either expand the rails or to use the rails more creatively. James’ awareness was a self-reflective reminder of the tragic possibility of limitation and uncertainty: the world’s constraints and our awareness of them are themselves constitutive to a playful, experimental selfhood predicated not on escaping or emancipating the self in the heroically American self-fashioning sense but in the ambivalent play with and of options, pathways, and possibilities. In literalizing gameplay rails in its world and thinking of these rails as spaces of possibility rather than pure limitation, Infinite moves past the somewhat self-important conclusion of the original Bioshock and toward a vision of movement that is comparatively liberated, not because it transcends limitations but because it experiments within the tragic awareness that the rails can never truly be eliminated. We are all on rails, in video games and in life, but that does not mean we are beholden to them, nor that we must (or ever could) choose between a binary of “player or personal agency” (which is typically read as “freedom”) and, conversely, “narrative or world design” (read as “structure,” and via an argumentative slippage, “player limitation”).

Original List:

I don’t cotton to the video game world as unanimously as I once did, but it’s still a medium capable of valid experiences, and I feel incomplete without sharing some of my most meaningful affairs with the genre. The date cut-off of 2003 is slightly arbitrary, but I wasn’t in the game, pardon the pun, before that with any sort of critical capacity, so it would be difficult to seriously explore earlier video games with as much consideration, important though many of them may be.

Updated with full list and honorable mentions. 

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The “license” is, more often than not, where video games go to die. Ricocheting around various external (often movie) deadlines and otherwise predisposed to failing to untangle the knots of a multi-media empire, games based on non-game properties typically wince at the idea of having to translate the atmosphere or tone of their catalyst-media into the lexicon of a video game. Not so with Arkham Asylum, a more studious exploration of Batman as a character than any of the dirgey Christopher Nolan films as well as a closed-casket adventure through the hallowed halls of a ticking straight-jacket of a location. Arkham is not sacrosanct or scrubbed-clean in Rocksteady’s game; this location is a from-the-gutters, alley-cat mental space, bent and threshed with a tactile, knuckle-dusting combat system that emphasizes weight and impact over grace. It’s implacable, yet it’s so tightly wound that you feel your skin trying to crawl into your bones. Continue reading

Favorite Animated Television Shows

Hey everyone, here’s the first list I’ve done in quite a while. I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time and finally found the time to get around to it. I hope you enjoy! 

Honorable Mentions (shows that came close, or shows I am otherwise only semi-familiar with):

Daria – Identifying with Generation X on a molecular level, Daria is in many ways the antithesis of the other major class of 1997 animation, South Park. Studious, reticent, and weary, Daria is a life-questioning exercise in stasis as a fundamental principle of existence.

The Flintstones – Telling parody of mid-century Americana and how it both filtered through, and was informed by, the development of television and the middlebrow sitcom style that The Flintstones apes. Has lost some of its bite over time, and it wasn’t exactly Nicholas Ray to begin with, but still an amusingly barbed, early expedition into the development of what might be denoted a modern American culture.

Johnny Bravo – A meaningful expose of pompadour-strutting, greaser-fronting male chauvinism and inadequacy with hints of surprising sensitivity and periodic cartwheels into cherished absurdity and whimsical slantwise pop-culture parodies before it become the nom de plume of animation. Continue reading