Datarock – Face the Brutality (2018)

 

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The Netflix series Stranger Things has become a massive success precisely because it’s nostalgia done right. It cuts through to the essence of the 80’s but does so without rigidly subjecting itself to the tropes and cliches of the era. The tropes are still there, of course, but they often get flipped on their head – the character you expected to be an antagonistic jerk becomes likeable, the one you thought would be helpless and possibly murdered early on actually winds up one of the central heroes. It has the feel of a Ridley Scott or John Hughes movie, but with all the luxuries of modern technology; nothing back then looked quite this good. More than that, it’s gets the important things right – great characters, intriguing plot, and just enough mystery to make you want to blow through eight episodes in an afternoon. It works even if you don’t understand a single reference.

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Andrew W.K. – You’re Not Alone (2018)

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One of the great qualities of Andrew W.K. is his ability to break through the barrier between the artist and the listener. His music often comes off like the aural equivalent of shotgunning an entire pot of coffee and then smashing your face through a window; from a purely utilitarian standpoint, I Get Wet is almost certainly the greatest workout album of all time. The lyrics tap into some collective sense of consciousness, as the songs tend to center around certain familiar feelings at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum.  Then you take his personality, so over-the-top in its enthusiasm and earnestness; his willingness to not just respond to his fans but to connect with them, particularly those who come at him asking for advice about anxiety or depression. Plus, he’s got a pretty sweet Midwestern accent, just like the one I have. Gosh, I feel like I know him.

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Scooter Forever (2017)

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The world of the Europop instant celebrity is a cruel one. You have your one true moment of inspiration, or more likely some shadowy producer has it for you. You crib a beat and maybe a chorus and start yelling over the top. You don’t really know how to produce a track but maybe you know someone who does. Through some stroke of luck (because who knows how this stuff really works?) it becomes a hit. You don’t get rich, but you get famous for a while. Plus, a cool story to tell your future co-workers at the Cracker Jack factory. Maybe VH1 will come knocking on your door 10 years later.

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Beastie Boys – The Sounds of Science (1999)

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I have not seriously listened to the Beastie Boys in about 17 years. To me, they will always be a 7th grade thing, a paper route thing, a chillin’ with friends and playing Goldeneye thing. Even though they were quite popular among people my age – “Intergalactic” was such a perfect single for weird kids who were tired of N*Sync and the Spice Girls – I always had the sense that the Beasties were sort of a legacy act, whose career dated back to the early days of hip-hop. They seemed like the old guys in the room – little did I know they were only in their early 30s at the time. I remember the reception of Hello Nasty being divided between their new, younger fans (who seemed to love it), and those who’d been there from the beginning (who felt it was gimmicky and ended a streak of classic albums). The message was clear – you better find those old albums.
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Prismcorp Virtual Enterprises – Clearskies™/Home™ (2013)

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In my early teens I worked on an RPG. Thanks to a fun little program called RPG Maker 2K, anyone could do it. The game was called Rigging the World and it revolved around a plot to steal a fictional country’s election with the help of the Russians, and I swear I am not making that up. I think what happens is you rescue a couple of Russian guys from a dungeon somewhere and as a token of gratitude they end up helping you become President, so you can stop the impending end of the world or something. The characters’ names were “Natron” and “Bong” and I believe one of the special attacks involved Colonel Sanders. It had one “official” release and reactions ranged everywhere from “this guy’s got some talent!” to “what the hell is wrong with you?” I think the latter reaction was probably the right one. Continue reading

50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong

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There’s always that sense of denial. “How could it be?” David Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson – living legends who were abruptly no longer living. Despite their general appearance of good health, they’d all apparently been battling more than they’d let on. Not Mark E. Smith. He wore it all on his face and in his bones; performing with black eyes, in a wheelchair, or fall-down drunk, he looked like a man who’d spent more time in the back of an ambulance than a tour van. He’d once resembled a young Beatle, all mop-topped and fresh faced, until he abruptly started aging in dog years. I mean, even his Manchester spirit brother Shaun Ryder took a break from the lifestyle and tidied up – Mark E. Smith left this planet on a four-decade bender. Their 2008 album Imperial Wax Solvent featured a song called “50 Year Old Man”; my reaction was, “holy hell, he’s only 50?” And yet they’d keep on chugging. New album after new album – what’s that, 30, 31, 32? Endless tours, supported by a long parade of energetic young men whose only dream was to play in The Fall and occasionally catch a right hook in the face. Last year it’d been reported that he was unwell; he actually cancelled some gigs, which is not a good sign, given the amount of illness and injury he was known for soldiering on through.
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Farewell to 2017

Look, 2017 was a garbage year and I think we’d all just rather move on. Nazis roamed the streets, giant hurricanes ravaged densely populated areas, half of California is on fire, all of your favorite people who didn’t die last year got outed as sex offenders, and President Donald Trump managed to gut social programs and mortgage our children’s futures so he could give the 1-percenters a tax cut they absolutely do not need. Worst of all, Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, giving the Minnesota Freakin’ Vikings the opportunity to be the first team to play in a home-field Super Bowl. The silver lining? Well, we’re not in a nuclear war, so that’s good at least. Anyway, I guess some good music was released this year, and as usual my “year-end” list is not so much a list at all as it is a haphazard lumping of various albums that I mostly already wrote about. I do not really have an album of the year, usually when I declare such a thing I wind up wondering what the hell I was thinking a couple weeks later. But there was a lot of good stuff, most of which I haven’t heard, but hey. Only so many hours in the day. So here are my end-of-the-year awards – as usual, links to better, more well-thought out opinions when they exist:

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