"What Are You Doing New Years Eve?" and a Glaring Omission

After compiling my 12 Best Albums of 2011, I realized, about 8 hours after posting it, that I left off one album that was incredible and necessary... essential even! That album is Nine Types of Light by TV On The Radio. It's truly excellent from beginning to end and harkens a charming and potent return to form for the experimental, shoegaze outfit. You should list to that too. And if I missed anything else, I'm truly sorry. It's tough to throw together a comprehensive list without neglecting some of the excellence that is all around all the time.

But, with that wrong righted, "What Are You Doing New Years Eve?"

And for the Scrubs fans out there... a fun little version of a Christmas classic.

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GLMedia's Top 12 Albums of 2011

You didn't ask for it. You don't really need it. But here it is! This is our Top 12 Albums of 2011. It has been quite a year, and while I haven't had the incredible luxury to listen to everything that came out this year, I have listened to a whole lot. That breadth and pool of great music means that it's a bit tough to round the list down to a simple 12, but with such brevity comes wit, as they say. Before we start the list, a minor programming note. I have and will be adding, from time to time, a track or two to the 30 Greats of 2011. Yes, that means the list will balloon a bit, but I will add only tracks that seem so perfectly essential. This week, well this today, I'm adding "Die" by Girls from Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Amerigo Gazaway's "Beanie Weather." The former is an epic piece of shredding, spacey, soulful, guitar rock and the latter is a beautiful Christmas-themed hip-hop track by the exceptional Fela Soul producer and Gummy Soul contributor. These are great tracks! Incredible pieces of 2011 like these deserve attention.

But now, your TOP 12 Albums of 2011... chosen by Gas Lantern Media.

12. The King is Dead/Long Live the King by the Decemberists - Despite having two of my favorite and most memorable songs of the year, the Decemberists' The King is Dead and Long Live the King EP were inconsistently spectacular. Both are undeniable offerings of new Americana, and each feels like an influence-powered homage to Neil Young, REM, James Taylor, CSNY and others. Truthfully, these two albums slip to the twelve-spot only because there are so many albums that were ever so slightly better. It was that kind of year.

11. Stone Rollin' by Raphael Saadiq - An album that my friend Carrie first alerted me to, Stone Rollin' fast became one of my favorites for its combination of soul, funk, guitar rock and infectious melody. Saadiq impresses throughout the album's first half, but it falls off a bit after that, ending on the dark, excellent, and haunting (especially if you've seen the video) "Good Man." Were it a more thoroughly complete entry, this would have landed in the Top Five.

10. Apocalypse by Bill Callahan - This incredibly lush and calming, often raucous and protesting, but always poetic album didn't get enough props this year. Callahan has long been an unsung writer of great tunes, but with Apocalypse he submits a magnum opus on par with the best. It is an album that is solid from start to finish and leaves the listener feeling both haunted and informed, while projecting age and knowledge that doesn't stop with its musical aptitude. If you haven't listened to it, you should, right now.

9. Zonoscope by Cut Copy - The Australian dance pop outfit returned in 2011 with a quieter, less dancey album that remained full of ornate instrumentation, thoughtful samples and tight lyrics. Zonoscope encompasses everything you could want in a chill afternoon or evening soundtrack, but its pace is at times inconsistent, which is the main reason it fills the nine-spot. Even so, it's a clear indication that Cut Copy continues to make great music and will, hopefully, do so as time marches. Or, perhaps, as time dances.

8. The King of Limbs by Radiohead - This highly-anticipated album is truly great, but marred by the dour and spare instrumentation that caused many to show concern with the inevitable Yorke-ification of the perennially-incredible band. The King of Limbs is still an album that makes you think and one that drives discussion as well as serving as the best background music one could ask for. Clear influences, like the late-Beatles catalog, shine, but fans craving more experimentation and epic guitar work will be disappointed.

7. David Comes to Life by Fucked Up - Probably the best theme album of the year, the punk band's great 2011 entry is powerful, thoughtful, complex and enjoyable from start to finish. As a narrative, it is complete, and as an album it is thoroughly addictive. There are at least 7 songs on David Comes to Life that grab your ears and scream into them passionately, and the rest are still incredible even if they take a little bit of growing. Punk like this isn't for every listener, but the stories and the philosophical revelations within the lyrics are for everyone.

6. Burst Apart by The Antlers - From start to finish The Antlers topped their amazing Hospice with an album that is lighter-hearted, more pop-minded and thoroughly enjoyable. Frank and thoughtful, Burst Apart speaks to all the fear and pain of break ups, relationships, loves and life. And it's so much fun to listen to each and every time. There's joy to spare in this album, and hints of a bright, beautiful future for a truly great and mostly unsung band.

5. Undun by The Roots - Jimmy Fallon's incredible catch of a house band, The Roots, submitted their newest at the 11th hour of 2011. It's a socially conscious and brilliant collection of hip-hop and lyrical masterpiece, and it even includes a beautiful and decadent breakdown of classical music for the last four tracks. This album will certainly make tons of lists for next year, as it was illegible for submission on various other internet music 'zines, but for me, it deserves a mention now, amid the other greats.

4. Bon Iver by Bon Iver - Justin Vernon's Bon Iver's self-titled second album is beautiful. Plain and simple. When you hear songs like "Perth" and "Holocene" you shudder with joy and anticipation. The songs are thick and complicated, drowning in ambiance and thriving on incredible melody. And while over time, this album wavered, not maintaining the same consistency and novelty of Vernon's previous, Bon Iver is still a crowning achievement in songwriting and design. It's a mood album. And it's so powerful that it makes you into the mood it wants, no matter how you go into it.

3. The Rip Tide by Beirut - As complete as an album can be, Beirut's newest offers you more than just baroque, delightful tunes about time, space and contemplation. It also offers some hits that will stick with you from the first time you hear them. Mellow and thoughtful throughout, The Rip Tide, doesn't demand your attention so much as peacefully earn it. And when you need a dose of hope, and some brilliant horns and strings, Beirut is there to answer your call. You can do only slightly better this year as far as music is concerned, but at the three-spot, it's clear that you can't do much better.

2. Metals by Feist - Leslie Feist just never stops amazing. Metals isn't perhaps as catchy or poppy as The Reminder, but it is more full. From beginning to end, you find poetry and subtly at the forefront, with beautiful arrangements and experimental amazement everywhere else. The album is a bit of a grower, requiring a few trips through to latch onto all of its grace and dignity and epic quality, but once you've heard it, once you've tapped in, it's almost impossible to get away. If Feist makes another album on par with this one, she will cement herself as one of the most prominent and incredible musicians of our time. Easily.

1. Strange Mercy by St. Vincent - Annie Clark is a sonic goddess. She does things with a guitar, with complex arrangements and with lyrics that no one else can even challenge. This album, the third, and a clear cap to the arch she started with Marry Me, covers identity, desire, passion, love, loss, confusion, fear, family, society, gender roles and so much more. And the thing is, it's just great the whole time. As a treatise, it is mind-altering, and as a piece of music it will change your heartbeat, drive your emotions and create joy and a haunting sublime experience. It is almost a piece of literature more than an album, and it's an indication of what music can do! 2011 was better for her contribution. And there's no denying it.

Now, an honorable mentions for album of the year Bad As Me by Tom Waits. It was great, but it just wasn't my favorite for the year. Still, it deserves note because Tom Waits is an American treasure. Okay, that's it for GLMedia for 2011. Have a safe and happy New Year's, and we'll see you back here in 2012.
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30 Great Tracks from 2011 - Part Two: The Convergence of the Twain

Welcome to Part Two: The Convergence of the Twain in my amazing two part 30 Great Tracks from 2011 Playlist. Last time we covered the first 15 tracks. And I'll remind you that these are not ranked, they're just in an order because well, every track list needs a beginning, middle and end. So, before I tackle 16 - 30, let's talk about something that's complicated. That thing is this very thing, the creation of a list. The problem is that we (and here I mean I) are absolutely, definitely, undeniably going to mess it up and forget a few tracks that were still exceptional in their own right. Last year I pretty much left Mumford & Sons off altogether. That was mostly just a mistake, a true and honest oversight. You see, it's a sin to have to make a list because you MUST leave something out. I could make a playlist that's 1000 songs long, but who in their right mind cares for that long... that's at least 3000 minutes, or 50 hours. No one wants that.

So, here are a few of the bands I've neglected to include, but whose work made 2011 an epic year: Fleet Foxes, Amerigo Gazaway, James Blake, The Black Keys, She & Him, Fruit Bats, Vetiver, The Head and the Heart, Josie Charlwood, The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, Chad VanGaalen, Friendly Fires, Austra, Panda Bear, Dustin O'Halloran, Pink Hawks, The Dodos, Bill Callahan, The Strokes, Toro Y Moi, Gruff Rhys, The Dears and many, many more... You should check each and every one of them out. Just open those links in tabs so you can keep going here? Thank you.

Okay, so now that we've all got a little perspective on who has been left out, let's see who found spots among 16 - 30! As in Part One, you can find the list through Spotify or ShareMyPlaylists.com by clicking either of them pretty links right there.

16. Bon Iver "Perth" from Bon Iver - It's pretty much a no brainer. This had to be on the list. But here, following Fucked Up's "The Other Shoe," it calms the pace and primes you for the second half.

17. Death Cab For Cutie "Doors Unlocked and Open" from Codes and Keys - The rumors of Ben Gibbard's death were greatly exaggerated. He returned with a strong and pleasing new album in 2011, including this track that bores into your brain like a space slug. Still, it's lamentable that he and Zooey didn't work out.

18. How To Dress Well "Suicide Dream 2: Orchestral Version" from Just Once EP - It's a retread of the track from Love Remains, but the delicate piano, lessened echoes, and more prominent vocals make this version ever more haunting and beautiful.

19. Beirut "Santa Fe" from The Rip Tide - Beirut established some pop cred with The Rip Tide. It's an album that never wavers far from pleasing. And with this song, there's a funky, electronic warble that is both groovin' and completely suitable to their traditional style.

20. Eleanor Friedberger "My Mistakes" from Last Summer - The first time I heard this song I was hooked. It perfectly captures youth turning into reflection. And the quirky Fiery Furnacer's voice is as great as ever. Dig that syncopation.

21. Dirty Gold "California Sunrise" from ROAR - I first heard this track through Turntable.fm. And as I look out at the snow falling past my apartment window, I can only wish that this song will take me away to a warmer place. And despite its sad tones, its goodbye to summer, it's still warmer than now.

22. St. Vincent "Cheerleader" from Strange Mercy - The album is SO GOOD. You need it. You do. And "Cheerleader" is just the track that popped for me the most after the initial loves for "Cruel," "Surgeon" and "Chloe In The Afternoon."

23. Jens Lekman "Waiting for Kirsten" from An Argument With Myself - Jens is in true form here, telling a cute, mostly funny story of waiting for love... with Kirsten Dunst. It's referential, intelligent and tongue in cheek, but always sincere.

24. Lana Del Rey "Video Games" from Lana Del Ray - We've all heard this song a lot. And while it may have reached critical mass in indie circles, it remains one of the best individual pieces of work for the year. It's haunting and honest, heartbreaking and powerful.

25. Feist "How Come You Never Go There" from Metals - Teamed with the great video that came out last month, Feist's return was made ever more triumphant with this instant classic. Leslie Feist is just so great, and this bouncing, understated track just highlights that fact.

26. theendisthebeginning "Tropics" from Tropics - This is what happens when the internet exists. I'd never have heard this band without it. And this full-figured track is the best of their album, but not by an incredible margin. They are worth checking out... but I think I've implied that.

27. Mikey Joseph O'Connor "(Not All) Pretty Blonde Girls are the God Damn Devil" from The Day I Stopped All This - Call me a homer if you wish. Mikey is part of the It's A Thing! podcast, but he also wrote a really, really, incredible song. This is that song.

28. Tom Waits "Kiss Me" from Bad As Me - The wolf with the jazzy clothing returned with one of his best albums ever. "Kiss Me" is the sweet, piano bar, nightclub, smoke-dripping, whiskey-soaked love song we all need a little bit of.

29. The Roots "I Remember" from Undun - One of this year's best albums, by far, came out at the end of the year and produced tons of great tracks. It was very difficult to choose one, but "I Remember" has some excellent vocals and a distinctly delicate feel that just seemed to fit as we close this list out.

30. Oddisee "Skipping Rocks" from Rock Creek Park - The last album I will have reviewed for 2011 features some of the greatest jazz/beat and rhyme work I've heard all year. That said, the mellow, contemplative, enjoyable and peaceful "Skipping Rocks" closes this out... because as much as you'll hate to see this playlist go, you'll love to hear it walk away.

That's it! There's your list. It's Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas, if that's your bag. If it's not, then may all your holidays, travels and quality times be great ones. May love and peace fill your heart. And may you dream of a new year full of possibilities. And if you don't have Spotify, you can find most of the complete list in a streaming grooveshark player... here.
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30 Great Tracks from 2011 - Part One: In which Doris gets her oats

In 2011, we saw a lot of chaos unfold around us. The economy continues to stumble. Occupy surged, slowed and soldiered on. And a several great (and unequivocally not-great) people died. But, for all the shit-storm action in 2011, it also brought us some truly incredible music, yet again. And a lot of that music slipped past/under the collective popular radar. We saw old stalwarts continue making great stuff. Great returns by Sloan, TV On The Radio, The Decemberists, Raphael Saadiq, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, St. Vincent and so many more, made the year, as crazy as it was, a tolerable one. Also, I turned 30. So, in admittedly vain and somewhat hackneyed honor of the beginning of my 31st year on this little ol' planet Earth, here's a list of 30 great tracks from 2011. This post is Part One: In which Doris gets her oats. (And if you don't get that reference, please seek out a little song called "I Dig A Pony" by the Beatles.) Because, we're referential as hell around these parts. You know, it's literary.

The tracks on this list are in no particular order. There are tons of music mags and blogs that rank them based on quality, but really, the listening experience is so subjective (based on mood, repetition, likes and dislikes) that it's difficult (if not impossible) to properly assign an arbitrary, or even critically determined, number to each one. Instead, here's the first 15. If you're savvy, and I know you are, you can check out the whole list by hitting up my Best of 2011 GLMedia playlist on Spotify. Of course, if you've got a bit of Christmas/holiday spirit left in you, you can also stop listening after the end of this list and wait until the next post (coming oh, so soon) to finish it out.

But, before we get to the other tracks, I have an honorable mention. This track, and its creator were not active in 2011. The Popovers were active between 2004 and 2009, a joint, exceptional pop band comprising Tim LaFollette and Catie Braly. They never played live, but they did create some memorable, incredible songs over those 5 years, including my honorable mention track, a cover of Snuzz's "The Worst In You," one of 12 perfect tracks from their compilation album Make It So! Sadly, Tim was suffering from ALS over the last few years, and this year he succumbed to his illness. It was tragic not merely because of the loss of life, but because LaFollette was such a talented song-writer and a brilliant lyricist. The loss of potential is terrible. With a heavy heart, I give 2011's honorable mention to The Popovers' "The Worst In You," a song you won't find on Spotify, but one that I hope you will listen to.

Now, the list.

1. Sloan "Follow the Leader" from The Double Cross - Sloan has been active for 20 years, and they just continue to write amazing power-pop. This song opens the playlist with vigor, and some appropriate "leadership."

2. TV On The Radio "Will Do" from Nine Types of Light - One of the best albums of the year, TV On The Radio returned triumphantly. And this sweet, romping, twinkling, experimental and instantly catchy track highlights just how great they can be. And that's VERY great.

3. Raphael Saadiq "Go To Hell" from Stone Rollin' - Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, gave us one of the year's best soul, funk and 50s-60s genre rock albums. And with "Go To Hell" you get a song with beautiful horns, true lyrics, and complex instrumentation. It's beautiful.

4. Okkervil River "Wake And Be Fine" from I Am Very Far - Will Sheff and the boys of Okkervil River provided one of my favorite shows of the year, despite an ankle injury that made my experience hellish. And this track has all the pop sensibility and energy of their best, with the maturity only a veteran band can possess.

5. The Decemberists "I 4 U & U 4 Me" from Long Live The King - This track, a home demo from the band's post The King Is Dead EP, is just about as purely folk-tastic and sweet as anything they released on the full record. It's a great love song, and a brilliant piece of Americana Redux.

6. Cut Copy "Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat" from Zonoscope - While their 2011 release wasn't as perfect as 2008's In Ghost Colours, it still produced a large handful of mellow, dance-rock wonder. This is one of those, and believe me, I had a hard time choosing only one.

7. PJ Harvey "Bitter Branches" from Let England Shake - England's post-punk, fuzz-rock, experimental darling PJ Harvey returned with an epic album. "Bitter Branches" is perfect mix of her old-style clatter blended with some palatable song structure. It's raucous, driving and enjoyable.

8. Radiohead "Morning Mr. Magpie" from The King of Limbs - Well, it's Radiohead. The album is still better than many remember. It's not an instant classic, but it has a lot of quality and a lot of character. And this song is one of the best they gave us this year; chaotic, jumbled and satisfying.

9. The Decemberists "Down By The Water" from The King Is Dead - Yeah, I know, two songs by Colin Meloy and Co. I'm a fan. I won't apologize. This one is so fun, rousing and delightful that it had to make the list, even if that makes me seem a little biased. Long live the Decemberists! (I bet no one used that doozy of a pun-continuation all year.)

10. Big K.R.I.T. "Sookie Now" from Return to 4EVA/R4 The Prequel - Big K.R.I.T. is doing some of the best rhyming around right now and this anthemic, party-starter, leaves you full of energy and ready to rock the faces of every crowd you meet. Beat that Bon Jovi.

11. Starfucker "Mystery Cloud" from Reptilians - This is just a beautiful, dream-space dance tune. Starfucker is instantly catchy. And the climbing pseudo-8-bit strings and measures are infectious. It's a good disease of the ears.

12. The Antlers "I Don't Want Love" from Burst Apart - I mean, tell me this isn't amazing. The opening line "You want to come up the stairs, I wanna push you back down," is a perfect bit of a-romantic hyperbole. (I hope.) Just beautiful.

13. Maritime "Paraphernalia" from Human Hearts - While it might not even be the best song they've written (still a tie between "Twins" and "People, The Vehicles" from We, The Vehicles) this perfectly captures their style and really calls to that great album. Beautiful lyrics and jangling guitars.

14. Peter, Bjorn & John "Second Chance" from Gimme Some - After "Young Folks" PB&J were kinda pigeonholed. Then they released Living Things and fans jumped ship because of the sonic darkness, but Gimme Some brought back the pop and the glee. It's not as folksy, but "Second Chance" is great and hey, listen to that cowbell!

15. Fucked Up "The Other Shoe" from David Comes To Life - Fucked Up's concept album about heartbreak and starting over was a huge surprise for me, simply because it's so complex and ornate, pulling away from punk toward a more theatrical design. This song is a perfect example, with great harmony and a powerful, addictive riff.

Alright, that's Part the First. Dig into the list on Spotify. Or use Share My Playlist at this here link: http://bit.ly/vV9axP
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Oddisee - Rock Creek Park

Here's another toast to the beauty of the internet! It was by the grace of Amerigo Gazaway's Fela Soul that I came up Oddisee and the grooving, smooth and mellow Rock Creek Park. Having a great network of music, especially artists who aren't immediately recognized by major or even Indie labels, is the soul of the internet music scene. And I have to give a shout out to Mello Music Group's bandcamp set for opening my ears and my proverbial eyes to something truly wonderful. Through 12 tracks, Rock Creek Park provides a seemingly endless store of goodwill, charm and honestly, genuine great feelings. The musical arrangements, complete with horns and strings and some excellent drum beats, are nothing short of perfect. This is an elegant, peaceful album that brings joy every time it plays. And in Oddisee's own words: "This album is my interpretation of [Washington, D.C.'s] Rock Creek Park through break beats, samples & live instrumentation." And the album feels like that. It's a park day album. It is a calming refuge from the hustle of the city and the day's responsibilities. And it's really infectious. Since listening to it the first time, I have chocked at least 5 additional listens (all in a couple of days) and considering how music I find around me all the time, this staying power is a testament to the quality and the beauty of Rock Creek Park.

There isn't a bad track here. And while I could nitpick a phrase or two, I don't have any interest in doing so. Songs like "Skipping Rocks" and "The Carter Barron" create such a chill atmosphere that they're almost impossible not to like. But the kicker, especially with those two tracks, is that they're also incredibly memorable. This isn't just mood music. These aren't just songs that feel good but digest faster than Chinese food. They stick with you. For all of the light pleasure inside, they're still stick-to-your-ribs music. The break-beat, funky, horn-strewn "Scenic Route to You" is brilliant and bass-heavy. The delicate and jazzy "All Along the River" feels like a careful prance along the banks that leads you to the dancier "Uptown Cabaret." And as I said, there's just not a bad piece to this pie. "Clara Barton" and "Beach Dr." are both stellar. But "Mattered Much" may be the best of the final 5. It just seethes with jazzy passion and quiet joy. And there's a little bit of something I've heard before in there. Ultimately, Rock Creek Park is an album that takes the Jazz Fusion of late Miles Davis to another level, but it's never inaccessible or problematic. It's just really, very fucking good.

The final two tracks, one a lyric'd version of "Mattered Much" featuring Olivier Daysoul, and the closer "For Certain" featuring Diamond District are two epic ways to end this already chill and exceptional set. The quality rhymes and pacing guide you to the inevitable silence when the music ends, and leave you feeling empowered, refreshed and positive. It's just good shit. That's it. Just good shit. You should listen to this. And then buy it. Paying a mere $7.99 for this is a steal. And I'm sure you'll find yourself listening to it time and time again. Check it out here. And then go to the bandcamp site.

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The Roots - Undun

Undun is a lush, beautiful, goddamn perfect album. Don't be fooled by reviews to the contrary (I'm looking at you Pitchfork!) because The Roots offer a wonderful, low-key, groove-heavy, charming and almost CONSTANTLY ENJOYABLE album. Considering that the band also holds down a day job as Jimmy Fallon's Late Night house band, the achievement of Undun is even more remarkable. And frankly, this album is probably the most exciting thing to happen in media this time of year short of the Chris Paul trade situation(s) and, dare I evoke the name, Timothy Richard Tebow. The fact is, Undun opens with a polite, warming swell and ends on notes that are downright classical. The content in between is amazingly poetic, overflowing with harmonies, delighting loops, and some rhymes that are both socially responsible and politically driven, and fucking killer.

The wistful "Sleep" kicks off the album on a proper, emotional note. Addressing what it means to be awake and alive. And Big K.R.I.T.'s turn on the mic in "Make My" is a treatise on what being rich really means, and that slippery slope that it involves. But "The Other Side" and "Stomp" have a special place for me, both driving, drum-powered pieces of pure excellence. I'm reluctant to even say it, but the album has a couple misses, "Lighthouse" is a little too dissonant, with hollow beats backing it, as if The Roots wanted to pull out all the stops on this track, but all the stops, well, they just don't work together. Sometimes harmony means recognizing that some parts must not be involved. And, I know that I'm railing here, but the chorus feels like something Friendly Fires might utilize on one of their weaker pop-dance fusion pieces. It's not terrible, but it's definitely skip-able. The rest of the album, however, is not.

The beautiful, music-box-esque, "I Remember" brings the album back to form and really re-centers Undun before we reach the final five tracks. "Tip the Scale" has a perfect blend of soul and rap. It's all slow-burning, pristine groove. And it has a social conscious. Without being heavy-handed. That's a crowning achievement right there. And hey, indie-kids, there's a Sufjan track on here and it's beautiful and classically Stevens. "Redford (For Yi-Yi & Pappou)" creates a truly elegant lull following the album's central hip-hop peaks. It's a brief experience, but a hauntingly beautiful one. And the three movements that follow, each a progressive breakdown from the track previous, capture the album's name well. Undun isn't just about the emotion and the social conscious in the songs with lyrics, it's also about the decay of the album, turning from kind of beautiful sound into something knock-down, drag-out chaotic. Undun is one of the best albums of this year. Even with a couple of "meh" tracks, the bulk of it is so emotionally and intellectually affecting that choosing not to give it a listen is a sin. Don't make baby Jesus cry. Listen to it below, and then get a copy. It's great music for just about any situation.

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The Black Keys - El Camino

El Camino is by no means a bad album. Nor is it a bad Black Keys album. The major issue with El Camino is that it lacks the heights and greatness the band has reached previously. No band is always perfect, but sometimes these things are just matters of dilution. El Camino is the seventh studio album by the Akron, Ohio duo. And there seem to be signs here that their trademark blues-rock sound is growing slightly stale. Fans of the band, and I count myself as one, have experienced true greatness from Thickfreakness and Magic Potion, but even on 2008's Attack & Release there were tracks that felt only like they were there, rather than being there to dazzle. Part of it is that when you put out anthemic power-tracks like "Set You Free" and "Have Love Will Travel" some of the newer touches just never feel quite as strong. It's not the Weezer Effect, though, because El Camino is still infinitely listenable and much of it grows on you as you churn through it. Some tracks, though, sound a little like Beck/Eels take-aways. And others are just too muddled to be catchy.

But there are some powerful highlights. "Lonely Boy" has all the essential ingredients. It features thunderous drums and a continuous, powerful guitar riff with some quality blues-standard lyrics. Check it out below.

The Black Keys - Lonely Boy (RSD Exclusive) from wbrdigital on Vimeo.

"Dead and Gone" is another especially interesting track, with some sweet backing vocals that make the track memorable. And "Little Black Submarines" is great too, a delicate, heartfelt Led Zeppelin-esque acoustic ballad. And there's the catchy, whining "Run Right Back" too. El Camino is plainly solid for the most part, but it doesn't resonate quite the way Brothers did, or any of the great work they've done on their other 5 previous albums. What's most interesting is that The Black Keys refuse to stream the album on any of the usual services. No Spotify. No Grooveshark. No anything. Instead, the album is a buy only proposition, so I suggest giving it a try. If you are a fan of The Black Keys, then this is definitely a good buy. There are enough gems here to make it worthwhile. But if you expect a return to most recent form, you may be disappointed.
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The Walking Dead - Pretty Much Dead Already

Out of fatigue, I'm only finally getting around to the first-half finale of AMC's The Walking Dead. There have been a lot of disappointments this half of the season, but luckily, and well, frankly surprisingly, "Pretty Much Dead Already" pulls out everything it needs to make the show compelling for its extended holiday break. Parts of the episode speak to a sort of utopia, not entirely unlike Plato's Republic, wherein the living, breathing, thinking humans, now the best of their species by proxy, could attempt to at least respectfully store and protect their zombie counterparts, their walkers, their former friends now turned to fools with blood-rage by whatever mystery caused all of this in the first place. But the climax, another twist, but this time a good one, comes in the form of a boiling-over of negative energy, a great outpouring of fear, that means those with the minds to think and choose take out those who have long since lost their true humanity. While it provides a titillating bit of zombie gun-violence, it also feels strangely evil; an act of execution undertaken by those who fear what they still don't really understand.

There are threads that continue, Dale confronts Shane, even needling him about killing Otis. Lori is still pregnant. Rick tries to convince Hershel to let them stay, both to have normal lives, but also to preserve his unborn child's chance at survival. And while Rick and Hershel go off to round up some of the walkers who were trapped in bog mud, Shane falls entirely off his proverbial rocker. And sadly, Carol and Daryl go off to search for Sophia (who has long been a bit of a joke, but whose story takes a tragic and incredibly effective turn here).

But the big storm comes right at the end. Shane, freshly angry at Dale for even considering ditching their weapons to preserve some kind of truce with Hershel and his family, catches a glimpse of Rick and Hershel bringing in two walkers humanely. They intend, of course, to put them in the barn. But Shane can't take that. The world is dangerous. He is out of patience and out of belief. He is all fear. And he charges, shooting one of the walkers and then cracking open the barn. I have to commend the writers and the director for making the final battle, a sort of no-holds-barred gun-violence-orgy, so emotionally effective and poignant. As the walkers leave the barn one-by-one. Shane shoots one. Then Andrea jumps in and shoots. Then Daryl. Then T-Dog, and finally, reluctantly, Glenn. Rick does not shoot. And Hershel falls to his knees, heartbroken that the people he believed he could save were now destroyed. It's only once they've taken down 15 - 20 adult walkers that we get the slow reveal.


Sophia, the long lost somewhat joke of a side-story little girl emerges. She's a walker. She's gone. And she still looks mostly like herself. It's a horribly emotional reveal. And possibly the greatest thing The Walking Dead has done since its premiere. She walks out slowly. Crossing the pile of corpses, heading for the group. And as Carl hides. And no one else can move, everyone so fucking shocked. Rick steps up, set to do the truly noble thing. If the walkers are beyond cure, then he is one who is willing to euthanize. It's almost a perfect mirror of the scene in Season One when he shoots a little girl near the gas station. Or when he shoots the half-a-body-walker from the premiere. He takes no pleasure in it. That's Shane's thing. He kills for the sport, out of fear, to feel alive. Rick, though, shoots Sophia with a careful aim. She falls. The End.

For a show that has been such a mixed bag, "Pretty Much Dead Already" gave us some good pay-offs. Sophia's becoming a zombie felt reasonable, if only because Hershel wanted to save her too and couldn't bear to break what had happened to her. He almost certainly would have when he and Rick brought in the zombies they "caught." But this episode calls into question the nature of humanity more than most of these episodes have. Despite appearing only briefly, and to be shot down, the walkers seem to represent a lesser class, or at least, simply the result of our grasp on order suddenly removed. Are we that far away from them, really? Is Shane? Those are the questions that I hope the series will answer after the hiatus. And I hope to feel like reviewing the show then too. As long as it doesn't drag like it can.
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Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs - Alone In This Together

With beautifully heartfelt, sometimes growling vocal intonation and brisk, guitar and piano work, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, with their newest release Alone In This Together, provide a collection of songs that speak to every person's failed relationships, every person's unfulfilled dreams and every person's fears of the future. Their folk, alt-country, rock mix that features splashing percussion and pristine melodious harmonies, has a very radio friendly quality without sacrificing the purity of emotion attached to each individual line of lyrical poetry. While they do have a somewhat late-'90s/early-'00s Lilith Fair quality at times, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs also infuses a strong and evident love of the blues. It's a sturdy album about situations we all know well, and one that never drifts too far into the sad-sack or pathetic. Star Anna, lead singer, rhythm guitarist and leader of the group, a vocalist from Ellensburg, WA., has such a powerful, enjoyable voice that she carries (and could carry) just about any song, even if it were trite. Luckily, the growls and lush arrangements around her on Alone In This Together never require such carrying. Instead, they simply benefit. And that, ultimately, benefits the listener.

The title track "Alone In This Together" is a powerful, sad, and wistful track that gives an exemplary taste of the rest of the album. Check out the video below for the FULL EFFECT. But even beyond that song, which will sure see some radio time over the next months, the album has some great highlights. "Time" and "Wolves In Disguise" serve as testaments to different sides of the romantic/life coin, touching both on sadness and on a sort of strong, vengeful desire to battle back deceptions. "Just Leave Me There" has all the sad-mixed-with-a-middle-finger anyone could ask for. Despite a slower pace, it's decisive and aggressive lyrically. And some of the best tracks finish the album, so as you wander the wilds of the internet to sample before you buy, make sure to check out "Don't Go Yet." You'll be pleased when you do, especially as Star Anna's voice and style reveal themselves more and more to have hints of Fiona Apple and Cat Power. Check out a few of the tracks below the video, and then hit up the band's website to pick up a copy. It's talented artists like these, who fly somehow under the radar, who deserve our love the most.

Star Anna And The Laughing Dogs 05 Time by Local 638 Records
Star Anna And The Laughing Dogs 07 Wolves In Disguise by Local 638 Records
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She & Him - A Very She & Him Christmas

You already know all the songs. You already have positive, negative, or otherwise associations with the songs. The real wildcard when it comes to She & Him's A Very She & Him Christmas is weather or not you like Zooey Deschanel. And not just Zooey Deschanel as an actress or person, but her voice, the syrupy dulcet tones that are both precious and breathy, and if you like the "idea" of Zooey Deschanel making a Christmas album. I don't bring M. Ward into this because he's just not divisive. Also, he brings another round of strong, but subtle guitar garnishment and occasional backing vocals to this newest She & Him entry. It's not that he's a non-factor, but he's the unsung hero of the band. He keeps them moving and he provides the sonic decoration in the form of their pseudo-'50s echo-y guitar, but he's just not the face. But, anti-Zooey-ites, assuming you exist, there is nothing here to complain about. Her vocals are calm, and perfectly suited to these standard classics. And if anything, she avoids any vocal histrionics of any kind. This may be an indie-rock album, but it's charmingly traditional (excepting some echo, and vocal overlay effects) to the extent that you could sit by the fire, burn a Yule log, drink some Wassail, and hope that the Chim-in-ney Sweep isn't in Santa's way. In short, it's beautiful.

Deschanel excels particularly on "Christmas Wish" where her occasional, charming, geographically-confusing drawl is perfect. But songs like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is another treat too. M. Ward does some interesting stuff on "Sleigh Ride," frolicking up and the neck of the guitar and providing additional vocals. And then "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" has some style too, but She & Him don't do anything crazy with it, save for some more solid guitar riffs from M. Ward. "Blue Christmas" is one they knock out of the park, but that's just as easily because of the quality of the song too. And their rendition of "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys is wonderful, though not too far from the original. The bottom line when it comes to A Very She & Him Christmas is whether you like She & Him AND you like Christmas songs. Those are the components in question. If you like both, then you will be pleased by this heartwarming, not-too-challenging set of songs. If not, then you're just well off with classical versions of the songs. For me, it's a great, peaceful, sometimes semi-jaunty mix of great holiday tunes. "The Christmas Song" as the album's closer, nearly got me choked up, but it's a beautiful song that cannot be denied.

Give the album a listen below. Let it soundtrack a snowy night (like this one, here in Denver) and then decide whether you need it or not. It could be an integral part of your holiday collection. If you have a holiday collection. No matter what, if it doesn't warm your heart, well, go get your Grinch card now, because it's probably two sizes too small.

And on an unrelated note: R.I.P. Napster. You were a cute way to get viruses and lawsuits filed against you in college, but you did open up the internet, and potentially strike the knock-out blow that started the death of the Old Music Industry.

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Amerigo Gazaway - "Who We Are"

Gummy Soul artist and the great creator of the mash-up masterpiece Fela Soul, Amerigo Gazaway, recently released a politically charged Occupy: Wall Street-themed song called "Who We Are." Brilliantly, the song is a strong, poignant rallying cry. It also functions as a note of negativity that, while hopeful for the future, acknowledges that it's already too late. This type of sincerity and depth sets Gazaway instantly apart from the crowds. His anger in "Who We Are" isn't merely directionless, it is a frustration that solutions could be found, but we are so constantly bogged down that they remain elusive. It's also one of the most educated, well-formed pleas I have heard in recent history. This isn't just a "ra ra" piece about how everything is broken, it's a philosophical thesis about ending the corporate greed in this country and around the world. And keeping the one planet we have clean and alive. It's truly moving stuff. Download the single here.
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Tom Waits - Bad As Me

It's not often that you can say an artist, especially one fondly remembered for past epic successes, actually gets better with age and time. The surviving Beatles tend to disappoint compared to their past works. The Rolling Stones just don't write good music anymore. And well, poor Lou Reed lost some poker game and ended up working with Metallica on the most tragically masturbatory event since Dr. Cecil Jacobson. So, it's a fucking treat, goddammit, when Tom Waits keeps making quality music 38 years after Closing Time set the stage for his greatness. Bad As Me is actually, surprisingly, better than 1999's Grammy-winning Mule Variations. That's saying something, for me at least, because it was Mule Variations that really turned me on to Tom Waits in the first place. It's probably sacrilege to say so, but I didn't hear much of him until then. And once I did, I realized the error of that choice of ways. So, with Bad As Me, Waits creates 14 tracks that are excellent. And the fusion of jazz, funk, rock, and folk that happens here is one that makes a perfect potion. Even the tracks on which Waits sings "falsetto" are incredible.

Waits makes a strong, playful callback on "Satisfied" where he invokes Jagger and Richards. And shows exceptional tenderness on "Kiss Me," a slow-burning, retro, jazz club track. Those are not necessarily the best songs on the album, but they are fine representations of the color and flavor and the undyingly powerful songwriting that this man is capable of. Bad As Me is an album that sets its own tone. It creates its own atmosphere. And it defies distractions. In fact, while writing this review, my friend Jared, of It's A Thing! fame, has called me multiple time for consultations on a plant purchase, as well as to inform me of, first, the existence of a band called Chokebore, and then that they are similar to Weezer. The moral here... Tom Waits will not be denied. If you don't care for Waits, generally, I really recommend giving this album a shot. It has a timeless mix of genres, each of which is executed perfectly when separate and innovatively when blended. Bad As Me is a likely candidate for more awards. But more than anything it is a thank you note, intentional or not, to fans that says "I've not even begun to write my best music." Listen to it below via Grooveshark, and then go get it or download it or something. And listen to his interview with Terry Gross from NPR's Fresh Air in which he discusses his process.

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The Walking Dead - Secrets

That whole Thanksgiving thing, and the days leading up to it delayed this post. The good news is that "Secrets" isn't a new low-point for The Walking Dead this year. And the bad news is just more of the same stuff that is the bad news each week. "Secrets" plays up Shane's character-dichotomy, gives Glenn a chance to look like less of goon after last week, forces us to tolerate more Lori-centric melodrama, and offers heaping spoonfuls of Dale. It's big failing comes from Daryl's near-complete absence, he is healing, but no one checks back with him after the initial 5 minutes. Oh and the opener, before the titles, was great, as one of the farmhouse survivors breaks chicken's legs by hand, stuffs those little squawkers in a sack, and then dumps that sack into the zombie barn. It's a pity that nothing cool came of the barn... Of course, it will, I'm sure... due to some disastrous asshole move perpetrated by an uneven Shane, but for now we just have to be content knowing that the barn is holding the "sick" in Hershel's opinion. He and Maggie don't consider them monsters, they call them "wife" and "mom" and "brother." Still, the opener was shot so well, with such a focus on the horror elements of film and great pacing, and NOT TALKING ALL THE TIME, that it was too bad we didn't get to explore that line further... or, hell, that show. Now to the characters:

Shane: First, he's helping everyone learn to shoot, looking like a bit of a leader and getting the gratitude he'll need to hang around despite all of the moral compromises he's made. He and Andrea even go out to look for "Sophia" (I'm putting quotes around her name because at this point she's more like a myth.) and after Shane uses a bit of the tough-guy tough-love to get her shooting zombies with accuracy, and they don't, of course, find "Sophia," Andrea cups Shane's manhood in the car... and they presumably have frustrated, slightly amoral, pseudo-adolescent, post-gun-firing, action movie romance sex. But, earlier, Shane shows an interest in Carl again, and he seems to be back on the reservation... until Dale confronts him and things get very threaten-y. Shane is still the wild card. And since his pride leads him to snap quickly to anger at Dale, it seems entirely possible that he'll start killing barn zombies or let them out just to be a dick. As long as he can take Andrea with him.

Glenn: He finally knows that Maggie actually digs him. He gets the most brutal zombie kill of the episode. And he also tells Dale about both the barn (which Maggie is angry about for about 10 minutes) and Lori's pregnancy. Glenn turns out to be someone we used to call "Switzerland" back in high school. "Switzerland" is the person who listens to a lot of people, offers non-biased advice, and stays out of the situations for the most part. This is Glenn now. He doesn't want no trouble. So, after Glenn gets Lori's abortion pills, he also grabs some prenatal vitamins to give her a VERY CLEAR to the audience CHOICE. Not bad for Glenn though, he's kinda dumb, but more considerate and more like the glue for the group that he was in Season One.

Lori: She's still pregnant. And how can someone raise a baby in this here world of undead creatures? So she decides to abort the child with a handful of morning after pills. Then she immediately vomits up the pills. And since her decision takes up about 7 minutes of the show, she and Rick talk it out. And she's upset. And he's upset she lied. And then they seem to decide to keep the baby. And Rick seems, almost too well, to understand that she was with Shane. But there's a lot of crying. And a lot of brooding. And well, it's Lori. She's over the top. And this is the tip-top for over the top.

Dale: Is the catalyst. He talks to Hershel and gets us an unfulfilling narrative scoop. He gets Lori to admit she's pregnant, after already knowing via Glenn, by telling a story about his wife's meat aversion following her pregnancy. And he confronts Shane for being a complex, likely dangerous dickhead. He even brings Otis back up. Dale has guts, that's for sure. It's an exciting thing. Because without Daryl, this episode was almost without a leading man.

Other people do stuff too, but who cares... "Secrets" was just what it says it was, an episode with lots of secrets. New ones and old ones. Reveals and new burials. But, at least it didn't have a twist ending this time.
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Feist - "How Come You Never Go There"

An austere, quirky, and Feistive track from this year's excellent Metals, "How Come You Never Go There" is imagery rich, and ties itself back to Feist's previous video work (for "1234" and "My Moon, My Man") with more of her trademark bob-and-pop dancing. Check out the video because you like Feist, or you don't. But also because this is one of the poppier tracks on the album and joy just shoots out of it like a Slip-N-Slide hose in summertime.
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The Walking Dead - Chupacabra

You know what? It's not fun writing about The Walking Dead anymore. And that's mostly because in each episode, I feel only fleeting moments of clear interest in what's going on. I find myself walking away (get it!) from the screen every 10 minutes, not particularly concerned when the "conversational" parts take precedent. Mostly, that's because I've learned, as I'm sure you have too, that The Walking Dead is a show that loves BIG TWIST endings. All of the twists are saved for last and they almost never have much to do with anything that takes up the bulk of our time in the preceding 46 minutes. (The Shane-Otis thing, notwithstanding.) Lori's preggers! Shocker! Carl gets shot! Shocker! And in "Chupacabra": Barn-full of zombies! Shocker! I for one am tired of cliffhangers. At some point it just feels too convenient when stories keep wrapping up in unsatisfying, often uninteresting revelations. (Again, the Shane-Otis thing, notwithstanding.) And truth be told, the barn of zombies is great. My assumption is that Hershel (who episodes ago stated that humanity would find a cure) is keeping the zombies in the barn because he thinks he may be able to bring them back, someday. My guess is that it's a bit of white knight something-or-other, or just a need for control. It would cool if he just likes to go in there and pop one every few days to feel powerful, but I doubt they'd go that far in absurdity or in coolness.

But "Chupacabra" generally sucks. And the reason is that other than Daryl's excellent side-story, this show can't decide if it wants to be plot-driven or if it wants to be My Dinner With Andre. Rick and Shane has a talk, and Shane says, outright, that he doesn't think Rick's doing a good job. These people talk about their frustrations too much. And while good communication is important in real life, it's often hard to believe that these people could be so transparent with each other. They say what they think almost all the time. And no one really does that. No one is "conflict avoidance" enough. And the character's don't develop themselves through their actions as much as they do through saying what they're thinking and doing when they're thinking and doing it. Also, Glenn's little misogynistic menstruation concern is just plain stupid. Hershel, though, who maintains a weird fatherly racism/fascism is interesting, if only it weren't so thickly plastered into his every sentence. So, I'm kinda tired of writing about the show because the show doesn't "wow" much. It's like I started reviewing Weezer's catalog: The Blue Album was great. Pinkerton was great. But I'm struggling to keep finding the good bits among the muck as it goes on.

Some brief notes:

1. Why (and this is a questions asked all over already) would Maggie let Glenn pick the hook up spot if she knows about the zombie barn?

2. Why is anyone letting Andrea do things when she's so completely terrible?

3. Why does Daryl see a specter of his brother, Merle, going all Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel meets David Lynch?

4. How is it that when this world should be dangerous, it feels so often completely safe... too safe?

5. When are these characters going to start at least considering their actions in advance of doing them? They spend a lot of time philosophizing, but no one ever seems ready or capable of making a plan that makes sense... And no one seems capable of questioning the plans that don't make sense.

And 6. How disappointed are we going to be when we get a little explanation of the zombie barn and then spend another episode where a bad decision/circumstance is the conflict?

And 6.1. Who cares about Sophia anymore?
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November 15: Crooked Fingers

There's intimate when it comes to shows and then there is something special that I'm going to call hyper-intimacy that applies to last night's Crooked Fingers show at the Larimer Lounge in Denver. The hyper-intimacy in question occurred when Eric Bachmann stepped away from the mic and out onto the edge of the stage where he began playing a song, completely unplugged, with a cappella backing vocals by Liz Durrett. In that moment, this show, which was already epically great in its own right, took on a new level of excellence. We were all with the band. It became a sing-along, rather than a performance, or a conveyance of information from the artist to the audience. It turned into a group activity. And in the Larimer's tiny, low-ceilinged, corridor style venue, the intimacy was additionally enhanced. The show covered, largely, Crooked Fingers' newest release Breaks In The Armor, and featured incredible album-quality performances. And Bachmann even went back to 2006's To The Races for a small handful of tracks too.

What was so amazing, first and foremost, is that Eric Bachmann is one-hundred feet tall. That's hyperbole of course. No one is that tall. But Bachmann is probably more than six and one-half feet. And it's that size, in tandem with the smallness of the Larimer that makes this show extra memorable. In total, opener Ian Cooke was great, though sidelined by a couple of looping issues and a cello that he claimed was his training, learners, kiddie cello that wouldn't stay in good tune. The second opener, too, was solid, but when Crooked Fingers took the stage, they literally, to use the old joke parlance, TOOK THE STAGE. This was a show that resonates with some incredible power and made a Tuesday night feel like a Friday or Saturday, packing the small house with fans and elevating the emotional feeling in the room to something similar to a stadium rock show. I can't, really, I can't say enough about how excellent this show was. And when Bachmann played "Man O' War" I very nearly started to cry. It was that good. Watch the video below and cry with me. And I apologize for the lack of photos, but some USB problems with Windows 7 is currently crippling my upload ability. Balls to that! UPDATE: Fixed, but the photo isn't very good. The center-set blob is E.B. Check it!

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ZAHAR - "It Washed Away"

Talent is everywhere. While a lot of the business end will lead you to believe that film making and music are extremely hit-or-miss almost all the time, the truth is that there is compelling material floating around the world. I have been lucky enough to know and meet some of these talent-purveyors first-hand, too, and to be subsequently blown away by the continuing excellence. This is a new track, an acoustic track called "It Washed Away" by an old friend now traveling artistically as ZAHAR. Now, if you're suddenly questioning my objectivity, first let me say that Ayn Rand is full of shit. Second, I had never heard ZAHAR perform way back when, and I had little idea of his capability and capacity for writing, or guitar-maestro-ism until listening to the song embedded below. So, nuts to objectivity. This is great stuff.

Take note of the excellent guitar work, a periodic, ambling, hypnotic line that maintains the simple semblance of order that the song needs to build to the crashing "breakdown" moments. It reminds me of another track, a little known song called "Closed Rooms" by The Standard, which functions with a similar rambling riff, but lacks the vocal complications featured here by ZAHAR. I mean, listen to the range here. It's not soul/opera/super-range, but ZAHAR offers appropriate delicacy and softness to kick off the song, and then succeeds in demonstrating incredible frustration and power as the rough, gravely tones overtake the song. It's a brilliant contrast to the sweeter opening, and to the continuous, melodic riff. There are good songs that are danceable, or fun, or poppy, but this is one of those good songs that has pieces assembled to convey the greater point. ZAHAR's political and social commentary heat and boil over in a fervor of anguishing growls, and then so gently, they fall back into a perfect silence. Hear "It Washed Away" out and then listen to it again and again. It's a grower that's also a show-er (to use the Savage-parlance). And check out ZAHAR's website here to show your support.

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The Walking Dead - Cherokee Rose

We're gonna have a Shane-baby! Probably. Lori's episode ending, completely anti-climactic positive pregnancy test only serves to unravel the tenuous relationship she has with Rick and Carl, but it also seems a little trite given the circumstances. Sure, she slept with Shane in Season One, but the reveal isn't going to be the complicated thing. The trick will be in how to get around as a pregnant lady in a world of death and danger. If this turns into an emotional point of contention with Rick, then that's just stupid, because Lori should be able to pull a Joan Holloway-Harris and lie through it. After all, The Walking Dead broods and melodramas like it wants to be Mad Men, but it never plays its cards appropriately. And there's only so many times we can use the ol' "people in an impossible situation can act impossibly" argument. Just lie. If it keeps the group together. Just lie. Especially now that Lori knows Rick is feeling less a man, as demonstrated by his overwrought badge and gun in the drawer routine. But at least Rick and Carl are closer now that they've both been shot and, interestingly, cuckolded (in a way) by Shane. Shane tricked Rick's friendship and tricked Carl's need for a father. Oh it's a tangled little bit of fuckery.

But, "Cherokee Rose" is generally an uneven episode, but a decent one. Shane, who is forced to lie about Otis' death, is phenomenal. Daryl, who ventures out alone in search of Sophia (yeah, she's still lost), finds a flower, Georgia's State Flower the Cherokee Rose, and gives it to Carol as a sign that her daughter may yet come back. Note: Daryl is turning into the best guy on the show. He's undaunted by fear, faith-shakings, or anything else. He is an electrified bad-assery machine and it's a pity and possibly a mistake that he doesn't do enough on the show week to week. Or maybe it's because he doesn't spout philosophical ramblings that HE IS the bad ass. And Glenn, who awkwardly and accidentally talks his way into some abandoned drug store sex with the gorgeous cowgirl Maggie, is also exceptional. Those are the three upsides to the episode. Unfortunately they are, once more, surrounded by some questionable writing and "meh" character development.

For starters, watching our bloated, water-logged zombie of the week lugged from a well, rip in half, and then consequently contaminate the water supply was a bit of quality special effects and decent consequences to the mini-storyline. Had the group succeeded in getting him out, well, they'd have a victory, and other than Carl's recovery, victories really aren't what this show is about. Also, it was just such a stupid thing to undertake in the first place that it was right for them to fail. USE A DIFFERENT WELL. OR FILL THIS ONE IN WITH DIRT SO THAT THE ZOMBIE "CONTAMINATE" CAN'T GO FURTHER. Something else. Instead, they lower Glenn in on a rope. And the rope, well the rope doesn't break. But the steal, bolted well pump does and they just barely save Glenn. The problem here is that the plan was dumb. AND there's no real sense of urgency. Glenn won't die because he's not an Otis. We haven't seen a regular cast member die yet... except for Amy. And she was cursory at best. It's a neat way to include zombies, but one where we know what's going down and there isn't any real tension.

Shane and Andrea's conversation about guns, about "the kill" was solid. But it was the best talking point in the episode. Rick and Herschel have a moment of faith, another, where we seem only to rehash the conversations of last week. Really, the episode fails by giving too little time to Glenn and Maggie. Nothing else really happens anyway. Just a lot of quick conversations about failing faith. And then failing confidence. But Glenn and Maggie are something. Maggie specifically, who boldly undresses at Glenn's accidental suggestion of sex. It's a perfectly awkward moment in which Maggie's character is strongly defined. She's bold. She's in charge. And she doesn't say it. She just is it. That's what The Walking Dead is doing wrong. They keep using dialogue about faith to establish who is faithful and faithless. They use conversations about fear that way. And conversations about love. And hope and anger and confidence and all of it. Instead people need to do things that define them as SOMETHING. Maggie, undressing, is a more fleshed-out (pardon the pun) character in that moment, than almost anyone else. It was the same with Glenn boldly leading Rick through Atlanta in the second episode. We need more of that.

"Cherokee Rose" wasn't bad, but it felt like a stop-gap in a lot of ways. We could have moved forward, but instead the group takes a rest and so do we. It's not a total waste, but it is a sign of fatigue in the writing staff, whether it originated with the comic series or not. A new medium allows for new choices, options and storytelling modes. And if we're not going to tie all the flashbacks into the main story, let's leave them out entirely, shall we. Next week "Chupacabra."
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The Walking Dead - Save The Last One

Way to go The Walking Dead! You've entered your most truly compelling episode of the season into consideration and have, over 40+ minutes, created a compelling villain and a lot of interesting character dynamics that may well carry you through to something that is wholly watchable. The upside of "Save The Last One" is that it's the best episode front-to-back of the year. We have Shane's soul-losing, turning-to-the-dark-side, Anakin-to-Vader moment. (Watch that clip and then explain to me how 3 Jedi get slaughtered so quickly. Sure, the Emperor is a tough guy, but he's still 70 or so. You'd think he'd do something a little cooler, like electrocute them...) But we also have to deal with a lot of somewhat forced dialogue about life and death and what living means in a world devastated by zombie apocalypse. "Save The Last One" is the kind of episode that turns a series like this one into a must watch, rather than a wait-and-see. It is really the most intriguing and unsettling episode since the series premiere, too. But, it's still not perfect.

First, the good: Shane killing Otis, or at least turning Otis into time buying bait by shooting him in the leg is the first real character development we've seen since Rick met Morgan and Duane and we saw the torture that is deciding whether to kill a loved one to spare them permanent decay and waste. Andrea killing Amy was a close second, but in this episode, by featuring a simple narration by Rick with footage of Shane and Otis bravely making their way through the FEMA station/high school, sets the stage for something particularly harrowing. That, in addition to the opening, in which Shane pulls a Deb (from Empire Records) to demonstrate how torn he is about something bad having happened, creates something this show needed badly, a villain that's more than Chaos. When, at the end of the episode, we discover the truth, it's all the more shocking. We've only seen Shane trying to be a better man and do right by Rick this year, and we were due for an outburst that kept the ante rising. First, it was sleeping with Lori. Second, it was beating the shit out of Ed (a noble deed given Ed's rapier/abusier qualities). Now, he sacrifices a comrade, albeit a non-main-cast comrade, but a decent fella just the same in Otis.

Oh, and they saved Carl. So that was cool. But good mostly because we ended that storyline. Carl will be fine. Rick and Lori are bonded over a closer tragedy of the familial variety. And Andrea and Daryl take a walk. We also hear from Glenn again, talking with Maggie about faith. But really, all of these things feel like stalls. Carl is only particularly cared for (by the audience) because he's a kid. He's the next/last generation. But knowing that the series will go on for at least one more season means he's obviously not expendable. Not yet. Instead, he's a means to an end. His predicament means that we talk about death, and more giving up. It's important, sure, but those are the times when the writing is so thick with monologues and messages that it's clear nothing will burst in to cause Chaos, and that makes those parts a little less interesting.

So, back to Shane and Otis. After a successful escape from the high school gymnasium, the men are separated and Shane clearly fears that Otis didn't make it, until a few covering shots save his life. It's a great moment of "rah rah" for Otis. And for a second, we all get to think that the group finally has another competent leader. But, when Shane and Otis are making a final break for the truck, and run out of ammo, excepting a single bullet each, Shane turns and pulls the trigger. When Otis goes down, it's a moment of utter sadness. He's a good man, trying only to make amends for his mistake. Otis is the capable, last vestige of social order. He's a hero. So as he's fighting Shane for his life, and we already know he didn't make it, there's a moment where we MUST root for him to take Shane down, or at least drag himself away to a safe place. Instead, Shane beats the man back and leaves as a horde convenes on Otis's face, tearing him to pieces. A good man dies, by another man's hand, and a whole new problem arises. When will Shane lose his shit? What humanity is left in him? And who will he be able to convince to turn with him? We're in double-agent country now, folks.

"Save The Last One" does great with its scares and gore. And the Shane and Otis section feels particularly tense. It's too bad that the rest does not. Even the lone, hanging zombie that Daryl and Andrea encounter adds no tension, even if the design and execution were excellent. High marks to the bulk of this episode. It's a roller coaster, though, not really for Carl's situation. He's fine. He was always going to be fine. So there's that.
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The Decemberists - "Burying Davy"

Rolling Stone has an exclusive stream of the new Decemberists' track "Burying Davy" from their brand new outtakes/B-sides/really solid EP Long Live the King that came out just today. The EP follows the established mold of awesomeness set up with this year's The King is Dead. "Burying Davy" is as Rolling Stone describes, a creepy, charming and straightforward piece of work. And it holds onto some of the shanty-style majesty of the band's earlier releases. The other thing is that this track is good enough that it will explode your very testicles. And failing that, either because of a lack of testicles or a lack of scientific backing to the statement, it will make you damn, damn, damn happy. Dig in on it via the link above. And keep in mind that Colin Meloy and Company continued excellence is a wonderful sign of grace and greatness in a world that now has to weather the combination of Lulu, Kim Kardashian's sadly collapsed perfect romance, the end of Zooey Deschanel and Ben Gibbard, and the divorce of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Oh, and the economy continues to be shitty, and protests are rampant. Can we even make it to 2012? Or the next, somewhat inevitable Rapture predictions?
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The Walking Dead - Bloodletting

Whew. Well things turn around in season two's episode two of AMC's The Walking Dead. In "Bloodletting," the contrivances that got our band of survivors separated, some on the highway by the RV, some in the middle of the woods walking back, and Shane, Rick and Carl (who was shot by a stray deer-hunting bullet) out looking for Sophia, have led us to a point where real, believable conflict can grow. "Bloodletting" is a refreshing return that keeps the energy of the season going, really cranking it up, and it's also an episode that lets some of the odd bullshit (Andrea and Shane and their departure?) fall by the wayside.

The show opens with a flashback. People are everywhere, and they're the alive the kind of people we know and love. Lori is waiting to pick up Carl from school. She's also venting to another mother about an argument she and Rick had the night before. Things are not good in the Grimes house. But before she can vent too much, Shane pulls up to tell Lori that her husband has just been shot. That's when Carl walks up. And that's when we cut to titles. The flashback doesn't do a whole lot. It seems more like an appetizer for fans who haven't seen season one. That Lori knew Rick was in the hospital, that Shane told her, that there was tension in the Grimes' marriage, was all established in episode one, season one. But, notably, seeing other humans alive and well, societal order intact, was actually briefly emotionally affecting.

After the first break, Rick is running, carrying a shot and bleeding Carl, toward a secluded plantation/farm house. When he's there, strangely, there are another 6 people (give or take) who have all survived this long. It's a great callback, a quiet one, to the original Night of the Living Dead, where the protagonists hold up in a similar farm house. It's also a fine play on something we know about zombies and surviving them: Don't go into the city. There are too many people. And the supplies are not worth it. You'll last longer living off of the land, treating the zombies like wild animals, than trying to coexist with them in a dense setting. It's a nice set piece and nice detail writing. Luckily, one of the people in the house is a doctor and he's prepared to help Carl. The bad news is, Carl has bullet fragments in his chest and the doctor doesn't have enough supplies to help him. Oh, and the doctor, well, technically he's a vet. Not a combat doc. A veterinarian.

Elsewhere, Dale and T-Dog are looking for supplies in the highway cars to keep T-Dog from dying of blood poisoning after his arm injury during the horde attack in "What Lies Ahead." Dale is ever the voice of reason and also a sort of charming puppeteer. He wants to keep the group together, and since he's not a fighter, he's the group's kind, philosopher idealist. In short, Dale is one of the best characters on the show, even though some of the very "move-the-plot-forward" lines he's given here aren't his best. T-Dog on the other hand starts fretting his injury and how his race, being the only black man in the group, may play into his death or, failing that, sacrifice. Lori, Carol, Daryl and Andrea are walking back in the woods. Andrea seems to have dropped her whining for a week. Maybe the writers didn't know how to keep her going without making her unlikeable? And as they're walking back, a walker attacks Andrea, who reacts fearfully, but seems to have, at least temporarily, rediscovered her desire to live. And for her luck, a rider, the doctor's daughter (I think) comes up on horseback and bats the zombie to the ground. She also picks up Lori, because, well, her son was shot.

What's odd at this point, about halfway through the episode, is that Sophia has been dropped, other than a moment where Carol likens her potential demise to Amy's, thus hurting Andrea. And T-Dog's blood poisoning problem? Well, Daryl has a bag of drugs for that. No muss, no fuss. This means that the episode can focus entirely on Carl and Rick and Shane and now the doctor, and Otis, who accidentally shot Carl. Rick and Lori have a moment to worry about Carl, as is expected. Rick blames himself. As is expected. And then we find out that there's a FEMA medical pop-up at the local high school should have the stuff the doctor needs to save Carl. Shane volunteers, as a clear olive branch to Lori and to keep Rick from sacrificing himself. With Otis, Shane goes to the high school FEMA pop-up, they find what they need. Everything is perfect. And then, with some quality tension, a horde of walkers appears and traps them. It's a trap that we expect to happen, but it's also one that is perfect for the genre. In trapping Shane and Otis, this one horde traps Rick and Lori and Carl. But they also throw a wrench in the rest of the group's life with the RV. There will almost certainly be some tension, some will want to drive on without Rick and Lori and Shane. Especially since T-Dog hinted at that when ranting to Dale.

Now, visually, the show is stronger here. It's not as gory, but it is, luckily beautiful. There is something pastoral about the settings, something that proves the point that while humanity may be in shambles, the Earth doesn't really notice. The doctor's short speech about how mankind has weathered every other plague, his hope that they can crack a cure, is a bright spot. There is hope. Should there be? Maybe not, but everyone has been pretty down so far this season, and hearing that something good might just happen, somewhere, sometime, a long time away, is especially resonant. Also, the conflict is about parents and children and belonging. These are all tangible, reasonable lines for the conflict to run because we can handle zombies, but maybe excessive melodrama is too much. AND: It sounds like we'll get back to the hunt for Sophia next week. And something that's not quite right...
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