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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Mikey Joseph O'Connor - "(Not All) Pretty Blonde Girls are the God Damn Devil"

Just a follow up to last week's review of Mikey Joseph O'Connor's EP The Day I Stopped All This, here's a tasty bit of recorded-live video in which the singer-songwriter performs the song "(Not All) Pretty Blonde Girls are the God Damn Devil" with guest backing vocalist/harmonizer Sarah Lynn. It's a catchy tune, if you haven't already listened to it. Get your JOY on.

(Not All) Pretty Blonde Girls Are The God Damn Devil [live] from Mikey Joseph O'Connor on Vimeo.

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The Walking Dead - What Lies Ahead

Alright, folks. Here we are again. Another season of blood-curdling, spine popping, heart-stopping, organ-grinding (monkey not included) zombie action with AMC's The Walking Dead. Last season, we were introduced to the post-zombie outbreak world in seamlessly amazing style, and then the rest of the season of was a little too up-and-down. Enough so that I considered whether I should resurrect (get it?) these reviews at all. There were some substantial ups last year, though, excepting the bland bait-and-switch of thugs tending to a hospital/rest-home and a somewhat chemistry-less romantic/cheating subplot that has yet to rear its head. But, hell, over the off-season, they shook the show up, getting almost an entirely new staff of writers to try the whole thing again. What we get, luckily, is a great product in "What Lies Ahead," even if it hasn't completely abandoned some of the overwrought melodramatic parts of last year.

"What Lies Ahead" has one obvious literary vibe right there in the title. It's the season premiere, so yeah, what DOES lie ahead? But also, what lies, as in un-truths, are up ahead too? It seems like Shane and Andrea have some incentive to become anti-heroes. And then there's Lori... and all that business with Rick's not-being-dead-but-her-needing-a-little-lovin'-anyway. So, we get a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge here. The conflict upcoming will more than likely stem not only from the undead hordes, but from good ol' fashioned human fucked-upped-ness. Hurray, right? The episode opens with Rick making a probably fruitless transmission over that walkie-talkie. This serves to catch up the audience as much as anything, and while Rick may have really given a summary like this, saying things somewhat like "once we were many, now we're few" (allowing for some convenient montage images of the people from the group who have been lost, many, again, of whom we didn't like or didn't really care about), but that seems a little unlikely. Essentially, the opening 5 minutes are pretty fucking contrived. That doesn't mean they're without emotional effect, but well...

After the hand-holding opening minutes (I almost chose to go with "hand job") to cater to the new influx audience, "What Lies Ahead" gets right into the action. The group is divided among three vehicles, leaving the CDC area, taking the highway, presumably to heaven rather than hell. No one looks very happy. Andrea still wears depression on her face. Dale is quiet. Rick and Lori seem to be in the best shape. But still, no one is high-spirited. This is a group of sadsacks. And who wouldn't be when confronted with the end of humanity? Well, the gang rolls up on a traffic jam, actually a car graveyard, that they try to navigate, but then, oh man, the radiator hose on the RV breaks... again. It's a well to which the show has gone two times previously, and it's a little tired. So, instead of going somewhere unique, the gang is stranded again. The group splits up to loot the vehicles and corpses, and Shane even finds an essentially boundless source of freshwater in the form of a water delivery truck. Oh the joy of it! Oh nothing could possibly go wrong! Things are looking up. And that's when the zombies show up.


Everyone hides and the zombies move through, no prob, Bob. But then Sophia, daughter of the formerly abused wife Carol (her asshole husband was eaten, so there's some karma), gets caught up with a straggling walker. Start up the banjo chase music!! Rick, of course, goes after Sophia, finds her and tells her that he'll distract the now two walkers while she runs to safety, but Sophia doesn't make it back to everyone. Nope. She just disappears. And this is where the tension gets interesting. Daryl and Rick begin a search, even gutting a zombie to determine if he may have eaten the little girl, but it turns up nothing. And meanwhile, Andrea wants a gun, but the misogynistic menfolk won't let her have one. Dale is at the forefront because he doesn't want her to off herself. And she doesn't much like being coddled. That's the key to "What Lies Ahead." Andrea is turning into the bad guy here. She's rapidly making a The Stand style turn from good group to bad group. And she's keen on breaking Shane away from the group too. And he's being less and less kind to Carl and Lori. Bottom line, the group is fracturing. And now there's a little girl lost.

More searching happens. They don't find Sophia, not yet at least. But there's a spiritual moment. And we also find out that Dale fixed the radiator way faster than he said. He wants everyone to regroup and he's being a little bit of an ass about it. The kind of ass that might get people eaten. "What Lies Ahead" sets an interesting stage. The Walking Dead is a soap opera with zombie set pieces, and it may still develop into something essential. This season shows that the gore is still top-notch, and that these remaining characters have a lot of drama yet to plumb, but the writing needs to get a little more inventive. This is not a video game. There's not enough interactivity for bad things to just keep happening in the same contrived way. And it could've used a little more build up to some of the emotional issues. But. BUT! I'll be watching next week. And I will be hoping that this show turns itself around. It can't live forever on Andrew Lincoln's sad, strong glances.
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Mikey Joseph O'Connor - The Day I Stopped All This EP

Friend of Gas Lantern Media, leader of The Most Awesome Protagonist and co-host of It's A Thing! podcast, Mikey Joseph O'Connor [or MJO'C as I like to call him (rather, I've never called him that, but what the hell, I'm gonna try to start a thing and abbreviations {or abbreves} are totes in right now)] is not merely a proponent of the Ska'd for Life movement. He's also a talented singer-songwriter who generates tunes reminiscent of the sad-times Shins, The Replacements and with The Day I Stopped All This EP, a bit of almost-dub-steppy, Bon Iver-ian lamentative reflection. But beyond all the direct, sincere and vulnerable lyrics, O'Connor creates elaborate sonic tapestries that venture from subtle, folk rock beats to downright church-choral-style lovelorn-ness. Above all else this is a break-up album, and if I were to sum its sincerity and emotionalism into one word, that word would be Pinkerton. The Day I Stopped All This is fragile and angry, frustrated and nostalgic, heartfelt and seething, but it's also a sort of love letter to a bygone era. Or, failing that, a final, resigned, but sturdy, goodbye.

The EP opens with "(Not All) Pretty Blonde Girls are the God Damn Devil." It's a track that demonstrates mostly strongly, perhaps, O'Connor's signature scratchy, nearly-Westerberg-ian wail. That wail is what gives this song the extra dose of character that makes it so strong. Sung by a more "traditional" vocalist, the direct, clear, concise and vulnerable lyrics may have sounded twee or whiny, but here, O'Connor's voice feels as torn up as the lyrics would have you believe. Plus, the chorus and refrain, backed by graceful harmonies and some subtle drums, flesh out a song that could have easily been left spare and hollow. The result is that catchiness that runs through your head, and this writer's head. On "The Winter River Bridge" O'Connor paints an elaborate picture of not merely losing someone, but losing time and place in the process. And the chorus, oh em gee, the chorus, so thick with guitar, fuzz, and some vocal clouding effects, feels as catchy as that from "(Not All) Pretty Blonde..."

From that darker place, though, things pick up a bit on "The Best Last Day," a lively goodbye note or "thank you" with syncopated, jangling guitar and a chorus of backing "Oohs." It's a mature piece, really, that while still as dark as the preceding two tracks, is also something of an olive branch. It is the musical equivalent of seeing an ex months or years later, having reflected, and saying "It was fun while it lasted," while fighting the urge to hold up your middle finger. And the closer "Someone Smiling/Someone Shining" is one part Gilbert O'Sullivan, one part Leonard Cohen and one part, well... just Mikey Joseph O'Connor. It is a full, lush, pastoral track that feels like an old Polaroid of the girl you loved once, but can't any longer. The piano/keyboard work and wall-of-voices vocal complete the picture. It feels, if I may create a semi-hackneyed image from a film, like that one final look upon an old lover's photo prior to letting the wind carry it away into the ocean.

You can hear The Day I Stopped All This EP at Mikey Joseph O'Connor's reverbnation page here. Or just give it a listen here, via the streaming player below. And of course, listen to It's A Thing! and visit their website to keep up on all that world-hopping madness.

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Fruit Bats & Vetiver, Cut Copy, and The Head and the Heart LIVE in Denver

Earlier this week, we received some great footage of the St. Vincent show in Boulder from our dear friend-of-the-Lantern, Max Winkler. Well, today, we've got even more greatness, capturing a handful of shows that we were unable to cover with full reviews (except for one, the Fruit Bats and Vetiver performance at Twist and Shout made these "pages" already). Thanks to the indomitable Mr. Winkler, whose Roots Verdes tumblr features some killer design and photography from around the globe, we happily present video from that Fruit Bats/Vetiver combo, October 4th's Cut Copy show, and October 10th's The Head and the Heart show. Check out "Tony the Tripper," "Lights & Music" and "Lost In My Mind" below. And for the love of all that is sacred, holy and hopefully coated in a fine layer of powdered sugar, have a charming Thursday! X's and O's from Gas Lantern Media.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #16

THE SHOW CAN DRIVE! Mikey implies danger of sidewalks today, for ladies perhaps worried about getting out of one man's dreams and into one's man car... Also, a two-man horse costume, ready for Halloween, must weave, no matter how many asses there are! It's a High energy, Good vibe show! Watch out for ska sightings, checkered-braces, loafers and continuous positivity. Also, watch out for Nu Metal... there should be an umlaut there, but we have shortage because of the war. And for the college poster-purchasing, dorm-decorating set, an impromptu review of the bildungsroman/coming-of-age film Scarface. Big news, the studio is now in beautiful, unstable, Egypt, where a Sphinx-head space is surprisingly cheap and tourist friendly. Jared's dad! Hanging up! And weird voices! Jared has sand in his shoe because of Egypt's many beaches. Jared plays more SAD SONGS by sad Scotsmen... It's an emotional show. It's a show filled with revelations. Mikey is a sucker for a Scottish accents. And introducing Major Bummer, a super-hero sent to quash any and all versions of fun. He's kind of a dick, but you'd still read one million of the books.

Mikey wants to talk about the LIVE Fringe Festival shows at the Exit Theater. Jared is reluctant. "Hell is a half-empty auditorium..." Luckily, despite the horrifying lack of audience, they were able to churn out a documentary, seen here at Gas Lantern Media and at It's A Thing's website. The Hippos are greatest killers of people, excepting, of course, a group of badgers linking together into a single, giant human form. Oh and let's talk about Blink 182... pudgy and pale dudes taking in a show, maybe after a brunch. But remember, it's not an insult to say, "That's so Jared!" Or is it? Secular is the word of the day...

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October 8: St. Vincent @ Boulder Theatre

Photo courtesy of Max Winkler
A little bonus for your Columbus Day enjoyment, courtesy of Max Winkler, one of Gas Lantern Media's great roving film/photo concert contributors, here's a video of St. Vincent (our e-crush darling Annie Clark) performing last Saturday at the historic Boulder Theatre. The track is "Dilettante" from her new album Strange Mercy, previously reviewed (and loved) here among hundreds of other places. So sit back, have a cup of tea, and prepared to be simultaneously rocked and freaked. What else would you want from a Monday like this? Oh, a cookie? Well, yes, we have those available in the commissary too. But, it's a fictional commissary...

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theendisthebeginning - Tropics

Blending some Genesis-era Peter Gabriel style affectations with a kind of dreamy, but poignant drone, theendisthebeginning, headed by Clint Kaminska, Joseph Nichy, Robert Armando Flores, Ryan Hone, and Matt Kjorvestad, creates music that is both stadium minded and coffee-shop applicable. That's not to say this is like early Coldplay. Instead, theendisthebeginning merges the grungy '90s guitar fuzz of a Gen X "I don't give a shit" culture with the '70s and '80s electronica that was all about possibility and a future of sure technological advance that would force our humanity into stark contrast with our robotic overlords. With Tropics, the band's newest EP, there's are hints here and there that say the whole album could shift into a Filter/early-Radiohead/The Cure sort of guitar-laden sad-guy, philosopher rock, but as a whole the album resists even that contrived and convoluted kind of genre assignment.

In ways, theendisthebeginning is as dreamy as Pink Floyd and as earthbound as Blur. They have taken the best aspects of the '90s, stirred in a presumably-proprietary blend of herbs and spices, and created a sonic stew. The tracks comprising Tropics are sturdy, thick and dense with production and sound, but at the same time, they are spare, deep and constantly satisfying. There's not really any filler here, even as some songs aren't as strong as others. Instead, there are hushed, rattling drum and cymbal lines. There are delicate, ornate guitar accents. And on a track like "Blueswallow" there are distinct hints of TV on the Radio and always, always, by virtue of the vocals, there's a Peter Gabriel vibe. That is NEVER a bad thing.

You must, repeat MUST listen to the title track "Tropics." And then there are the equally, but more conventionally virtuous "Massive" and the sad, but sturdy "Blueswallow." "Weapons" is the most machine-gun-rocking, with a continuous, driving, pounding guitar backing and lush, simple riffs and fills. But the jaunty and bright "Concreep," in a different key than the other songs on the album, really shines through some thoroughly poetic lyrics and some delightful '90s-ish song structure. With this track, you feel a little bit of Steve Winwood mixed with Ben Folds and the complex instrumentation and jagged-aspects of some Wolf Parade.

Listen to the EP here, via theendisthebeginning's bandcamp page. Then, umm, drop the LESS than $4 on the 5 tracks. It's worth it and you're more than likely going to have all of these tracks stuck in your head in no time... especially "Tropics."
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