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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