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The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

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I was a Cynic first! [Oct. 28th, 2008|10:16 pm]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[mood |highHigh on....life?]
[music |The Mountain Goats]

As per Miller's request, here is the alternate version of my review of Cynic's "Traced In Air." The review was supposed to be published in the Phoenix this week, but the album's release date got pushed back to Nov. 25. I can't imagine what the hell else needs to be done before this lumbering monstrosity is unleashed on the world. But whatever. Here it is, 4 weeks early.

The Internet tells me that Cynic is a progressive metal band incorporated with jazz fusion.I suspect these descriptors probably don’t mean much to anyone who doesn't spend the bulk of their days playing World of Warcraft. Actually, the concept of prog continues to baffle me. And I used to listen to the Mars Volta. Like, a lot.

The majority of prog songs tend to be at least twelve minutes long, contain heaping portions of face-melting guitar solos, have incomprehensible lyrics and unidentifiable noise elements and are, in general, pretty inaccessible. But maybe I’m working within a pretty narrow archetype.

I have similar issues with jazz fusion, except that I know even less about it. My sister listens to jazz fusion, but she’s kind of a hippie. Cynic is not a band full of hippies.

In any event, Cynic is sort of a metal band, kinda. They’ve been around since 1987 and have only recorded one full-length album (1993’s “Focus”) prior to “Traced in Air,” which, at eight tracks and 34 minutes, is straddling the line between EP and album, especially for a metal/prog/jazz fusion band.

Over the past couple of decades, Cynic has also released a handful of EP’s and demos, which they neglected to title. Most of them are just labeled “Demo” followed by the year it was recorded (for example, “Demo ‘88” was a demo recorded in 1988. Get it?).

But a seeming lack of dedication isn’t even Cynic’s biggest crime. The biggest problem is that the band and this album are profoundly boring. Here’s a reference point: Coheed and Cambria minus the graphic novel, minus Claudio Sanchez’s epic Geddy Lee impersonation, minus band members who sound like they actually care what they’re doing. Seriously, I balance checkbook with more enthusiasm.

Basically, this album sounds like watered-down metal. If there is any prog or jazz fusion, Cynic seems to have tried their damnedest to make sure no one will be able to identify it. The whole album is just one uninspired riff after another. The vocals are cheesy and contrived, the melodies are completely forgettable.

Another problem with “Traced In Air” is that it’s more or less impossible to tell when one song ends and another beings unless you’re watching the album play on iTunes or a CD player. So the whole album is like one terrible half-hour long song. Now, many artists are capable of making all the songs on an album flow together to create a certain effect. This is usually done in rock operas and concept albums. This is not the case with “Traced In Air.” It just sounds like the band forgot to stop playing.

The mind-boggling thing about this album is that it took fourteen years to make. Cynic has been recording “Traced In Air” since 1994. I can only assume it took so long because the band needed almost a decade and a half to figure out how to make their music even shittier.

The point is, if you don’t like prog metal, you won’t like this album. If you do like prog metal, then you’ll probably consider “Traced In Air” an abomination. There’s really no winning.

0 out of 5 stars
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March 16th - Sunday Playlist [Mar. 16th, 2008|03:31 pm]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

Sundays are generally introspective days for me (because of OR despite the presence of a hangover). I like to listen to music that makes me think on Sundays. Or, if I'm too tired to think, music that makes me feel like I've been thinking deeply after I've listened to it. Being that today is a particularly dreary and mellow early Spring day in Rome, I thought I'd share some tunes that reflect my current surroundings and state of mind. So curl up with your Gatorade and aspirin and and enjoy brain-carressing goodness.


1. "Skinny Love" - Bon Iver
2. "Cry For A Shadow" - Beat Happening
3. "Real Situation" - Bob Marley
4. "International Small Arms Traffic Blues" - The Mountain Goats
5. "Blues Man" - B.B. King
6. "Muscle'n Flo" - Menomena
7. "Dog" - El Perro Del Mar
8. "Last Year's Man" - Leonard Cohen
9. "Song Of Our So-Called Friend" - Okkervil River
10."Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell" - The Flaming Lips
11."Killer parties" - The Hold Steady
12."Cruel" - Calexico
13."Reckoner" - Radiohead
14."There You Are" - The Sea and Cake
15."Rise Up With Fists!!!" - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
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the whole record industry is so fucked. [Oct. 2nd, 2007|11:27 am]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[music |Killer Cars]

Radiohead is releasing a new album on October 10th.
They're currently unsigned.

There's 2 formats:
One is a 'discbox,' 2 vinyls and 2 CDs.  It costs $81.
The other is an mp3 download.  You pay whatever you want to for it.

One of the top five most important bands performing today (undeniably, they have to be on anyone's list) just changed everything, I'm pretty sure.  Sometime in the future, if you have to look back on the past seven years of "music vs. the music industry" to pick the turning point, the moment that the old model broke down, I think you're gonna look to eight days from now.  Let's see how radio handles it.  Let's see how Billboard handles it.  Be ready for crazy stuff.
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Was I Wrong, part 2 [Sep. 20th, 2007|01:02 am]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[music |Dragonette - I Get Around]

Spike's Reply:

Ok, here's my first comment about bands like Arcade Fire, Shins, etc...

Generally, the fans of those bands are in part fans of those bands because they're NOT on the radio. From what I've experienced with people who are into that scene, is that a lot of what they appreciate is the notion that it isn't a mainstream thing to be into. The moment that the band becomes more popular, and gets on the radio, is the same moment they move on to another bands. I noticed the same thing when I worked at a hard rock station with metal bands. All the metal fans did before we played Slipknot was call us and tell us to play Slipknot. Then the minute we began to play Wait and Bleed, to a lot of those fans, Slipknot were sellouts. Or we were playing the wrong song. Or we didn't play it enough. There was always something wrong with what we were doing.

In addition, the other factor is that it seems like no amount of airplay builds new fans for those bands. They have their fans, and their culture, which they can grown within, but it's usually pretty rare for it to grow out of that culture and into a bigger fanbase, and a fanbase that actually listens to the radio. Again, to build another comparison, a lot of the younger focused, harder, punk bands are like this (or screamo or whatever you want to call it). There are countless numbers of those bands who have sold 200,000-300,000 records, and if they get a lot of airplay, they'll sell the same exact number of records. Because no matter how much we play them, a 26 or 27 year old dude is not going to get into that music.

That being said, we do have a spot for it, every night on Crash Test Radio at 11pm (every night besides Saturday). Ryan plays plenty of indie bands, plenty of unsigned bands, and often times has them in for visits in the studio.

That being said, when one of those bands writes a song that we think could be big, we'll play it. I still think Hang Me Up To Dry was a great song, and was a great song to play. It's a song by song basis. I do though think that us mixing a ton of that stuff into the regular playlist is probably not the right recipe.

I don't think turning our back is the right way to put it. I do though, think that taking the perspective that we're a reflection on society. The fact is that there is a dedicated, loyal

And yes, when there's a new Radiohead record, we'll play it. Promise. Well, mostly promise :)


My Reply to Spike's Reply:

I posted your letter on the blog. I think part of one of your thoughts got cut off in your second to last paragraph after "dedicated, loyal" so if you want to finish your thought I'd be happy to add it into the blog post (and reply to it).

While they both have celebrated undergrounds, I don't think metal and indie are comparable in the way you compared them here. I was totally one of those kids who was upset that Wait And Bleed was on the radio, but I was upset because that song, especially the radio cut with the singing instead of the screaming, wasn't anything like the rest of the album. It was a "sellout" move to push that single because it was a watered down version of themselves, and that's what got to metal fans. Lamb of God recently wrote a similarly weak song to get play on Fuse, and they're getting a lot of heat for it. With Slipknot early on, it must have been really hard to satisfy their fans, because Surfacing was the song that really defined their sound, and it couldn't possibly work on the radio. The best metal from the last decade doesn't seem to get along well with the FCC, or with casual listeners.

Indie does not have that same unavoidable inaccessability. Indie is everywhere in ways that metal never was and never could be. Indie largely makes up the soundtracks for shows like Grey's Anatomy and movies like Garden State. Aside from action movies, metal doesn't have that benefit. There will always be a subset like the Animal Collectives and Wolf Parades that aren't as radio ready, but those aren't the bands I would expect on the radio. I would expect The Postal Service and New Pornographers.

The other difference about the indie underground is that it really isn't very underground anymore. Of course there are hipsters that hate things soley on the basis of their popularity, but the popularity of Peter Bjorn and John and bands of the like is skyrocketing, and they don't seem to be dropping any fans or missing out on mainstream attention. Lollapalooza is a perfect example of the fact that you can do both. As eclectic as the lineup is, a solid majority of the artists who've performed in the last 3 years at least have indie leanings (especially towards the top of the bill). There are only 2 other annual rock music festivals in the US that even come close to being as huge as Lollapalooza, both of which also rely heavily on indie artists. It felt like you guys gave a lot of ground up to XRT at this year's Lolla, and I was also kinda sad to see that, after a very long and loving relationship between you and The Flaming Lips, XRT was the sponsor for their show here in early September, too. Are they invading your turf or are you giving it up?

You may be right about radio play and indie rock sales (though I'm skeptical), but radio play definitely does sell all-ages records. National numbers from Motion City Soundtrack's last album will show you that. Everything Is Alright got played in a handful of cities pretty regularly, and where it got played, they sold a lot more. I dunno if they just got played because people liked them better in those towns or if it was the other way around. I do know that it's a crowded, generic, Victory-Records-dominated field in the all-ages genre right now, and radio play is one of the only things that can catch the ear of someone who isn't actively looking for their new favorite band.

After your reply, I understand a little better what you guys are going for. I just really feel like it's the wrong call to make. I've always thought you guys and WLUW (which I can't get in the burbs) were the only things left going on for Chicago radio, so I'm still giving the new playlist a chance for now, but I can't promise that I won't just turn turn the radio off until CTR and Local 101. Best of luck.

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Spike asked for feedback. Was I wrong? [Sep. 14th, 2007|11:15 pm]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[mood |frustratedfrustrated]
[music |Daft Punk - Technologic]

 How it started:
     Hey! What we like to pride ourselves on at Q101 is listening to you. This is your radio station, we just come to the office every day and put it on the air. We're not here to tell you what to like, we're here to tell you what's there, and you tell us what you like. You've told us some things you want more of from Q101, and we've responded by making some changes in the music we play. We're all really excited for you to hear it, so if you notice a difference, please give us a call on the request lines, shoot us a text, or you can even send me an email personally spike@q101.com. Thanks again for being in this with us, and for taking the time to let us know what you think! Also, the new Avenged Sevenfold song is awesome. Ok, that's all. Thanks again.

Music Director

How I replied:
subj: Changes in the music we play?
          I don't get it.  A few years after you guys choked out the Zone because you guys went on shuffle and diversified your catalog while they painted themselves into a grunge/nu-metal corner, it feels like you guys are making the same mistakes they did.  After receiving my 101 Club e-mail that said you were changing up your catalog, I listened for about sixteen hours straight today (from the time I woke up, all through work, until now) because I really believe that Chicago music is the best alternative scene in the US, and you guys have always been really good at speaking to all level of that amazing scene.  The conclusion I drew from listening is that you're about twelve all-ages bands and a handful of 90's mainstays away from being 2001-era The Zone.
         Looking at the Last.fm Top 40, I just can't fathom how this happened.  Since you guys shook things up by adding all those titles to your catalog for the shuffle angle, it's been apparent to me that your airstaff has understood what's going on in modern music, and you've always had a history with bringing the best indie rock to the surface. Now, in 2007, indie rock is at the forefront, and it feels like you've all but abandoned it.  Where's the Arcade Fire? Where are the Shins?  Where are the Arctic Monkeys, Decemberists, Interpol, Bloc Party, and the rest of the list that I'm depressing myself by rewriting?  How can you go from exhausting the Modest Mouse and Cold War Kids singles on the air to refusing to acknowledge they exist with one play in a 24 hour period?  It's not that I don't like metal, and I would be totally cool with you rotating in Slayer and Lamb of God (a guy can dream), but I definitely feel like the harder end of alternative is getting unfair representation, especially in comparison to a genre that's been selling much better lately (Neon Bible wasn't the only indie album to debut close to the top this year).
          I've only been listening for a day, and from what I've heard I think it's safe to assume the punk legends you were spinning as recently as a month ago (Rancid, Bad Religion, The Ramones, sometimes Fugazi) are still in your catalog.  I get that you guys are still playing a lot of roots pop-punk, and I respect that.  I also get that you're leaning on the all-ages punk spinoffs like Quietdrive and Red Jumpsuit, but you've had big holes on that end since you started playing them (Motion City Soundtrack?  Spitalfield?).  When the station that broke The Flaming Lips in Chicago (arguably keeping them from getting dropped, and thus allowing them to write The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi) forgets about half of the biggest bands from the Lollapalooza crowd, it feels like you've intentionally turned your back.
          When Radiohead, one of the most important bands in the history of alternative, releases their new album, are you gonna play it, or ignore it in favor of Nickelback and Trapt?

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Jack White vs. Q101 [Jun. 21st, 2007|01:58 pm]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[music |whatever it is, it sounds suspiciously like the Unicorns.]

I know I'm a little late weighing in on this, but i feel like now that the RedEye has picked it up, it's become a lot more relevant to a music junkie from Chicago.

Icky Thump is the New album from the White Stripes.  It was released to the public on Tuesday.    It's a weirder album than the usual White Stripes stuff.  It's a lot less conventional.  Thusly, there is no doubt in my mind that it's the coolest album they've done since they signed to a major.  I'm buying it.

Here's the Thing: at 2 PM on Wednesday, May 30th, Q101 on-air personality Electra played Icky Thump, beginning to end on the radio. Q101 obtained the album illegally from a full-album download site (not unlike the recently shut down Kinixtion).  An hour after they played it, Jack White called Electra from Spain, where the Stripes are currently touring.  He chastised Electra for playing the album on the air before its release.  He didn't yell, but he was angry.  He used the words "coward" and "naive" among others, and told her that she is part of the reason that the music business is in so much trouble.  Then he hung up.  The call was off air, and Q101 has respected Jack's wishes to not air it, although the airstaff has openly talked about what was said.  Electra blogged about the whole thing here.

Jack talked about it in a recent interview that got picked up today by the RedEye, so now people other than blog addicts, hardcore White Stripes fans, and people who listen to Q101 know about it, and may or may not care.  But when i found other excerpts of the interview on MTV.com, i got pissed about one particular quote:

"I think everyone is like, 'Big deal, it's not my fault. Everyone's doing it. Everyone's downloading,' but it's about the rules and who chooses to follow them.  We're all in the business together — record labels and musicians and songwriters and radio stations and MTV — everyone's in that together. And if they don't all respect each other, the foundation crumbles. It's obvious."

Okay.  I wanna start my reply by pointing out that this quote is probably the least rock and roll thing said by any rockstar, ever. That said, three things:

1) Electra did an amazing thing for alternative radio by playing that album.  There's a huge filesharing problem in America, and the thing about the "everyone's doing it" mentality is that it's pretty close to accurate. Everyone who matters to the continued survival of the music industry is doing it.  The research that's done is really not directed the right way.  From a synthesis of results of different surveys I've seen, I'd guess that if you did research that was weighted towards fans of music (the people who buy merch and concert tickets and keep fully abreast of at least 10 of their favorite bands while doing anything they can to get their hands on any material of theirs), you'd see well over half of them stealing a good portion of their music in some capacity.  The mindset of these people, myself included, is that it's stupid to not use a technology that exists, if it can open doors to new music.  So if I could download Icky Thump now, why would I wait until the release to hear it on the radio?  This is the contradiction that radio faces.  If radio stations are expected not to suck (and nationwide, most alt stations do suck), they have to keep up.  If no one is addressing the filesharing problem, why should the radio station be bound by the same laws?  it's not fair that they're more visible then the thousands of iPod owners doing it.  I used to hate Electra, but I've slowly come to realize that she's the real deal.  She's a Chicagoan who loves music.  Things like Electra playing Icky Thump keeps Q101 viable, and I say bravo.  Jack's anger should be directed towards the person who leaked the album onto the internet in the first place (advance copies are all individually watermarked, so they can look it up if they really care.)

2) Jack White should be thrilled people still care this much about his band.  Elephant was a good album, but they've been going steadily downhill since the third single from that album (which sounded mysteriously like the first single), and Get Behind Me Satan was just terrible (despite the Grammy award).

3) The way it worked for the White Stripes is not how it usually works.  The White Stripes slipped through the cracks of a label-dominated system.  The only reason the White Stripes have the leeway to write an album like Icky Thump and have a good portion of pop culture care about it is "Fell In Love With A Girl."  They piggybacked on a trend into the Billboard charts and built a cult following from the top down, instead of from the ground up.  Lots of successful indie artists have used this technique.  They're all very lucky.  Most of them don't stick, and go back to square one (Flaming Lips couldn't follow "She Don't Use Jelly," Nada Surf got chewed up and spit out by their label, etc).  If Elephant had been the Stripes' major label debut, they wouldn't be selling out arenas in New York.  It's a lot easier to defend the current business when it worked so well for you, but Jacks' standpoint is exactly the changefearing mindset that the industry has fucked itself over with.

Radio stations and labels and artists and (most importantly) fans are not "in the business together" as it currently stands.  Jack wants to follow the rules so the major label system can do its job, because it worked for the White Stripes.  But its job is to rob artists and flood airwaves with crap, because that's how they can make the most money under the current system.  Our generation is on the cusp of bringing that system down.

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Ever Generation Sucks, And Pretty Much Everyone Sucks Except For Me [Jan. 8th, 2007|12:42 am]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.
First off, I would like to say that while I am writing this, I am not going to try to put any measure of pseudo-artistry into this. People who try to sound deep, wise, or anything like "Slicky Willy" Burroughs when writing about music should be shot. I’ve said it before and I said it again: the two people most responsible for giving music the shaft are David Geffen and Lester Bangs, and at least David Geffen had the courtesy of surviving until old age so most people could realize what a douche he actually is. All music criticism is just a bunch of opinions, and an opinion phrased so that it sounds like it could have come from the septic tank of Joyce and Bukowski’s apartment in Hell is still a goddamn opinion. So here are my opinions."
Generation X is the biggest group of whiny, crybaby pussies on the planet. Every time someone mentions something about the grunge explosion, they have to drag out the same tired crap that Kurt Cobain “spoke for the alienation and angst of an entire generation.” That is a load of shit. What did Generation X have to go through that was so damn hard? Did they have to fight the Axis? Did they get shipped off to go die in a god-forsaken jungle half a world away? No. They didn’t have to go through shit. I don’t particularly like my generation that much, but even many of us went to go fight in Iraq. A war in Iraq where you actually have a chance of dying, no less.

So basically, every generation that is alive today has had to go through at least something…except for those Xers. And you never hear old people complain. Hell, the people who fought WWII wish they could actually go back to that idyllic 1950’s time, when everything was perfect. I would maybe believe the 1950’s were perfect if everyone who told me that wasn’t white (nor am I going to call any generation “The Greatest Generation” that made black American soldiers sit behind Nazi POWs on trains). And yes, the Baby Boomers are all fucking liars and hypocrites. They like to tell about all the incredible ideals they had back in the 60’s, when anything seemed possible…they don’t talk as much about how they traded those same ideals in when they discovered that downsizing, corporate takeovers, and coke were much more profitable. But at the very least, they don’t bitch about how bad they had it, and from what I hear, ‘Nam wasn’t very fun.

No, the people who bitch belong to Generation X. I took the liberty of asking some GenXers exactly why they had it so bad. The only real answer I ever got was…brace yourself…a lot of their parents got divorced, and it made them sad. Now, I’m not a total asshole here; I realize that going through a divorce as a child is very difficult. But I would take their answer more seriously if not for the fact that every one of them I asked…everyone one of them…didn’t say that my generation has it so easy compared to what they went through. Hey, buddy, I hate to break it to you, but divorce rates haven’t gotten much better since you were a kid. They do go down, but we’re talking decimals here, people. Plenty of people still get fucking divorced. But no, somehow your self-perpetuated Kierkegaard wet dream is more pure and real.

You Generation Xers are full of shit. I will be the first person to say that those hordes of angsty, language-challenged 14 year olds on MySpace are full of shit, but you are also equally full of shit. You actually fell for the SPIN articles that you wrote yourselves. Go live in the Sudan for a couple years, and then see if you had it so fucking bad. When you guys are seventy, and old people are systematically hunted and forced into death matches in a gigantic arena, then you can start complaining. Until then, keep selling out your self-fabricated angst to Viacom and the likes, and then turn around and bitch about it.
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Miller's last.fm Top 15 Artists for 2006 [Dec. 26th, 2006|03:58 am]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[music |Hot Water Music - Bleeder]

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers (28 Weeks at number 1, top 10 all year, average of 2.76)
2. Radiohead (14 weeks at number 1, top 10 all year, average of 1.98)
3. The Beatles (8 weeks at number 1, top 10 all year, average of 2.42)
4. Coldplay (1 week at number 1, top 10 all year, average of 3.50)
5. Death Cab For Cutie (top 10 all year, average of 5.67)
6. Nirvana (top 10 all year, average of 8.98)
7. Green Day (51 weeks in top 10, average of 6.75)
8. System Of A Down (38 weeks in top 10, average of 8.59)
9. Metallica (36 weeks in top 10, average of 10.17)
10. Muse (27 weeks in top 10, average of 14.88)
11. Gorillaz (15 weeks in top 10, average of 15.37)
12. The Killers (14 weeks in top 10, average of 19.21)
13. Pink Floyd (10 weeks in top 10, average of 11.50)
14. The White Stripes (8 weeks in top 10, average of 14.13)
15. Weezer (6 weeks in top 10, average of 21.58)

Honorable Mention to Tool for cracking the top 10 the first week of May.

the way this was calculated: using the weekly artist rankings of every last.fm week (Mon-Sun) that had at least one day dated 2006 (there are 53), these statistics were produced. my overall rankings were first based on the number of weeks each artist spent at number one, then the number of weeks each artist spent in the top 10, using an average of all their rankings throughout the year to break any ties (there were none this year). singles were not considered, explaining the absence of My Chemical Romance, Gnarls Barkley, and Panic! at the Disco from this list. feel free to call bullshit on me, and i'll tell you why my system is better.

please note that one week in january contains no data.

according to the users of last.fm, these are the most important bands of 2006.
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Thinking Cap! [Dec. 8th, 2006|12:10 am]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[mood |thirstythirsty]
[music |Muse]

Dear Music Lover,
I have for you, risen from the briney depths of my mind, a hypothetical question. You are making a movie. It can be whatever kind of movie you want: a comedy, a drama, a love story, a war story. It doesn't even have to be that creative a film, as long as you have some idea of what the movie is about. Now, you can choose any band or artist you want to compose and perform the soundtrack. They can be living or dead, still active, on hiatus or broken up. The band can not use any song in their existing catalogue on the soundtrack. If the band's sound has gone through periods of change, specifiy which period you are using (you can have more than one from the same band, as long as you explain why you are using each). You have to explain why this band's sound will work for your particular film. If you choose to be ironic, you still have to explain.

For my film, I choose Muse. My movie will be dramatic, intense, unrealistic, introspective and somewhat stylistic. It will not contain any extraneous dialogue. There may be some kind of tragedy or two, but they will not be depicted in a shocking or overly melancholy manner. There will be a love story in the movie that ultimately ends happily but in a strange circumstance. The love story, however, will be a secondary forcus of the movie which will deal primarily with some sort of internal conflict (possible the some kind of creative struggle). This aspect of the story will never be fully resolved but will end with a brand of wry hopefulness. Muse will definitely nail the intensity of both the psychological struggle and the love story. Whatever sense of humor will be injected will need to be carfully planned out and will probably be sort of dark. All quiet moments will swell and build and I think this will keep the pace of the movie relatively fast-moving. The closing song will probably be something mid-tempo and less intense than the rest of the music on the soundtrack and leave viewers with the sense that they were just let in on some kind of secret joke.

Ok, you have your assignment. Now go!
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Welcome to Brazil! [Nov. 12th, 2006|12:08 pm]
The Clapping Guys. we like music sometimes.

[mood |groggygroggy]
[music |Shower noises]

**Here is my latest review for the Phoenix. It's about this band called Brazil who is touring with Say Anything in California and Arizona. I thought the album was pretty cool. Not the kind of thing I usually get into, but good, nonetheless. My review seems a little goofy. Methinks reading Greil Marcus is starting to get to me. Whatever. This is the version you will not be reading in the Phoenix, as they will undoubtedly take a machete to my excessive verbage. Woo. Enjoy.**


Sometimes, you don’t have to be able to make sense of something fully in order to assess its value. Some works of art are able to make you understand something and confuse you at the same time. This is the case with “The Philosophy of Velocity”, the latest release from Indiana natives Brazil. The first listen is likely to leave anyone somewhat puzzled; the album is riddled with incomprehensible lyrics, often sung at dizzying vocal altitudes, and hazy instrumentation that seems to convey something big, but do not clearly explain it. The album, however, feels large, and the tracks are hard to ignore, begging for second and third listens.

Brazil is comprised of vocalist Jonathan Newby, keyboardist Nic Newby, bassist Phillip Williams, drummer James Sefchek (formerly of the ska band Catch 22), and guitarists Aaron Smith and Eric Johnson. Together, these six musicians create a lush and epic sound. Jonathan Newby’s vocals showcase his vast range and add a serrated edge to the swirling instrumentation beneath him (prompting semi-frequent comparisons to the now defunct At The Drive In, a parity which the band works to avoid). The vocals, while difficult to decipher, are delivered with a great deal of conviction, and at times urgency. Lyrics like “My hands are shaking like they’re wrapped around a gun / Today, the vapours came and put a rope around my tongue / And now my hands write down on a paper what I say…I can never seem to some the same familiar beating drum,” sung with Jonathan Newby’s intensity breathe a strange kind of energy into that tracks that simultaneously feels terrifyingly foreign and incredibly relatable.

Part of what gives “The Philosophy of Velocity” its fullness is James Sefchek’s drumming. Sefchek makes liberal use of his cymbals, a technique that adds a metallic sheen to Brazil’s smoky guitar sound and echoing piano. Sefchek chooses to blend with the other instruments and provide for them a sort of sonic webbing that supports the songs’ melodies, rather than create a contrast by playing heavy beats. The result is a sound that is much more flowing than it is danceable or bottom-heavy. The drumming is effective without making itself very noticeable.

The rest of the instrumentation on “The Philosophy of Velocity” maintains the same otherworldly feel as the drums and vocals. While no instrument stands out individually (with the exception of the occasional piano solo), Brazil does an effective job of using many instruments to create one cohesive sound, a sweeping backdrop that supports and highlights the vocals.

The most outstanding songs on the album are those with the most energetic and engaging hooks. The album’s ninth track, “A Year In Heaven” emphatically asks, “Where do we go from here?” with contagious sincerity. The song “Candles (Cast Long Shadows)” vividly describes how the song’s narrator falls in love with the ghost of a girl who died in his apartment almost a century ago. The song has an unusual brightness not often found in ghost stories, and a hopefulness that belies the lyrics’ macabre and melancholy tone.

Overall, “The Philosophy of Velocity” is rarely short on energy or intensity. Despite the possibility of there being initial confusion over the album’s content, Brazil’s latest endeavor leaves a strong impression. The tracks, while not necessarily anthemic, are powerful in an unrelenting way. About half of the songs on “The Philosophy” can stand on their own, and the album as a whole flows nicely from beginning to end with few lulls. Brazil’s sophomore effort show’s a great deal of potential in the years

3 out of 5 stars
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