Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Ghost

Ghost

Reviewed by Jayson Gallaway on 23 August 2018 .

5 out of 5

Okay, so during the last several weeks, somehow (I don’t actually remember how it happened), I’ve become rather obsessed with Ghost, the mask-wearing Swedish satanic metal band.  Obsessed as in I’m actually alarmed at how much I’ve been listening to them.  Obsessed as in each day, I decide that today I’m going to listen to something – anything – else, but about 10 minutes later, I’m listening to Ghost again.
Serious fans of any species of Scandinavian metal (especially those church-burning death metal viking assholes) will take great issue with Ghost being labeled anything other than a purely pop band.  And there is merit to that argument.  One critic rather accurately described the band’s music as “metal for people who don’t like metal.”  Which isn’t literally the case, but I absolutely understand what he’s getting at.  Here’s what I think he meant: take Motorhead.  I love and adore Motorhead and was rather crushed when Lemmy died.  And like most other people on the night Lemmy passed, I went to Motorhead’s page on Spotify and started to play their top 10 most popular songs.  “Ace of Spades” was first, natch, and I turned the volume waaaaaay up.  Brilliant.  Poured a shot of Jack and threw it back.  Then the next song started to play.  It was great, but I have no idea what it was.  I know it was 3 chords and 3 minutes long because, well, damn near every song in the Motorhead catalog consists of 3 chords and is about 3 minutes long.  So the second song ended, and the third song started up, and it was maybe half a minute into it when I decided that was all the Motorhead I could take and put something else on.  It occurred to me then that I have never and will never be able to sit through more than 3 Motorhead songs in a row.  I could never get through an entire album side.  And I love Motorhead.  That’s just the way it is.  I talked to other fans of Motorhead who validated my opinion: love them as much as you may, you simply can’t sit around listening to Motorhead for any length of time.  The same holds true for the Sex Pistols: absolutely love them, and they only released one actual album, but to sit through the whole thing if you’re over the age of 20 and have already heard it is more of an endurance contest than anything else.  And so it is with metal.  Especially any old school Norwegian death or black metal: if it speaks to you, it’s great stuff, but even if it speaks to you, one of its defining characteristics is that it’s recorded “dirty” (i.e., crappy and aggressively analog equipment with even crappier acoustics), and, let’s be honest, most of it sounds pretty much like some sort of missile strike with lead vocals that sound like a very angry Cookie Monster extolling the virtues of eternal damnation through a ludicrously distorted fuzz box.  But now, along comes Ghost, who are very much “metal,” but with addictively hook-filled song writing, pristine production and digital bliss, layered harmonies, instrumental complexity, and melodies that are “musical” as opposed to literally monotonous, delivered by a vocalist with a multi-octave range whose intention is to be understood.  Thus, “metal for people who don’t like metal.”
Other reasons I think Ghost is brilliant:
  • Many of their song titles and lyrics are Latin, so of course I’m all about that.
  • They utilize things like Lydian and Aeolian modes and other esoteric things I haven’t really encountered since music school.
  • Ghost is what rock music would be like if the ’60s had never happened.
  • They are what would have been the norm if we hadn’t eliminated music education from American public school curricula.
  • In a screenwriting class I took in grad school, I had this idea about a huge rock star who wore a mask and concealed his identity, as did all the members of the band, so that they couldn’t be linked and followed.  I loved the idea of some super-famous guy who was completely anonymous, who could be onstage in front of 10,000 screaming people on minute, and then a few hours later be standing in line at the grocery store, unrecognized and unharassed as one of his songs plays on the store’s speaker system.  I couldn’t make the screenplay work, and I ended up turning in some dreadful thing about vampires.  But the idea has always appealed to me.  So when I saw these guys, it was almost a recognition: “I’ve been wondering when you guys were going to show up.”  
  • Ghost is the first band  in a very long time whose music has got me not only reaching for the guitar again but also wanting to start recording again.
  • Though I am an involuntary atheist, my world view has become undeniably Luciferian in the last few years, and it’s kind of nice to have a suitable soundtrack.

I’m sure this is a Me thing, just something that is hitting me at exactly the right time; however, Ghost won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2016, so that says something.

Give ’em a listen.

Review – The Official Annotated Prince Discography

The Official Annotated Prince Discography

Reviewed by Jayson Gallaway on 29 April 2018 .

4 out of 5

Prince and mgmt

The Official Annotated Prince Discography put together by the good folks at the Prince Estate (princeestate.com) is fucking amazing.  Spending a minute on the site wondering why Prince hadn’t been able to do this himself whilst still with us.  He had tried with his NPG Music Club and other online ventures, most of which ended up being one-off websites that may have promised access to a library of music and video, but were ultimately just publicity tools for the latest album which would be stop being updated shortly after the albums release, and usually totally shut down within a year.
It was so frustrating to listen to Prince rail against the record industry and music business year after year and how badly he wanted and needed total control over his music, not only it’s production but it’s distribution and use.  One just wanted to grab him by his ruffled collar and yell, “Dude! You were lucky enough to be born right about the time the internet happened, which enables you to do exactly what you want to do!  Total vertical integration.  You write, record, produce, license, and distribute your music entirely in house, and keep virtually all the money.  Retain all the rights.  Pull things offline if you feel like…throw something new you just finished on there and see how people react.  Total control.  It could have been perfect.  But he never seemed to be able to get his digital shit together.
But now, his estate has quietly pulled it off.  The website is beautiful: clean, easy to navigate, but very Princely.  Even the cursor (a familiar drawing of Prince’s eye (which shifts from right to left depending on what side of the screen your cursor is on)) is brilliant.   Here you will find all of Prince’s Studio Albums, Legacy Releases, Live Albums, Compilations, as well as albums that he produced, listed and annotated with reviews, quotes, pictures, and videos.  It’s actually a rather dangerous time-killer for some of us, but that’s likely because suddenly, instead of employing a cadre of attorneys to constantly patrol YouTube and issues take-down orders like parking tickets, the estate is organizing and encouraging participation, which is rather a sudden shift.
The only “fault” I can find with the website is that it is somewhat less complete than what I’d hoped the actual estate could put together, and I’m not entirely sure why.  When Prince started experimenting with alternate distribution methods and unorthodox arrangements with traditional record labels, his albums got difficult to find, and my personal collection reflects that: I’ve got everything right up to “Crystal Ball” and things get spotty.  Some stuff was never released on CD at all, some CDs were only distributed with the purchase of a concert ticket.  Some albums were distributed in weekly newspapers in the U.K., and never even released in the States.  Most of the albums on the site have track listings, and if you click on any song, a 30-second snippet plays.  So you can click on the first one, let it play the entire album in 30-second snippets while you’re reading the material below…it works out well.  But it turns out the estate’s collection has the same limitations I do: no track listings for certain rarer albums.  I can only assume that this is due to licensing issues, and I’m hopeful that these issues will be resolved.  The same issue is true for all of the albums listed in the Major Albums Produced by Prince.  Some of them I understand: the actual artist was on a different label, and now they’re dealing with licensing issues.  But the early stuff by The Time, Sheila E, Vanity, Apollonia, etc, was all Prince, on the exact same Warner Bros. contract.  But this is clearly a work-in-progress, and the estate makes it very clear that this is just a beginning.

Review – Wonderful Chinese Restaurant

Wonderful Chinese Restaurant

Reviewed by Jayson Gallaway on 12 March 2013 .

3 out of 5

Unlike other ethnic restaurants that boast an “authentic” dining experience (I’m looking at you, Benihana, where the last three chefs who juggled Ginsu and gyoza and made onion volcanoes and pretended to throw shrimp at me in traditional Japanese manner were named Jose, Esteban, and Gonzalo, respectively), the staff of Wonderful Chinese Restaurant in Citrus Heights, California is authentically Chinese.
The family that runs this restaurant appears to be largely antisocial and downright angry at your presence, and greets your arrival with simple rudeness, but that quickly escalates into open hostility and apparent contempt. Continue reading

Review – Troll 2

Troll 2

Reviewed by Jayson Gallaway on 19 February 2013 .

3.5 out of 5

Troll_2_poster

Louis Wain was an English artist back around 1900 who painted cats.  Well, I mean, he didn’t actually go around tagging neighborhood cats …he painted pictures of cats doing people things: wearing clothes, playing golf, litigating, whatever (the proper term for this is anthropomorphic, but my old lady is tired of me flaunting my vocabulary, so I’m trying to tone down the sesquipedalia).  Anyway, his paintings were pretty popular in jolly old England, and his work was widely published and he managed to eke out a living for a while.  But then things went south for Uncle Lou.  There’s some debate over whether he was schizophrenic or just really Aspergery, but either way you slice it, he went nuts.  Which is no big deal: artists go nuts all the time, it’s part of the gig.  What’s remarkable is that he kept painting cats throughout his decent into madness, and oh boy…you should see what happens to the cats in his paintings when the carnival comes to town and sets up its tent in Louis Wain’s brain.  Seriously, go check it out.

Anyway, I mention Mr. Wain here only because until this week he was the artist that I thought most effectively documented how one’s vision of the world warps during nervous breakdowns and psychotic episodes.  But then I saw “Troll 2.”  Mother of God.

Continue reading

Review – Joyful Noise

Joyful Noise

Reviewed by Jayson Gallaway on 3 February 2013 .

1.5 out of 5

Joyful Noise

Sly Stone has been on my mind a lot lately.  In case you don’t know about Sly, he was a San Francisco Bay Area DJ back in the 60s who decided he could write better songs than what he was having to play on the radio, and he formed a band called the Family Stone, composed of men and women of multiple races, which, at the time, was nothing short of a cultural declaration of war.  From his radio experience, he came up with a simple but inimitable formula: hooks so funky that they would keep playing in the ear of anyone who heard them for days, but short songs, usually less than 3 minutes long, which meant more frequent plays on the radio.  The math was right, the music rocked, and it all came together in a meteoric rise to fame and chart domination starting in 1967.

Things went awry almost immediately.  The pressures of fame strained Sly’s relationship with his band, his family, and himself.  Then came drugs, and that meant increasingly erratic behavior and limited musical output.  He never really recovered, and his output and appearances have gone on to almost define the eccentricity of musical genius.   As seems to always happen in these cases, Mr. Stone’s various managers and agents and record companies ripped him off in grand manner, and he hasn’t seen any of the at least $40 million in royalties he’s earned in the last few decades.   In 2011, Sly was rumored (actually it was more than a rumor: there was an interview and photos) to be living in a van in LA, hooked on crack, but still writing music on a laptop powered by an extension cord run from a friend’s house.

These are dark days for Sly Stone, dark days for pop music, and dark days for movies.  Last night I watched something called Joyful Noise, which featured a rendition of one of Uncle Sly’s songs.  It’s a testament to just how great his music is that not even a production this banal could mess it up.

I’m not sure which is weirder: that I ended up watching this movie, or how it actually got made.  Either way, my God.  What a nightmare.

I suppose there are some “good” aspects to this debacle: it is not, to my knowledge, a remake, which is a first for Hollywood this decade.  It stars Queen Latifah, who’s always good, and Dolly Parton, who looks absolutely amazing for 103.  But that’s about it.

Queen and Dolly are the alpha females of a small-town gospel choir that gets their asses handed to them every year at the national competition.  Their beloved choir leader, played by Kris Kristofferson, has a heart attack and dies in the opening scene, providing the only bit of plot I could actually get behind.  I had high hopes that the rest of the movie would be composed entirely of scenes of choir members dying, but alas, ‘twas not thus.  Instead, not only do the rest of the choir members live on relentlessly (okay, there is one other choir death), but they keep singing ludicrously over-produced covers of pop songs, the lyrics of which have frequently been “gospelized” horrendously.  While they are all shameful, far and away the most insipid is a version of Usher’s “Yeah,” which, well…here:

Up in the church with my homies, trying to get a little praise on, but it keep it down on the low key, cause you know how it is.

I saw shawty, she was checking up on me, from the game she was singin in my ear, you would think that she knew me, so we decided to chill.

The worship got heavy, she had me feeling like I’m ready to blow.  Oh.

God saying “Come get me! So I got down in front, my knees on the floor.  That’s when I told God, I said, “Yeah, yeah.” 

Yeah.

The other three people I was watching the movie with, including and especially the two teenagers whose idea it had been to watch this damn thing, fell deeply asleep within 15 minutes of the opening credits.  They had the right idea.  But inexplicably, I kept watching.

Some other sort of quasi-plottish things happened, but I don’t think there was an actual writer involved in the “creation” of this script.  They were the sort of things a free plot-generating app could generate.  Seriously.  It was like what someone would come up with when their pitching their really great idea to a movie exec, and that movie exec says, “Nope, I don’t like it.  What else you got?” and then that someone just makes something up on the spot.

The whole thing comes to a horrendous crescendo featuring the Queen/Dolly choir doing this massively produced medley with Sly Stone’s “Higher” as its core.  It’s supposed to be this last-minute decision when Queen Latifah sees that the audience is, much like the audience at home, falling asleep during their rehearsed song, but the production and choreography are on par with the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.   I hope that Sly saw a fat royalty check from this cinematic turd, but given the millions of dollars he’s already been screwed out of, I doubt it.   Whether he did or not, during the last hour of this movie, as my fellow viewers blissfully slept, I couldn’t help but thinking that even if he is in a van in LA, smoking crack and making music on a laptop, he’s probably better off than he would be sitting through this ridiculousness.

Stay of the crack, and stay away from Joyful Noise.