Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The word "funk" is lame...

... especially when used as a replacement for the word "fuck." You see this all the time on signs protesting something or other, it might say "Funk the War" (I saw this today), "Funk Drugs", "Funk Racism" or any other obvious social problem. Oftentimes it's not just a statement but an announcement of some sort of fundraising event for a given cause, frequently at these events there may also be a band or bands playing whose music you could describe as funky (but I would rather you didn't).

My problem with this use of the word is the incredibly weak spine it implies about the person making the statement, to me it says, "I'm really against the war and I'm totally willing to deface this (building, lamp post, mailbox) with my lame sticker, but I'm not about to use curse words!"

The word is being used solely for shock value but the messenger wants to have benefits of the shock without actually using the shocking word and that's fucking stupid.

Exceptions to this rule: The word when used to describe an odor.  Also, the song "Funky Days are Back Again" by Cornershop.

Friday, October 24, 2008

So I'm the 10 Millionth Person to Say The Road is a Really Good Book...

but its true.  The book was pretty great, I didn't cry but this is as close as I will ever get to crying while reading a book.  It will crush your soul.  I just finished it this morning.  It's the third Cormac McCarthy book I've read and far and away the best.  Plenty of really damn smart people have said this book is a classic so I don't have much else to add to the conversation I guess but it is very highly recommended.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The 5 Greatest Songs in the World (this week)

5. Let the Beat Build by Lil Wayne

I can't ever get this head out of my head. Ever. I also can't stop myself from listening to
 it nearly every day on my way to work.

4. Jack Killed Mom by Jenny Lewis

Just heard this for the first time the other day, I got her album based solely on a good review in Rolling Stone, the song is great.

3. At Least That's What You Said by Wilco

I've been listening to this one regularly for a couple years now (since the album came out) but never considered it one of my favorite songs on the album (A Ghost is Born) but for some reason I've found myself listening to this pretty much every day this month.  The guitar solo owns me.

2. Skullcrusher Mountain by Jonathan Coulton

This is only on here because of Rock Band 2 I would never have heard this song otherwise but I really, really like it.  It amuses me.

1. Cold Son by Stephen Malkmus

This is the greatest song in the world (this week).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hollow Earth by David Standish

There has always been something about stories set inside the Earth that really captures my imagination. The comic series, The World Below has always been one of my favorites of all time (apparently I'm about the only one who feels this way as the sales were famously terrible) and I also have always enjoyed the long tradition in mainstream comics of villains (and heroes) coming up from inside the planet.

In the book Hollow Earth, David Standish takes a look at the history of the idea of a world within our world and does so to very entertaining effect.  The book is subtitled "The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth's Surface" and although that is most definitely an absurdly long subtitle it's also a very accurate description of what's inside. Based on that subtitle in addition to the great illustration on the cover of a map of the world's interior from an old fantasy novel I was instantly sold on this book.

Inside Standish starts from the beginning and shows how stories of a hollow earth stem from what was at one time a (relatively) respected scientific theory.  Edmond Halley (yeah the comet dude) based on some erroneous math as well as some logical (but incorrect) thinking determined the earth was hollow and that within there were several smaller rings which potentially could be inhabited.  

With this jumping off point the book goes into tales of the hollow earth of all different kinds from the serious explorers and scientists who wanted to go there to the pulp writers of the last several decades who simply want an excuse to have their hero fight a dinosuar.  There was even a religion, Koreshanity, that was relatively popular in the late 19th and early 20th century that held as one of it's fundamental beliefs that not only was the Earth hollow but we also are ALREADY living inside it!!

My interest in hollow earth stories stems mostly from my love of pulp sci-fi and comic books so I was most interested in reading about the stories and ideas which have come from this concept and I was not let down here at all.  Standish details stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne as well as countless other lesser known writers and uses these stories as an excuse to include short biographies of many of the writers which I really enjoyed.

Although this book seemingly is aimed at a very specific group of people I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who is even slightly interested in 19th century science or science fiction in addition to those who have an interest in how social values can effect the ideas in popular fiction you see American Imperialism as well as racism and nuclear panic all rear their heads in stories set inside the Earth.  

Great stuff and highly recommended.

Also check this out, funny.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dudes in blue shirts with white collars...

I know it says pop culture reviews in the description of this site but I'm gonna go ahead and, on occasion review people, mainly people that annoy me of course.  

First on my list are dudes that wear blue shirts with white collars (hereafter referred to as BSWWC), I hate these guys.  Now, I completely understand that my hatred of men in BSWWC is mainly a personal thing and, possibly, it means that I am insane but I just can't shake it.  Every guy I see wearing one of these shirts comes off to me as an overconfident, greasy haired, slickster.  Maybe it is wrong of me to assign personal characteristics based on the shirt you wear but maybe you should stop trying to dress like Donald fucking Trump.  You look like an asshole and I'm going to just assume that this is the case.  

In all honestly I should be thankful for guys in BSWWC as it is a sure sign of who to avoid, much like animals in the wild will avoid a brightly colored spider, I am able pick my way through a crowd of assholes by looking for their distinguishing characteristics: leather jackets, BSWWC, pleated pants and so forth.

I guess I don't have much else to say about this but I also would like to point out that, just a moment ago I was looking around on the internet for a picture of dude in BSWWC to post here and, on a whim, typed in to Google "blue shirt white collar asshole" and sure enough found several other people making very similar comments to the ones I just typed.  To be honest, this sort of takes the wind out of my sails as I lost my enthusiasm for writing what has already been written many times but it also reassures me that others out there in the wilderness are aware of these tools.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New Ways to Die 1 - 3, Amazing Spider-Man

In the monthly Amazing Spider-Man the character Peter Parker has (relatively) recently gone through some major changes.  As a result of a story which was far too convoluted and terrible to convey here he is basically back to his traditionally normal status quo of the 60's, 70's and into the 80's.  This means that his marriage to Mary Jane has disappeared, friends that had died are back and generally most every change made in the last 20 years is out the window.  If you ask me, this is a good change even if it took some really poor writing to get here.  Also gone is writer J. Michael Straczynski which is a good thing as I never warmed up to his writing at all.

The latest story which has been coming out weekly for the last 3 weeks is New Ways to Die, it is the first major story published since the "reset" and so far I'm really enjoying it.  Written by Dan Slott with art by the John Romita Jr. (who is the greatest Spider-Man artist of all time in my opinion) this story reintroduces Spidey to Norman Osborne and Venom both of whom over the last year or so have become "good guys" themselves as members of The Thunderbolts who track down unregistered heros.  Of course Spider-Man is an unregistered hero and therein lies the conflict.  It's a very traditional ASM story where Parker is fighting the good fight while losing the public relations battle but is written with a very modern style.  The art is fantastic as is always the case with JR Jr. so I would say, if you are into super-hero comics at all this is highly recommended (at least for the life of this story and hopefully past that.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Excellent!! Now let's make some LSD.

I just finished watching episode one of the new Fox series Fringe and I have to say I was impressed.  The story was a good mix of horror and science fiction and was along the lines of other J.J Abrams success stories like Lost and Alias.  This first episode was catchy and I'm sure will be popular but I hope it can keep up the momentum and that the story keeps moving.  Abrams' other shows thus far have always hooked me right away but I have yet to stick one out for the long haul as it always feels to me after just a few weeks that's it all just filler.

The set up is a good one, closer to Alias than Lost, in that it involves a group of people working together against a big bad guy.  In this case it looks, so far, like the antagonist will be a large corporation, Massive Dynamics, but I'm sure that will change several times throughout the season.  I really enjoyed Alias for quite some time as I found the soap opera and comedic elements blended well with some of the best action on TV at the time and this looks like it could offer similar opportunities.  My hope is that it won't get too bogged in the larger story right away and is more free just to show us smaller stories in the way X-Files did for years.

All in all the first episode was a lot of fun and I am cautiously optimistic about the series in the long run.

Plus, it's got Daniels from The Wire and that guy is awesome!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I was downtown St. Paul today... (more pics)

A few more pictures that I took.  

I was downtown St. Paul today...

I took a few pictures while there.  There were TONS of riot police completely surrounding these people that were protesting.  From everything I witnessed it was a peaceful protest despite the fact the Fox News reporter pictured below seemed to be implying there was some sort of dangerous environment there.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nixon's Pals

If you ask me Joe Casey is, bar none, the best comic writer working over the last several years.  His work in Cable, Wildcats, Godland etc. is, for my tastes, a perfect blend of old-school superhero wackiness and more modern storytelling techniques.  On my most recent trip to the comic store I picked up his graphic novel, Nixon's Pals, based solely on an advertisement I saw in another comic, I knew nothing about the story and was basing my purchase only on Casey's name. I'm glad I did.  Nixon's Pals isn't treading any new territory for Casey, he had a sort of similar type concept in his series Codeflesh, but it sure is an entertaining idea.

Nixon is a supervillain parole officer and in this graphic novel we follow him around on his job as he tries to keep track of his special brand of lowlife.  Within the first few pages, to set the stage, we see Nixon visit one of his clients only to discover that he has built an inter-dimensional portal in his apartment which he has been using to violate parole.  

Casey's imagination is usually a stong point and this work is no exception, there are throw away characters in this book that many writers would base entire stories around (the radioactive restaurant owner for example) and Casey uses some of them for only a few panels.  The art work is solid, to me it looks like some of the better work out of Avatar comics artists like Jacen Burroughs.  The story isn't quite as good as the high-concept but it is definitely entertaining and I would like to see another story or two set in this world.

Casey continues to be, for me, really the only "can't miss" writer working in comics these days and as long as he keeps turing out entertaining, original stories like this I will continue to buy them based solely on his name on the cover.

Rock Band Songs I'd Like to See Part 2

I meant to finish posting this last week but I didn't get around to it.

7.  Big Bang Baby - Stone Temple Pilots

My favorite STP song.  Upon listening to it it sounds like it would be relatively easy (like Sex Type Thing which is already in the game) but super entertaining and the end is fantastic.

6.  Dope Train - The Vines

I would love to see The Vines represented in Rock Band.  Any song off of Vision Valley would be fine with me but this is my favorite.  It has a bit of a tricky guitar part and would be fun to sing.

5.  Sometimes Salvation - Black Crowes

There is one song by The Black Crowes is Rock Band presently (actually it's a cover) but in my opinion they could have chosen several better songs.  The Southern Harmony and Musical COmpanion is an absolute classic album so most songs off of it would be great but I think Sometimes Salvation would be the best.  It has some good, tough guitar and bass parts and features Chris Robinson in one of his best vocal performances.  Actually they should just put the entire album out as DLC.

4. Impossible Germany - Wilco

Off of Sky Blue Sky, Impossible Germany has one of my favorite guitar solos of all time.  This would be a pretty epic song for the guitarist but would be possibly boring for the singer, not that there aren't other songs already in the game like that;  Green Grass for example.

3.  Auf Weidersehen - Cheap Trick

A ridiculously awesome song which would be pretty damn hard  on drums from what I can tell. This one would be pretty tough but the factor would be huge, having a large portion of the lyrics in other languages would possibly make things difficult for the singer as well.

2.  Hell Below/Stars Above - The Toadies

The Toadies really need to get in Rock Band.  The drums in this song are very fast and it sounds like it's a pretty relentless beat for minutes at a time.  There's a lot of good guitar and some great sing-along lyrics that would make this song perfect for the game.

1. One Big Holiday - My Morning Jacket

It has my favorite guitar solo ever recorded and would be something of a bitch to play I'm sure.  The song starts right away with a tricky guitar riff and drum lick and goes for a minute or so before the other instruments even come in.  It's possible a lot of bands would fail out even before the bassist and singer get a chance to show their stuff (like in Foreplay/Longtime) but the experience would be worth it for those that play the song through.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Severance Package

I just finished reading the novel Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski.  I've been in the mood recently to read a straight forward action novel and on my last trip to the bookstore I spotted this book.  It definitely lived up to the action billing but it's really anything but straight forward.

Severance Package is a fun, goofy action/espionage novel.  The high concept is that an everyday guy goes to work one morning and is given the unfortunate news that he actually works for a cover organization in international espionage and that due to some mistakes everyone in his office is going to have to commit suicide.  The star, Jamie, doesn't agree with the program and so the rest of the novel details his adventure in trying to get out of the building.  Along the way you are introduced to the whole crew in the office some of whom know the deal and others who were in the dark.  

There is a lot of humor in the book, office politics on a small scale mixed with international intrigue and terrorism and the action scenes are very entertaining but there are a few problems with the story.  It really feels like it was written to show around Hollywood, it's like a book that wants to be a movie and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in theaters in the next year or two, as a matter of fact I would be surprised if it DOESN'T end up a movie.  It feels like it could very easily be a Tarantino movie or possibly more likely a Tarantino-imitator movie and I think it would make for a good one.  This isn't a bad thing necessarily but it makes for a story that seems very thin, I read this book in just a couple hours.  The characters are pretty thin and aren't given much to do outside of a short introductory scene for each of them, aside from the main two characters I mixed up who was who quite a lot and honestly I don't think it made one bit of difference.

In the end, I would recommend it if you like action but if you're looking for anything more you could very easily wait for the movie on this one.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Top 10 Songs That Should be in Rock Band part 1

Like many people who play Rock Band I have a list of songs that I think really should be in the game.  I decided I would make a top ten list of songs that I would like to see.  I gave myself a couple rules about what can appear on the list.

The song has to have discernible guitar, bass, drums and vocals.  That cuts out a lot of my favorite music; no White Stripes, Cornershop, They Might Be Giants, etc.

(After making this list I noticed today that Rock Band announced that they are releasing a couple new Devo songs and that they actually paid the band to come in and re-record with the necessary instruments. For example they might turn a synthesizer line into a bass line.  Interesting.)

The song has to be by a band that I can imagine them actually putting in the game.  In the early to mid-90's I was really into pop-punk, Lookout Records type music and so I would LOVE to see bands like:  Good Riddance, The Vindictives, Screeching Weasel and The Gain but I just can't see that ever happening.

And my last rule, just for fun, the song has to be on my Ipod right now.

The first part of the list:

10. Champagne Supernova - Oasis

The first several songs on my list I picked mainly because they are just great songs.  I think this song would be pretty easy even on the most difficult settings just like the Oasis songs that are already in the game.   There is a bit of a solo at the end but it wouldn't be too much of a challenge.  It's a great sing along with a huge swell towards the end.

9. Rock Around With Ollie Vee - Buddy Holly

Old time Rock and Roll is sorely under represented in Rock Band right now.  Chuck Berry might be a better choice for some because of his superior guitar but in my opinion you can't go wrong with Buddy Holly and this is my favorite song of his.   I would bet that the singing would be the hardest part.  Imitating Buddy Holly's lilt thing that he did where the pitch goes at the end of nearly every line could be hard.

8.  Jonathon Fisk - Spoon

I really, really wanted to put a Spoon song on this list.  One of my favorite bands of the last few years with one of the best albums of the 2000's in Kill the Moonlight.  I chose Jonathon Fisk because it's honestly, as far as I can tell, one of the only songs of theirs that would work at all in Rock Band.  The guitar and bass would be easy (I promise I chose some songs that would be more difficult later on this list) but the drums would be tough.

That's it for now, I will post the rest of the list some other time, probably this weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Battlefield: Bad Company

My console of choice when playing video games these days is the Xbox 360, I also own a Wii but honestly it acts mainly as a novelty in our house.  It gets used when friends or family are visiting who invariably want to try out Wii Sports or something, it was fun for a while and it still is with friends but it's really not worth the money if you, like me, play most of the time by yourself. 

With that being said, the first person shooter (FPS) is a very popular genre for me, not so much because I love them but because it's the most popular genre on the system I have.  Even within the genre of first person shooters there is a sub-genre that is overly represented on Xbox which is realistic military FPS'.  I have, over the years, grown very weary of this sort of game and really have very little interest in playing most of them.

For some reason though I was interested in Battlefield: Bad Company.  I think it was mainly that there is presently a dearth of new games to play that I am interested in and I guess I am glad for that.   Bad Company is one of the best shooters I have played in years, in my opinion it far surpasses Halo 3 and probably even Bioshock for pure fun.  There are experiences to be had in Bad Company that you have never had in a video game.  The main experience for me that added greatly to the excitement of the game is it's level of destructibility (that may not be a word!).  In most shooters, even in the good ones, you can get yourself a moment's reprieve by jumping behind nearly any object and hiding.  In some games a few objects will blow up or maybe you can shoot through other objects but in Bad Company there truly is no cover from the bigger weapons.

The first time I attempted to hide from a tank in a nearby house only to have the entire kitchen wall blown out within seconds was shockingly cool.  The entire side of the house blew in a cloud of dust, smoke and debris and I was a sitting duck for the soldiers sitting outside.  The larger battles in this game, because of this level of destruction, are some of the best I have ever seen in a game.  After the battle there will be houses that are basically only frames, holes in the ground and fallen trees everywhere.  The destruction works to your benefit too, once you get in a tank or if you have the more powerful weapons you feel pretty damn in control, watch three dudes hide behind a wall for cover and then just blow the entire thing to bits, very satisfying.

Some people probably say this game is too easy and I guess they would have a point, you basically have all of the health packs you want (you are only limited to a 30 second or so wait time between uses), but I honestly like that.  These days I don't want a game that takes me 40 hours to get through in most cases (Fallout 3 is the exception) and this one took me about 12 hours on the default difficulty.

Also, admittedly I am not much of an online gamer so perhaps I don't fully appreciate games like Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 but from what I understand Bad Company is pretty great in the online department as well, maybe I will try it out at some point.  In any case, Bad Company is definitely recommended.


It's my first posting on what I intend to be a site mainly with reviews of the pop culture I consume and what better way to begin than with a book that's almost 80 years old?

I am a huge fan of H.G. Wells, the author of this book, and spend a great deal of time in used book stores looking for old works of his that I have yet to read.  Although he wrote over 100 books only maybe 5 or 10 of them would be available in your typical Barnes and Noble and if you take a look in a used book store you would perhaps find as many as 15 or 20.  On occasion you find one of his less common books and that is what I am always searching for when I visit a used book store.

When reading about Wells' work it seems that Star-Begotten is one of his more popular later works but when I found this recently in a bookstore in Minneapolis it was the first time I had ever seen it for sale.  The edition I purchased is published by Manor Books but doesn't have a date anywhere on it which is odd, it looks to be from the 60's based on the art style and price.

This is a story about a man who, during a conversation with some people more intelligent than him, gets it into his head that earth is being affected by Martians.  He becomes obsessed with the notion that Martians are sending cosmic rays to earth that penetrate the wombs of pregnant mothers and alter the babies to their (the Martians') ends.

It's one of Wells' better novels in my opinion and comes across as thoroughly modern to me.  The concept behind the novel is to follow this idea around different parts of society as it "affects" different minds.  The initial man, Joseph, tells his doctor about it who then discusses it with a scientist friend of his, eventually it ends up in the newspapers and all over the world.  Here, Wells has come up with one of his best plots for social commentary ever.  In many of his novels he comes across as overly didactic and I suppose some people would say he is here too but it all fits within the context of the story as he makes statements about the gullibility but also the open-mindedness of our society.  It is left open until the very end whether or not there is actually any threat from outer space which is unusually vague for Wells, generally he would lay out all the answers for you from the get go but here the reader is left to decide whether these people are crazy or not.

There is also one (very small) but interesting part in this book when it becomes clear that at least some of the characters in it have read the other novels by H.G. Wells and make a couple comments on them.  I found this to be quite shocking, it's the kind of thing I wouldn't be surprised to see in a Vonnegut book or any post-Alan Moore comic books but in a Wells book from the 30's? Weird.  In a good way.

Overall I would say this book is definitely worth checking out if you see it for sale.  It's very short, my edition ran 173 pages, and very entertaining start to finish.