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Monday, August 31, 2015

Paperbax: A Fistful of Pulp Fiction PRE-ORDER

"A fantastic collection of stories that not only harkens back to the glory days of pulp fiction, but also celebrates and pays tribute to the wonderful world of exploitation cinema. A must read." - Mondo Squallido

Get all five novels by Isaac Baranoff: Someone's Gonna DieSoft DesireA Boot Full of BloodA Fistful of Molotov and A Claw Full of Blood in one volume, newly reformatted, with all new artwork, as well as the original paperback covers for each individual novel, plus an all-new introduction explaining how Baranoff conceived each novel and why the Soft Desire comic book series will never be reissued.

NOTE: This item is a pre-order. It will be released on August 31, 2015. If your order includes any other items, they will not be shipped until this item's release date.


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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hemispheres: KISS - Music From "The Elder"

Today I'm taking a look at an album more famous for its immensely negative reception than the actual music it contained, Music From "The Elder".

KISS were famously not liked by critics. Though followed by a dedicated cult following known as the KISS Army, the group made up of guitarist Paul Stanley (alias The Starchild), guitarist Ace Frehley (alias The Spaceman), bassist Gene Simmons (alias The Demon)  and drummer Eric Carr (alias The Fox, who replaced original drummer Peter "Catman" Criss) decided that the best way to go about attaining critical respect was to make a progressive rock album with producer Bob Ezrin, who helmed the immensely successful Pink Floyd double concept album The Wall.

The album's story focuses on the recruitment and training of a young hero (The Boy) by the Council of Elders who belong to the Order of the Rose, a mysterious group dedicated to combating evil. The Boy is guided by an elderly caretaker named Morpheus. The album's lyrics describe the boy's feelings during his journey and training, as he overcomes his early doubts to become confident and self-assured. The only spoken dialogue is at the end of the last track, "I". During the passage, Morpheus proclaims to the Elders that The Boy is ready to undertake his odyssey.

When Kiss played Music from "The Elder" for their management and record label, the response was a mix of confusion and contempt, with business manager Howard Marks refusing to allow his company's name to appear in the liner notes. Bob Ezrin was on coke at the time, and blamed the album's failure on bad judgment as a result of his drug use. Or as Rick James said, "Cocaine's a hell of a drug." The cocaine use by Ezrin might have resulted in the album's shift from symphonic rock to Kiss' usual brand of hard rock within the same album, as if Ezrin started off helping the band writing the songs, then snorted a few lines and said "I don't give a fuck what you do, just make magic."

Music From "The Elder" was a huge critical and commercial flop with a reputation for being the musical equivalent of cinematic bombs like Heaven's GateAt Long Last Love or Ishtar, which doesn't mean that it's bad music, just that it was expensive, didn't make any money, alienated fans of the people who made the works and was panned by critics. If you really want to diss an album, just compare it to Howard the Duck. That movie's a piece of shit. Q magazine ranked Music From "The Elder" 44th in their list of The 50 Worst Albums Ever, and 6th in their list of 15 Albums Where Great Rock Acts Lost the Plot. Right? Because I totally trust the value judgment of a magazine that gave glowing reviews to albums by Coldplay and Oasis.

As for Music from "The Elder", sure, it's awkwardly titled, but is it really one of the worst albums ever made? No. The musical composition, while not especially technical, is better composed than The Shaggs, and the album isn't annoying, like BrokenCYDE, or boring, like Radiohead, so it's not one of the worst albums ever made. It's SO FAR from being one of the worst albums ever made that it's not even funny. 

Fanfare: The album opens up with a huge orchestra setting the stage for the album. I'm not going to rate this, since it's not really a song, but it works for the effect it's trying to create. I don't understand what critics were looking for with this track -- it's like listening to the first note of a symphony and then saying "Ugh, not long enough, zero stars." RATING: N/A
Just A Boy: Acoustic guitar, electric bass and vocal harmony interplay, before the hard rock guitars come in. I know KISS usually makes their music a little more bombastic, but was this really that far off from the songwriting of the rest of the band's music? "Ugh, not loud enough, zero stars." I mean, yeah, it's a little more subtle, but what were fans really expecting here, that KISS keep remaking their hits over and over again? They wouldn't start doing that until the 2000's.  I think this is a great song, and a strong lead-in to the rest of the album, working within the concept of the album. RATING: 3.5/5
Odyssey: Another symphonic rock cut with melodic vocals. Yeah, it doesn't sound like KISS. I'll give the fans that. But it achieves what the bad was trying to do. I can understand  this being alienating if what you were looking for is some big, heavy rock number. But it is a good song. RATING: 3/5
Only You: This is a little more KISS-sounding. It could have been a big hit if it were pushed more. Despite some of the weird vocal effects and synthezier overdubs, I don't see why this was so infuriating to KISS fans. Even if "Odyssey" came the fuck out of nowhere, this is well within what the KISS Army has come to expect from the band. RATING: 3.5/5
Under The Rose: A flurry of synthesizer notes opens...yeah, I know why KISS fans would get weirded out, but even considering that this is not your typical KISS album, the combination of chamber music-inspired synths with KISS' brand of hard rock works really well on this cut, far better than "Odyssey". RATING: 3.5/5
Dark Light: Creeping basslines introduce growing electric guitar and drumming, leading into a strong hard rock number with semi-spoken vocals. The electric guitar solo is accompanied by Latin-flavored percussion. RATOMG: 3.5/5
A World Without Heroes: Mellow guitar and keyboard lines play off the bass and drums, aided by orchestral strings, in a fantastic ballad. The song was originally titled "Every Little Bit of Your Heart", the lyrics were changed in order the fit the concept of the album, which Lou Reed contributed the line "A world without heroes, is like a world without sun" to the lyrics. RATING: 3.5/5
The Oath: A driving hard rock song more in line with fans' expectations for a new KISS album. Another strong number. RATING: 3.5/5
Mr. Blackwell: And yet another solid hard rock tune. The number of terrific songs on this album would suggest that the critics who named this one of the worst albums ever are full of shit. I mean, really? Did anyone listen to the album before deciding it was terrible? I still don't get the hate. RATING: 3.5/5
Escape From The Island: A driving hard rock instrumental. Great track. RATING: 3.5/5
I: Another solid hard rock song, which concludes with a spoken section rounding off the album's story.

KISS were invigorated with creative energy during the making of the album, but once the album was a commercial and critical failure, the band refused to tour in support of it, and to this day, the only songs from the album to be performed live by the band have been "A World Without Heroes", "The Oath", and "I". In spite of long-time fans being alienated by the album, it has such a fanbase that an independent film based on the album has been proposed since 2011. And I happen to really enjoy this album. As far as derided progressive rock albums by non-prog artists goes, KISS' dip into the prog pool works better than Bad Religion's Into the Unknown due to KISS' skills as songwriters. Though not the most technically skilled musicians, KISS were obviously very into the writing and recording of the album, and their enthusiasm creates a strong effort. Music from "The Elder" is a great album.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hemispheres: NoMeansNo - One

The main character in my comic strip Bob the Dog is an avid listener of punk rock bands, but punk rock falls to catch my interest as much as it did when I first started drawing the strip. Punk has some appealing features, such as the Do-It-Yourself aesthetic which has influenced a new generation of recording artists who have started off releasing underground records themselves, rather than trying to catch the attention of major record labels – in underground music, music distributors, major record labels and huge corporations don't notice you until after you've already achieved a level of prominence on your own. Punk's rebellious nature is another appealing aspect, the idea of fighting against authority. Another reason punk came into mainstream consciousness was the promise of bringing rock music back to its tenacious roots.

But there's a high level of bullshit associated with punk rock. One is that the scene encourages bands to play with less musical ability, reflected in the lyrics of Frank Zappa's “Tinsel Town Rebellion”, which describes L.A. bands who, in order to get record deals in late-70s/early-80s Hollywood, have to “forget their chops and play real dumb” -- and “practice all their poses” between sniffs of cocaine. The majority of punk music uses the same basic chord structure which tends to make the music sound the same. The musical ideology of punk also promotes an elitist attitude which brushes off bands for not playing only one minute songs consisting of the same three chords over and over again.

Rebellion? A lot of punk bands subscribe to the dumbest political ideologies imaginable. Many punks mistake capitalism for authority, or advocate the naive floating abstraction known as anarchism. You're an anarchist? Great. You'll love it in Somalia. Most punks just want to rebel against their parents. Grow your hair long and start your own business – you'll see how the government fucks over businessmen daily with socialism.

D.I.Y. aesthetic can backfire on you horribly. I'm not saying you need to go to the excesses that are afforded to many pop stars in order to make good music. You don't need a limousine, catering, a thousand dollar dog groomer or a mouth full of gold teeth to make good music. Hell, most of the people who have those things don't make good music. But even if you don't license your name to headphones that cost $700 retail (Beats By Dre), that doesn't mean that doing things on the cheap will always produce listenable recordings that you can make money off of. You think your demo-sounding recording is better than the ones made with professional equipment? Great. Too bad the only copies you sold were to your other band members.

In spite of the antagonism towards progressive rock expressed by punk rock dipshits like Joe Strummer, punk and prog are not inherently incompatible, as previously shown by Bad Religion's Into the Unknown. Bad Brains has its roots as a jazz fusion ensemble called Mind Power. Of course, I happen to prefer Bad Brains' punk albums to Bad Religion's Into the Unknown which shows that while playing three chords over and over again doesn't produce better music, playing longer songs with synthesizers doesn't produce better music, either. It helps that Bad Brains are much better musicians than Bad Religion. There's also a handful of “progressive punk” bands. Thankfully, here, the term “progressive punk” doesn't mean another moronic political ideology but punk mixed with progressive rock and/or progressive jazz.

One example of a progressive punk band is NoMeansNo, formed in 1979 by brothers Rob Wright (bass guitar, vocals, and occasionally guitar) and John Wright (drums, keyboards and vocals). Their name derives from an anti-date rape slogan. The brothers Wright began playing and recording as a two-piece in their parents' basement in 1978. They became the rhythm section for the local covers band Castle, but were inspired to play punk rock after seeing D.O.A. perform at the University of Victoria in early 1979. For their first four years the duo's music would seem to be influenced as much by jazz and progressive rock as punk rock. Nomeansno have been credited with being an influence on, and perhaps even the genesis of, math rock.

The band's songwriting style is marked by the use of spoken word as the main vocal style, with singing relegated to the choruses, though this isn't always the case as some singing appears in non-chorus sections and some choruses are spoken. The spoken word aspect of the band's music gives the lyrics the effect of appearing as beat-style poetry mixed with hard-edged guitar riffs. The conceptual, story-based nature of the lyrics, combined with the beat poet-style delivery adds to the progressive nature of the band's music.

The Graveyard Shift: A driving bassline leads into a forceful guitar riff, followed by the first verse, leading into the chorus, followed by another verse, followed by another chorus, then an instrumental section leading into a new verse, and another chorus. A second instrumental section builds to the song's conclusion. RATING: 4/5

Under the Sea: Atmospheric hard-edged basslines and guitar riffs are accompanied by two verses and chorus, then the rhythm changes, with the drummer imitating the sound of growing bubbles as the music builds and builds in an instrumental section which builds in rhythm, then begins to break down as the song reaches its climax. RATING: 4/5

Our Town: An ascending guitar riff is accompanied by a synthesizer melody, with the guitar and synthesizer changing time signatures to aid the visual imagery created by the lyrics. The wonky, machine-like melodies give the “There are guns!” section a nightmarish feel. The hi-hats begin playing a jazz rhythm, before the drummer changes back to the original rhythm. The wonky machines-breaking-down melody returns for another reminder that “there are guns!” before changing back to the original assortment of melodies which build to a climax. RATING: 4/5

A Little Too High: The guitar, bass, hi-hats, cymbals and interspersed drum hits create a jazz-punk rhythm accompanying the first verse and chorus, leading to multiple time signature changes, an explosion of guitar wailing accompanied by some scatting, before the second verse, which includes more unusual rhythm alternations. The chorus is followed by another abrupt time signature change, followed by non-lyrical vocalization and another explosion of guitar chords, followed by more scatting and fast jazz rhythms leading into a new verse which leads into an explosion of sound setting off a small guitar solo, followed by another verse and chorus which leads into another time signature change, with the bass playing a jazzy rhythm. Random interjections of jazz-style guitar appear throughout the song. A jazz-oriented bassline closes out the song. RATING: 4/5

Hello/Goodbye: The bass, guitar and drumming create a driving jazz-rock melody which illustrates the lyrics. After two verses and choruses, playful synthesizer licks fade up as the rhythm changes. The synthesizer disappears as the hi-hats create a different rhythm, before the band changes back to the original rhythm as swirling synthesizers add to the melody. A brief interjection of singing with the drum rhythm as the only accompaniment leads into a different melody change, followed by a reprise of the “You will not follow me” section. RATING: 4/5

The Phone Call: A mellow guitar melody leads into a hard edged melody with the entire band. The volume ascends and descends as the lyrics essentially describe a stalker. There's an illusion to the T. Rex hit “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” and an instrumental section full of odd, jazz-inspired rhythm changes. RATING: 4/5

Bitch's Brew: NoMeansNo's version of the title track from Miles Davis' jazz-rock classic Bitches Brew  incorporates lyrics about rough sex and alcohol use, in the spoken word style of a punk beat poet: “She shifted her ass and spread her knees and said I don't give a damn what you do, just pour me a glass of that Bitch's Brew.” The melody which was originally played by horns on the Miles Davis original is adapted for electric guitar, while the cymbals and drums play the whole of what was originally played on an assortment of percussion instruments and the bass doubles the melody played by the guitar. Then, 11 minutes into the song, the drums are joined by Latin percussion, and jazz keyboards are introduced, combining the two different musical styles – the “Bitches Brew” style with NoMeansNo's distinctive style. RATING: 4/5

Beat on the Brat: While the Miles Davis cover paid tribute to the band's jazz influences, the band's cover of the Ramones' “Beat on the Brat” pays tribute to the band's punk influences. While the straightforward punk arrangement doesn't feature any surprises, it does bring the band's style full circle to showcase a cover of an iconic punk classic. RATING: 4/5

NoMeansNo's One is the best example of a progressive punk album that I've heard, blending spoken word, jazz, prog and punk into a distinctive, unique style. As more bands continue to draw from jazz and punk in an artful way, one may soon see progressive punk become a new subculture, similar to the fandom and critical analysis of progressive metal. While prog-punk has not been discussed on the same level as prog-metal, One clearly stands out as an experimental album in which the jazz melodies have an underlying layer of punk to them, and the punk melodies have an underlying jazz layer. The album's humor, sonic experimentation, combination of melodic and hard-edged melodies and attitude sets NoMeansNo apart as a unique executor of jazz-punk.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Monday, August 24, 2015

Hemispheres: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Keith Emerson is a piano virtuoso whose music I first heard when I saw Dario Argento's film Inferno. A lot of Argento's films are scored with the progressive rock music of Italy's Goblin, but for Inferno, he tapped Emerson instead -- to write a classical score performed by an orchestra. Missed opportunity for some synthesizer action there.

Emerson and Greg Lake (who plays bass, acoustic and electric guitars), both exploring options outside of their existing bands, met at Fillmore West in San Francisco. On working together they found their styles to be compatible and complementary, and the trio was rounded out with drummer Carl Palmer.

ELP has a controversial reputation among music critics, who widely dismissed their music as pretentious and awful in the 1970s, but Japanese video game composer Koji Kondo thought ELP were cool, so if it wasn't for ELP, we might have never gotten the Super Mario Bros. theme, so suck it, Robert Christgau.

The Barbarian: The album's opening track is Béla Bartók’s 1911 piano piece "Allegro barbaro" -- transformed into a heavy metal song. Emerson's electric organ playing combined with Lake's guitar work and Palmer's drumming make a fantastic introduction to the prog power trio. RATING: 5/5

Take A Pebble: Quiet, sweeping pianos, bass playing and orchestral cymbals lead into vocal harmony, followed by an instrumental section with chamber music-inspired piano melodies, then an acoustic guitar part which is joined by hands clapping in rhythm. This leads into a piano solo, then the return of the main melody and vocals. RATING: 5/5

Knife-Edge is based on the first movement of Leoš Janáček's "Sinfonietta" (1926) with an instrumental middle section that includes an extended quotation from the Allemande of Johann Sebastian Bach's first French Suite in D minor, BWV 812. The song concludes with a slowly degrading tape sound. RATING: 5/5

The Three Fates opens with pipe organ in full-on "opening of a Dracula movie" mode, followed by a piano section, leading to a tremendous interplay between the piano and drums. RATING: 5/5

Tank: Jazzy bass/drums/synthesizer interplay, with intermediate piano. RATING: 5/5

Lucky Man: Acoustic guitar with drums and vocal harmony, aided by overdubbed electric and bass guitar. Sweeping synthesizers bring this folk-ish tune to a close. RATING: 5/5

Emerson, Lake & Palmer rocks, plain and simple. While it is noted that not every iconic progressive rock musician is a skilled master of their instrument (some couldn't even play their instruments), ELP are examples of progressive rock made by musicians of high skill. It's not "pretentious" as some critics claim, unless your definition of pretentiousness is the ability to play your own instrument. I mean...really, critics? THIS is what you chose to bestow your hate upon? I don't get it. Nowadays, this album is considered to be a hard rock and prog masterpiece, but back in the 1970s, these guys were as hated as you can get. The album's setlist bears the mark of a fantastic rock album, however, and an example of the best of what rock can offer.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Let's Draw Miles "Tails" Prower from Sonic The Hedgehog


Hey, everyone!  In this installment of "Let's Draw", Pembrokewkorgi draws everyone's favorite child genius fox with the butt mutation, Miles "Tails" Prower from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.  Enjoy.




Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hemispheres: Voivod - Nothingface

Voivod was formed in 1982 in Jonquière, Quebec, Canada. Influenced equally by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the burgeoning hardcore punk scene and 70’s progressive rock, Voivod forged a distinctive brand of heavy music that often relied on lyrical themes such as Reagan-era Cold War politics, post-apocalyptic literature and science fiction.

Killing Technology (1987) began the band's evolution in earnest, with the character from Voivod's album covers (drawn by drummer Away and named as "Korgull" on 1986's Rrröööaaarrr) significantly being depicted in a spaceship. Drawing more heavily on hardcore punk than metal influences by this point, Voivod began evolving without the aid of increasing speed and storytelling on the following Dimension Hatross.

Voivod was one of the first thrash bands from Canada to gain popularity outside of their country's borders, but it was with their shift to progressive metal that the band reached the peak of its global popularity. Voivod distinguished themselves from other heavy metal acts with the introduction of jazz and progressive rock-inspired rhythm changes and experimental chord and time signature structures.

The Unknown Knows: Synthesizer melody builds, followed by the introduction of heavy electric guitars leading into a driving heavy metal melody with jazz-inspired basslines. The verses are broken up by an avant-garde drum section. After the second verse, there is a guitar solo, followed by multiple time signature changes accompanying the third verse. An accordion plays on the outro. RATING: 5/5
Nothingface: Descending and ascending electric guitar riffs combine with hi-hat rhythm and jazz-inspired electric bass playing and drumming. The guitar begins a different, jazz-inspired melody as the rhythm changes. There is an instrumental section which includes a guitar solo, followed by another succession of time signature changes accompanying the next vocal section. RATING: 5/5
Astronomy Domine: A cover of the Syd Barret song that is far superior to the original, opening with spacey electric guitar playing, following by a slowly building electric bass melody leading to the first verse, which is followed by a psychedelic rock-flavored instrumental interlude leading into the second verse, which leads into a longer psychedelic metal instrumental section leading into the third verse. RATING: 5/5



Missing Sequences: Slowly building electric bass lines are followed by hi-hats interspersed with drum hits. Driving metal guitar riffs intersperse with jazzy drumming. The melody changes to a start-stop succession of instrumentation, then the time signature changes to a fast-paced heavy metal melody, then to a jazz chord structure, followed by crunchy electric bass riffs, then an electric guitar solo which leads into another time signature change. This new jazzy section is followed by a repeat of the driving metal rhythm, and then another repeat of the start-stop section, then to the driving metal rhythm, followed by another jazz-inspired section. RATING: 5/5
X-Ray: Electric guitar riffs play off each other, leading to a section with driving metal riffs and jazz-inspired hi-hat crashes and drumming. Guitar riffs jump out of the mix, including intrusions of rock and roll-style guitar chords. RATING: 5/5
Internal Combustion: A driving metal guitar/drum/bass rhythm, interrupted by Zappa-esque ascending chords leading into a rhythm change as the tempo intermediately becomes fast, and then mid-paced. An instrumental section leads into a short electric guitar solo, followed by another verse. RATING: 5/5
Pre-Ignition: Start-stop guitar/bass riffs intersperse with driving hi-hats and rapidfire kick drums. Time signatures change rapidly. RATING: 5/5
Into My Hypercube: Mellow ascending and descending basslines lead into a jazz-flavored guitar melody and a mid-paced hi-hat rhythm interspersed with drum hits. Heavier guitars enter the scene, keeping the same pace. This song has a real illustrative feel to it, allowing listeners to imagine themselves as spacemen being shot off into the distant galaxies, and the time signature changes as the danger increases, including an electric guitar solo. RATING: 5/5
Sub-Effect: Start-stop guitar riffs intertwine with rapid bass playing and hard-hitting rhythm. The song alternates between different rhythms, building to a fantastic close RATING: 5/5
Voivod's Nothingface owes as much to progressive rock as it does to heavy metal, with its highly conceptual lyrical nature with strong focus on metaphysical themes, rather than the focus on the occult found in a lot of heavy metal. With none of the hardcore punk influence found in Voivod's earlier music, the band focuses on making their music very progressive and experimental, creating one of the best progressive metal albums ever.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5