AFI_-_The_Art_of_Drowning_coverRelease Year: 2000

Rating: 8/10

AFI started out as a hardcore punk band and over time changed their sound to blend their punk roots with elements of Gothic and alternative rock. Their breakthrough album keeps in tune with their punk influences, but has hints of their later sound. Here they often mix fast guitars with Gothic imagery and music. While you can heart traces of the direction they would eventually go, their punk sound is still loud and clear. It’s the beginning of their now well known style.

The album begins with the short instrumental track “Initiation.” It’s nothing but muted guitars with odd howling noises. It’s not much, but it seems to prepare the listener to what’s in store, which is why the song title makes so much sense; they’re initiating you into their inner circle. The following track “The Lost Souls” is nothing but in your face punk rock. It has a cool thudding bass line followed by heavy drums before the speeding guitars and Havok’s spitfire vocals start up. Though the track is steeped in punk rock it foreshadows the direction they would eventually go during the bridge. Here is where everything slows down and grows more melodic before picking up again. It’s a great mix of their initial sound blended with their future one.

Like most AFI albums this is another one that’s easy to leave on without skipping a track. “The Nephilim” has a killer bass line that sounds like it’s stalking the night. Though the music has a punk vibe, there is a lot of darkness found in the song thanks the images in the lyrics. With Havok singing “The seasons change without me/I remain in shadows growing wings” it sounds like he’s singing about a demon or some other supernatural being. “Sacrifice Theory” has another sick bass line that’s really subtle, but blows you away when you catch it. It sounds like it takes influence from surf rock as it trills up and down the fretboard. Here is where the band mixes their love for punk with alternative rock creating a chaotic mood perfect for the mosh pit.

Smile” is an interesting song. From the title it sounds pretty positive, but the content is all about disgust for society. This becomes clear when Havok sings “I hate humanity!” It even ends on a resounding note when he sings “I’ll end the world tonight” followed by a guitar riff that sounds like it was ripped from a horror movie. The intense mood, howling vocals, and contrast at work makes it an awesome track. “Wester” is really catchy with the chorus of “nothing can stop us now.” This makes it memorable and stick in your head instantly. Also, there’s a lot of Gothic imagery here that would later show up on their other albums. With lines like “I can feel you waiting for me as the sun retreats to the hills and I, /Below the blanket of a burning sky, wrap myself within/Embraced by dead leaves as the rain leaves trails of black down my face/And I creep through the twilight to that/hidden place beyond the lonely” makes it sound like he’s some dark creature on his way to the graveyard for a date. The way the tempo slows down for the bridge shows the band’s habit of mixing things up to keep the song interesting.

6 To 8” is a really clever song about life on the road. Many bands have songs about touring, especially young ones, but it’s hard to write about it in a way that doesn’t get predictable and tiring. AFI found a way to make it mysterious and great because they didn’t make it obvious. They make the listener figure out what it’s about leaving a satisfying feeling when they do. The lines that give you the biggest hint of what it’s about are “What new friends will the day bring?/One for one thousand acquainted/What new home will the night bring?” The first time you hear it it may puzzle you, but after a while it clicks. He’s talking meeting new people and sleeping in a different place every night on the road. This is a great example of why AFI have some of the best lyrics.

Though the band keeps up with their established punk sound there are several examples where they stray away from it. “The Despair Factor” sees the guys using electronic elements for the first time. It jostles the listener because it’s completely unexpected, but the way it sounds like bullets firing off makes it work. They slow it down for “Ever and a Day” with the dark, melancholic music and haunting lyrics like “Lie in the darkness, I’m slowly drowned to sleep/Nothing left to lose/Three tears I’ve saved for you” create this eerie and beautiful tone. The bittersweet closing track “Morningstar” is very hushed from the palm muted guitars to the soft singing. But what makes it stand out are the strings that come in during the second verse. Again it’s something that throws you off, but it adds this hidden beauty to the song. In AFI fashion, the ending is really amped up and intense to make it come alive. These songs show how though they had an established sound they weren’t afraid of playing with it and trying out different things, something they still do today.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. The album is full of tracks made for the circle pit, but a darker, Gothic inspired song begins to show here. You get both sides of the band: the wild punk rock that made them underground darlings and the thoughtful melodic darkness that launched them into the mainstream. This is definitely the start of them constantly evolving their sound, which they still do now. If any fan is curious about their punk rock past, this is the LP to listen to.

 

Maroon_5_-_Songs_About_JaneRelease Year: 2002 (re-released 2004)

Rating: 8/10

Maroon 5 and I haven’t been getting along lately. With a horrible fourth album and a douchey frontman, I finally fell out of love with the band. But there was a time when I couldn’t get enough of them. Their debut isn’t the best pop album ever, but with every song being a hit and tons that make you want to sing along, it’s still their best. Not only are the songs good, but you can hear elements of the band that simply don’t exist in the current carnation. Here, they manage to sound like a band instead of a vanity project.

Somewhere down the line, the guys became know for their dirty songs. What’s refreshing about this record is not every song is drenched in sex. Of course there are some that reference it, but “This Love” is the only one that explicitly talks about it. Ten years later this song still sounds great. The odd, bounciness of the music and Levine’s singing makes the song seem so innocent, until you hear lines like “I’d try my best to feed her appetite/keep her cumming every night/so hard to keep her satisfied.” It’s one of those lyrics where you say it without thinking and then pause and go “What did he just say?!” It’s what I like to call sneakily dirty. Unlike their current songs where the quest for sex is obvious, this track masks it with clever lyrics and a good hook.

Though the album may not solely focus on sex it does talk about relationships. What keeps the theme from getting dull is how each song looks at a different point of a relationship, like the first encounter or a nasty break up. Some of the songs are good, but don’t manage to stand out from the other tracks (“The Sun” and “Must Get Out”), but there are others that are great. “Not Coming Home” has a sleek, sexy guitar riff that brings out their edgy side; Levine’s fed up attitude adds to the overall feel. The only thing that’s annoying here is the live audience cheers featured throughout. Per the liner notes, it was recorded live at one of their shows, but why they included this version instead of the studio one is beyond me.

One of my favorite songs is “Sunday Morning” with bright, upbeat music and the feel good lyrics that make you happy. It’s something you put on when the sun is shining and you’re feeling awesome. It makes you want to dance and sing. The additional horns that come in during the bridge just adds to this feeling and gives it more of a jazzy sound. Everything about the song is lovable and is sure to put a smile on your face. “She Will Be Loved” is a soft, bittersweet song about a troubled girl. Something about the whole mood is just relaxing and nice. “Through With You” seems to be about a nasty break up. The harsh music and Levine’s pissed off singing emphasizes this tone. There’s a finality to the music and the lyrics that makes perfect sense with what he’s talking about.

Another thing that makes the LP great is how you can hear every element of the band somewhere on the album. My biggest complaint with their 2012 release was it sounded like a Levine solo record with the rest of the guys as his back up band. Here, you can actually hear what each member adds: the pulsing drums on “Tangled” and the cool keys on “This Love.” Levine’s singing isn’t as annoying here either. Whereas now it sounds like he’s singing through his nose, here it’s subtle. I especially like his singing on “Harder to Breath” because he tried to vary his sound. He does the same for the standout track “Secret” where he goes into light falsetto for some parts. It’s hard to explain, but it sounds like they’re an actual band here. This feeling is something that slowly disappeared throughout their later albums.

The album ends with “Sweetest Goodbye.” It’s sappy and kind of cheesy with lyrics like “I’ll never leave you behind/or treat you unkind/I know you understand.” Still, this isn’t as cheesy as his writing on the last album (see “Fortune Teller”). What keeps the track from getting dull are the hard guitars that come in during the chorus when Levine sings “Pushing forward and marching back/Brings me closer to heart attack.” It may not be the best song here, but it ends the LP nicely.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. Having listened to it now, I don’t love it as much as I did back in 2004. But I still think it’s a good pop record and one that I still enjoy a lot. It reminds me when Maroon 5 had some potential, with a cute, kind of geeky guy singing. The songs are still enjoyable and a blast to sing out loud if you’re bored. Ever since its release, it feels like the band have been trying to recapture whatever made this album so good. They haven’t found it since. This remains their strongest album and ultimately, the one they’ll be remembered for, even if it is just because it made them popular.

Muse have been together for 20 years now. What better way to celebrate than to look at some of their past videos? They may not have the most iconic videos around, but they have some of the strangest. While some of their later videos are a bit heavy, their earlier ones range from simple to what the fuck is going on. With so many videos in their catalog, especially if you count all the alternate versions, these are their earliest videos ranked from best to worst. Stay tuned for part two.

Bliss

Though the special effects are a bit dated, it still remains their coolest video. Okay, so I may be a little biased because this is my favorite Muse song and Matt looks extremely hot here, but there’s something about the way he’s spinning around and the intense look of it that makes it memorable. The concept is simple enough: Matt Bellamy falling until he reaches space (seems like the place he would end up). There’s something about the space scenery that ends up being really pretty and seems to match the vibe of the song. It may not be much, but it’s something that sticks in your mind whenever you hear the song.

Stockholm Syndrome

There are two different videos for this single and while both are good, it’s the international one that’ll catch your eye. Muse turns a regular performance into a horror show by filming the entire thing with a thermal camera. Every part of their body is illuminated with various colors. It looks psychedelic at first, but as the video progresses things get creepier. Many of the members begin to look alien while some appear to be cutting themselves open. There are also some shots of Matt with smoke rising behind him that makes him look like he’s in Hell. It’s one of those clips that works on not being able to make out what’s happening, which creeps you out. The alternate version mocks late night television shows with the band’s performance bringing on a heavy windstorm. Chaos erupts as people are blown away and animals run loose. All the while the band plays on. It definitely captures the feel and power of the song. Why the States got the latter version is not really known.

Plug in Baby

This is another one where the graphics are a little questionable but the tentacled girls will make you forget all about them. It’s a weird video for a weird, yet awesome song. Seemingly sexy women pose in suggestive positions until they are revealed to be some tentacle spawn creatures. It’s even worse when you start seeing pairs of legs sitting on the couch with no body attached. It’s creepy as hell, but it’s another one of the videos their known for. After watching it you have one question in mind: Is the song really about octopus women or robots?

Feeling Good

This clip mixes the ugly with the beautiful. Matt Bellamy’s sweet falsetto is paired with raining cherry blossom petals. Slowly coming forward are disfigured individuals who do nothing but surround the band. The faces look like they were distorted with a pinching technique in Photoshop, but it’s still unsettling especially the shots at the end that linger on some of the faces. The best part is when the lights go out and Matt is left with the megaphone. What makes it look so cool is how he moves like an android while singing the bridge. If the setting looks familiar it’s because it was filmed the same day the “Hyper Music” video was shot.

Hyper Music

If you want to see a waif like Matt Bellamy sing out his pain while the camera quivers like an earthquake, then this is the clip for you. Aside from the aforementioned shakey cam, there are not special effects or fancy tricks. But it’s the band energetic input and Matt’s fantastic spins that makes the video so entertaining. It’s definitely not their best, but it’s one of their most satisfying. The chaotic vibe of the clip also matches perfectly with the violent and intense tone of the song. It also appears that the same extras from “Feeling Good” are moshing around at the end of the video.

Time Is Running Out

The video loosely based on the film Dr Strangelove, shows a secret government that’s in charge of running the world. But they spend their precious time dancing in tune to the song and putting on little strip teases. Muse spends the entire time performing in the middle of their table. Not only is the clip entertaining, but some of the faces Matt pulls off while singing makes it worth noting at all. As if reading fans’ minds the U.S. Version uses more close up shots of Bellamy’s face. It doesn’t hurt that he throws in some of his fancy stage moves. It’s one of those videos where you forget how good it is until you sit down, watch it, and try to take it all in.

Dead Star

The video for this massive Muse song may be simple, but it’s oh so satisfying. This is a major fan favorite and since it’s nothing but the band performing with some gritty camera shots it makes sure you can catch the track in all it’s glory. It’s far from their greatest video, but seeing their energy and Matt’s shredding skills is impressive enough. Fun fact: it was filmed in Winston Churchill’s home in Brighton and only cost 50 to make. It’s not much but at least it gives you something to cool to look at while listening to the kick ass song.

New Born

Muse performs while standing sideways on a building. People freak out below. That’s pretty much what happens in this video. Sure, there’s some weird, evil looking girl that causes a bad windstorm for the guys, which then causes it to snow but that’s pretty much it. While it’s not a bad clip and even looks pretty cool, the gold tinted make up Muse wears is distracting. It’s noticeable enough to bother you during the whole thing. I’m not sure why they’re wearing, it adds nothing to the clip, and makes them look weird. You would think such an awesome song would have a better video, but this is young Muse we’re talking about after all.

Sunburn

The story of a teenage girl being tortured by Muse. That’s the easiest way to explain what happens in this video. It starts out with a pissed off looking babysitter and an adorable little boy watching TV. Girl gets huffy, goes upstairs and starts stealing stuff. She opens the closet and – boom – Muse are in the mirror. As she begins to realize they are not in the room with her she begins freaking out and crying as Matt continues singing and looking sultry. Finally, she loses it and breaks the mirror which causes the little boy to check out the commotion. He doesn’t find her. Then it’s revealed she’s stuck in the mirror. According to sources, the band is supposed to represent her guilt apparently. At least they look good?

Hysteria

There are two versions of this clip. The alternate one is a simple performance vid with the band playing while cool effects go off around them. The official one stars Justin Theroux waking up in a trashed hotel room not knowing what happened. He finds his camera and looks at footage he shot of a prostitute. He comes off as a stalker since there are several shots of her walking around seemingly without her knowing she’s being filmed. Finally, we see them in bed together but he ruins the moment when he slaps her and she runs away. He trashes his hotel room in anger since he can’t be with her. It’s not their greatest video, but all the drama makes you stick it out til the end.

Butterflies and Hurricanes

This is the first of many concert videos for Muse. This one is slightly more interesting than the others. It takes footage from their 2004 Glastonbury set and overlays several computer effects over it. There are some shots that make the band float over the crowd while other construct the entire arena right over their heads. There are also a lot of bright colors shining on the guys and crowd making it visually pleasing to the eye. There still isn’t much else to it, but compared to other live music videos it at least looks cool.

In Your World

This video is filled with live footage found on the Hullabaloo DVD. It’s just like other live music videos; shots of the band onstage with some occasional scenes of the crowd. The only thing that makes this one remotely interesting are some of the effects used, such as having Bellamy’s partially see-through face with the rest of the video playing behind it. The one saving grace here is that the clip is only a little over two minutes long, so it’s over before it can get dreadfully boring. If only all live music videos can do the same.

Sing for Absolution

MUSE IN SPAAAAAAACE. That’s pretty much what the entire video is. The boys don space suits and travel through the galaxy as debris and billboards fly past them. On the way they do their best to avoid asteroids, so they can make it to their destination, which is a post apocalyptic Earth. As they get closer to it, the ship catches fire and everything is bathed in orange. But they make it there safely, hooray! Then they all stare at the planet in awe. There’s a good chance the concept was created by Matt himself. When you learn more about the concept and match it with the song, it’s actually pretty depressing, but not that satisfying visually.

Muscle Museum

The video is nothing but people crying in some odd situations. In the pool, on the toilet, eating, while getting a haircut. Meanwhile, Muse plays to an empty ballroom. I’m not really sure what message it’s supposed to convey. That everyone experiences sadness? That sadness can hit you at the most unexpected moments? After watching it, you feel uncomfortable and wonder why such a great song gets a shoddy video. Director Joesph Kahn admits that everyone hated it, including the band, but states it’s one of his favorite videos. No matter what he says, it still really sucks. There is an alternate version floating around, but it’s just features live moments of the band.

Unintended

This video takes the human body and turns it into something ugly and horrifying. An effect is used that makes the extras’ bodies stretch out and twist and turn in the most unnatural way. Arms and legs twist and spin like a spiral staircase. It gets even freakier when people start making out and their bodies morph together. I’m not sure what these images have to do with the song, but I wish they would go away. It’s like an experiment gone wrong. No wonder Matt called it a weird video when he saw it years later.

Uno

No matter which version of this vid you choose to watch it still sucks. While it is funny to see a really gaunt, spiky haired Matt, all of the clips shot for the band’s first single are either boring or terribly corny. The first version mixed footage of the guys at soundcheck and of them standing on London Bridge. Not only is it boring but the director decided to use awful effects, like making Dom and Chris fall forward and then remixing it to make it look like they’re dancing. Also used are slowing effects and fast forward, and sticking Matt in the most unattractive silver shirt possible, to make it more interesting. Instead it makes you laugh really hard. Seriously, it looks like the worse amateur video ever found on Youtube. There’s even one part where he has them walking around in circles. The second version has the band playing in a locked room while a girl runs around trying to find them. Yawn. While it’s slightly more interesting than the first version it’s still fucking awful. No wonder the guys never talk about it.

Which one of these is your favorite or least favorite Muse video? Let me know in the comments!

Msi_if_coverRelease Year: 2008

Rating: 8/10

MSI’s fourth album caused a divide between their fans. There are some who loved it and there were others who claimed the band went mainstream and that it sucked for the most part. At first I couldn’t understand the hatred for the album. I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it. But after listening to it again, I can see why some people were upset. While I wouldn’t claim the band went mainstream, I do think they changed their sound and tone for this LP. Rather than every song being a punch in the face, they seem to lighten up on some of their tracks. But this doesn’t mean the album is terrible (that would be their 2013 release).

The album gets off to a strong start with the track “Never Wanted to Dance.” It’s a really fun song full of great energy and music to get you dancing. Their blend of electronic, 8-bit, and rock music gets you pumped for the rest of the album. In other words, it’s a standard MSI song. The change starts to come in during “Evening Wear.” It’s a catchy track that has their snide commentary on the superficiality of our society. But something about it doesn’t sound as in your face as their other songs. The gritty electronic music is pretty intense, but it never feels like Jimmy Urine is spitting out his message only inches away from your face. It doesn’t make the song any worse; it’s just a notable change.

While some of the tracks are toned down the band’s sharp wit is still present. “Prescription” is a clever commentary on addiction to prescription pills. During the track Jimmy fights with himself, going between rejecting the drugs and wanting them. With more of the electronic sound and some light guitar during the pre-chrous, the music comes off as playful even though the topic is kind of heavy. It shows that he’s kind of making fun of those who claim to need those drugs just to get on stage. “Mastermind” seems to address those who feel superior enough to begin killing others (ala Columbine). It actually makes sense since Urine references Columbine and sirens can be heard in the background. The only thing I don’t get is why he sings “Oh Pennsylvania” during the bridge. Any ideas?

The closer “Mark David Chapman” is another really energetic and fun track. This one makes fun of bands who only make music for money and thinks their fans are stupid. One line I think is really funny is when the greedy bands make fun of those who do it because they believe in it by saying “You’re so fucking lame!” The chorus calls on Mark Chapman to get rid of these money grubbing bands who want to take advantage of their fans. One thing that makes this track kind of weird is Urine’s mother speaking Spanish throughout. It doesn’t take anything away from the track, but it’s kind of odd. The one thing that does kill the song is the bridge where Urine takes on a British accent and calls on the hounds. I don’t know why it’s there, but it does kill the mood.

Their known hip-hop influences come out in full on the tracks “Issues” and “Animal.” The latter song has harsh, intense music similar to that of their older material. Everything from the beat to the way Urine sings screams of hip-hop. There’s one part where the music gets out of control where you can’t even keep up with it. It’s a great way to get listeners pumped. “Issues” keeps the hip-hop sound with booming music that sounds like it’s pounding at full volume from a stereo. It’s a great songs, but the only problem is the singing style. It sounds like he’s drunk. Sometimes it’s okay, but it has the tendency to get annoying. While their love for rap and hip-hop isn’t as present here, it’s good to know they didn’t completely abandon it.

One of the weirdest and funniest tracks here is “Get It Up.” Yes, it is about what you think it is. All throughout the song Urine shouts how he wants to “make some babies” but just can’t get it up. There’s also a line about making money but not wanting a job that I don’t really get. The closest thing I can think of is he wants to get it up to do porn to make money. Another thing that makes the song funny is how the high pitched music sounds like Gir from Invader Zim singing. It’s one of those songs you may not want to sing out loud around others. “Revenge” is another great track that plays with a cheer motif. Lyn-z even says they need to practice the cheer during the intro. Even though this part sounds forced and corny, it’s still really fun and full of energy. It has heart racing music that’s gets you going and Urine’s wit is on point. One of the best lines here is “I’m gothalicious with cheese.” If anything it’s another track that gets you pumped up and ready to fight.

One thing about the album is it relies a lot on repetition. On some tracks like, “Pay For It” it works, but on others it makes the song dull. Tracks like “Due,” “Money,” and “Bomb This Track” are pretty good, but they are not the best. If you’re in the right mood it could be the best thing ever. Otherwise, the repetition and the standard music has the tendency to make these songs just okay. They more seem like filler. Even though they’re not bad, it feels like the album wouldn’t be affected if these tracks were removed or replaced with the bonus tracks found oversea editions of the LP.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. When compared to their other releases, it is a weaker album. But it’s still full of fun, energetic, and crazy songs we expect from MSI. Some of them shows off their clever wit, while others come off as flat and dull. They do tone down their sound and their in-your-face attitude a bit for the LP, but if you’re willing to overlook this you’ll find a fun album. It’s definitely no their best work, but certainly better than their latest release.

 

Kurt-Cobain

Kurt Cobain

1967 – 1994

20 years ago today Kurt Cobain’s body was found in the green house of his home. Depending on which theory you go with details from there get a little muddied. It was an unbelievably sad day for the fans, but especially those close to Cobain. The general world lost a talented soul, but others have lost a husband, a son, a friend, and a father. Thinking about that and the whole event is even more tragic. Everyone knows what a talented writer, musician, and songwriter Cobain was. He also was a good person. He stood up for gay rights and women’s rights, not caring that it would stop people from listening to his music. And from several pictures we can see he was a doting father. As a fan this time of year is always sad, but I can’t even imagine how those closest to him live with the thought of him being gone every day. But let’s not focus on the greenhouse or the disturbing photos. Let’s not focus on murder or suicide. Let’s remember the music: how it makes us feel, what it makes us do, and why we love it so much. Don’t focus on Cobain’s depression or other sad issues. Let’s remember him for his humor, quirkiness, and songwriting. As each generation keeps discovering the band it’s clear that Cobain will never be forgotten.