Album Recommendation: The Vandals Play Really Bad Original Country Tunes

 

Somewhere in my mid-teens, one of my best friends and I went fishing at a small lake nearby. It was a bust, but on the way home we listened to a local radio station that played offbeat music that you wouldn’t hear on the usual generic pop or rock stations. A song called “People That Are Going to Hell” by The Vandals began to play and we liked it even though we never heard of The Vandals before. It was a somewhat catchy punk song with amusing lyrics so it naturally got stuck in my head for a while. It wasn’t long before that I had their entire discography and found myself listening to them more and more. Picking my favourite album by them is difficult, as with any other of my favourite bands, but I did end up finding one I could listen to front start to finish. There’s a bit of an oddness to the album I chose though. It’s a country album. Besides this album, The Vandals don’t really play country music as they’re a punk band. I don’t really like country music, though I admit there is the odd tune I enjoy. So oddly enough, “The Vandals Play Really Bad Original Country Tunes” ended up being my favourite album of theirs. The album was originally released as “Slippery When Ill” though I enjoy the latter as it has a couple of additional songs that were not on the original.

Many punk bands out there are politically motivated but The Vandals don’t really seem to care for such things. Many of their albums and songs are tongue-in-cheek, immature, and sarcastic. So it should be no surprise that they decided to combine punk and country music for an entire album (they’ve also got an entire Christmas album too, go figure). Somehow it worked wonderfully even though I thought punk and twang would never mix. The tempo for most songs seems slightly slower than their typical punk songs but the pace is kept at a higher rate than your typical country song. There is also a great mix of twang in one song, while others favour a distorted guitar with a country rhythm. This is coupled great with some immature lyrics such as the kind that appear on songs like “Clowns Are Experts (At Making Us Laugh)” and “Play That Country Tuba, Cowboy.”

Without a doubt, my absolutely favourite song on the album is called “Elvis Decanter”. I would even go as far as to say it is amongst my favourite songs of all time. It just has a great rhythm and to me is the perfect mix of country and punk. Whether it was on purpose or just a great accident, the song’s lyrics are sad and seem to follow a similar formula that many original country songs utilize. A man who loses his girl due to alcoholism which was enabled by his lover. Slightly clichéd, but the lyrics end up being a little depressing. The only thing it seems to lack is mention of a horse, truck, and maybe a sunset.

It looks like this my shortest recommendation I’ve written. It’s also probably the most poorly worded one too. But I’m too lazy to go back and rewrite most of it. So in summation, if I had to pick my most beloved of all albums from The Vandals, this would be it. It’s fairly unique and very different from all their other stuff. If you like country music but not punk, still give this a try. If you like punk music but not country, give it a try too. If you like neither, why the hell did you read this?

Album Recommendation: Welt

 

Despite KMFDM being my favourite group of all time, I can’t say that I exclusively listen to industrial music, or really even all that much outside of KMFDM. While I do have some tracks and albums from other acts such as PIG, Combichrist, Ministry, or Nine Inch Nails, I find that my collection of music isn’t too heavily composed of the genre. Surprisingly enough, it also has very little Skinny Puppy which is basically an industrial legend. Perhaps it’s because most of the Skinny Puppy tracks I listened to were from a long time ago and just didn’t gel with my tastes or I didn’t give them a fair chance based on my first impression.

Later in the early 2000s I was introduced to a track called “Cracker” by ohGr. I found it stuck in my head for quite some time. To me it was electronic industrial music (rather than industrial metal or rock) with a mix of fast glitch pop, granted I didn’t know what glitch pop was at the time. Stuck in my head for days, I had to get the whole album called Welt and give it a spin. Now over 15 years later, I find myself listening to it again and again in my office and I think it’s safe to say this is one of my favourite of all time and deserves to be one of my recommendations. Here’s the kicker, Welt was primarily made by a fellow named Kevin Ogilvie, better known as Nivek Ogre who was a founding member of (you guessed it) Skinny Puppy and has served as the front man for the group since 1982.

While I’m a fan of almost every song on this album, two in particular stand out to my ears. As mentioned, “Cracker” was one of the first I heard on the album even before I had the album. I find this one to be a bit more upbeat than some of the others and perhaps even a little catchy, not unlike a pop song. As mentioned earlier, I instantly loved the glitch sounds used and think it complimented the light bass riff. Not to mention in the music video there’s a faux Eminem doing a little rap, which the younger me found amusing. The second track that caught my attention even before I got my hands on the album, is one called “Pore”. But this track caught my attention for different reasons as it’s a very different song. It almost seems like a light and simple drum loop with various sound effects put together to form riffs that would stand in place of a vocal choruses and lyrics. Throw in some fast talking lyrics (not rapping though) and a great warped bass riff and you got something that seems to be tuned into the essence that is experimental industrial music. My description doesn’t do it justice, but this one seems to be fairly difficult to describe, so just YouTube it and check it out.

Those are my two highlights, but the rest of the album is great too. Most of it will sound closer to “Cracker” though rather than “Pore” so if you find yourself not being a fan of the latter, this album is still worth giving a shot. I’d highly recommend “Suhleap”, “Solow”, “Lusid” and “Water” as those are my next picks after the first two. When I first heard the album “Welt”, it was a fairly different change from the usual industrial music I was used to that leaned towards rock. As a good friend of mine always put it “When I listen to industrial I usually imagine a factory with giant gears and hammers with lots of clanking” (I’m paraphrasing that but you get the idea). Something like the older KMFDM albums is what industrial is to me as well. But “Welt” is much more electronic, doesn’t use guitar, and even feels like it relies on riffs and choruses that seem to be inspire by pop music. If any of that sounds like your cup of tea I highly recommend giving this a listen.

As a side note, “Welt” came out back in 2001 and since then ohGr has released three other albums. I gave the next album, “SunnyPsyOp” a listen though I never found it as good as their first. And since then I haven’t listened to their newer albums either, though I hear good things. Maybe it’s time I get the newer ones and also a bunch of Skippy Puppy albums and give them a fair chance.

Album Recommendation: Nihil

 

Back in the day (I want to say late 90s, but it may have been early 2000s though), later at night there was a music show called Loud that aired on Much Music. It primarily focused on metal, hard rock, and punk which none of them at the time was really my cup of tea, though I’m not sure what my cup of tea was before then. One night they aired a song called A Drug against War by the industrial group KMFDM which are considered to be among the founders of industrial music. The music video alone was enough to catch my attention and the head banging ultra heavy beatmade me drum on my pillow like a madman as I sat up in bed captivated by the sights and sounds. Prior to this I can’t recall ever hearing industrial, let alone something so energetic and heavy. Little did I know watching TV that night opened my eyes to a world of music that would change my musical tastes for the rest of my life.

Last night while I was out walking my dog, I’m fairly certain about 30-40% or so of the songs my iPod randomly picked were KMFDM songs, so it’s fair to say I’d still consider them to be my favourite band of all time. Thus, as only my second album recommendation I could think of no other band to choose from. The problem is picking only one album. They’ve been around since the mid 80s so there’s a lot of material to go through but fortunately I can narrow it down to a few mid 90s albums. That’s not to say their earlier or newer material is not good, it’s just a step down from their best era I think. But even then, I’m stuck with five great albums to choose from. So I approached it in a methodical sense and chose my all-time three favourite tracks, Megalomaniac, Juke Joint Jezebel, and Light. This cut out only two albums though, since all three of these are from different albums. So of those three, I looked at all the other tracks, as well as reflected on which songs in the past I had been most obsessed with in my younger years. Winning by only a hair above the rest, I’ve decided to pick Nihil as my favourite album of KMFDM.

If you follow KMFDM’s timeline, you can see how their sound progressed from primarily electronic, to a mix of metal and electronics, to almost all metal at times. Nihil is roughly from when they were at a perfect mix of the metal and electronic, at least in my opinion. Tracks like Flesh and Search and Destroy highlight the speedy metal on this album, while songs like Juke Joint Jezebel, Beast, and Revolution through more electronic and synth sounds into the mix. As it’s no secret, KMFDM tend to be a politically outspoken group so you’ll get a bit of their opinions on tracks like Terror and Disobedience.

For me there is a great mix of electronic and metal as I mentioned earlier, but this album (much like the other KMFDM albums from the 90s and earlier) has a unique sound to it thanks to some experimental mixing. Even the heavy guitar and steel guitar can almost sound like scratchy sound produced on a synthesizer. In terms of vocals, I’ve always been a fan of the male vocals KMFDM has had over the years and this album has four all together (though I do miss Tim Skold’s raspy voice on this one). But for me the highlight in the vocal department falls to the two ladies singing on Juke Joint Jezebel (Jennifer Ginsberg) and Beast (DoronaAlberti). Their voices singing the catchy choruses really make these two tracks shine for me. As a complete package, Nihil highlights my favourite age of KMFDM.

It’s been almost twenty years since that first night I heard A Drug against War on the TV and I dove into the world of KMFDM. And from it, I further explored other industrial acts and expanded my musical tastes, but without a doubt I can say they’re still my all-time favourite group. My best friends and I even had the opportunity to see them live twice when they rolled through Canada. I even got to see solo shows from EnEsch and PIG a couple of years back which were great, but what made them unforgettable was when they played some 90s KMFDM songs. So if you’re even curious about industrial music, I highly recommend starting with Nihil. Go through their older tunes to get a sense of the more electronic side of KMFM, and move onto the later years to get a sense of some heavy industrial metal. Either way you’ll most likely find album to love with KMFDM.

Comicbook Recommendation: Locke & Key

L&K

I’ve got a bit of a confession, I really didn’t read many comicbooks when I was younger. While I had a few here and there and did visit a local comic shop (though mostly for the toys), I didn’t pick up reading them regularly until my late 20s. I used to read two or three a night before bed, but recently have slowed down a bit (I’ve been focusing on reading some actual books lately). In those few years, I’ve read roughly 2,000+ floppies but I’m fairly certain Locke & Key stands out as my all-time favourite. I must admit picking second best is very difficult among the others though.

As a side note, you’ll most likely notice all my comicbook recommendations or commentary will not revolve around the superhero theme. When it comes to almost all literature and media I like, I find myself gravitating towards the scifi/horror/fantasy genres more than anything, so it should be no surprise that I enjoy those comicbooksmore than others. That’s just my personal taste though, I know there are some great stories out there that live in the superhero universes and I’ve read a few of them as well from time to time and thoroughly enjoyed some. But it’s just not my usual cup of tea.

Joe Hill’s Locke & Key falls into the horror and tragedy categoriesas it follows the tale of the three Locke kids and their mom who move to an old manor called Keyhouse following the brutal murder of their father. Shortly thereafter, one of the kids discovers a special key in the house with ability to open a door that can essentially make someone a ghost when they pass through it. But this key is only one of many that were forged long ago, all of which have a unique power when used. The keys hidden around Keyhouse are only one of the strange happenings around the manor though, one of the kids also discovers a woman living in a well in the backyard who seeks a specific key from the kids and resorts to haunting them when they are weary about her intentions.

There are many great aspects of this series I’d like to mention I almost don’t know where to start. For starters I’d like to give Gabriel Rodriguez a tip of the hat for the artwork. The best of it I would argue is the facial expression of all the characters, they capture emotions of joy and pain wonderfully which is essential for feeling the connections with the main and side characters. While I’m pointing that out, the emotional rollercoaster you go throughout it all is truly gripping. As I read through it I felt often at the edge of my seat that the villain was one step ahead of the Locke family. With the main characters, and colourful side characters ranging from fairly young to rather old, any reader can connect to at least a few of them and be somewhat moved during the story as well. Something I feel is fairly important when a writer engages any audience.

With a concept like keys that open doors (and other things) the possibilities seem boundless. Hill does a great job of exploring these boundaries by not limiting himself to only have keys open locks, which leads to all sorts of possibilities and ties them in nicely to the main storyline. Additionally, Locke & Key is not limited to the Locke generation the reader sees. A long, dark past of the key origins and how the Locke family became tied to them is explored in great detail both in the main series and in the additional one shot readings enriching the main storyline beautifully. Manly themes are also touched upon such as growing up, love, tragedy, and loss coupled with coping mechanisms.

This is a wonderfully captivating series and my notes above only scrape the surface of a great adventure that will tug at your heartstrings while still utilizing creative horror to keep you entertained. I can say more about it, but I always try to keep my recommendations spoiler free. Also, it’s been a couple of years since I read it so some things may have slipped. However, while I know how the story ends, this is one I will go back and read again in a few years to relive the ride. I’m not just recommending this for comicbook readers, I’m recommending this for anyone who loves a good story.

Fun facts: Joe Hill is the pen name of Joseph King who happens to be Stephen King’s son and Locke & Key is currently being worked on as a TV adaption for Hulu. Also, a pilot was shot a few years back for Fox, though it was never picked up and I don’t believe was ever aired on TV.

App Recommendation: Habitica

A Canticle for Leibowitz

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and all I thought I’d make a recommendation related to something healthy for body and productivity. But it’s also got to be gaming related no? Well not really since I’ve got plenty of non-gaming related posts. The fact that it is actually gaming related is just a nice little bonus. Also, I would just like to point out that I’m not affiliated with this app in anyway or am being paid (because you know, this blog is oh so popular). For this recommendation I’m highlighting the Habitica app which is available both on iOS and Android. It is somewhat of a RPG that advances based on your actions in the real world.

Like many RPGs you begin by creating a character although a class is not chosen until level ten. As mentioned, your character advances based on your real life actions so you’ll need a little time in the beginning to set these up custom to your lifestyle. There is a habits section which can be set up as a negative or a positive. For instance, one of my own negative habits are cigarettes as I’m trying hard to quit this year. Every time I cave and smoke one, I mark it in the habits tab and it damages my character by hitting his hit points and mana. One of my positives is a full glass of infused water (hate the taste but it’s healthy) and whenever I finish off a tall glass, I hit it in the habits as a positive and it gives my character some experience and a couple of coins. Another section is your dailies. These are basically to do tasks that you want to do on a daily basis. An example of this for me is the treadmill for a minimum of thirty minutes. Completing these comes with experience and coins, but should you miss a day then your character again takes some damage.

My personal favourite section though is the todo list. I’ve always kept a to do list on my phone to keep track of, well, my to dos. If you don’t complete these your character is not negatively affected so you can keep an item on the list for a long time without repercussions. But once you get around to completing the task your character gets the rewards. If you’re always keeping up with your dailies and doing good habits then knocking down the to do list is a nice little bonus. The habits, dailies, and to do tasks can all be customized in terms of difficulty, classification, and frequency as well.

Lastly there is a rewards section to spend your hard earned coins. You can buy items and equipment for your characters to make them stronger and look all badass. Additionally you find eggs and can hatch them to gain pets, then you can find food to feed them and grow them into mounts. I’m only level ten but there’s also plenty of other stuff I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are quests you can do solo or with a party and challenges you can join in the community. A tavern to rest at (no negative effects from missing your dailies) and guilds to join.

Obviously the game is basically dependent on the honour system, so while you can easily cheat your way through it I feel that really defeats the purpose. The way it’s set up, you can tailor the rewards or negatives to focus only a small portion of your life you’re looking to improve.Or you can expand it to include a wide array of thingsand try to improve many aspects of your life.In all, Habitica adds a little fun to trying to better yourself and I thought it might be a nice little motivator for those trying hard to accomplish this in 2018.

Book Recommendation: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Given my post history, you may have noticed that I’m a fan off the Fallout game series. Although my posts are basically all focused around Fallout 4 (at least so far) I have played some of the previous titles such as Fallout 2 and 3 earlier in my life. Needless to say, a post apocalyptic future captivates me whether it’s after a nuclear war or zombie infestation. So when a good friend of mine talked to me about a major inspiration for the Fallout series I knew I had to give it a try. Back in 1960, Walter M. Miller Jr. published a book called A Canticle for Leibowitz which today is considered a classic science fiction novel and ultimately led to much of the influence of the Fallout series. Miller was primarily a short story writer; in fact Canticle is the only completed and published novel he ever put out during his life time. So it should be no surprise that A Canticle for Leibowitz is actually a collection of three novellas that he tied together in the same world but with each one set 600 years apart.

Logically these three books do not follow one main character, but rather an order of monks known as the Albertian Order of Leibowitz who reside in an abbey located in a desert in the American southwest. The group was founded by Leibowitz himself shortly after the war and the order continued for centuries to preserve historic, scientific and religious (primarily Catholic) texts and artifacts so that the world may never forget them.

The first book is called Fiat Homo and is set in the 26th century, 600 years after the nuclear war when Leobowitz lived. At this point, man is basically still in the Stone Age. It closely follows a young monk who goes into the desert where he ends up meeting an old wanderer. Shortly thereafter, he ends up stumbling into an underground passage where he finds a bomb shelter and relics that possibly belong to Leibowitz himself.

Fiat Lux is the second book and it is set another 600 years later where civilization is now slowly but surely crawling its way back to where it once was. But at this point in time it is more in a social sense than rather a technological one. While there are nomadic tribes that wage war, other societies have also emerged such as peaceful states and cities. Political tensions also are beginning to run high though and the possibility of war is on the horizon. One fledgling civilization sends a secular scholar to visit the abbey to work with the monks and study their relics. During this time the monks, tending to their studies and experiments, make a miraculous discovery that ushers man into the next era.

Lastly, the final book is called Fiat Voluntas Tua and it is again 600 years later in 38th century. Man has long recovered back to where it was before the war 1,800 years ago and is now leaps and bounds ahead. There are now colony planets outside Earth’s own solar system and space travel. The monks continue their preservation of relics, artifacts, and all knowledge in the same abbey. Unfortunately tensions between nations are still a common problem. This, coupled with the destructive technologies developed over time can now potentially set back man into the stone once again.

It’s been a little while since I read this one so I hope my spoiler free summary above was half accurate and left enough open for someone reading this to be at least slightly intrigued. Travelling 1,800 years in one book gives the book a fresh feel in each section, from stone age to the renaissance to the future each feel like a new world being explored as you read on. Compared to my first book recommendation this is a much trickier read but not impossible, I found that given the themes it touches on its appropriate. Regarding those themes, Miller touches on some major ones focused around civilization and society. The pious monks strive to preserve both their religion and scientific relics which can seem contradictory but seem to bring noble merit to both the monks and the knowledge. With the revival of civilizations politics comes into play during the second book, this brings up the issue of the church vs. the state during the story. Morality is also brought into the picture during some gruesome events as well where again we see the church working hard to keep the high ground while understanding the logic behind some immoral actions. Lastly, and possibly the most important one, is the nature of man’s path which seems to come full circle over time. There are many others touched upon as well but these seem to be the major ones.

I went into this book primarily expecting something feeling like a Fallout game. Perhaps a wanderer traveling the wasteland seeking something out. Perhaps a village struggling to survive the harsh land fill style terrain. Or maybe bandit tribes caught in constant war with each other. While I didn’t find the book matched my expectations I was rather impressed with its thought provoking pages nonetheless. I can definitely see how the Fallout universe was inspired, both from the first two’s desolate wasteland to the last books vision of a future that is well passed ours. If you’re a Fallout fan I highly recommend this one, and if you have any general interest in philosophy or retro futurism this is a great read too.

Album Recommendation: With a Lifetime to Pay

 

When I was younger, I remember seeing footage of concerts such as Metallica (or any other popular band from the 80s or earlier) and noticed that they still sell out huge shows and that much of the crowd were older folks. This was in the early 2000s and my teenage mind couldn’t quite comprehend why such bands were still huge and why these fans haven’t moved onto newer music. Now being a bit older I realize that I’m no different. I too would much rather listen to some of my older punk albums than the new music being made these days. I think it’s natural for most people to care less and less about new music the older they get. To a kid only burdened by homework, a part time job and possibly a girlfriend and video games, life isn’t too complicated or hard. Going to shows and keeping up with the latest news on the music scene was a priority to many during those youthful years. As you get older, responsibilities, obligations, long term goals, and other interests tend to push music on the back burner. So when they do decided to listen to something, most people would prefer a nostalgic tune from their younger years. Don’t get me wrong though, there are definitely some new tunes that catch my ear and they find their way into my music collection. They just tend to be few and far in between nowadays. So that being said, most of my musical recommendations will most likely be from the late 90s or early 2000s and if you happen to be in your 30s and like punk, industrial, or hard rock, you might just enjoy them too.

Looking through my music collection, punk rock is definitely more prominent than other genres. I tended to lean towards punk for its energy. Fast drumming coupled with screeching guitar just caught my ear more than anything. Throw in some satirical commentary and immature puns and I was sold. Bands like NOFX, The Vandals, Descendents, Tiger Army, Propaghandi, and Strung Out were such a staple of my music collection growing up. Despite so many albums that I’ve repeatedly listened to back in those days, there were virtually none that I could listen to every track and call it a perfect album (unless you include NOFX’s “The Decline”, but that’s cheating as it’s the only track on there and it’s a great song). The closest album that truly can listen to from start to finish I would have to say is Zero Down’s “With a Lifetime to Pay”.

There are many albums in my collection that I simply don’t listen to anymore. Sometimes, I only put my favourite songs from a record onto my iPod, and sometimes just a few songs from a band all together. Hell, there are some bands I don’t even have on there anymore and haven’t had an urge to listen to in years. That’s not the case with Zero Down. Every few years I find myself pulling this one out when I’m walking my dog, biking, or at the gym. And when I do throw their songs back on my iPod, the whole album goes on, nothing is missed.

As I pointed out early, I tend to like the immaturity many punk bands incorporate into their lyrics, however Zero Down doesn’t do this. Some songs focus on social commentary such as The Way It Is, Bite the Hand That Feeds, Empty Promised Land, and A Million More. While other tracks such as No Apologies, Going Nowhere, It Ain’t Over Yet, and Self Medication shift their focus on self-reflection. But given the quality of their sound I don’t mind a lack of humor, more mature lyrics work better in this case. But to me, the two strengths of this album are purely instrumental. I find they deviate from your usual punk band by utilizing melodic tunes with their guitar and bass as well as Jim Cherry’s choruses (not to mention he has a great voice that perfectly suits the more serious topics he sings about). Second, the drumming is not in typical fashion either. While the drumming is fast, there are definitely sections in this album where they get creative with it. If you put all these together; the melodies, the rhythmic drums, the lyrics and Cherry’s voice you get a unique and great punk rock album. This is an album even people who are not fans of punk rock can enjoy and it doesn’t sound like a punk band that’s purposely tailored for radio.

You would think my first music recommendation would be my favourite album from my favourite band, but this isn’t my favourite album of all time, nor is Zero Down my favourite band. In fact I don’t know if I can even pick a favourite, but if I did this would be a heavy contender. I chose this one because of the fact that I find myself pulling this one out every few years and listening from start to finish for a few weeks. There are not many albums that I know of where I can do either of those, let alone both. Sadly singer Jim Cherry died early in life at age 30 and Zero Down disbanded due to this. “With a Lifetime to Pay” was their only album made and alone it gave me countless hours of bliss. A must listen for any music fan.