Saturday, August 25, 2012

Extended Play: Part Two

Awhile back I expressed my love for the Extended Play album format.  I think the reason this appeals to me is the same reason it has begun to make a comeback, or a mainstream appearance: it is an exercise in band marketing.  An EP is based on the 45 record, basically it is half a record, 30 minutes or less.  This format is a good way to introduce a new band's sound, introduce a new direction for an already established band, or give fans a little something extra with a new single.  Given the digital file format slowly killing the traditional idea of the LP album, the shortened EP may be the future of music publishing.

One Day as a Lion
One Day as a Lion.  
2008, ANTI-
produced by Mario C

Zach de la Rocha - vocals, keyboards
Jon Theodore - drums

This project brings together Zach dela Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine fame, with Jon Theodore, the one time drummer of the Mars Volta, and Mario C, famous for producing a few Beastie Boys albums.  I call it a project instead of an actual band, because, even though they talk about it like it will be a long term career move, this has been the only release since their inception.  The drum and simple keyboard sound matches well with the politically charged hip hop from everyone's favorite rebel rapper.

Gary Clark, Jr.  
Bright Lights EP  
2011, Warner Brothers
produced by Bob Cavallo and Gary Clark, Jr.

This is an example of an EP that showcases a new talent.  Gary Clark, Jr plays the blues, in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Lenny Kravits.  Bright Lights is a four track demo, half electric, half acoustic.  This gives us a little window into Gary Clark, Jr's talent with a promise of a full length album with more rocking blues.

ZZ Top
2012, Universal Republic
produced by Rick Rubin

Billy Gibbons - vocals, guitar, piano
Dusty Hill - bass
Frank Beard - drums

From the Texas powerhouse trio ZZ Top, comes a four song release, their first since 2003, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.  The first track, Gotsta Get Paid is essentially a cover of the hip hop song 25 Lighters by Fat Pat.  The album attempts to bring ZZ Top back to the blues.  It reminds me of their older sound when they recorded versions of Blue Jean Blues and Dust my Broom.  Basically, Rubin has done it again by bringing a legend back to their roots.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Batman Returns to the Trilogy Meter

Remember this?

I wrote about film trilogies awhile back, focusing on Transformers, and the third and final movie in the series by Michael Bay.  According to me, the Transformers trilogy meter would have a bar much like the first Superman, Jurrassic Park, or X-men, the second bar would look like Jaws 2, and the third bar would look like Rocky 3, or the Lord of the Rings.

I saw the last Christopher Nolan Batman movie the other day.  Definitely not represented on the graphic above, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy would mirror the Star Wars meter almost exactly.  
The trilogy follows the rules of a three act play perfectly.

The first act introduces characters, sets the stage for the other acts, and has an event that sets the rest of the story into motion.  In a New Hope, the event is the Death Star rescue, which culminates in the Death Star explosion.  In Batman Begins, the event is the attempted destruction of Gotham by the League of Shadows, which is foiled by the Batman.

The second act of a three act play, the middle of the story, sometimes called the rising action, and often the darkest of the three acts, finds the hero in distress.  The hero will come up against an obstacle and will end with the hero at his lowest point.  In Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, and Luke loses a hand after confronting his father and losing.  In The Dark Knight, Batman is challenged by his greatest nemesis, loses the girl he most cares about, and becomes a symbolic villain as opposed to the symbolic hero that he set out to be.

In the third act, the play reaches climax, resolutions are found, and the action falls to a close.  In Star Wars, the rebellion prevails, and Darth Vader turns back from the dark side.  In Rises, Batman once again becomes the symbol of heroism, hope, and justice, the League of Shadows is defeated again, and Gotham is pulled back from the darkness.

Up until now, Star Wars had been the poster franchise for the perfect film in three acts.  Unlike The Lord of the Rings which is based on books already written as a trilogy, and Back to the Future, which are essentially the same movie three times, Star Wars, is a unique story written as a three act screen play.  I believe that now it can share that distinction with Nolan's Batman.  Like Star Wars, it is a perfect example of what a film trilogy ought to be.

Megan Fox has nothing to do with this post

Saturday, August 11, 2012

On my fascination with insects

I find insects and arachnids pretty fascinating, especially insects of the suborder apocrita (ants, bees, wasps). Even though I find these things pretty cool, they still can scare the crap out of me. I had this idea a long time ago about writing some sort of world building epic based on insects and war, basically because I remember the Army Ants toy line from the 80s, but then the movies A Bugs Life and Antz came out, and kind of killed the dream. But, sometimes I find myself reading about certain types of these insects and trying to fit them into the fictional world I created when I was 12.

Yesterday, I freaked out when I found the largest wasp looking things ever. They were the size of my thumb and they were everywhere. I took pictures.

I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it is a wasp from the tribe Gorytini, and the genus Sphecius. The Cicada Killer Wasp is mostly harmless, which doesn't make its one to two inch size any less terrifying.

One of the pictures I took clearly shows the giant wasp holding onto a cicada. This particular wasp hunts cicadas and uses them to breed more wasps. So, I basically captured a Cicada Killer Wasp preparing to use a cicada to make more Cicada Killer Wasps. This is a pretty cool thing to witness, even though at the time, I couldn't fully appreciate it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Folk Goes to the Dark Side

This has nothing to do with Star Wars, although, plenty has been said of how this epic science fiction film is contemporary folk lore. The title is really about folk songs with themes or horror, crime, and in this case, murder.  

The murder ballad is a legitimate sub-genre of folk music, and has permeated and influenced other genres as well. Before the internet and 24 hour news agencies, folk music ballads borrowed from real events, often written shortly after the event itself. Francis James Child anthologized a 305 of them in 1882. The Twa Sisters is one of the oldest, dating back to 1656, but it is thought that some of these date back to the 1400s.

Contemporary examples would be The Toadies's 1994 song Possum Kingdom, Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen, and Johnny Cash's Delia's Gone. Nick Cave also released an album in 1996 called Murder Ballads which had a mix of traditional and original tunes, much like Cold as the Clay by Greg Graffin.

The story of Omie Wise is a great example of this. Based on the real-life relationship between a Naomi Wise, and Jonathan Lewis and subsequent unsolved murder of Naomi in North Carolina in 1808.

This song had been made popular by Doc Watson, but also recorded by Pentangle, Greg Graffin, Dock Boggs, and Shirley Collins. Another famous murder ballad, Pretty Polly, has very similar themes, Dylan's Ballad of Hollis Brown is based on it. The lyrics are as follows: 

Come listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies, how John Lewis did murder a little Omie Wise,
He asked her to meet him at Adams's spring, said he'd bring her money and other fine things,
So fool-like she met him at Adams's spring, no money he brought her nor other fine things

John Lewis, John Lewis, won't you tell me your mind, do you intend to marry me or leave me behind?
Little Omie, Little Omie, I will tell you my mind, my plan is to drown you and leave you behind,
Have mercy on my baby and spare me my life, I'll go home as a beggar and never be your wife

He hugged her and he kissed her and turned her around and threw her in deep water where he knew that she would drown,

It was on one Thursday morning the rain came pouring down and they searched for Omie's body but it
Nowhere could be found,

Two boys went a fishin' one fine summer day and they saw little Omie's body go floating away

They called for John Lewis to come to that place so he could see her body and they could see his face,

though he made no confession they threw him in jail, no friend nor relation would go on his bail