Sunday, October 29, 2006

Music Review: Marty Casey & Lovehammers

Before Marty Casey became the runner-up on the CBS reality show Rockstar: INXS, he spent time lighting up the windy city as the lead singer of the rock band The Lovehammers.

Formed with childhood buddies, bassist Dino Kourelis and his brother and drummer Bobby Kourelis, The Lovehammers became one of Chicago's most popular club bands. In 2002 they added guitarist Billy Sawilchik and self-produced 4 albums of hard driving rock and roll. Feeling that he needed to take his music to the next level, Marty Casey auditioned for Rockstar: INXS eventually coming in second to the winner J.D. Fortune.

Interviewed soon after the conclusion of the reality show, Casey reasoned on his decision to take a shot at Rockstar success. "I really wasn't willing to make another record if there wasn't some substantial push as compared to what we had already done," Casey explains. "I was kind of at the point where beyond a doubt I needed to go out and discover who I was without the band."

Casey was almost immediately a fan favorite on Rockstar: INXS due primarily to his intense and impassioned performances as well as his easy-going, friendly manner. While he didn't win the spot as the new lead singer of INXS, they did invite him and his band to open for them on the first leg of their Switched On tour. The reality show also led The Lovehammers to their first major record deal through Epic/Burnett records. Though they had been known simply as The Lovehammers, Epic insisted on switching the name to Marty Casey & Lovehammers for their debut. The result is somewhat of a Greatest Hits collection, drawing all but two of its songs from previous albums.

The Lovehammers have enjoyed some limited commercial success since Marty rejoined the band. Their first single, "Trees", debuted on the show as a Casey original and spent time as the #1 download on In 2004 The Lovehammers DVD Live/Raw debuted at #1 on the Billboard DVD charts.

I was able to catch the third show of the INXS/Lovehammers tour and, through the efforts of my superfan wife, meet Marty and the guys. I found them all to be very respectful, appreciative and genuine. During my brief conversation with Marty he looked me in the eyes and acted like I was the only person in the room for the moment. Observing him with others I saw the same pleasant, focused attention on everyone that he met. Their show was high energy, good time rock performed like they were out to win an endurance contest. They have a good time on-stage and it shows.

So, what's the album like you ask? Like I mentioned before, it's primarily a collection of previous work and it both benefits and suffers from this. The benefit is that there is hardly a weak song across all eleven tracks. The first song "Casualty", was written very shortly after Rockstar ended. It's structure is unique and after a couple listens I really liked it. The album itself runs the gamut of differing sounds and influences. The moody, introspective "Rain on the Brain" is my personal favorite bringing Def Leppard's "Hysteria" to mind. There are shades of Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains and Nickelback. "Hold On" conjures "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult.

It's therein where the small problem I have with the album lies. Each song seems like an island, a single written without consideration for the whole. This leaves the complete effort feeling a bit disjointed. During Rockstar: INXS Casey stated that he felt music downloads had changed the face of the music industry, making single records more popular than albums. While he does have a point about the state of the industry, I grew up buying and listening to LP's. Continuity is important and this album just doesn't have much of it. Continuity aside though, the quality of the songs themselves on Marty Casey & Lovehammers freshman outing range from good to outstanding and therefore I have to recommend it. The Lovehammers get a pass on this one simply given the circumstances surrounding the lead-up to recording.

There is a lot of fun to be had discovering this album. The high energy, hard hitting guitar riffs are infectious. Drummer Bobby Kourelis is better than average and Marty Casey's voice is energetic and passionate if not perfect. My only complaint in the production of the album is that the bass lines often seemed washed out. That's pretty common with guitar rock but still disappointing.

Overall, Marty Casey has the potential to be a star as either a Lovehammer or a solo artist. A follow-up album with some promotion from their record company would be nice and would go a long way towards showing if they have what it takes as a band to be Rockstars.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I'm a published Blogcritic!

I'm happy to announce that I've become an official Blogcritic. If you're not sure what that is then I highly suggest you follow the link at the right side of this page. It's an excellent site to check out the latest news, reviews, opinions, whatever. The TV page usually has some excellent recaps of various shows. My first post there is the same review of The Cure's Disintegration album that I have up here but you still might want to have a look.

Jackie, one of the TV editors, is also one of the recap artists. She did recaps of Big Brother: All Stars which was an appreciated resource for those of us that didn't really want to watch the live feeds but wanted to know what happened. She currently recaps episodes of Survivor, Amazing Race and Lost.

I'm not sure what my next submission will be to but I'll be sure to let you all know.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Music Review: The Cure - Disintegration

In May of 1989 I was blissfully wandering a record store looking for something that would reflect the raw emotional discord that I often felt at the time. It had to be good, in my mind that usually meant that it needed some kind of emotional complexity. I tended towards a wide range of music including Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, The Alan Parsons Project, Rush, Depeche Mode as well as the guilty pleasure of Debbie Gibson. As I browsed the record bins (remember record bins?) there was a change in the music being played over the stores sound-system. I didn't recall there being music playing at all when suddenly a song began that I couldn't ignore. It was like listening to Beethoven with drums and keyboards. It was powerful, even epic. I can't remember ever being transfixed so quickly by music I'd never heard before.

I made my way to the counter and asked the guy what he'd just put on, what this music was. He looked at me like he was on the verge of dozing off and grunted something to the affect of, "The Cure, Disintegration. Just came out." The Cure? I was pretty sure I'd heard a song or two by them. I seemed to remember seeing a video with a strange looking guy in some sort of furry costume ("Why Can't I Be You" from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me). I quickly made my way to the 'New Release' rack to see what I could find. In 1989 the format choices were either record album or cassette and I rarely bought cassettes. My money was limited and I always felt that an LP was a much better investment than a little plastic box with a fold-out that may or may not have the lyrics printed on it. Besides, I always recorded my LP's onto blank cassettes for listening in my car. In this case however, I had an hour long drive back home and I had to hear this album now. I bought the cassette and listened to it exclusively for the next several weeks.

The song that captured my attention so much that afternoon is called "Plainsong" and 17 years later it still has a profound affect on me. A few days ago I heard this same song on an advertisement for the new movie Marie Antoinette. I was a bit surprised but pleased as the song fit the movie trailer well. As you can see, it also got me to thinking about this stunning album and how it held up after all this time.

After listening to this album again (on CD now) it's important to point out that this is a solid album through every track. Each song is like the labored over brush-stroke of a modern masterpiece. It takes you through a heart-rending path of broken promises, lost love, desperation and finally hope for emotional peace. Robert Smith's vocals, at first striking and a little raw to the first time listener, are bold and plaintive. He echoes the pain that most of us have felt at some time in our life and offers a voice for any of us that have ever wanted to bury our head in our arms in a dark corner of the room and cry uncontrollably. There are a few stand-outs amidst the no-filler track list that I think will have an immediate appeal: "Pictures of You", "Love Song", "Fascination Street" and "Lullaby" are the most-likely to be familiar. With a listen or two, "Prayers for Rain", "The Same Deep Water as You" and the title track "Disintegration" will leave you haunted by loss and hope.

There is a tremendous amount of power in this album, the synth-strings, ghostly weaving guitar and complex drum rhythms make sure of that. As good as it is though, I can see this being a 'love it or hate it' album. It is dark, moody, desperate and melancholy to a degree that can be emotionally wearing. It's a welcome friend when you want to wallow in the grief of something or someone lost to you, but could be much too heavy for those in a lighter mood.

For Cure lovers, I've not revealed anything to you that you don't already know about this album. You've been nodding your heads along with this review, maybe you have the urge to dig the CD out and relive it. For everyone else, I hope you give this album a chance. Many will find this music to be a revelation, an 80's album that sounds as deep and relevant as anything being produced today. If you've been curious about The Cure at all, this is the place to start.

"i leave you with photographs
pictures of trickery
stains on the carpet and stains on the memory
songs about happiness
murmured in dreams
when we both of us knew

how the end always is..."

The Cure - "Disintegration"

Kyle Morris

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

DVD Review: Lost - The complete second season

, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Ok, that may be going a little far but not by much. I remember hearing about the new show coming up on ABC's fall 2004 schedule and thinking that it sounded less than intriguing. A fictional Survivor? I don't think so. That couldn't possibly be good. I would not be making time for that. However, one evening I found myself in front of the television with little to watch when a repeat of the pilot episode aired. Hmmm, actually kind of interesting, but where could it go from there? Two seasons and several Emmy's later it has gone further than I ever thought possible in a network television show.

You see, I've been one of those people that wasn't sure any of the big three networks was capable of producing a truly thought provoking, intelligent show anymore. In fact, outside of Alias, 24 and The X-Files (though two of those are on Fox), most intelligent television has been relegated to HBO and Showtime. After enjoying such shows as Carnivale, Big Love and Six Feet Under I really wasn't sure if network TV could stand up to the bar HBO had raised. That's one reason why it was such a delight to find a smartly written show with genuine mystery and wonderful characters in Lost.

So, all that being said, who is a season of DVD's really for? I envision two basic customers. First, the Lostophiles who have been eagerly awaiting the chance to examine every little scene for clues they might have missed the first showing. Lost is like watching a television puzzle so for those with the patience and interest, multiple viewings are enjoyable. I would put myself in this category, especially with the first season so far, I've watched it several times over. I find re-watching the show like visiting old friends. There are many comments that I'd forgotten about, odd things in the background that I'd missed etc.
Secondly, the DVD's are for those that missed a show here and there or never started watching at all. For those that are buying or renting the DVD's because you keep hearing so much about the show, I envy you. You are about to embark on a fascinating journey/mystery and you don't have to wait a week between episodes. You can satisfy your 'what happens next' curiosity immediately... until you catch up that is. Ahhh, and no 4 month wait between the first two seasons either, I truly am jealous.

What can you expect from the season 2 DVD's? There is one full disc of bonus materials plus 5 of the 24 episodes have optional cast/writer/producer commentaries. The commentaries I found to be unusually forthcoming, hinting at and confirming several theories without divulging too much. There is a feature that covers one full episode from concept to writing to pre-production all the way through shooting and post-production. It's very informative on several levels giving a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce a network television show. There is a feature showing the different connections between the characters as well. I found it to be a bit clumsy and time consuming but interesting.
All things considered, this DVD collection is a must-have for Lost fans that can be delved into as deeply as you would like. From just having the episodes at hand to looking at the various easter-eggs that give you a deeper Lost experience. For those of you who have heard about the show but have never watched it, I urge you to give it a chance. I think you'll find that it is one of the highest quality, best written shows on television. Whatever your experience with Lost, I highly recommend your giving this collection a look.

Kyle Morris

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore
, the eleventh book by Haruki Murakami, is the surreal journey of a teen-age boy and an old man on parallel but separate paths. Murakami once again takes us down a metaphysical road with characters that are capable of just about anything, and entwines them in a story where the strange is to be expected. Fish fall out of the sky for no apparent reason. An old man, Nakata, carries on conversations with cats. Kafka, our title character is running away from a disturbing, incestuous prophecy given to him by his psychologically abusive father. There is a brutal murder early in the book but not only is the identity of the murderer a mystery, we're not even sure at first who was murdered. Simply put, this book is probably different than just about anything else you've read. It is certainly different than anything I've read by another author.

Weirdness aside, Kafka on the Shore is the story of Kafka, a boy who runs away from his home and his abusive father, all the while reminding himself that he has to be "the toughest fifteen-year-old in the world". He ends up working in a secluded, private library for a gender-confusing young man and a woman that Kafka is both attracted to and suspects of being the mother that took his sister and left him as a child. While Kafka is trying to sort out the tangled strands of his own future and his family history we are told in alternate chapters of the aforementioned Nakata, a simple-minded old man who can talk to cats and is on a journey of his own that may or may not have anything to do with Kafka. Strange occurrences happen around Nakata, fish (and other things) fall from the sky in the middle of a city, a bizarre murder takes place and even a run-in with a ghostly pimp that looks exactly like Colonel Sanders (yes, that Colonel Sanders). There is also a connection involving two Japanese soldiers from the second world war as well as an unexplained occurrence with a class of school children in the woods.

With all of the bizarre things that happen in Kafka on the Shore, there are some questions that are never satisfactorily answered and some readers may have a problem with that, though I never felt like the reader was being cheated or that there were deliberate tweakings of the plot just to be strange or mysterious. It may sound as if the story is a mish-mash of chaotic developments but Murakami handles these in a mostly coherent way. Though his books are translated from Japanese to English, Murakami has a voice all his own that is flowing and poetic. One other feeling I had from Kafka on the Shore is an underlying eroticism. There is little actual sex and even what there is Murakami handles with a deftly light hand, but there is an inescapable sexual current that runs through the book.

This is the second book of Murakami's that I've read and I think I was spoiled a bit by the first one, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I picked that one up on a whim and was very pleasantly surprised. So pleasantly in fact that I immediately looked to see what else I could find by the author. Kafka on the Shore is a lesser book but still a good example of the highly enjoyable, genre-bending style of Haruki Murakami. I recommend Kafka on the Shore but if you want to read a better book first, check out The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Kyle Morris