Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Book Of The Dead Is Dead Good

When The Book of General Ignorance was published in 2007, people snapped it up left and right, landing it on the New York Times bestseller list. And it turns out most of us are ignorant to a certain extent.

The book humorously points out how little most of us truly know, including that chameleons don’t change color to match their surroundings—they change to match their emotional states. Okay, I didn’t know that. They're like mood rings.

General Ignorance Prompts The Book Of The Dead.

The authors, John Lloyd and John Mitchison, are back with The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure. It was released this month, with the focus on people.

The Book of the Dead explores the lives of an eclectic selection of people, famous and not so famous, such as Freud, da Vinci, and Archibald Belaney. Who? Yep, Belaney is one of the undeservedly obscure.

It's easy reading, with most of it served up like mini bios on a litany of folks, arranged into chapters such as There’s Nothing Like a Bad Start In Life (people who had rotten childhoods or absent parents), Let’s Do It (people for whom sex was a big deal or a big taboo), and the Monkey-keepers (people who owned or apparently were fond of monkeys).

These are the details about the lives that a serious biographer would omit, and that’s what makes it all the more fascinating.

Case in point: Catherine the Great. Turns out Catherine wasn’t even her real name (it was Sophie), she despised being called “Great,” and she did not die in a compromising position with a horse (a rumor started by her bitter son).

And then there is Freud's fear of trains. And what makes Isaac Newton laugh. Or that William Morris' death was attributed to "his simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men." Morris, of course, is a famous designer who had worn many other hats, including poet, painter, engraver, weaver, dyer, printer, retailer, and revolutionary.

There are scores of details on plenty of other dead people to keep things interesting, embarrassing, and disturbing.

It's the kind of thing anyone with half an interest in trivia will enjoy. And the book is funny as hell from start to finish.

This isn't less surprising after you learn that the authors are jolly good Brits with some serious credentials. Lloyd is a radio and television producer best known for Not the Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder. Mitchison has a literary background, including serving as managing editor at publishing house Cassell, where he published Monty Python’s Michael Palin, among others.

The Lloyd/Mitchison duo has hit pay dirt before: they worked together on the quirky TV panel show QI (Quite Interesting, an intentional reversal of IQ, Intelligence Quotient), which got its start on the BBC in 2003. Lloyd was producer; Mitchison was in charge of research. The show is still going strong. Here is a clip from a town hall of sorts, about QI.

British comedian Stephen Fry called The Book of the Dead “dead good,” and I have to agree. The bios tend to run together in some places, but Lloyd and Mitchison make up for it with some outstanding research and the writing is spot on. The subjects are fascinating, including people you never heard of your in life.

The Book of the Dead Lives With A 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure is available on Amazon. Make sure you find the right one. The title The Book of the Dead is overused by publishers all the time.

One of the best lines from the authors tell it how it is: “The first thing that strikes you about the dead is just how many of them there are.” Good thing. One of the best aspects of the book is they keep you from associating history with dreadful boredom.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Snow Patrol Frontman Gary Lightbody Tries Solo

Gary LightbodySome fans were pretty excited when they first learned Gary Lightbody, frontman for Snow Patrol, had a solo project in the works. While A Hundred Million Suns was solid with Crack the Shutters and Take Back The City, Lightbody's sound was less self-assured than previous alternative pop recordings. Maybe it was time for a change, some said.

On some tracks, the change is bigger than expected. Originally, Lightbody intended to produce a country album, but then fell into creating a hodgepodge alternate easy listening rock country fusion with the collaboration of REM and Belle & Sebastian veterans.

He said it sounded lovely. Oh no.

The result was a supergroup, Tired Pony, including Richard Colburn (drums), Iain Archer (songwriter), Miriam Kaufmann (Archer's wife), Jacknife Lee (producer), Peter Buck (guitar), Scott McCaughey (bass), and Troy Stewart. Guests included M Ward, Zooey Deschanel, and Tom Smith. And on the tracks that nail the original intent of the project, Lightbody has never sounded better.

A Rougher Sound Adds Depth To Lightbody's Vocals.

The first four tracks do the best job capturing a different side of Lightbody, with a sound that's deeper and decidedly more rugged. These two standouts are Northwestern Skies and Get On The Road (with Deschanel). Point Me At Lost Islands, Dead American Writers, and The Silver Necklace also do a fine job making something original. Hear it for yourself from this amazing clip (Lisa Hannigan rocks Zooey Deschanel's part!) The studio cut is even richer).

It's the balance of the album that doesn't pay off. At the fifth track, the album takes the same turn Snow Patrol has taken over the last few years, leaning more toward an easy listening, singer-songwriter genre. And while that is fine, it doesn't capitalize on the talented lineup or the original uncertain allure of Lightbody.

So, that leaves half an album of original material and half that reminds me of less-emotive, over-polished Snow Patrol ballads. Some people might like that. I prefer the Tired Pony experiment, which includes the five named above. What happened to the rest, besides running out of steam during a week-long recording session in Portland?

"As for the original country music direction intended well, it’s not exactly gone that way but you don’t know what’s gonna happen until you all sit down and play together and the first time that only happened 5 days ago," Lightbody wrote. "Country tinged let’s say. Americana maybe."

Snow Patrol super slow ballads, more likely. As the alternative country rock vibe ran its course, the band reached for something comfortable. The problem is that Lightbody sounds his best when he is not so comfortable.

Half A Tired Pony Album Lifts The Place We Ran From To 2.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is no mistaking the solidness of Northwest Skies and the duet Get On The Road, but it's not enough to make this album soar like some anticipated. Something moves here and there, but Tired Pony never establishes its real sound. With the better half proving Lightbody has more depth than some people expected, I had to cover it. Stick with the winners mentioned.

The Place We Ran From by Tired Pony is available on iTunes. On Amazon, The Place We Ran From remains unrated.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monsters Is A Pre-Theatrical Treat On iTunes

A NASA space probe, sent to collect samples of life in our solar system, crashes on re-entry and causes a large-scale alien contamination between the American-Mexican border to as far south as San Pedro, Mexico. To contain the creatures, the United States and Mexican governments quarantine the area.

Monsters 2010 takes place six years after the crash, when the large squid-like behemoths have become part of the altered reality. It opens when freelance photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is asked to check up on his publisher's daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), who is injured in the partial collapse of a building in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The collapse was apparently caused by one of the creatures, which had migrated much further south than the infected area. Kaulder is asked to give up his assignment to ensure Wynden is safely returned to the United States. The couple board a train, en route to a town bordering the infected zone in Mexico, with the intent to take a ferry to the United States.

Except, Wynden won't make the last ferry after Kaulder's one-night stand leaves in the morning with both passports, leaving them both with a forbidding prospect. They can pay a smuggling operation to take them through the infected zone by land.

Monsters Is A Surprisingly Realistic Expose On Human Adaptability.

Writer-director Gareth Edwards had an exceptionally unique vision for his film, Monsters. The realism and rawness can be attributed to Edwards' effects work, ranging from Perfect Disaster, a 2006 television documentary series on disasters like super tornadoes, to the Space Race, a television documentary series on rockets in 2005.

As his screenwriting and directorial debut, Edwards proves he has a breathtaking vision for a human drama with the monsters being served up more as a metaphor than a premise. While this will leave some previewers (and moviegoers in October) who are expecting Cloverfield or District 9 disappointed, Monsters will find a fan base if it can reach the right people.

Who are the right people? If you transpose the cause of an alien infection with any number of manmade or environmental catastrophes (drug cartels, immigration, terrorism, oil spills, hurricanes, super tornado zones, etc.), the movie depicts how people are surprisingly adaptable in being able to live in the shadow of fear and occasional drama. Even in areas where the creatures can strike without warning, people stay put for lack of a better plan.

This film also provides human insight into how two people, one with no prospects and one with an undesirable prospect, might find each other within the frames of a slow burn thriller rather than roller coaster action. It is this approach that makes the movie more memorable as the pair are passed from one group of questionable guides to another.

Monsters Makes A Mark With 8.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale..

Monsters leaves a memorable impression. And despite mixed reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, there certainly seems to be buzz about the film as it makes the rounds at festivals. (No top critics have reviewed it, by the way.)

On iTunes, the pre-theatrical release is struggling for a solid rating but not for the Monsters as much as the price. The rental rate is $9.99 ($10.99 for HD). That is a hard sale price on a platform where most rentals are $3.99 and movie sales are between $9.99 and $14.99.

However, having worked on the marketing side of independent films, I suspect Edwards is using iTunes prices to fund to a wider release because there is no money to distribute the film. Almost everyone worked on the film for free, with a production budget of a mere $15,000. While Edwards proved you can make a high quality film for $15,000, you cannot distribute one for that much (not unless someone helps you).

You can check out the documentary here. Edwards is the kind of film maker you want to help. And McNairy and Able are two actors you'll want to see more of in the near future.

We only hope Edwards doesn't diminish theatrical sales too much with the pre-release or make people second guess purchasing the film once it officially makes it to DVD and digital. If the small screen gets behind the film, it could be the indie dream that Purple Flowers failed to realize two years ago. We hope Edwards wins. It's much better than Paranormal Activity and without the gimmick of a first-person film.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pete Yorn's Self-Titled Strikes The Right Chords

Pete YornIn 2001, Rolling Stone magazine named Pete Yorn one of the top ten artists to watch in 2001. We've been watching ever since.

Yorn moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Syracuse University, where he worked to attract a following at Cafe Largo. Columbia signed him in 1999, which led to musicforthemorningafter being released in 2001. He has been producing great records ever since, but its his newest effort that promises to open the next chapter in his career.

His newest album, Pete Yorn (PY), will be released tomorrow. It's his most powerful album to date and the driving influence is Black Francis (aka Frank Black, aka Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV). Black Francis produced the album, encouraging Yorn to give up the studio polish in favor of a raw and honest album released on the Vagrant Records label.

"Pete told me he wanted to better define himself as an artist," Black has said. "I think he just wanted to rock out. But as we headed down a path of realization I stripped him down a whole bunch. We battled in the best sort of way. I tried to get the session into a fearless and raw place…"

Precious Stone, which has been making the rounds since July, is the perfect opener to set the sound of the entire album. The magic can be found in its upbeat brush strokes matched up with bleak, rusty vocals that match the lyrics. (You can also download Precious Stone from Yorn's Website.

The lower-noted Rock Crowd, which has been rightly described as fan appreciation song, powers through like a muffled laboring engine. Velcro Shoes clearly has some Pixieish guitar licks on the front end, set against the youthful promise of possibilities, what can and could be. Paradise Cove I captures some of the rawest Yorn yet.

Add it up and Yorn has created one of the most complete and memorable releases in his career, leaning toward indie alternative rock and away from the poppy progressions of the past. The sound is captivating enough that some reviewers have said Yorn is finally earning his indie street cred. While the sentiment is there, Yorn had already earned his stripes.

Heck, earlier this year, he even released a rehearsal vid of "Don't Come Close" (not on this album, but part of his act). What made the video worth watching is that Marky Ramone (drums) and CJ Ramone (guitar) joined him for the jam session. The rehearsal was for a Johnny Ramone tribute concert. Check it out.

In playing down the discography, there aren't songs to skip. Even the couple that sound closer to his previous studio work don't make sense to skip (although Wheels seems too plodding). The album works as a whole, which is especially heartening given the slim selection of new material released over the last few weeks. Pete Yorn PY deserves plenty of play time in heavy rotation.

In fact, the pre-order makes sense because it includes a bonus song — Favorite Song (B-Side). The bonus song is a little more poppy than the rugged rhythms on the rest of the album, but you might regret not having it later.

Pete Yorn's Self-Titled LP PY Lands A 9.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If Yorn self-titled this work to indicate a new direction after almost 10 years since his debut, we're all for it. It''s like night and day listening to the new music against his last effort produced with Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes). While Don't Wanna Cry was worth a listen, the rest of the album was too pretty for its own good. This album is anything but, which is why we love it.

You can pre-order Pete Yorn, which will likely be called PY by fans, on iTunes. You can also find Pete Yorn on Amazon, but the Amazon LP doesn't include the pre-order bonus song.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Joe Hill Says Never Buy A Ghost On The Internet

Heart-Shaped Box"Broken heart and broken bones
Think of how a castrated horse feels
One more quirky cliched phrase
You're the one I wanna refill." —

When most people hear the words, their immediate thought turns to a song by Kurt Cobain. I Hate Myself and Want to Die is on the B-side of In Utero. But it has another meaning for fans of Heart-Shaped Box, written by author Joe Hill.

The song becomes a plot for the flawed protagonist Judas (Jude) Coyne, an aging and retired lead singer and guitarist in the death-metal band that adopted the occult as part of its presence. The song fits perfectly within the context of a book that carries the name of another song by Cobain.

After years of portraying the image, Coyne received his share of odd and creepy gifts from fans. And eventually, it rubbed off. He began adding to the collection on his own. He didn't do it as part of some twisted fascination so much. Mostly, it seems he wanted to prove that he didn't believe in his own persona or material.

Heart-Shaped Box Is Haunting Of A Different Kind.

In what seems to be a coincidence, Jude's assistant catches an Internet auction for a suit proclaimed to be haunted. Initially dismissive about the find, Jude inexplicably tells his assistant to "Buy It Now" for $1,000. What Jude doesn't know is he's also buying a carefully conceived plot to exact revenge on him from beyond the grave.

alternative coverThe suit and the ghost that comes with it, Craddock McDermott, is the father of his previous girlfriend, Anna. Anna, whom Jude nicknamed after her home state of Florida, was manic depressive, attributed to the severe mental, physical and sexual abuse of Craddock, who employed his skills as a razor wielding hypnotist to save lives while ensnaring and abusing the lives of Anna, her sister (who becomes his confederate), and granddaughter.

After Jude rescues Anna from running down the middle of the highway after a breakdown, he finally breaks off the one relationship he wanted to keep. Afterward, he entertained a string of 20-something Goth girls while Anna was sent home into the hands of her abusers. She kills herself.

Joe Hill does a superb job outlining the forced disconnect between Jude and anyone who might care for him, the by-product of his own strained relationship with an abusive father. We see it clearly with how he treats his assistant and current girlfriend, Marybeth (nicknamed Georgia). The only visible and unconditional love he allows himself to feel is for his two German shepherds named Bon and Angus.

When the haunted suit first arrives, Jude has an immediate aversion to it. But like all good stories, Georgia does not. She treats it much like Jude initially anticipated he would treat it, like a joke. The amusement ends with her being pricked by a pin that doesn't exist. The wound becomes infected.

Joe Hill Easily Proves His Own Mettle.

Joe HillFor those who don't know, Joe Hill is the pen name for Joseph Hillstrom King, son of legendary horror writer Stephen King and the equally talented Tabitha King. Much like King did under the pen name Richard Bachman (in addition to allowing him to publish more than one book a year), Hill used the abbreviated name to allow his work to stand on its own merit.

Heart-Shaped Box does this so exceptionally well. The book is slated to appear as a movie in 2011. The rights were purchased by Warner Bros. and are in the very capable hands of Akiva Goldsman. It's hard to say whether the movie will make its original date. Goldsman has almost 20 outstanding projects. As a joke, Hill already cast the part using Rock Band. Frankly, it looks perfect.

Along with this book, Hill is also the author of Lock & Key, a comic book series by IDW Publishing (review worthy). His second novel, Horns, didn't see the same reception as Heart-Shaped Box.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill Cuts An 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a morality tale with a ghost story twist, it's difficult to do much better. The end tends to get a little wonky (like many masterful horror tales) as the anticipation caused by facing the unknown wears away. But the long sections are brilliant, particularly because the story remains less grounded in horror and more footed in the supernatural and evil of men.

You can pick up Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel on Amazon. Or, if you are pressed for time, Heart-Shaped Box is available as an audiobook from iTunes.

Stephen Lang narrates with a measured Southern infusion that changes the pace of the book, but quickly grows on you as the story unfolds. I'll give Lang some credit. He breathed authenticity into the read.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Atmosphere To All Their Friends

AtmosphereHip hop is not really my bag, even if I club now and again. So when the story telling is solid and set against a rhythm of ominous riffs, I'll give it a listen.

That's how I was reintroduced to Atmosphere for the first time since Lucy Ford. Produced as a holdover double EP, To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy, Sean Daley (Slug) paints up some powerful narratives and confessional messages in his latest outing as an unlikely rapper from Minnesota.

Alternative indie hip hop better presents the package than hip hop or rap as most people know the talented duo (producer Anthony Davis, Ant) who understand the complexities of being an average man. Its also the kind of EP that will find them new fans and alienate some longtime listeners. That means something to him, by the way.

"I've got 80,000 bosses around the world and I want to make those bosses happy," Slug told Ben Mullin in a phone interview. "But I also want to challenge them with compelling art, and I want to challenge myself."

The standout songs are the ones with the fullest sound, beginning with Freefallin.’ The alternative rock-like vibe creates a captivating song with a hook that sticks in your head long after the last note closes it out. I couldn't find a live vid, but this one with tour dates does nicely.

Until the Nipples Gone is all about guitars, with an almost nu-metal feel on the front end. It's an unconventional blend that gives the music some time to drive the song in between bursts of storytelling. It's genuine.

The other two standouts are The Major Leagues and the title track To All My Friends. The other stories aren't to be dismissed, especially if you love hip hop and especially for anyone who feels Freefallin’ is too preachy to stay on a play list.

Sometimes it's what we want. Sometimes it's what we need. Slug would know. Not everyone who became entranced with hip-hop, graffiti, and breakdancing finds the right path like he did. The songs still rock and the special guest lineup for the tour promises to make for a great show.

Besides, that is not the point. Had the material been released as two EPs, it would be easier to see the entire album is about unhealthy relationships on one and the need to find positive ones on the other.

Atmosphere's To All My Friends Sticks With A 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy is available on iTunes. Atmosphere's new EP is also on Amazon.

It will be interesting to see what will become of the seven-year book project by photographer Dan Monick that inspired the album. It is due out in late October.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mixing Portability To The Vinyl Renaissance

Back in 2008, Time Magazine published an article pointing out that vinyl records had found their groove again with sales up 37 percent. Vinyl sales hit another high in 2009. You can expect to see the same in 2010.

WIth record companies hoping to find any sales vehicle possible, many of them are keeping up with the small but growing demand. Some are even making vinyl more attractive with exclusive releases and collectibles. There are some cool platters to be had.

Adding Portability To The Vinyl Renaissance.

Here's the thing. Most people know CDs are slowly fading away as a footnote into digital history (of course, we said that about vinyl too). But one has to wonder. Is the vinyl surge more of a fad than the future? One of my friends doesn't think so. He just bought a Technics turntable (used) and USB turntable (from the Sharper Image).

He bought the first because he wanted to hear the warmth dropped back in the music. But he bought the second to convert any new albums to digital. Most albums, he said, see one play on the USB turntable because he doesn't want to risk any damage.

For $99, USB Turntable converts vinyl LPs and 45s into digital audio (photo left). It comes with software for Windows and Mac. My friend has a Mac (v. 10.5), which is perfect because you can export the music directly into iTunes.

What struck me about the USB Turntable are two important features. It has an adjustable anti-skate control for stereo balancing. And it allows you to tag the audio files (embed the artist name, album, song title). It also has 1/8” stereo line input so you can port in other sources (like cassettes).

The whole idea is to play vinyl right when you can. And then record it so it's as portable as the rest of your collection.

There are a few other cool things coming up for vinyl. Slayer just announced The Vinyl Conflict, a high-end 11-disc vinyl box set that collects the band's entire sanguine American Recordings catalog from Reign in Blood to World Painted Blood. Expect more of these.

And in a creepy cool sort of way, there is a new company in the UK called And Vinyly that will press your ashes into a vinyl record with your favorite songs and a voiceover (or anything audio). It's not cheap, but it's your chance to make the best album ever and go for a spin from beyond the grave any time someone plays you.

The USB Turntable From The Sharper Image By Ion Drops A 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale

The USB Turntable is available from The Sharper Image. The Sharper Image doesn't carry as much eye-catching stuff as it used to, but this gadget works. No, it won't satisfy the purest. It just makes the music portable.

As for vinyl, I'm young enough to have missed the transition to CDs. But I have to say, thumbing through my friend's collection, looking at the art, and pulling the vinyl from the sleeve adds something to the experience that CDs don't.

Besides, if Slayer (whether you like them or not) has a hit collectible on vinyl come October, expect more artists to do the same. Jack White has already done something interesting with vinyl. And many of the artists we reviewed are all pressing disks these days.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Take A Trip To The Wilderness With Black Mountain

Black MountainIn 2004, the indie rock label Jagjaguwar signed a Canadian psychedelic rock band for an EP release that added two bonus tracks to a 12-inch single. An album followed that appealed to critics, but only received a lukewarm reception among a fans.

It would be three long years before the band would put out another EP after the immediate success of Stay Free from the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack. It also received nods from Canadian music circles, but didn't resonate too much beyond the Great White North.

Wilderness Heart is different. As a follow-up that took half the time, it sounds twice as good. While the band has a sound still reminiscent of the seventies, the lyrics seem more tuned to today. The entire album has more energy behind it.

Wilderness Heart Is A Trip Worth Taking.

Black Mountain consists of Stephen McBean (guitar and vocals), Amber Webber (vocals), Matt Camirand (bass), Jeremy Schmidt (keyboards), and Josh Wells (drums and keys). Throughout the album, McBean and Webber tag team as lead singers and offer up some duets.

Webber isn't nearly as powerful a singer as McBean; she's more weary than wild. And with the possible exception of Old Fangs, she tends to fit in best as a contrast to the voice that wakes you up. McBean is well known for his smoky vocals that front this band, the more experimental The Pink Mountaintops, and other projects.

All in all, If anyone was wondering what album would help Black Mountain find its groove, Wilderness Heart is it, especially on tracks like The Hair Song.

Adding to these upbeat semi-retro riffs, Old Fangs, The Way To Gone, Rollercoaster, and the title track, Wilderness Heart, all have something to offer. So do the closers.

The Space Of Your Mind and Sadie both take advantage of McBean's brooding voice, set against plush jams and darker notes. Skip Radiant Hearts unless you buy the album for the The Hair Song remix, which might be worth it.

All in all, Black Mountain has progressed nicely, perhaps even borrowing from their experiences with varied ventures, all with unique sounds. Wilderness Heart borrows much more of what works with a little less Sabbath and a little more Zeppelin without taking anything too seriously. McBean roughly described the album as folk metal before it came out.

Wilderness Heart By Black Mountain Trips With A 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

On that note, when critics sometimes review Black Mountain, they forget this frontman isn't so serious. When Black Mountain first started, many people associated it with being the front band for the Black Mountain Army.

While the "army" idea took off as "a collective of musicians," McBean later said it started as a joke. The "army" wasn't much more than all his musician friends in Vancouver. McBean just wants to have a good time. He has the right people with him to do it.

Wilderness Heart is available on iTunes. You can also find Wilderness Heart (with a digital booklet) on Amazon.

Black Mountain currently has its Website set to its Facebook page. If you see a shark, you've found it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

How Terry Fox Sparked Cancer Awareness For 30 Years

The Terry Fox Story"Even if I don't finish, we need others to continue. It's got to keep going." — Terry Fox

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the marathon run across Canada made by humanitarian and athlete Terry Fox. If you are unfamiliar with Fox, what made his 143-day and 3,339-mile run historic was that he did it with one leg. The other was amputated in 1977 after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

Fox never finished his quest to run across Canada. He was forced to quit after the cancer spread to his lungs. He died nine months later, but others made sure Fox's vision remained. His original goal to raise $24 million ($1 from every Canadian at the time) has since earned more than 20 times that amount, more than $550 million raised by participants in more than 60 countries.

How The Marathon Of Hope Turned Into The Terry Fox Run.

Nothing was easy about his first run in 1980. Fox was met with gale force winds, heavy rain and a snowstorm. Initially, he was disappointed in the reception until reaching Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. The town's 10,000 residents presented him with a donation of over $10,000.

The reason the marathon still exists today is due largely to the generous early support of Isadore Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotels. Sharp had lost his son to cancer. Fox agreed to a marathon in his name, but only on the condition it would remain non-competitive (anyone can walk, run, or ride) and there would be no corporate sponsors (Fox turned down every endorsement he was offered during his run).

The first Terry Fox Run was held on Sept. 13, 1981. Since, it has been held about two weekends after Labor Day every year. You can learn more about the run here. It's never too late to think about next year.

"I want to set an example that will never be forgotten.” — Terry Fox

There have been two biopics made about Fox. The first, Terry Fox Story was produced by HBO in 1983, starring Eric Fryer (also an amputee). The second, Terry, starring Shawn Ashmore, was released in 2005. The latter focused more on the Marathon of Hope and was endorsed by the Fox family. Both movies were based on the book, Terry Fox: His Story (Revised), by Leslie Scrivener.

The Terry Fox Run Is A Liquid Hip Goodwill Pick.

At least once a month, Liquid [Hip] highlights one goodwill effort being undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don’t score such efforts. That honor belongs to you.

Fox has been the inspiration behind many cancer research foundations, fundraisers, and runs all over the world (even those not affiliated with his name). The Susan G Komen Race For A Cure was founded in 1983.

Recently, in an effort to raise awareness, iTunes has also been relisting artist compilations to help raise funds for cancer research. Cinnamon Girl, which includes a collection of Neil Young covers, benefits Casting For Recovery (check out the covers by Lori McKenna and Tanya Donelly).

Another EP was recently released for Stand Up To Cancer. The EP is an all-star compilation, called Stand Up To Cancer 2010 (start with the song by Billie Joe Armstrong).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Before Our Hearts Explode With The Fourth Of July

The first time the virtual needle dropped on Before Our Hearts Explode! by the Fourth Of July, I wasn't sure what to make of the obscure indie folk rock alternative band from Lawrence, Kansas. On the second play, the lyrics resonate.

While most musicians channel anger or intense sadness to fuel their breakup songs, most of these relate to everyone else. The stories are about drifting blissfully ignorant until, unexpectedly, the person sleeping next to you isn't the person you thought they were. The net effect is a series that falls somewhere between "whatever" acceptance and shell-shocked helplessness.

The Family Behind The Fourth Of July.

The core of the band consists of three brothers led by songwriter Brendan Hangauer (vocals, guitar) along with Patrick (bass) and Kelly (keys, trumpet, vocals). Joining them are Brian Costello (drums), Brendan Costello (guitar), and Steve Swyers (guitar on album), who has since left for another project. Confused yet? There's more on the swinging door.

Katlyn Conroy accompanies the band on two tracks (one of which I'll call out in a minute). And Adrianne Verhoeven provides vocals on four. She is best known for her keyboards and vocals with The Anniversary before that emo band became increasingly unsettled on a sound and broke up in 2004. Verhoeven has been bouncing back and forth between various projects.

Undoubtedly, Verhoeven met Fourth of July through their shared Lawrence-based label Range Life Records, which is owned by a fourth Hangauer brother, Zach. Reportedly, he is very hands on in the production.

The Songs That Light The Sky.

Not everything found on Before Our Hearts Explode! will explode in your heart or your head. The raw sound, heavily influenced by early Weezer (especially the song Providence) is memorable. But it's the few gems on the front and back that make for keepers.

Bad Dreams (Are Only Dreams) is the best of the bunch, with Brendan Hangauer aimlessly recanting unarticulated dreams of love. His version of their arrangement is sadly offset by Conroy who is dreaming of something else. Two lines alone will slap your face.

And in my dreams, I dream of you.
And what you will do, when I leave.

Another standout is Tan Lines, which calls out how the imagination of the smallest affair can be more wrenching than whatever happened. Range Life Records put up a rough cut of the song from a live show in Lawrence. The video cut makes for a fine introduction, but the produced version better represents what to expect.

Other tracks worth consideration include L Train (free download, courtesy of Range Life Records), Crying Shame, and Come Home. As mentioned, the album is packaged to tell a total story, but the middle plays weaker than the front and back. Start at either end.

Before Our Hearts Explode! By Fourth Of July Lights Up With 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Before Our Hearts Explode! is a noteworthy progression for a band that prefers to be the bigger fish in the smaller pond of Lawrence. Their aversion to road tours doesn't help them send shock waves. Yet, half the tracks are timeless with a tune twice removed from expected. That's why we like them.

Before Our Heart Explode! is available on iTunes. Before Our Hearts Explode! [Explicit] is also on Amazon. The best place to keep up with the band is on their label page and on Twitter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mustaine Pens More Than A Metal Memoir

Dave MustaineAnyone with half an ear toward metal is familiar with Megadeth. The thrashing, heavy metal band is one of the genre’s pioneers and remains so (along with Metallica). Therein lies the interesting conflict within Megadeth’s self-described “founder, frontman, singer, songwriter, and guitarist (and de facto CEO)," Dave Mustaine.

There are decades of anger and hurt woven through the autobiographical tapestry of Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir, written with the help of Joe Layden. The UK version, called Mustaine: A Life In Metal, will hit stores Sept. 30.

I’m not a huge thrash metal fan, but I read the book because I was curious about the man. I was surprised to become so engaged so quickly. And I remained so from start to the bitter and blessed end.

Mustaine Begins In Rehab Before Going Back To Cali.

The story begins in recent years, with Mustaine in rehab. He apparently spent a lot of time there (17 stints, to be exact), waking up from a nap only long enough to discover he had no feeling in his arm. The freak accident, diagnosed as a radial nerve, left plenty of people wondering if Mustaine would ever thrash again.

As fans already know, Mustaine is not one to give up or give in. He overcomes a major setback. It wasn't the first time.

His ability to cope and come back started early in California. Born into poverty with an absent father and a strict Jehovah’s Witness mother (and other similarly situated relatives), Mustaine was troubled and angry. But he was also vulnerable, which is where you'll find his charm.

Yes, Mustaine’s story is also filled with the requisite sex, drugs, and rock and roll that many people expect any time they pick up an autobiography or memoir of a musician. But in between the drinks, he tells a sobering story of being a founding member of Metallica unceremoniously dumped by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield at the brink of success. They sent him packing, but used his songs. Ouch.

The backstabbing and betrayal would be one that Mustaine will never forget. And it fuels his desire to succeed in a band on his own terms. He manages to do that with Megadeth, despite some missteps and a constantly changing lineup along the way.

Deep Cuts Heal, But Leave Scars.

There is no doubt that scars that still remain. Mustaine says as much himself. But it seems to me that the betrayal by Hetfield and, especially, Ulrich hit just as hard as anything from his childhood. It seems clear that Mustaine’s unrelenting competitiveness set a bar beyond success. He wanted to leave Metallica in his wake. Sometimes he did. Sometime he did not.

It's the root of his ambition. And it makes for an interesting dynamic that you won't find elsewhere.

The story does end well, but there are times you won't find any faith to think so. It is only recently that Mustaine has kicked his bad habits, focused on family, and turned toward Christianity. Don't worry. He doesn't preach. He simply tells it how he sees it in a refreshingly sincere and candid way. Fans and even casual readers will able to relate.

Mustaine Thrashes A 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Metal fans will thoroughly enjoy this insight into one of the great metal musicians of our time. Mustaine does not disappoint. Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir is available on Amazon. It has already hit the New York Times best seller list.

If there is an irony, it might be that his former duel with Metallica might be won in book sales. He is promoting the book too, having already participated in several book signings, much to the delight of his fans. Watch for more in major cities.

He and Megadeth are also on the Jagermeister Music tour late September through late October, promoting their new live album, and playing with Slayer and Anthrax. Expect great shows. Keep up to date with Mustaine on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sharon Van Etten Is A Slow Burn With Epic

Sharon Van Etten"To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." — e e cummings

This is the quote that Sharon Van Etten introduces herself with as an upstart singer/songwriter with a flair for simple acoustic licks and hypnotic lyrics. It fits. Any place she has a guitar becomes her confessional. It plays perfectly when you feel reflective.

The power is in the songwriting. Some of it is inspired by a controlling ex-boyfriend she talked about during an interview with the AV Club last January. He's in jail now, she said.

"He was a rocker guy, and he just thought I wasn’t good enough to play out," she said. "So sometimes I had to sneak out to play open mics."

She is good enough, even if she's just finding her legs. Everybody who is nobody seems to be covering her and she's earning a reputation as accessible. She even played a hotel couch for NPR.

Most of her music drones on with laments and anguish. She says Epic isn't as sad as the last EP. I dunno. It's sad enough that everyone I know says it's difficult to listen to too many tracks back to back. Maybe so. But I hear some hope this time around.

Seeing her live is different. She leaves audiences in a trance, sometimes unsure if it's appropriate to applaud someone who shared their soul. It will be a wonder how Junip will be able to follow her as an opening act, with her lyrics still haunting their heads. Have a listen. She's addictive.

That track didn't even make the cut for her latest EP, giving listeners more than 20 to pick from on iTunes. On the Epic outing, the best of seven includes One Day, Don't Do It, and A Crime (with a hint of Indigo Girls). Love More works. Off the album, pick up her cover of the Thompson Twins' If You Were Here. She adds a depth and dimension to the song that never existed.

Epic By Sharon Van Etten Haunts Heads With A 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

With a full album due out in October, the question everyone is asking is how Sharon Van Etten can remained so restrained. Where some artists get angry over their angst, Van Etten efficiently embraces her demons and owns them. Me, I hope she pushes that passion toward the alternative rock side before the slow burn smolders.

Epic is available from iTunes. If You Were Here can be found on the back side of her single One Day, released in August. Epic can also be downloaded from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Almost Famous By Cameron Crowe Turns 10

Almost FamousIn 1973, Cameron Crowe was living an American dream reserved for people twice his age at the time. He was 16 years old and asked to take a three-week assignment covering the Allman Brothers Band for Rolling Stone.

It was a rare chance to meet his heroes, share in their experiences, and even fall in love. His story was so captivating in the telling that he always knew it would make a great film some day. And that day came in 2000 with Almost Famous.

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction In Almost Famous.

Crowe says Stillwater, the fictional band in the film, is a culmination of his Rolling Stone experiences with bands like Poco, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But some experiences are amazingly similar. For instance, Crowe does share that Greg Allman did confiscate all his tapes in an unexpected fit of paranoia.

The loss could have cost him more than the cover story. As a first major assignment, it could have cost him a career. Fortunately, Crowe says that Allman's label eventually returned the tapes with an apology from Allman. In the movie, William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) loses his tapes to Russell Hammond (played by Billy Crudup) until Hammond later returns them in person.

The plot line is largely overshadowed by another, as Miller becomes infatuated with Penny Lane (one of Kate Hudson's most endearing performances), a band groupie with her sights set on Hammond. Their chance meeting at a Black Sabbath concert (Lane helps William into the concert to review it for an underground publication) sparks a friendship that nurtures Miller's love-hate relationship with Hammond.

The film is remarkably accurate in its depiction of the 1970s. One fan captures some of the essence in this short clip, featuring Elton John's Tiny Dancer.

The scene takes place shortly after one of several memorable moments in the film. The night before, Hammond had taken acid, climbed on the roof of a house and asked William to quote his last words as "I am a golden god! ... "I'm on drugs!"

The Film That Almost Wasn't Famous.

Almost Famous wasn't always the sure bet that it seems to have been today. It had to work for every opportunity. It only opened in 131 theaters nationwide, but still managed to break into the top eight films.

When it received a green light for wide distribution, that number quickly grew to 1,193 screens. It eventually reached 2,262 screens and went on to earn $32 million in domestic sales after finding its groove against theaters filled with Gladiator, Erin Brockovich, and Traffic.

It received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Kate Hudson was nominated for best supporting actress. You can find a complete list of awards here.

Almost Famous Catches A 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Ritcher Scale.

Two other outstanding cameos almost deserve attention: Rainn Wilson who played David Felton (Wilson's second film) and Philip Seymour Hoffman who played Lester Bangs (as a follow-up to The Talented Mr. Ripley). Both appearances remind film goers how much depth the movie had.

Almost Famous is available on iTunes. Almost Famous - The Director's Cut on Amazon includes 36 minutes of additional footage (mostly centered around Penny Lane), a Stillwater CD, and the infamous Stairway To Heaven deleted scene that asks you to cue up your own audio. (The original version is also included.)

The latter is priceless enough that more people who gave the original a 9, gave the extended version a 10. And at least one fan believes that had the additional 36 minutes been retained, Hudson would have had her Oscar. I can't disagree.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Corin Tucker Band Offers Up 1,000 Years

Corin TuckerSleater-Kinney seems to be on permanent hiatus, leaving fans waiting for the group to do something, anything. It had a successful run as a punk-edged trio with riot grrrl roots showing for more than a decade. And then?

Janet Weiss (drums), Carrie Brownstein (vocals/guitar), and Corin Tucker (vocals/guitar) never said they've broken up. But it has been four long years since Sleater-Kinney has been together as a cohesive unit. It's an odd way to leave things, given that they were once hailed as the best rock band in America by respected critic Greil Marcus (and rightly so in 2001).

The Corin Tucker Band Slates Something For October.

While S-K isn't recording together, something almost as great is in the works. Singer/guitarist Corin Tucker is back. And her eponymously-titled Corin Tucker Band has an album called 1,000 Years set for release on Oct. 5. The label is Kill Rock Stars.

While Tucker was away for the last four years, she invested most of her energy as a full-time mom raising her two children. And although her Oregon home life was her primary focus, the music inside has never left her.

When she was asked to play a benefit in 2009 in Portland, she readily agreed and decided to try out some new songs in the process. The benefit was quickly followed by another. And friends and fans started to urge her back into the studio.

The resulting album is a solid return for Tucker. Her band includes percussionist Sara Lund and producer/arranger//multi-instrumentalist Seth Lorinczi, the latter of whom has managed to give Tucker a sound that’s still tough, but explores different textures.

Instead of just shredding guitar, bass, and drums, there’s an eclectic mix of acoustic guitars, keyboards, cello and violin thrown in for good measure. The sound speaks for itself. Here is a fan clip of Tucker singing Young Man Blues on New Year's Eve 2009.

Tucker's life may have changed since her carefree days in S-K and it's reflected in the lyrics to her songs. What isn't missing is the strength and power behind them. There’s sadness and angst to be found here.

Several of the 11 tracks were written for inclusion on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack, but the songs didn't work for that project (and weren't included) so Tucker kept them for herself. This makes for an interesting mix of tunes on 1,000 Years.

There are the un-Twilight songs along with some cut right from her life. It’s Always Summer and Half A World Away are about Tucker’s filmmaker husband, Lance Bangs. He frequently travels for work, leaving her at home to take care of the kids and keep things together.

The lyrics reveal Tucker coping and waiting yet looking forward to his return. Another song, Thrift Store Coats, takes aim at the sad state of unemployment in Oregon, with families being hit especially hard. And then there is Doubt, which was just released on ITunes.

The Corin Tucker Band’s 1,000 Years Rocks An 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I feel fortunate to have heard the whole album because The Corin Tucker Band reveals a different side of Tucker. S-K fans will eat this up, given that she can still scream and wail (and she does here) with the best of them. Amazingly, the quiet Tucker can be compelling too.

You can download Doubt from iTunes as a warmup. It's an excellent choice for a debut single, giving Tucker a chance to work those pipes and rip through some great riffs. Amazon has the whole 1,000 Years up for preview.

Of course, if you are really paying attention, you can hear Doubt in full. Special thanks to Kill Rock Stars. Or watch for the band live. They're on tour in Oregon, Washington and California in early October before heading to the East Coast.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare From Jess Winfield

Littered with pervasive wit and sometimes coarsely sophomoric buffoonery, My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare quickly sucks you in to a story of two Wills, one from 1852 and one from 1986. The two of them embark on similar celebrations of sex, drugs, and a discovery of who Will is that will entertain many and likely offend a few.

At the opening, Winfield would have you believe that this is merely a story about Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a graduate student who became sidetracked by a hash pipe while supposedly working on a thesis about William Shakespeare. But alas, Willie's epiphany that Shakespeare might have been Catholic is merely a smokescreen for a much broader idea.

When character Professor Clarence Welsh suggests that Willie, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, write his master's thesis on Will as the first modern playwright, perhaps drawing parallels between the oppressive state of England in 1852 (against religion) and the oppressive state of the United States in 1986 (against drugs), author Winfield finally reveals the underlying plot buried beneath the bawdy telling of two young men on the verge of reaching maturity (and perhaps attempting to delay the trip).

About Willie Shakespeare Greenberg.

Willie Shakespeare Greenberg hastily proposes "Shakespeare and the Crucifix: Catholic Persecution in Sixteenth-Century England and Its Effect on Elizabethan Theater" based on a singular line within a Shakespearean sonnet after more than a year of biding his time at the university. His plans to carry forward the charade become taut as his father, a Berkley professor, has decided not to extend the educational investment in his son beyond the semester.

While this would still give Willie ample time to complete his thesis, the loss of his allowance would leave him broke. So, after the chance finding of a 32-gram magic mushroom and some coaxing from another would-be student turned campus supplier, Willie agrees to traffic it (along with a duffle full of pot and a jester's costume) to a Renaissance fair, where buyers will be waiting.

All that stands in Willie's way is the DEA and, well, his will.

About William Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare, slightly younger than the modern protagonist, is currently teaching as an assistant schoolmaster at the King’s New School of Stratford-upon-Avon. The school's headmaster, branded a Catholic dissident, had recently been replaced with a schoolmaster more interested in rubbing out insurrection in the Protestant state.

William, bound more by a sense of loyalty than a need for currency, also accepts a package in need of delivery. Except, in William's case, he isn't given a planned route like that of his modern counterpart. William is on his own to deliver the package, a locked tabernacle by description.

All that stands in Willie's way is the Protestants and, well, his will.

Sex And Drugs.

The novel is rife with sex, enough that some reviewers felt fit to chastise Winfield on that point, despite being forewarned by the promise of the subtitle. And while the intent is largely for comedic relief, Winfield elevates drugs into its own dogma. Sometimes he laces the latter with heavily left-leaning politics, but is rarely preachy.

The effect of those celebratory vices still does not dull the quest in understanding the potential impact of religion on the famous playwright. This exploratory is more than merely engaging, it's based on a hypothesis that has been reasonably flushed out over the years. Still, don't expect to find an answer from Winfield, who freely admits he made some stuff up.

My Name Is Will: A Novel Of Sex, Drugs, And Shakespeare By Jess Winfield Pens A 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I almost feel bad not inflating it to a 9.2 or higher. The book is sensational, especially in terms of Winfield's ability to turn a phrase and apply his own Shakespearean experiences to the story. However, the player presentation sometimes distracts from the storytelling.

My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare is available on Amazon. You can pick it up for your Kindle. On iTunes, Winfield reads the audiobook. Fear not, the breathiness subsides after the first two chapters as Winfield realizes he doesn't have to rush the story like he does on stage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Decade With Disturbed Produces Asylum

While Disturbed is the second metal album to top the charts in recent weeks, Asylum still deserves attention. With so many other bands claiming to be working on darker albums, Disturbed just had to be themselves. They never softened much.

Even in the early years, Disturbed's message against conformity comes from the heart. They turned down several substantial label offers in favor of Giant Records (later Reprise) based only on knowing that the label would would back them. Five albums later, anyone questioning whether that worked only needs to watch the recently released documentary Decade of Disturbed.

"It basically tells the story of the band, from its inception to present day," says frontman David Draiman. "The band has had its share of ups and downs along the way and I think we tried to be as open and honest about all of it as we could. It's very insightful and we hope it’s something the fans will appreciate."

As a documentary, Decade of Disturbed presents an extended music television expose, with not nearly the energy you'll find on The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights. But what you will find is the human side to Draiman (vocals), Dan Donegan (guitar), John Moyer (bass), and Mike Wengren (drums) and how they have come a long way from Chicago together.

Asylum, on the other hand, has some clearly brilliant moments, driven by Draiman's rage and Donegan's riffs. The title track, and Warrior prove it. Another Way To Die represents their other side, with a warning against ravaging the planet.

The Another Way To Die track was picked up by Mortal Kombat promos, changing the context. I like the initial video the best. It hits home. The footage makes the vocals alarmist.

On the album, also look for The Animal, Sacrifice, and Innocence. Skip My Child, Crucified, and Never Again. Don't bother with Ishfwilf. As soon as I heard it, I remembered Draiman's early advice to the band that they skip covers. That lasted for a few years.

Then, on Ten Thousand Fists, they covered Land of Confusion by Phil Collins. The cover was popular, but it's not on my playlist. It never will be. It sounds like Disturbed covering Phil Collins. Ishfwilf sounds like Disturbed covering U2. Enough said.

Asylum By Disturbed Scores 6.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Asylum is stronger than Indestructible, with darker and sometimes preachier lyrics as promised. The best of it more than makes up for a band that some fans fear is starting to wind down in the studio. On tour, no one ever hinted to that vibe. See them live.

Asylum is available on iTunes. You can also find Asylum on Amazon.

Decade of Disturbed is being made available via a limited edition collection at Best Buy and with the iTunes LP version. Right now, you can catch the full documentary on MySpace. We have no idea how long it will be available. If you like the Disturbed, see it while you can.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reiner Knizia's Samurai Challenges Your Head

Reiner Knizia's SamuriNot everyone in the United States is familiar with his name, but they soon will be. Reiner Knizia is a prolific board game designer who developed his first game at the age of six. He turned full-time professional game designer in 1997.

Everyone in Europe knows him (as do a few Americans). More than 500 of his games have been published and he has won the Deutscher Spiele Preis (German Game Prize) four times (since 1990). And now that many of his games are finding their way to the iPhone, you can expect some great ones. Thirteen games have already made the migration, but it's the newest one that deserves attention.

What Is Reiner Knizia's Samurai?

Reiner Knizia's Samurai is a German-style board game invented in 1999. It won fourth place in the Deutscher Spiele Preis that year. Game play occurs across four major Japanese islands with the objective being to capture figurines — rice fields (peasants on the iPhone), Buddhas, and high helmets — that are located in villages, towns, and cities across the map.

Reiner Knizia's Samuri for the iPhoneCapturing takes place when players surround a town and city with tokens. Each player receives 20, which the player draws randomly throughout the game, replacing played pieces much like replacing letters in Scrabble. Players generally lay down one token at a time, with several exceptions. Those include a Ronin token (horse), ship token, and swap token. They can be played at any time.

The winner of each figurine is based on the points of every surrounding figure-specific token (matching peasants, Buddhas, or helmets) or special tokens (Ronin, samurai, and ships). Winning the game is trickier. There are several possibilities, with two being the most common.

Any player with a majority of figurines (the most peasants, Buddhas, and high helmets) wins. Or, when more than one player has a majority, the winner is determined by how many figurines they have won outside their majority. This variable makes the game interesting in that sometimes it might pay to block an opponent rather than to capture the figurine.

On the iPhone, the game can be played against up to three AIs, as a pass-and-play game (with AIs or not), and online (much like Words With Friends). With fewer players, the maps are smaller. The full map comes in to play with four players (even if three are AIs).

Reiner Knizia's Samurai Scores A 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Reiner KniziaEntertainment Weekly described it as a Risk-like game. It's not. It's much more similar to a cross between Scrabble, Othello, Connect Four, and a hex-based strategy game. Play time is short, about 20 to 30 minutes per game. Reiner Knizia's Samurai is available on iTunes for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

The graphics are perfect. The game is smart. The complexity is excellently delivered in its simplicity. Publisher Rio Grande did a brilliant job rendering it as an application. For people who know Knizia, this was the application everyone wanted and raises the bar on all feature releases bearing his name.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Say Goodnight To the World With Dax Riggs

When you're looking for mighty dark and ethereal imagery, it's hard to beat Dax Riggs. His latest album, Say Goodnight To the World, is a fitting title for another solo excursion on the Fat Possum label.

This Texas-based singer by way of Louisiana has a long history of going to the dark side. He was the front man for black and heavy metal band Acid Bath (and others). Later, he fronted Deadboy and the Elephantmen through 2007. He eventually decided to go it semi-alone, releasing We Sing of Only Blood Or Love in 2007 and If This Is Hell Then I’m Lucky In 2008.

For Say Goodnight, he enlisted the able support of drummer Charley Siess, bassist Kevin Fitzsimmons, and co-producer Robbie Lee (Howling Hex) to record a blues-infused experimental rock body of work. It was recorded over the course of two weeks.

Say Goodnight To the World Compares To Earlier Work.

There will undoubtedly be comparisons to Acid Bath and Deadboy and the Elephantmen. It's to be expected because Riggs’ rich voice was the heart of those bands. If Jim Morrison played without The Doors, the same would happen. (Morrison is an influence on Riggs.)

On his own, Riggs growls and wails his way through a haunting variety of tunes. All of them are dark, often dirge-like, and always magical. His guitar is raw, ragged, and gritty, providing a nice bed for his vocals. Here's what it sounded like in Atlanta.

The CD is heavy with despair, and therefore not the best choice for the chronically depressed. But Riggs still manages to pull in other influences, even country. Standouts include the title song, Sleeping With the Witch, I Hear Satan, and especially See You All In Hell, which he has described as a “go to sleep” kind of ending song. Indeed.

After the breakup of Deadboy and the Elephantmen, Diggs tried to explain it in an interview with Scott Semegran. Semegran mentioned the dark tone and asked what inspired it.

"I'm not really sure but it's some natural leaning towards the shadows that I don't truly understand," Riggs said. "I do feel depression at times like anybody... I don't know. I think I'm just a gallows bird. Or possibly, I just have a morbid sense of humor."

Say Goodnight To the World by Dax Riggs Gives Us A Jolt At 6.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Riggs is touring in random places throughout the country in support of the CD. If you like what you hear, you might want to give a listen to If This Is Hell Then I’m Lucky by Riggs or We Are Night Sky by Deadboy and the Elephantmen.

Say Goodnight To the World is available on iTunes. And it's also available on Amazon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Add Some Swank And Splash To Cocktails

Swank Martini CompanyWith the crispness of fall starting to settle in the air, entertainment will begin to migrate from the backyard to indoor living rooms. And as someone who originally grew up in Seattle, we always seemed get a jump on such libations with casual gatherings better known as cocktail parties (except we never called them that).

Bar none, the best glassware is from the Swank Martini Company. My favorite glasses feature their curvaceous swerve. It also happens to be their best selling glass, retailing at $49 for four. (Libbey offers up the Libbey Swerve 4-Piece Martini Set for under $20 at Amazon). Since they both hold 6 oz., you might wonder about the difference.

For starters, Swank Martini Company is a clever company. It has a line of ecards that you can send to people you know for a reason or no reason at all. It also has some very creative kits. But more important than that, Swank glasses feel sturdier.

So does a classic martini, which is easy to make. In a shaker with filled with ice cubes, combine 1-1/2 ounces of gin with 1-1/2 teaspoons of dry vermouth, shake (never stir), and strain into a cocktail glass, garnished with an olive. Done. Almost.

Keeping Cocktail Parties Casual (And Don't Call Them That).

Swank SwerveThere have been four times in history that cocktail parties were all the rage. And all four times, someone had to ruin them with rules. The whole point of this 1920s invention was to offer a casual alternative to formal tea times and balls until prohibition pushed them into underground speakeasies.

They later resurfaced in the 1950s with formality, which the 1960s counterculture was quick to kill. In the 1980s, they resurfaced as office parties, which was a recipe for disaster. And they popped up again in the 1990s, but the whole thing seemed too desperate to be cool, which is never cool.

The better gatherings are casual, almost spontaneous, before a late dinner or after an early one. At home, all you need are some nice glasses, one or two drink recipes, and some cool new music discoveries to share with friends. If you're out, any live jazz or blues club will do, before or after dinner.

Martinis aren't the only possibility. In addition to martinis, most people I know keep just enough to serve two other drinks. Usually, they serve their personal favorite and one wild card drink with a little history. Instead of gin and tonic, for example, a gimlet, which can only be probably made with Rose's lime juice, is one example. A sidecar might be another.

Another Glass That Will Catch Your Eye.

Bormioli Rocco MuranoGiven you probably won't pour every drink into a martini glass (although margaritas look nice in the swerve glass design too), there are some other nice glasses out on the market. The Bormioli Rocco Murano rocks glasses are still among the best ($12.95 for four). They have an artistic modern flair but never caught on enough to become boring (like the Sorgente style did).

If you are not familiar with Bormioli Rocco, it is an Italian glass manufacturer founded in 1825. The reason people like them (even if they don't know why) is in the science of the tempering. They heat the glass to 700 degrees centigrade and cool it using compressed air. The result is greater impact resistance. They also make fine crystal glass and magnesium glass.

The Swank Swerve Pours A 5.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The style might be offered by other companies but Swank Martini Company has a leg up on quality and attitude. Some other styles to watch out for include their two-piece chillin' set (which places a martini top on ice) or stemless wine glasses. For everything else, Bormioli Rocco makes the grade, from the plain to the occasionally inspired.

Swank Martini Company also has a Facebook page. If you're thinking about buying direct from the company, sign up for additional savings. They also add new martini recipes from time to time.