Power/Rangers: The Death-Rattle of the Dark & Gritty Experiment

Earlier this week a short film was released featuring an R-rated version of the Power Rangers.  The film is violent, twisted, sexy, and makes use of fairly impressive visual effects (let’s not forget the rather laughable dialogue.)  It even has a bit of star power in Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame, and James Van Der Beek from…well, you know who he is.

But dropping a rainbow-clad sextet of teens from a kid’s show into a gritty, played-out, post-apocalyptic future and pitting them against the most overused threat in science fiction, The Machines, does not make for a good film.  Adding bullets, cussin’, blood, gore, nudity, and sex doesn’t enhance the experience either.

Some people found it to be fantastic fun.  Others saw it as complete and utter rubbish.

Let it be known that I prepared a response to the film earlier in the week in which I insulted just about everyone involved.  I sat atop my proverbial high-horse to cast aspersions because I felt some nerdish need to defend my Mighty Morphin’ friends of yore.

But I deleted it.  Started from scratch.

I did this after discussing the film briefly with a friend who suggested that Power/Rangers (which is a ridiculous reimagining of the title regardless) may not have been intended to be straight meat-headed fan service, but a critique of a film trend that may be living out its final days.

Since Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman Begins in 2005, there has been a bit of an outcry for more realistic and hard-edged portrayals of fantastical characters and their stories.  The argument being that there are some things you just can’t do in film if you want to appeal to the masses.  The Fantastic Four films and Superman Returns were accused, rightfully so, of having an old-fashioned perspective on the titular heroes.  And despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s wonderful balancing act between fun and peril, movie-goers continue to clamor for genre and superhero films to be grounded in a dark, nasty reality similar to Begins, its sequel The Dark Knight, and the threequel of the series, The Dark Knight Rises.

Why?  Because Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy worked.  The movies were Good.  They made serious money.  And if it worked with Batman, it was only a matter of time before that Dark & Gritty formula was applied to other properties.

Recently, Man of Steel—a film I will continue to defend despite the remainder of this paragraph—struggled under the weight of its own humorless and bleak point of view.  It separated Superman fans into two camps: those who want the film’s vision to continue on, and those who were aghast at how Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan treated the character—a seemingly uncaring, angry, god-like alien.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was Marvel Studios’ darkest outing to date—which, by the way, was still able to balance the fun/peril equation.  Regardless, the film’s realism was intense, violent, and quite frightening at times.

Dark & Gritty sells.

But to what end?  Everything Good is eventually bastardized into irrelevancy, right?

In re-examining Power/Rangers, an extreme version of the Dark & Gritty experiment, it seems that there may be some actual intent involved in the making of the of this corny, over-the-top film.  It takes Dark & Gritty to its logical conclusion: morphing something intended to entertain and stoke the imaginations of children into a tasteless, bloody mess for the sake of wowing adults who have grown away from the source material.  It is the destruction of wonderment and the distortion of fun.  It doesn’t adapt a story for an adult audience, it drops familiar elements into a setting full of clichés and human nastiness.  It preys on nostalgia and stuffs the horrors of a corrupt world in its place.  And at the end of the day, it’s nothing but a mindless good time.

may very well be the film that shows people just how ridiculous Dark & Gritty genre and superhero movies will become if they continue on their current trajectory.  A series of films one-upping their predecessors with next-level-cheap thrills, offering paper-thin narratives with hyper-violence and nudity as the only selling points.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe my original opinion of Power/Rangers was more accurate—that it was made straight-faced and without an ounce of self awareness with the intention of exploiting its target audience.

Maybe I’m right.  Maybe it was intended to be viewed with a critical lens in order to ask ourselves just how far we are willing to go to entertain ourselves.

Either way, Power/Rangers is effective in showing us that Dark & Gritty genre and superhero films may not have died just yet, but they are choking to death on their own gratuitous need to impress.

I’m no fool.  Hackneyed drivel works sometimes.  But Power/Rangers can only work if its intention is to show writers, directors, producers, whoever, how not to make a film.

Oh, Phillies…

Phillies’ pitchers and catchers began their spring training workouts yesterday in Clearwater, Florida.  Isn’t that exciting?

Unfortunately it’s not.

I’m excited to get back to the ball park.  I’m excited for spring.  I’m excited for baseball.  It’s a shame, however, that my team’s hope for any more than seventy wins (I’m being optimistic here) is really just that.  Hope.  What’s worse is that this season “hope” is only a word.

A lack of movement from the front office, a clubhouse devoid of excitement, and management’s definition of total transparency has already taken its toll.  Fans have little else but certain disappointment and an uncertain future to grapple with—and spring training’s only just begun.

If you’re like me, a person who’s been excited for the Phils’ return every year through more bad years than good, it may be time to slip back into the mindset that made us Phillies fans in the first place.  I’ve constructed a brief list of things to help remind you why we came to love this team all those years ago.

1.) They’re Underdogs Again

Everyone loves an underdog—okay, not everyone, but those who don’t are either soulless or in denial.

Perennial winners are boring and pretentious.  They win all the time and when they lose they still somehow win by acquiring the pieces that will make them champs again sooner rather than later.

The losers, however, the forgotten louts, the spoilers, they are the bootstrap-few who are driven by their limitations and a healthy dose of spite.  When they win it’s special.  It means something.  It makes each game worth watching.

2.) Their “P” is Special

I’m a punk rock fan.  I wear punk rock apparel.  I drape myself in Bad Religion, Descendents, and Kid Dynamite gear.

Do you know what the best part of being a punk rock fan is?  No one cares that I’m a punk rock fan.  Punk rock is all mine.  And other punk rock fans give a nod—or sometimes a courteous middle finger—when we pass each other on the street.

Granted, being a sports fan may tarnish my punk rock credibility…But I digress.

The Phillies “P” holds more stock for us now because it means nothing to others.  It’s all ours.  We don’t wear it because it represents success, we wear it because represents exactly who the hell we think we are.

3.) They’re Your Team

Remember the pet you loved but no one else could stand?  The pet that stunk, that made your house reek, that scraped its butt on the carpet, that scared neighbors, that growled at guests, that tracked mud all over the floors, that slept on your favorite spot on the couch.

That was your pet, man.

You loved that filthy thing because it was yours.  It made a bad day good by just sniffing around your house.  It made you laugh when you were sick by getting freaked out by its own reflection.  It sat next to you all quiet and cute…sometimes. That disgusting beast always made the carpet stains and the Febreze buzz worth it.

Despite the Phillies’ nationally reviled status, their abysmal lineup, and their almost assured failure, they’re yours.  They’re yours because you love them.  And that counts for something.  Even when they suck.  Terribly.

As such, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll see you this spring in the stands all dressed up in red.  And you’ll see me in the parking lot after the games all piss and vinegar like a real fan.

How Phonogram Taught Me to Listen

I tend to consider myself an open-minded music listener.  Some call me a harsh critic.  Others stoop to label me a hater.

Nevertheless, I am what I am.  But I owe quite a bit of what I am as a music fan to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram.

For those who haven’t read Phonogram, the series’ conceit is that music is magic.  That metaphor manifests itself literally in the book as the main cast of characters are phonomancers—folks able to manipulate magic using music.

It’s really cool.  And really fun.  But it puts the impetus on readers to go about researching the music referenced therein for a better and more complete reading experience.

So, here’s me about the time I picked up the first volume of Phonogram when it came to my musical palette:  “Is it fast?  Is it aggressive?  Can I thrash about to it?  No?  Then [EXPLETIVE DELETED] it.”

There were exceptions to my tastes, of course.  But not many.

My appreciation for comics, however, wasn’t nearly as limited.  I read the book, loved it, became a bit obsessed by it, and needed more.  Much more.

So I read it again.  And again.  And then I scoured iTunes and Amazon for all of the songs and albums mentioned and actively used in the book.  It was Manic Street Preachers, and PULP, and ElasticaSuede and Blur.  Even Oasis—in my younger years I based my opinions of friends and family on their thoughts on Oasis.  Care to take a gander at what I thought about those who were digging on the band?

“Singles Club,” Phonogram’s second volume included the Pipettes, Robyn, and TV on the Radio.  I was reading the issues while listening to specified tracks on repeat.  I was drawing parallels between the media.  I even caught the Pipettes live in Philadelphia just to dance like Penny B in the first issue of the volume.

Mind: Blown.  Experience: Enhanced.  Eyes: Open.

No such eclectic smattering of work was ever presented to me in such a way.  It wasn’t a mundane list of recommendations any doofus with a blog could cook up.  It was a set of tools with which to dig into my brain and reevaluate my standards and tastes.

While Gillen and McKelvie may not have intended to teach with their work, Phonogram taught me a valuable lesson:  music is magic.  It’s a moment and a feeling, stamped into a physical object that can be released at any time so that someone, somewhere can experience that self-same emotion.  It’s a transference and transformation of energy.

I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of magic.

If it’s not it should be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still blast Kid Dynamite records with the windows down on nice sun-shiney days.  I still stomp around in circle pits at punk shows.  I still prefer my old tastes.  But Phonogram has aided me in creating new ones.  It has carved new pathways into my brain that allowed me to approach listening to music from a new direction.

Really, all Phonogram set out to do was tell a great story with one assertion:  music is magic.  Once the third volume is finally released this summer readers can relearn that valuable lesson…and I can have several more reasons to buy imported seven-inches from bands I previously talked heaps of trash on.

Jeff Lemire’s Trillium: Stretching the Limits of Comics with Purpose and Precision

Discussing comics has a typical trajectory.

Plot, art, script, layout, and, ultimately, entertainment value.

That isn’t so much an indictment of the medium’s criticism as it is a reminder that occasionally a comic will come along and force us to break our usual structure of analysis.  Creators pull apart the tried and true comics format in order to build something wholly their own, and to realize their individual creative vision.  As such, we as readers not only have to adapt, but retool our standard modes of discussion.

Jeff Lemire’s Trillium, a monthly Vertigo limited series that ran from July 2013 to April 2014, and collected in trade August of that year, is one of these books.  It is a love story at its core.  A love story wrapped in a massive, high-concept science fiction blanket.

But that’s not what makes this book special.

Lemire goes to great lengths to match the reading experience with the content.  In the first issue alone the reader is asked to physically flip the book over half-way through to show a shift in both perspective and setting.  The act in and of itself forces a reorientation of sorts for the reader, but also shows the disparity between the year 3797, in which Nika, the first protagonist is introduced, and 1921, where readers meet William, the story’s second protagonist.

But we’ve all seen books like this before, haven’t we?  Books that are all gimmick and no substance?

Lemire refuses to let his work sink to that sorry state.

In fact, he uses in-story cues to justify the physicality of the reading experience.  In the second issue the reader is taught to read the page-by-page shifts in perspective by only being able to understand the featured character’s language—character-themed page borders cue in the reader further.

In issue five, Nika’s self-programed A.I. asks readers to read the top halves of the pages first so Nika’s side of the story is told in full.  It then requests that the book be flipped over in order to read the inverted, bottom-half of the pages that feature William’s story.

In the sixth issue, readers have to turn the book over and back again several times as a convergence of the protagonists’ lives occurs.

With all of the story’s odd requests, and all the seemingly random goings-on, Lemire could have stopped there and sold plenty of books.  But he didn’t.  A black hole has been looming over the piece the entire time allowing for all of the space-time jumps and timeline melds.  This not only creates a purpose for the twisting up and flip-flopping of reality in the story, but it allows the reader the opportunity to experience those sensations by following the book’s rules.

Trillium’s reading experience is directly linked to the in-story logic.  Its emotional elements are fortified through a literal melding of the protagonists’ lives.  Lemire never once relies on his built-in reading enhancements, however.  Cut up and read in a more traditional manner, Trillium would still be the mind-bending, emotional romp through space-time it already is.  And that point speaks volumes for the work as a whole.  Lemire created a comic that utilizes all of the art form’s available possibilities without compromising the integrity of the story or its characters.

Comics can create unique opportunities for us as readers.  We’re invited to think a bit differently.  Feel a bit differently.  Delve more deeply into a story’s potential.  And as Lemire’s creative vision is fully realized in Trillium, we’re given the privilege of unpacking a work in all of its many complex and expertly conceived layers.

We’ll return to our usual discussions soon enough.

But Trillium is a unique and stunning diversion.

We’ve Got Us a Spider-Man

Yes.  It’s true.  Spider-Man will finally be making his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This is wonderful news for any fan.  In fact, for a while now, it’s been the general consensus that the wall-crawler’s presence is one of the few things missing from the MCU.  I myself said on several occasions, “Marvel’s owned by Disney, Disney owns this quadrant of the Milky Way Galaxy, yeah, they’ve got enough money to buy back our web-slinging friend from Sony Pictures.”

While that’s not exactly how the deal went down—Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige will now have his hands in the upcoming Spidey flicks, as well as the power to plant the web-slinger and his rogues gallery in the MCU proper and vice-versa.  But they still don’t own the character.  Sony is licensing Spider-Man for Marvel’s use.

They’re sharing.  Isn’t that nice?

Regardless, this is a huge win.  And I’m very excited.

The sad truth is, however, that over Spidey’s five picture stint he’s gone through one spectacularly bad film, one full reboot, and a second poorly executed movie that collapsed under the weight of its bloated third act.  All at the hands of Sony and its motion picture holdings.

The new deal, as I understand it, gives Marvel the use of the character, but the creative force behind his solo films will be controlled by Sony.  Despite Kevin Feige and his team’s best efforts, Sony could again misuse and abuse Spider-Man as they still have the final say on the goings-on and happenstance in his solo adventures.

Granted, Feige’s track record as producer and overseer of the MCU is very, very good.  His vision should be trusted at this point.  But every deal, as we know, is made through a series of benefits and compromises for both parties.  Yes, the MCU can include Spider-Man, which is wonderful, but his inclusion therein is major marketing for Sony.  Having Marvel Studios’ brand, and Feige’s acumen attached to their own films is a huge boost as well.  But will they cast away their current vision?  Will they trust in Feige?

My guess is no, they won’t.

They have creative control and the right to do as they please so long as it fits with the events of the MCU.  That fact alone is fodder for concern.

This has been written about extensively since this news broke late last night.  I figured, however, I needed to chime in as a life-long superhero fan living in a veritable golden age of cinematic comic book ventures.  I worry deeply that the ever expanding bubble of influence over the hearts and minds of hardcore and casual fans alike could pop at any moment.

And it will pop.  Someday.  Hopefully not soon, but eventually.

Yes, I’m thrilled.  I think there could be great things on the horizon.  But I’m forced to take this news with a sprinkling of salt rather than a grain.  Because, when it ends, I’d prefer a slow deflation of that bubble.  Not an explosion that could leave us all covered in primary-colored goop, embarrassed to admit how much time and money we devoted to something so tenuous.

So, my question is, will seeing Spider-Man suited up with the Avengers be worth the cost?

We will see, indeed.


Good V. Awesome (Concerning Sharks Being Eaten by Dinosaurs)

A common misconception in discussing any form of art or entertainment is: if it garners a pleasurable experience it can then be considered Good.  This is a flawed way to approach such a discussion.

I tend to break the things I like down into two categories: Awesome or Good.

If something is Awesome, it is heavy on the entertainment and often light on well-done content.

If something is Good, it has managed to balance entertainment and content in a masterful way.

Can something Awesome also be Good?  Certainly.

Can something Good also be Awesome?  Absolutely.

I simply take a bit of umbrage when spectacle and panache become synonymous with quality.

I bring this up after a Twitter debate I had with a friend over the upcoming film, Jurassic World, in which I raised a question based on the trailer.  In one scene we see a great white shark dangling over a body of water as bait for a massive underwater dinosaur—the display akin to a SeaWorld attraction in which a dolphin is coaxed into flinging itself from the water to nab a fish.

It’s a breathtaking scene.  It’ll get people’s butts in the seats.

But my fear is that story-logic will not be applied to the scene.  If the park is feeding a previously extinct creature with a nearly endangered present-day beast of the sea, the rest of the film could merely be a series of exploitative spectacles for an audience to Ooh and Ahh over.

The film is being marketed through the evocation of the original, Jurassic ParkWe’re back on Isla Nublar—the island on which the Dino-theme-park-experiment failed most egregiously twenty years ago.  But we’re told the park is now open as the massive iconic gates invite us inside.  We become immersed in wonders nearly identical to those seen in the original.  Then there’s a montage of the shit we expect to go down in a film such as this.  And, to top it off?  Whispers of John Williams’ fantastic score sneak in.

But what made Jurassic Park so effective was the pseudo-use of scientific facts.  The portrayal of the possible pratfalls of wielding such technologies.  The wonders that become the stuff of nightmares.  Quality and thorough storytelling tethered to a wildly entertaining romp through the jungle with dinosaurs nipping at the characters’ heels.  It was smart, fun, elegant, and impressive.

The next two films, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, can roughly be described as, “Holy shit we’re being chased by dinosaurs!”  The magic that made Jurassic Park Good was skipped in order to make its sequels Awesome—unfortunately they even fell short of that label.

And therein lies my concern.  If the marketing of Jurassic World relies on both spectacle and the nostalgia of the original, it had better damn well produce.

While the shark scene more than likely has very little to do with the plot, if anything at all, if that is to be included in the film (among other Awesome looking scenes), it best have some logic applied to it.

Maybe, since they’re so good at cloning stuff, a throw-away line mentioning that they grow all their own food could be included?  If that’s the case, done, I’m in.

But if the assumption is that great whites are as naturally bountiful as the ill-fated goats in the original—which would be horrifying, by the way—then that simply sucks.  I would have to then assume that the filmmakers were more concerned with Awesome spectacles more so than Good content.

My friend told me I should just try to enjoy the film when I see it.  It’s likely I will.  I’m an easy sell.  Fun is fun, right?  Awesome and Good both have their merits.

But reinvigorating a franchise and restoring its good name after it was destroyed by two worthless sequels will take more than Jaws being eaten whole by Dino-Jaws.  Or a hybrid-dinosaur bent on blood and death.  Or a pack of trained raptors (yeah, I know.)

The original film deserves better.  The novel it was based on deserves better.  And we do too, don’t we?

Nick’s Top 10 Favorite Records of 2014 (Among Other Things)

You should keep in mind that I’m not presumptuous enough to suggest these picks are the best records of 2014.  They simply happen to be my favorites of the 114 LPs, EPs, and singles I listened to last year.  I don’t claim to be a music critic, nor do I pretend to know how to analyze music properly.

Fact is, I like what I like.  So what?

Okay, here we go:

Nick’s Top Ten Favorite LPs of 2014

10. Cayetana – “Nervous Like Me”
Despite the fact they’re from Philadelphia, this band—in all their lo-fi glory—put out a wonderful record. The best of punk and indie blended into cohesive, focused, and self-conscious (literally and figuratively) tunes fit for fans of either genre.
Favorite Tune: “Busy Brain” 

9. Manchester Orchestra – “Cope”
There seems to be a bit of a 90s alt-rock resurgence. I won’t lie.  I’m not mad.  Manchester Orchestra got crunchier, turned their amps all the way up, and didn’t look back until this thing was finished.  Heavy, melodic, sad.  This is quite a throwback, but it’s brand new to me.
Favorite Tune: “Every Stone”

8. Restorations – “LP3”
Philly band. Again.  Sorry.  Anyway, this is how punks can age and do so gracefully.  Restorations’ guts are punk, and that shows in the heart of their music.  They achieve a sort of complex simplicity that sounds rock n’ roll, but demands an aging punk’s attention.  Actually, it demands everyone’s attention.  See that?  That’s punk.
Favorite Tune: “Separate Songs”

7. Chris Letchford – “Lightbox”
Experimental, challenging as hell, but well worth the work it takes to understand it. It’s part easy listening, part mind-bending jazz.  And I’m not a jazz guy.  I was a fan of Letchford’s work in progressive metal act, Scale the Summit, and was intrigued when I heard of his solo work.  Well worth the time and patience.  If, of course, you have time and patience.
Favorite Tune: “The Star Boys”

6. The Menzingers – “Rented World”
They’re not technically from Philly, you guys. They began in Scranton and moved to Philly.  Sue me.  What’s great about this record is the Menzingers could have produced a less effective rehash of their outrageous-good “On the Impossible Past,” but they stepped away and made something worthy to follow it up.  This thing rips.  Sad, sarcastic, a little shitty-drunk, it screams 90s, and punk.  Okay, and Philly.
Favorite Tune: “In Remission”

5. Dinosaur Pile-Up – ‘Nature Nurture”
Taking their name from Peter Jackson’s King Kong (if you’ve seen it, you know), this UK outfit uses grunge as a protein, metal as a spice, and wraps it all up in a pop-rock casing.  Sometimes pretty, sometimes catchy, sometimes brutally heavy, this record was a surprise to me as I trolled the front page of iTunes’ recent releases.  My lordy am I happy their name is as fantastic as their music is delicious.
Favorite Tune: “Peninsula”

4. Comeback Kid – “Die Knowing”
This may be my most questionable pick. Comeback Kid breeds polarization.  Which is a shame, I’ve always been a fan.  Truthfully enough, however, their previous two releases left me wanting.  This, though?  It borrows from just about every variation of hardcore to make something new.  And wild.  And violent.  And really, really great.  Sure, it’s a tick overproduced.  But CBK’s finesse in navigating the genre speaks for itself.  And Scott Wade does guest vocals!
Favorite Tune: “Full Swing”

3. The Bamboos – “Fever in the Road”
This Melbourne-based, nine-piece beast needs a new term to describe their tunes: Nu-Funking-Soul.  This record blows me away every time I listen to it.  It’s modern soul without being a niche joke.  Funk without the gimmicks.  It’s real, guys.  Sincerity goes a long way when reimagining a classic sound.  And the Bamboos do it with style and class.
Favorite Tune: “Helpless Blues”

2. Lagwagon – “Hang”
Lagwagon hadn’t put out an LP since 2005. Admittedly, I was worried.  I was worried that I’d grown out of their SoCal sound.  I was worried they were clinging to something they no longer embodied.  I had concerns.  However, Joey Cape and company reinvented themselves.  No by changing what they are, but by changing their approach to the material.  The music is familiar, but wildly different.  The lyrics are thematically focused, but lack the pretention of a concept album.  This thing is heavy, riffy, fast, and 100% Lagwagon.  But it comes from a band that knows what they were, and what they want to be, and they did it without dissolving that which makes them, them.  Their unflinching loyalty to punk rock.  I had concerns.  Now I don’t.
Favorite Tune: “Obsolete Absolute”

1. The Lawrence Arms – “Metropole”
Sadness, aging, personal demons, and crushing regret.  All present in the Lawrence Arms’ newest effort.  Sounds pretty rough, does it?  Because it is.  But it the most wonderful ways!  Brendan, Chris, and Neil never seem satisfied with writing a bunch of songs, slapping them onto a disc and calling the end product an album.  While these hard-drinking Chicago-based sad-sack punks are in the process of writing an album, they seem to pore over what exactly turns a collection of songs into a full body of work.  They revisit lyrical content, chord progressions, riffs.  Each song is magnificent on its own, but as a whole?  They all writhe and twist and slop together to show us sadness, and regret, and woulda-coulda-shouldas, while sprinkling in an odd sense of hope.
This is a wonderful record.
And we’re all a bit sadder for having listened to it.
Just kidding.
Not really…
Favorite Tune: “Paradise Shitty”

Nick’s Top Five Favorite EPs or Singles of 2014

5. Saves the Day – “Tide of Our Times/Everlasting Everything”
Saves the Day’s 2013 self-titled album was fantastic.  This is merely one of those tunes along with an extra from those recording sessions.  And I’m not mad.  Knowing how frequently Saves the Day alters their style, who knows when they’ll sound like this again?  Cling to it!  A great addition to the 7” collection, and a nice treat for fans of their work.

4. Bad Cop/Bad Cop – “Boss Lady”
All-lady pop punk with fast beats and three-part harmonies.  I know there’s a lot of punk rock on this list, but Bad Cop/Bad Cop is a no-brainer for anyone hankering for some fast tunes that offer perspectives that differ significantly from the mostly male dominated genre.

3. Diamond Youth – “Shake”
It’s heavy.  It’s moody.  It’s surf-rocky.  And it’s an EP that was a bit overlooked because of how early in the year it was released.  Say, you like the first Foo Fighters record?  Diamond Youth’s got them breakdowns.  Hey, you dig the falsetto vocal stylings of Muse?  Diamond Youth’s all over it.  Bro, you like surfing?  I’m pretty sure Diamond Youth is down with that, too.  Pure radness here.

2. Cayetana – “Hot Dads Calendar”
What?  A repeat?  Yes.  Indeed.  My introduction to Cayetana was due to this release.  Only two songs and I was smitten.  They hooked me with two damn songs, you guys!  Want a Cayetana primer?  Boom.  Here you go.

1. The Weaks – “The World is a Terrible Place, and I Hate Myself and Want to Die”
What makes a good EP?  A consistent flow, a showcase of what a band is capable of, and some damn fine songs to boot.  The Weaks accomplish all of that and more.  Snarky and 90s-heavy, these tunes lure you in, shake you about, then spit you out wishing to be shaken about again.
It’s another coincidence, I guess.  They’re from Philly, too.
How about that?

Nick’s Honorable Mentions of 2014

Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
It didn’t make the Top Ten.  But this record is great.  Yes, it rocks and rolls, and does all the things a great rock album should do.  That’s true.  What Against Me! offers here is perspective.  And an important one at that.  I’d rather let Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) speak for herself than write some meager words that won’t pale in comparison.  Pick this up.  Immediately.

Manchester Orchestra – “Hope”
Their album “Cope” is in the Top Ten.  But what of this?  “Hope” is the stripped-down reimagining of “Cope” in its entirety.  Full of acoustic guitars and string arrangements, it’s the softer side of a crushingly good album.  A real treat.

Various Artists – “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1”
Writer/director James Gunn wrote these songs into the very first draft of the Guardians of the Galaxy script.  Without these jams it’s tough to say if the reception of the film would have been the same.
I’m going for it here:  This is truly an awesome mix.
See what I did there?

Nick’s 2014 “This Year in Nostalgia” Award

Finch – “Back to Oblivion”
I was obsessed with Finch in the early 2000’s.  Their lyrics were corny, their music was derivative, but they spoke to the 15 year-old me.  When they shifted to a more challenging sound, I was right there with them.  Their lyrics went from corny to unintelligible, their music took on a life of its own.
Then their fans wigged out and the band broke up.
Now, nine years after their last LP, Finch came back to give it another go.  And it’s pretty good, too!  Probably a bit irrelevant, sure.  But I for one am glad they’re back.
Makes me feel fifteen again.

Nick’s 2014 “Unbridled Enthusiasm” Award

DragonForce – “Maximum Overload”
The album’s ridiculous.  It’s musically over the top.  It’s lyrically absurd…
But let’s face it, DragonForce is awesome.  They’re every video game you’ve ever played.  Every Lord of the Rings battle scene you’ve wanted to remix.  They shred.
They put the same record out every three years, sure.
Good.  Let ‘em.

Nick’s 2014 “Challenge Accepted” Award

Animals As Leaders – “Joy of Motion”
If you like to have your brain wrung out while listening to music, this is for you.  Experimental Metal/Jazz fusion.  If you can make it through, you’re better off for it.  If you can’t, no one will blame you.  Outstanding stuff.

Nick’s Year in Music – 2014

(The following is a list of all the LPs, EPs, and singles I listened to in 2014.  Lots of great stuff.  Some shit, too.  Choose wisely.)

The Lawrence Arms – “Metropole”
Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
Mogwai – “Rave Tapes”
Periphery – “Clear”
The Lawrence Arms – “News from Yalta”
Diamond Youth – “Shake”
Cayetana – “Hot Dad Calendar”
The Weaks – “The World is a Terrible Place, and I Hate Myself and Want to Die”
The Moms – “Blow Me”
The Shell Corporation – “Mandrake”
Rust Belt Lights – “Religion & My Ex”
St. Vincent – S/T
Twin Forks – S/T
Beck – “Morning Phase”
Kid Cudi – “Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon”
The Mighty Fine – “Brothers & Smugglers”
Comeback Kid – “Die Knowing”
Nothing – “Guilty of Everything”
Banner Pilot – “Souvenir”
Bad Cop/Bad Cop – “Boss Lady”
Dinosaur Pile-Up – “Nature Nurture”
Marc7 – “Food, Clothing, and Shelter”
Barely Alive – “Lost in the Internet”
Lung Season – “2014”
Tycho – “Awake”
Iron Savior – “Rise of the Hero”
Persuader – “The Fiction Maze”
Somos – “Temple of Plenty”
Dugout – “Where There Used to Be Meaning”
Oh Honey – “With Love”
Augustines – S/T
Blood Red Shoes – S/T
311 – “Stereolithic
Future Islands – “Singles”
Tides of Man – “Young and Courageous”
London Grammar – “If You Wait”
Grieves – “Winter & the Wolf”
Gamma Ray – “Empire of the Dead”
Taking Back Sunday – “Happiness Is”
Animals As Leaders – “Joy of Motion”
Finch – “What It is to Burn X”
Karmin – “Pulses”
The Bamboos – “Fever in the Road”
Jason Cruz and Howl – “Good Man’s Ruin”
Antarctigo Vespucci – “Soulmate Stuff”
Galantis – “EP”
Johnny Cash – “Out Among the Stars”
Betty Who – “Slow Dancing”
Scavenger Hunt – S/T
Manchester Orchestra – “Cope”
Modern Baseball – “You’re Gonna Miss it All”
SinBreed – “Shadows”
For the Fallen Dreams – “Heavy Hearts”
Ingrid Michaelson – “Lights Out”
Brendan Kelly/Sam Russo – “Split the Tip”
Fucked Up – “Year of the Dragon”
Sonata Arctica – “Pariah’s Child”
Xandria – “Sacrificium”
Fireworks – “Oh, Common Life”
Mad Caddies – “Dirty Rice”
Conor Oberst – “Upside Down Mountain”
Atmosphere – “Southsiders”
Chuck Ragan – “’Til Midnight”
Eels – “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett”
Diamond Youth – “UK OK”
Cayetana – “Nervous Like Me”
Matisyahu – “AKEDA”
Tigers Jaw – “Charmer”
Coldplay – “Ghost Stories”
Bob Mould – “Beauty & Ruin”
Bury Tomorrow – “Runes”
Chris Letchford – “Light Box”
Arch Enemy – “War Eternal”
White Lung – “Deep Fantasy”
Mastodon – “Once More ‘Round the Sun”
Fucked Up – “Glass Boys”
Every Time I Die – “From Parts Unknown”
Judas Priest – “Redeemer of Souls”
Manic Street Preachers – “Futurology”
Broods – S/T
Four Year Strong – “Go Down in History”
Rx Bandits – “Gemini, Her Majesty”
La Sera – “Hour of the Dawn”
Joyce Manor – “Never Hungover Again”
Porter Robinson – “Worlds”
Zomboy – “The Outbreak”
Various Artists – “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1”
Within the Ruins – “Phenomena”
DragonForce – “Maximum Overload”
The Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt”
Leisure Cruise – S/T
The Moms – “Buy American”
Whirr – “Sway”
Finch – “Back to Oblivion”
The Preatures – “Blue Planet Eyes”
New Found Glory – “Resurrection”
Foo Fighters – “Sonic Highways”
Gerard Way – “Hesitant Alien”
Lights – “Little Machines”
Saves the Day – “The Tide of Our Times/Everlasting Everything”
Broods – “Evergreen”
Lagwagon – “Hang”
Manchester Orchestra – “Hope”
Restorations – “LP3”
The Drums – “Encyclopedia”
Capsize – “The Angst in My Veins”
Unearth – “Watchers of Rule”
Antarctigo Vespucci – “I’m So Tethered”
Cloud Nothings – “Here and Nowhere Else”
Knife Party – “Abandon Ship”
Angels & Airwaves – “The Dream Walker”
Death from Above 1979 – “The Physical World”
TV on the Radio – “Seeds”
Common – “Nobody Smiling”