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Tuesday
Apr062010

Blues Go Modern on Jason Ager’s Debut Lunchdate

Lunchdate available on iTunesOn his debut album Lunchdate, Jason Ager brings new weight to both sides of the term blues-rock.  With soulful songs about love and loss, arranged with upbeat instrumentation and allusive lyrics, Ager taps into a rich and varied American musical heritage. 

Lunchdate is full of songs that evoke the influences of blues artists like Muddy Waters as well as rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry, the latter’s name inspiring a song title on the record.  Ager fleshes out the traditional blues progressions with innovative time changes and layers of vocal harmonies that offer a full, rich sound. 

The album starts off boldly, with Ager singing plaintive a capella to his absent muse, “Jocelyn.”  Four lines in though – Bam! – the music kicks in at high tempo and Ager’s voice is now given a compelling chorus effect as razor-sharp guitar lines guide him through the rest of the song.  Ager has cultivated a highly syncopated style of singing that accentuates his self-taught guitar style, especially present on “Sing-Along Jawn.”

Personal anecdotes provide the subject matter for Ager’s lyrics, and he packs them in, mixing plenty of romantic self-deprecation with poetic similes and a bevy of pop-culture references that provide a roadmap of his musical influences.  It is this blend of personal and cultural that makes the album so accessible. 

Full-out rockers like title track “Lunchdate” offer a glimpse of the blistering live show Jason Ager and The C.O.P.O. perform in clubs like Philadelphia’s World Café Live, singing to every girl in the audience that he’s “got you up on my mind.”  Long-time musical partner Austin O’Connor lays down inventive bass lines that push the tempo, and drummer Sheri Gallagher tightens the arrangement with her snare and hi-hat work.

Ager is also an active solo performer, bringing his acoustic act to stages such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  On “Strawberry Wine,” a song that would sound right at home in a Nashville honky-tonk, Ager explores the textures of harmonizing with his own voice which effect transports the listener to a back porch on a summer day. 

Recorded at Hatfield, PA’s Tritonix Recording, Lunchdate is an album that bridges many genres of American music, from R&B of the ’60s to the hip-hop of Biggie Smalls.  On “Rock Star,” Ager surfs on waves of organ music and “Na na na” choruses as he sings of his early days in the business, but then breaks down the final minute of the song into a rap that spits pure truth about coming to terms with illusions of grandeur. 


The combination of such distinct musical styles elevates Lunchdate to a place that resonates with contemporary audiences who appreciate hybrid artists in possession of a reverence for music history.  Ager succeeds in producing music that achieves a type of earnest pastiche infused with deeply personal themes.  Lunchdate is an album you will listen to again and again, gleaning new pleasure from every spin. 

Lunchdate on Itunes and CD Baby.

Jason Ager on MySpace, Facebook, and Last.fm.  

Friday
Apr022010

Fringe Solidifies Must-See Status with "Peter"

Fringe

FOX

Thursday 9/8c

Spoiler Warning: This article addresses plot points of the Fringe episode “Peter”. 

Although the recent trend of broadcast television shows going on hiatus mid-season is a bit frustrating, the excitement of their return offers an opportunity for a big payoff.  Fans of Fringe had their anticipation sated in dramatic fashion with Thursday night’s episode, “Peter.”

FOX“Peter” is the best episode of Fringe to date, largely because it emphasizes the characters’ humanity, and the drama comes from personal tragedy instead of sci-fi mythology.  John Noble’s Walter Bishop is regularly the best thing about Fringe, and this is the first time we’re seeing him in the past, fully confident and aggressive in his scientific beliefs.  We finally get to witness firsthand the event that has shaped so much of the present tensions between the parallel universes.  We see a father whose sorrow drives him to rip the fabric of space-time to save his son. 

I loved watching Noble as a younger, arrogant Walter.  The performance served as a great counterpoint to the sweet, damaged man we’ve come to know in the present.  Unyielding in his mission, he would let no one stand in his way.  The tongue-lashing he gave Nina Sharp was so satisfying, as he railed against the absent wunderkind, William Bell.  And we learned how Nina’s arm was injured, seeing it pushed out of phase by the window between worlds.       

But Walter’s arrogance is not the only agent in this ethical quandary.  The Observers play an integral role in facilitating the potentially catastrophic events.  It was an Observer who distracted “Walternate” from realizing he had found a cure, and later saved Walter and Peter from the lake.  Was this the same compassionate Observer we saw in “August”? 

I am very intrigued by the Observer characters, especially when they cease to be solely that.  We get a sense of larger forces at play, that Peter “is important.”  Where do the Observers’ loyalties lie and what is their investment? 

The family scenes with Orla Brady as Elizabeth Bishop contributed to the success of this episode because of their subtlety, the interactions truly conferring their love for Peter (well acted by Quinn Lord) and the pain they feel at his death.  The husband and wife relationship was summed up when Walter tells Elizabeth, “I need you to not doubt me.”  The power of this request in its first utterance is painfully subverted in its later use to deceive the alternate mother. 

Fringe has taken a season and a half to really find its stride, and can now truly be considered a successor to The X-Files because it has successfully merged character drama with an overarching mythology.  “Peter” gave us beautifully acted drama while also filling in the puzzle piece we had been skirting around for so long.  Show runner Jeff Pinkner has said that the remainder of the season will be filtered through this secret between Walter and Olivia.  I can’t wait to see what happens when Peter learns the truth about his past, and how he and Olivia utilize their uniqueness to face the coming fight.  Fringe has solidified its must-see status for the rest of the season.   

Wednesday
Mar312010

Gorillaz Concept Surges on Plastic Beach

Today, The Creation of Adam welcomes guest blogger Paul Tsikitas, who writes about music at In the Wake of Poseidon.

 

When Snoop Dogg first welcomed me to the world of Plastic Beach, I was unaware of what a strange and wonderful world I was getting myself into. Gorillaz is usually synonymous with fantastic collaborations and excruciatingly catchy tunes, yet at first glance, Plastic Beach seems like too many collaborations, musically very different from their 2001 self-titled debut and 2005’s Demon Days. The album doesn’t pick up with its catchiest tunes until five tracks deep, when the album’s first single, the ultra groovy and funky "Stylo" kicks in. This sounds like I’m knocking it, but quite the contrary. Although this won’t be many listeners' go-to Gorillaz album, especially when you are looking to party, this is easily the Gorillaz' finest album as an art form.

Plastic Beach is a concept album that is all about environmental disaster and the artifice of our world culture. It's a sprawling record with loads of tracks varying in sound and style. While this sound is more complex and much more synthetic, it perfectly mirrors the themes of an artificial utopia. This isn't to say there aren’t any organic sounds to be found. A song like "White Flag" brings in an Eastern string section juxtaposed with some excellent rhymes care of British rappers Bashy and Kano and a flourishing back beat.

The sounds are constantly shifting and bringing different moods and feeling onto the shores of Plastic Beach. There are slower, poppier ballads like the Grandaddyesque "On Melancholy Hill" or the fabulous slow space ballad "Empire Ants", both of which are excellent moments of clarity on the album. Then there are the catchier numbers like the infectious and skewering "Superfast Jellyfish" or the frenetic Mos Def jam "Sweepstakes." These songs have layer after layer of compounding sound. It's a lot to take in, as the sound is far more complex than some of the more simplistic moments in the Gorillaz catalog.

If there is anything evident here, it's that Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett have evolved the Gorillaz into something beyond a fictitious cartoon group of primates pounding out dance floor-ready tunes. This time around, they are making a social statement as well as taking Gorillaz into new direction. The frenzy of guest stars from Lou Reed to Bobby Womack proves that Gorillaz is a collective genius. Albarn and gang have a great pulse on high quality pop music with an introspective touch. Plastic Beach is sure to be one of the more memorable records of the year and one of the best to kick off a new decade.

Monday
Mar292010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

ABC

Friday 9/8c

While many are praising the tumultuous passing of the health care bill, the cauterized media coverage and public opinion polls show all too clearly that America does not know how to have a civil debate about the most important social issues.

ABC / Holly FarrellPerhaps they need to be driven to dialogue and change through a more familiar avenue, like reality television.  Let’s hope that medium is more palatable to Americans as they watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a six-part series on ABC that documents the British chef’s attempts to change the life-shortening eating habits of America’s least healthy town, Huntington, West Virginia. 

Having watched the first two episodes (available on Hulu), I can say that Food Revolution falls into the same trappings as many reality shows – painting people as caricatures of themselves, pitting heroes against villains, and squeezing raw emotion out of its stars.  After all, the series is produced by Ryan Seacrest. 

The message behind the series, though, is anything but trite.  Obesity is one of America’s leading health problems, and there is no reason that an overhaul of the health-care system should not also include food industry regulation and nutritional education.  Jamie Oliver has experience with enacting real political and social change through his whole foods educational approach. 

Oliver achieved success with program like Jamie’s School Dinners and Ministry of Food in his native England, which highlighted the dangers of processed foods in the school system and encouraged a community effort to rediscover the joys of home cooking.  His efforts raised public awareness and secured funds for an overhaul of the school lunch system, even earning praise from Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Just this year, Oliver earned a TED prize for his programs, an award shared previously by people like Bono and former President Bill Clinton. 

I feel strongly that regulation of the food industry and nutritional education need to be addressed hand-in-hand with the future of health care in this country.  Oliver gets it right by starting in the schools, with the children.  Food Revolution shows him battling a population entrenched in their habits, a school board system concerned with budgetary constraints, and a student body incapable of recognizing a fresh tomato.  By engaging real families simultaneously with government officials, Oliver’s efforts have a chance at making a real difference. 

Parents should absolutely watch this show with their children.  It will serve as a wakeup call to the type of food we put in our bodies every day.  It’s also great motivation for young, single people or couples to get into the kitchen and learn a few new recipes, so that we don’t pass on the same bad habits to future generations.  All of us can take more notice of the food we eat, and Jamie Oliver gives us an example we can proudly follow. 

Links

Sign Jamie’s petition for an American Food Revolution

Top Chef’s Toby Young on Jamie Oliver

Wednesday
Mar242010

Unchained Melody: Richard's Song

"Oh, my love / my darling
I've hungered for your touch / a long lonely time"

~ Hy Zaret, "Unchained Melody"

"Ab Aeterno" was one of the most anticipated episodes of LOST in the show’s history, and it gave fans just about everything they wanted to know about the Island’s ageless wonder, Richard Alpert.  With enduring themes, faraway locales, and a pervasive sense of the eternal, the episode played like its own mini-movie.

ABC / Mario Perez

In an extended replay of the conversation in the hospital, we learn Jacob told Ilana that Richard would know what to do with the final candidates, but on the island, he is clearly not in any shape to provide leadership.  Jack says he’s lost his mind, and he’s not wrong.  That unstable titter, the claim that they’re all dead and in hell, lead us to believe he’s of no use to anybody.  I’m not quite ready to believe that, though. 

At this point, Richard feels betrayed, unraveled, like he has only been strung along instead of truly saved.  Has he been trusting the devil all along? As we see in his flashback, his loyalty to Jacob has been built on faith explicated by reason, for which he turned away from selfish desire.  His current pain is exacerbated when he thinks that he gave up any chance to see his wife for a perceived liar and manipulator like Jacob.  But it was the Man in Black who fed those conceptions.  Are these men as monochromatic as they seem? LOST continues to play with that question.   

So let’s talk about Nestor Carbonell’s performance.  The anxiety of his character’s current state is transported back to the Canary Islands in 1867, where he is rushing frantically to save his wife, Isabella.  As we watch him plead with the doctor and offer up everything of value to him, he inhabits the helpless role of a peasant, powerless in a world of controlling men, similar to the situation he came to understand himself in on the island. 

Carbonell is brilliant throughout the episode.  He gives us the fear and desperation of a man caught up in tragic circumstances, whose simple faith and burning love do nothing to save him from the wiles of evil men.  He repeatedly asks if he is in hell, and everyone tells him he is, denying him the smallest sliver of hope.  But yet he does have something driving him, for when confronted with things he does not understand, such as the captain killing the slaves and his subsequent death from the smoke monster, Richard yet remains resilient, struggling to escape from the chains of his bondage.  As Jacob forces him to declare, he wants to live.  Carbonell used that drive for survival as a visceral motivation for Richard.

Although he desires to live, the secret to his agelessness is not rooted in that mere instinct to survive, but rather as a bulwark against the pain of never seeing his wife again.  I didn’t love the fact that the request came about in an almost resigned, joking manner, but it worked in the context of the scene.  We also learned that there are limits to Jacob’s power. 

The language of damnation and the very word ‘hell’ strongly colored the theme of this episode, but as soon as Richard said it in the present, I knew the castaways weren’t in hell.  But what can we make of Jacob’s example with the cork?  Does this make the island some kind of purgatory, a buffer between hell and earth?  I don’t buy into it in exactly those loaded terms, but the idea of the island as a safeguard against a malevolent enemy does intrigue me. 

What I did not like about this episode was the occasional heavy hand in making the connections for us.  The most cringe-worthy line was hearing Titus Welliver actually say, “It’s good to see you out of those chains.”  We heard unLocke utter this line to Richard just a few episodes ago, so I think we could have enjoyed that connection through simply witnessing the Man in Black beholding Richard in the belly of the Black Rock, instead of hearing those exact words.  Same goes for his revelation as the smoke monster. 

Ultimately, though, this was a great episode of LOST, clearly the best so far this season, and it gave fans several satisfying answers.  We confirmed that Magnus Hanso owned the Black Rock, we learned how the statue was destroyed, and we learned more about the struggle between Jacob and the Man in Black. 

Back in the present, a distraught Richard tries to switch sides, crying out to the Man in Black.  Instead, he gets Hurley, who acts as an intermediary with Isabella.  Through him, Richard is able to finally say goodbye to his wife.  This scene was intended to pull on the heartstrings, but I’m glad they shot it in a way that maintained the illusion that Richard could not see her, even as she touched his face.  Now he has a new mission: to keep the Man in Black from leaving the island.  Yes! 

My interest had not waned this season, but "Ab Aeterno" got me even more excited to finish the show’s journey.  What did you think? 

Other thoughts and questions

  • When Canarians emigrated to Caribbean islands like Puerto Rico in the mid-19th century, they brought with them a tradition known as Festival de Máscaras (Masks), based on the biblical story of King Herod.  Yet another reason to talk about Nestor Carbonell’s eyes.
  • The Bible verse Richard was reading in his cell is Luke 4:24, and says, “Verily I say unto you, ‘No prophet is accepted in his own country.’” Who on the island could this be referring to?
  • Biblical imagery does have its place in LOST, and we witness Jacob “baptizing” Richard.
  • Titus Welliver was again great as the Man in Black, and we learn that his desire for freedom is not a newfound cause, as he tries to get Richard to kill Jacob.  His instructions are almost word for word what Dogen said to Sayid about killing unLocke.  What’s the deal with this knife?  It was a different knife that Ben used to kill Jacob, though, wasn’t it?

Links

'Lost:' Nestor Carbonell talks about the ageless wonder he plays

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