Trouble Will Find Me – The National

The National has been on a roll lately- playing great shows, getting critical praise, and somehow finding ways to generate positive buzz around each of their releases. As a band, they have set high expectations amongst an intellectual crowd and they consistently deliver, proving that they are deserving of all the indie praise they’ve been getting for the last two albums. Their new work, Trouble Will Find Me, is no exception, and it seems a crime that I have not yet given them coverage on this blog.


If you think The National are too pretentious then this is the perfect album for you to hate. It never tries very hard to do things the standard way. Trouble Will Find Me makes heavy use of odd time signatures. This keeps new listeners bobbing their heads but unsure of what to expect. And that works for these songs because this isn’t supposed to be pop music. It makes the listener focus more on the moment to moment, and it serves to create a more emotional experience. This is a more advanced and refined High Violet, and I love it.

The National have always had an interesting lyrical style, like poetry put to music.

"Oh, every day I start so great and then the sunlight dims
The less I look the more I see the pythons and the limbs"

Lead singer Matt Berninger has always had a lot to say and the format of this album allows him to vent, getting away with practically just talking at times. The song beats end up more sprawling and less compartmentalized, less structured. The result may initially seem directionless but are actually heartfelt diatribes. The confessions come off as more honest and it feels like the band has really opened up to their fans. The National concerts have always felt like very personal experiences but Trouble Will Find Me pulls that off through the speakers.

I Need My Girl
I Need My Girl

In short, this album is nothing short of amazing. It is filled with heartbreak, soul, self consciousness, and redemption. The quality bar is consistently very high for every single track throughout- they are all a pleasure to listen to whether in the background of a party or with your full attention alone in your room. In a year filled with some aggravatingly average albums, this one’s competing for best of the year. Don’t miss it.

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – Alice In Chains

A few years ago brought news that Alice In Chains was reuniting and releasing a new album. Black Gives Way to Blue was so surprising that I said it was one of the best comeback albums of last decade. The group was a personal favorite of mine throughout high school and I couldn’t be more happy to see their artistic success. But what would happen after spending all that time and emotion and passion and the band moved on past that album? That question is finally answered with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – Alice In Chains

Phantom Limb 
Phantom Limb

First off, there is a lot of loud, sludgy guitar here that really feels like the self titled album from 1995. This provides immediate authenticity but still manages a bland delivery that is strangely uninspired. On a high level the music is almost a bit forgettable. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine on albums when every single song sounds like a filler track. This makes The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here unimpressive on first listen. Fortunately, the music is not outright bad and, if you like the band, it slowly grows on you.

Breaking down the tracks, it is all fairly standard stuff for Alice In Chains, which isn’t to say that it is generic, exactly- there are unorthodox sharp notes, heavy but slow methodical riffs, unexpected tempo changes, harmonized vocals, etc. But with all this, there is a distinct lack of either imagination or effort. The album can’t find a hook or an edge and if I had to guess why I would say that it lacked the emotional drive. After the tour de force of their last album, this is a big let down.

DuVall again does a great job at mimicking Layne’s voice but there is not enough focus on his vocals. It is really hard to understand him through the muddy sound; honestly, this might have been done on purpose because the lyrics aren’t that good this time around. Almost every song suffers as a result of this de-emphasis of his voice- none have catchy choruses and the crooning is full of mistimed half-points. Another awful disappointment is the limited dynamic range on the album that makes it difficult to pick out the interesting harmonies and musical accents. The mix results in everything being a heavy mess which might work for some but not me.

You know, the physical cd has a cool trick. The cover is printed as shown above but the jewel case is transparent red (similar to how the "tripod" album jewel case was yellow). When you look at the cover through the red case it masks out the red color and emphasizes only the blue. This no doubt is a metaphor for how the devil can be seen in bones above but cd cases can reveal the truth, or something like that- I don’t really understand metaphors. But if I had to try my own, I would say that the music should have been mixed down with blue and red colors but the limited dynamic range, acting as the red jewel case, masks out much of the sound and leaves us with half of what we could have had.

I kept listening to this album trying to find a reason to like it more, and honestly, I can appreciate some of the heaviness and repetitive flow more. I can smile at the nuance and interesting bits while accepting that this just isn’t their best foot forward. But all of this rationalization shouldn’t be required for great albums, or even very good ones, and I am admittedly reaching. If you still call yourself an Alice In Chains fan in this decade then you should probably pick up The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, especially if you’re a fan of the old self titled album, but don’t expect any breakthroughs.

Mosquito – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The new Yeah Yeah Yeahs offering does not disappoint. While their albums never have drastically different styles that can alienate fans, they certainly make sure to give each its own flavor. I did a little rundown on some of their previous work in a post about how this group has tons of future potential. After the excellent and dancy It’s Blitz of 2009, the YYYs wanted to get messy again with their scratchy punk roots while retaining everything they’ve learned thus far, and they do a great job.

Mosquito – Yeah Yeah Yeahs


The band’s range continues to impress. The vocals get slow and quiet, loud and screamy, melodic and catchy, and everything in between. The guitars go clean or dirty as needed. The layering and the bass stack on mood and ambiance to result in a very finished sounding product that, while electronic at times, relies more on old fashioned live allure.

These Paths
These Paths

It’s hard to compare Yeah Yeah Yeah albums to each other because they each do their own thing well. Mosquito wants to appear raw while being polished at the same time. It only has some slightly experimental aspects, including a cameo by Dr. Octagon, but definitely nothing to piss off the faithful. If there’s one criticism it’s that, while the overall listen is good, the album lacks the iconic anthems that will define its place in posterity.

Iron Man 3

Why I Hate Everything started with a post about the first Iron Man film 5 years ago. That moment defined what I would focus on- breaking down the over-hyped. This isn’t simply bagging on horrible movies but rather placing a critical eye on those things at the top of pop culture respect. It’s not about beating a dead horse but about bringing down the mighty.

Iron Man 2 followed a couple years later and I, against current standards, said it was the better movie- flawed in the same ways as the first but more plausible overall. Both movies fall apart but this one waits until the end.

There have been some developments since. The Avengers surprised me for its superb execution, managing to deliver exactly what audiences wanted while remaining smart. It was filled with comedic moments without pandering. The Dark Knight Rises had a lot to live up to and fell disappointingly short although I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a bad film. And there have been a slew of other superhero introductions and remakes, most of them not even worth mentioning on this blog.

So why bring up all this history when being presented with Iron Man 3? Simply put, the new film has all the flaws of its prequels, fails at mimicking The Avengers, steals the worst parts from The Dark Knight Rises, and ends up being a messy bowl of gruel.

Spoilers ahead.

In a sentence, Iron Man 3 is a great example of an action movie being more flash than thought. To its detriment, the film follows the fast and loose writing style of its prequels, opting to not care for logic as long as it creates drama. Nearly every action scene has a deus ex machina that could have been introduced much earlier except it wouldn’t have led to the underdog motif that audiences love. It’s great to see that Tony Stark needs to rely on his genius brain when he’s not in his armor but would he really fight 2 super soldiers for so long before pulling out his secret hand laser? The action scenes in the film are riddled with examples of this.

The ending of Iron Man 3 deserves a special pit in hell, and these are classically the weakest points of these movies. The tension of the film after Stark’s house is destroyed relies on him having no more working robots and being a hot PTSD mess who doesn’t fully trust himself, and in fact Tony puts himself in harm’s way more than once because of this. Then when it comes time for the giant action showdown he decides to activate his 50+ strong Iron Man ‘House Party’ army? This convenient plot device doesn’t just stretch disbelief, it accuses me of being an idiot.

Yup, this looks like a film exploring the internal struggle of a man relying on cold machines vs. trusting his inherent humanity.

Likewise, ‘Clean Slate’, the predetermined routine to self-destruct all the surviving suits in the finale, has no purpose. I can’t tell you why but Iron Man 3 thought it would be dramatic if Tony decided to quit being Iron Man, and this is a ploy so obviously thrown in at the last second that it has zero bearing on the movie and shouldn’t have been included.

Another ending disgrace? The pillar that the entire trilogy was built on is that Tony Stark has to have this specially powered heart to keep from dying. This important drive of the previous two movies is talked away in the last seconds by simply stating ‘he fixed it.’ A brief montage that undoes previous canon is a clumsy conclusion to the trilogy.

And what about the motives of the villain? Another generic marginalized scientist who makes super soldiers, fine- but why do they all decide to become terrorists? These men and women all have free will, right? What made them evil that didn’t also change Pepper? Speaking of which, the villain’s plan for some reason is to a) put his victim in a *working* suit of powered armor and b) inject Pepper Potts with the super soldier serum. Aren’t these the opposite things that a villain would do to their enemies? I never read Sun Tzu but I would imagine the famous general would prefer to weaken his enemies rather than empower them.

Flash, flash, flash… just don’t think too much about what you’re watching.

It’s not all bad flash, admittedly. The humor in the movie is pretty good, an attempt to follow The Avenger’s wittiness. RDJ has excellent comedic timing and plays the arrogant role well. It’s especially funny to see this unorthodox interplay with a little boy mid-film. And in general, the overall experience of the movie is pleasant because the jokes are entertaining. Unfortunately, while The Avengers relied mostly on banter in a movie that was about the interaction of all the characters and the team, Iron Man 3 often resorts to physical comedy and ridiculous situations not dissimilar to the first Iron Man, and this tends to break the believability of the scenes. How many times is it funny when Tony’s high tech suits malfunction?

Possibly the biggest sin of Iron Man 3 is the same thing The Dark Knight Rises was guilty of- the movie relied so much on the feelings and legacy of the main character that we simply didn’t get to see him actually being a super-hero much at all. Tony Stark definitely has more bad-ass moments compared to Bruce Wayne but we still never get to see him in a fully functional Iron Man suit flying around, blasting things, and kicking ass. This is ok for a weekly television series where audiences have countless hours and hours to explore alternate facets of a story but we don’t get treated to big budget Iron Man all the time and when I pay my money for it I’d prefer to see him in top form.

The point of all of this is not to dwell on what a horrible movie Iron Man 3 is. In some respects it certainly deserves that criticism but I was entertained and got my money’s worth. It’s a fun movie, just not that well thought out or satisfying. And this is what gets me about comic book nerds who will say this movie is awesome. People like Movie Bob proclaimed how amazing the first two movies were and now are saying "Well, I was probably too kind" and are basically admitting those movies weren’t quite all they said they were. But, here’s the catch, THIS ONE IS! It’s just more hype as a response to the excitement of something new. But a balanced movie review it is not.

And that’s the scab I’m picking at here. Iron Man 3 will be hugely successful in the box office and you should probably even watch it if you think you will like it. But this is a film that will clearly not stand the test of time. Having a ‘good time’ watching it and it being ‘great’ are two very different beasts and it’s ok to push for the latter even when the masses are satisfied with the first part.

Welcome Oblivion – How To Destroy Angels

By now everyone is well aware that How to Destroy Angels will not be the next big thing in music. Their initial EP drew some interest with a good song and an amazing song with filler. Between another EP release and now Welcome Oblivion, the group’s first full length release, the offerings are a mixed bag. Naysayers may classify this group as just a Reznor side project and I personally think the apple hasn’t fallen far enough from the Ghosts tree to be excited about. That said, Welcome Oblivion should be approached for its own merits.

Welcome Oblivion – How To Destroy Angels

How Long? 
How Long?

The album starts a bit derivative of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts, but not to the level of the previous release An Omen. There is some music to be had here but it’s the type to be relegated to the background, probably a result of working on The Social Network and other cinema projects. That is to say, nothing is especially impressive.

Then the middle of the album surprises with some catchy hooks. Too Late, All Gone doesn’t start strong but has a great chorus and I’ve grown to appreciate the verses. How Long? is perhaps the poppiest of the bunch- short, sweet, and a bit different. Finally, Strings and Attractors is another track which, to me, epitomizes what HTDA should be but aren’t.

It’s unfortunate because Welcome Oblivion starts to justify itself at this point in the album but the remaining tracks return to the previous form and fail to deliver. Reznor fans may want the album to complete their collection. Mariqueen fans (do those exist?) may do so as well. Overall, besides the 3 songs in the middle, and while not being as bad as An Omen, everything else is just forgettable.

The Place Beyond the Pines

From beginning to end, this movie is about how choices and actions affect all others around you, even creating legacies that last much longer than is initially obvious. This can be a deep and meaningful message in some contexts but this film prefers to keep a hands-off approach to conveying any sort of lesson. A moving piece at times, The Place Beyond the Pines can ironically leave the viewer a bit empty.

My gut feeling of dissatisfaction stood in stark contrast to the fact that I enjoyed the movie. It took some reflection later in the night to appreciate what I had seen but I still need to fault the execution a bit. For such an expertly unpredictable first act, the police drama that follows feels too obvious and mundane. Even worse, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of those 2 hour 20 minute movies that really could have shaved off 20 minutes.

All of this gives the impression that I disliked the movie but the truth is that it is a powerful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. None of the characters in the film are saints and deal with life as it is presented to them. The acting performances are top notch and the sometimes dissonant musical tones work well to drive the emotional notes, creating a film with soul. The Place Beyond the Pines isn’t so much about telling the audience how to live but instead chooses to show connectivity in action, inviting the viewer to bring in their own meaning. This sort of thing, while not for everyone, is likely to leave a lasting impression.

(III) – Crystal Castles

In the realm of exciting and innovative acts, Crystal Castles is well at home. I remember seeing them perform at Jimmy Kimmel a few years back and the surprised audience had no idea what they were watching. For the third album, appropriately titled (III), Crystal Castles elevates their music to the mainstream. This is in no way a criticism and they haven’t even changed their sound a whole lot. While their trademark scratchiness and cacophony is still around, it seems to be wrapped into more digestible loops.

(III) – Crystal Castles


Many are talking about the change in style of this Toronto band but I just don’t hear it. This is the same Crystal Castles music just more refined and more melodic. Sure, it is more listenable perhaps, but tracks like Insulin still attempt to rape your ears. Alice Glass’ singing isn’t as abrasive but it’s not unlike her more tame songs on the other albums. Some of this is more dance-able and will be a favorite of club DJs but none of this is a bad thing. On the contrary, the collection of tracks makes listening to this album a very deep experience.

The Ultimate Fighter: Jones vs. Sonnen

The Ultimate Fighter was a great idea for a contest reality show and it really propelled the UFC into mass market success but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the last few seasons were degrading the brand. After trying to push hype for Kimbo Slice and seeing that repeatedly fall flat in their face, follow-up seasons have generally failed to impress.

There were interesting characters a couple years back (the Alaskan with the unorthodox guillotine choke comes to mind) but in general the show had fallen into a paint-by-numbers routine. Coach A hates Coach B and talks smack. Coach B overreacts. Team A plays practical joke on Team B. Team B overreacts. Rinse, repeat, another season in the books.

Rock bottom really hit when even the main billing of the two coaches fighting each other didn’t even happen for two seasons in a row. At that point it seemed like everyone was phoning it in. The coaches were just there to be on tv but didn’t want to put work in. The players just wanted to advance as safely as possible and got in overly boring drawn out fights, each one calling for a judges decision. No one won the best knockout award last season because there wasn’t a single knock out! On top of that, the judges have been blind for several seasons, causing me to yell out loud from my couch and even drawing complaints from the head of the UFC, Dana White.

Well, Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter fixes ALL of these problems. The premiere started differently by showing the families of the contestants as they fought to win their way onto the show. The direction and interviews felt like they were out of a Nike commercial and the opening credits removed the names of the fighters, choosing for a minimalist yet inspiring approach instead of the in-your-face rock attitude. The two coaches, Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen, amazingly, don’t waste my time insulting each other every episode, and by all accounts are surprised that they like each other. And the fighters… wow. Knock out after knock out this season. The fights are usually unpredictable- aside from a couple of favorites there have been surprises (case in point is the semi-finals consisting of the two top seeds and the two bottom seeds). But the fighters generally aren’t waiting to hear the judges scores and there are some exciting moments involving come-backs, quick rounds, and amazing forces of will.

This season is the penultimate fight show and the finale is yet to air, so take note.


The Hannibal television series premiere was a mixed bag. An exploration of the days before Hannibal the Cannibal was captured is an interesting concept that is only visited in flashbacks in Manhunter/ Red Dragon. This is a compelling draw but it’s hard to expect much from the Networks. Viewers might imagine a multicultural cast filling out a pilot one part Sherlock, one part CSI, one part Law and Order: Criminal Intent – and they wouldn’t be far off the mark.

Still, the subject matter is intriguing and the ‘Will Graham’ character pulls his weight alongside a couple of well established thespians. People often don’t realize that he was the superstar before ‘Clarise’ came along. Looking into the investigator’s famed career and biggest case has appeal and there is certainly room for drama and the dark imagery provides an ample platform. Perhaps the series just needs more time to grow.

My biggest hesitation with taking Hannibal seriously and making a time commitment to watch it is that there is a big flaw in the premise. The entire story has a shelf life. This whole affair ends when Graham catches Hannibal, and the longer the duration and the higher the adventure count in between takes us, the more ridiculous everything is.

"Let’s see how long I can act super creepy before anybody notices."

This needs a good BBC treatment of being a single or double season one-off. Instead we’ll get the American TV business model where if something is successful it will go on forever and if it isn’t it will be cancelled without even getting to end properly. Seems hard to invest in, doesn’t it?

Brenda Romero

Wow, Brenda must be a bit embarrassed right about now.

Brenda Romero (formerly Brathwaite) is something of a women’s game developer icon. Unfortunately, the majority of her draw appears to be the fact that she is a woman, and to me this is the beginning of her unraveling reputation. It is one thing to be a great developer who is also a woman, another to be considered specifically in the female subset. Ironically, she may not agree that women like herself appearing on ‘lists of women’ isn’t much of an achievement. What would be a fucking achievement is if a man managed to appear on that list! Rather, I would push for the merits of a developer to be tied to their professional work and not their gender.

A few years ago she was elected to the board of directors of the International Game Developers Association, of which my distaste shall be saved for another post. Suffice it to say that she is, in my mind, a bit of a figurehead, and she has even been criticized by women in her organization as not doing much of anything. Despite being involved in the making of a Playboy video game, Romero has since been a known opponent of booth babes at industry events and uses her position to raise awareness for female inclusion. While this is certainly a good cause, she seems to have misstepped at GDC 2013.

Apparently she woke up Thursday morning to a torrent of messages expressing outrage over a party the night before. The event featured "scantily clad women" and other "outrageous" offenses. Her initial reaction, while extreme, wasn’t entirely her fault- a popular Forbes article (read: Forbes-contributed blog post) improperly cited the IGDA’s (and Yetizen’s) involvement. This seemed to be the perfect reason for her to resign from the powerless organization (although personally I am guessing she was on the way out already and picked this moment as a PR opportunity).

"I woke up to DMs, texts and links to news of the IGDA party. It really saddens me. I have been a long-time supporter of the IGDA. However, my silence would have been complicity. I had no choice. And just hours after our panel, too."

The outrage stems from the fact that a party at a nightclub, which was purportedly co-sponsored by the IGDA, had dancing girls in skimpy outfits. The media stoked the fire and treated these girls as if they were strippers and "OMG what was the IGDA thinking?". Of course, not only was the IGDA not involved with the party in question, but the actual party they co-sponsored was held the night before. Here’s the timeline.

Tuesday Night – IGDA/Yetizen Party (at Ruby Skye nightclub)

Wednesday Afternoon – Brenda’s GDC Panel (no outrage)

Wednesday Night – Wargaming Party (at Ruby Skye nightclub)

Thursday Morning – Outrage! (against wrong party)

This gets a little more ridiculous. Yetizen, who had been accused by Romero for being sexist in the previous year, had been careful this go around not to draw the wrath of the IGDA. They got explicit approval before the party from the IGDA’s female executive director for the costumes the models were wearing. The performance troupe of stilt walkers and others were likely dressed a bit sexy but they were not strippers and most attendees thought the affair quite modest, including the IGDA pre-approval. So models, not hired dancers, got on stage for a few minutes and danced to the DJ’s music at a nightclub.

Now Brenda Romero is left looking like she perhaps jumped the gun a bit. The up-in-arms cries and wave of support seem a bit silly, in the aftermath. Now, I freely admit that I wasn’t at the party so I don’t know if there were any extenuating incidents. But the thing is, Romero wasn’t at the party either. She is responding to public backlash and media rumor-mongering just like anyone else. The difference is, the media outlets have corrected their facts and admitted their mistake after Yetizen’s official response. Brenda Romero? Not so much.