American Horror Story Goes To Hogwarts

It’s not a good sign when the best part of any television episode is the slave torture scene, but hey, this is American Horror Story we’re talking about here.  The third season opener of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s conflated amalgam of pulp fiction tropes did have some contenders though, including a good ol’ gang rape scene and not one but TWO murder-by-vagina scenes.  AHS has so far been unique in the way it combines similar horror/sci-fi concepts into one inter-related setting; such as the Murder House of the first season, which gave us numerous creative murders, infidelity, psychopathy, home invasions, and Rosemary’s Baby-ism all wrapped up in a ‘haunted house’ scenario; or the second season which ran the gamut from insanity to serial killers to aliens to genetic mutants to angels and demons, all contributing to a cold-war-era fright fest.  So it’s no surprise that when the show reared its horned head to New Orleans, we’d be in for Voodoo queens, torture houses, angsty teenage witches (wait a sec…), reincarnation (huh?), and… hold up, was that a Minotaur?  Where are we again?

Following the initial first glimpse of sheer unforgiving terror, the show plunges head first into a storyline eerily reminiscent of a young adult fantasy novel.  And while I agree that the world desperately needs another one of those, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the choice.  At first I was into it.  When Taissa Farmiga started her fast-talking sardonic narration, I thought, ‘There’s AHS doing what it does best, playing with genre.’  But then it kept going.  And going.  And she gets sent to a special school.  And going.  And there’s some more stereotypical teenage characters.  And going.  And there’s a star-crossed romance.  And going.  Aaaaaaand… I don’t care.   Just like that, what was once a severely adult-themed exhibition of terror is now placating to the most idiotic, annoying demographic out there.  Coupled with its unabashed references to social media, the show’s main storyline seems to be steering it away from its classic-yet-modern style and towards blatant teen-targeting trash. I stopped reading the Harry Potter books when I was 15, and I didn’t spend the last near-decade of my life actively avoiding the Twilight craze just to have it infused into a show I once thought defied the formula of cable TV.  Especially with the teen-trendy Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals now set in the Crescent City, I was expecting AHS to provide a dark and demented ringer against which to pit that deplorable heap of softcore vampire porn, but to no avail.

AHS’s attempt at young adult (in other words, children’s) fiction came complete with a rigid set of rules that the imaginary world has to play by, where witches only get one power each, except one in a generation, the “Supreme,” who has all of them… ooooooooooh….. I’m intrigued.  Oh wait, no.  I don’t care.  And in case you didn’t catch what each girl’s power was by them actually acting them out, there was a lovely dinner scene where each of them explained their powers.  I think I did an actual physical facepalm when Precious shouted out, “I’m a human Voodoo doll!”  Thanks Precious, I totally didn’t understand it from the perfectly clear demonstration of it literally two seconds before.  There was even an altered-history background that explained how all the witches from Salem sneaked down to the bayous to avoid persecution, which despite the gang rape, slave torture, and aneurysm-inducing vagina, was probably the most offensive part of the show.  One of the most heinous acts committed against women in history reduced to an arbitrary and unnecessary backdrop for a story that totally didn’t need one.  For a show that’s shaping up to be a powerful showcase of female character drama to paint the Salem witch trials as anything other than a fear- and superstition-driven act of pure misogyny is more than a tad ironic to me, but what do I know.

Despite my qualms with the tone of the main plot line, I’ll hold out hope.  After all, this is American Horror Story, and you never know what might come into play in later episodes.  The show’s alternative plot line pits real-life 19th century psychopathic socialite Madame Lalaurie against also-real-life famed Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau in what will inevitably be a racially tense rivalry surrounding the torture and murder of the latter’s converted man-beast lover. Despite its deviation from the usual unilateralism of the show’s motifs, the twisted image of the perverted Minotaur at the end of the opening is a disturbing use of symbolism, and given its use in the show’s teasers, we can only hope it will come into play later.  And though the two probably never interacted in real life, the play on the big easy’s haunted history is enthralling enough to keep me seated through the droll of the teen fic storyline (and Precious trying to act).  All in all I’m in it for the long haul, and I can only hope the show’s creators will pull more from the depths of the classic horror genres they’ve introduced than from the shallow end of the pool of literature that’s clogging the arteries of popular culture today.

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New Album Reviews – Sept. 2012

Centipede Hz – Animal Collective

It’s been three years since Animal Collective released the album that put them on the map, and they’ve since done nothing but try to get off of it.  Shying away from the spotlight, AnCo released a B-Sides EP, made a movie, split up, went solo, got back together, and now they’ve finally decided to release a new studio album.  I can’t say I was anxious for the new record, but I have to say I was curious to see where they would try to take their sound from where they left it off.  I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to the record, and found that they didn’t really take their sound anywhere new.  The first track kicks off with some high-dynamic synth punches that turn into a hip downbeat layered with plenty of good old knob turns and button pushes.  My first impression was that it was reminiscent of the edgier, faster-paced sound of their pre-Merriweather albums, but without the often unsuccessful ventures into the experimental.  The album goes on to crystallize this style, seemingly not trying to please any of their fair-weather merriweather fans.  There’s a scarcity of the repetitive yet too-god-damned-catchy grooves that made them a household name, instead favoring structured songwriting and thoughtful progressions.  More than anything, it seems like the guys are just having fun again, which you definitely pick up on in the album.  You might not add any of these tracks to your party mix, but you’ll definitely listen to this album all the way through more than once and enjoy something different about it every time.

America – Dan Deacon

To promote his new album America, Dan Deacon has changed his homepage to a letter to fans explaining the meaning behind the title of the album, and exactly what he was trying to achieve in it.  So if you want to enjoy this album at all, whatever you do, do not read it!  To give you the summary, Danny boy states that the album was inspired by his first trip overseas, which gave him a broader perspective on what it means to be an American.  He then goes on to brag about all the different ways he has tried to remove himself from the American ideal throughout the years, but failed to miss the point that all the countercultures in our nation is part of what makes it great.  Inspirational to be sure, but it seems like a lot to try to translate through music, especially the super-happy 8-bit rapid-fire electro-pop that he’s pioneered.  He claims the lyrics of the album reflect his “frustration, fear and anger towards the country and world I live in and am a part of,” but like most of his lyrics, they seem too vague to really mean anything, and more often than not they take a back seat to the brain-blasting beats and melodies, which is mostly why I like him in the first place.  So if you listen to this album, like most of his, don’t try to find the meaning in it.  Just enjoy.  All intentions aside, Double D has definitely advanced and matured his sound with this new album.  The first half is all of the heavy harmonic electro-rock that we’ve come to love, while the second half veers more towards the epic cinematic sound he began to attempt with songs like Snookered and Of The Mountains from his last album, Bromst.  Definitely worth picking up if you are or ever have been a Dan Deacon fan.

One Wing – The Chariot

At some point in their career, the chaotic mathcore monsters known as the Chariot decided to stop spending years rewriting and re-recording every song three to five times, instead opting to spend as little time as possible on each one.  I had barely gotten used to Wars and Rumors of Wars of 2009 before Long Live came out, and I haven’t even had time to make up my mind about that one now that their newest album One Wing is out.  So I better write something about this one before another one comes out and makes this post obsolete.  In an interview about this album, frontman Josh Scogin admitted to the new method of songwriting, stating that “if you get too much time, we start overthinking stuff.”  There’s definitely no overthinking apparent in the last two albums by the feedback fiends.  They are roughly one hour of non-stop jackhammer beats and bone crunching guitar riffs likely to kill as many brain-cells as a fifth of Jack Daniels.  Scogin also admitted that this is their ‘weirdest’ album to date, and he couldn’t be more right.  This new embracing of the strange is what separates this album from the past two, in fact from their entire body of work so far.  There are obvious abnormalities, such as a church choir serenading us with a stanza from the second track of their first studio album The Fiancée, as well as a break down that digresses into what sounds like the score for a western horseback riding montage, complete with bullwhip sound bytes.  But the biggest differences come in what is supposed to be the more ‘normal’ aspect of the album.  In between the gimmicks, the band seems to have generally calmed down, favoring slower (which is still pretty breakneck for them) bluesy guitar riffs and beats that are not quite as hard to follow.  The opening riff of Tongues sounds like something that could be in a Metallica song, and the beginning of First is also surprisingly easy to follow.  It seems like the band isn’t just trying to make our ears bleed anymore, at least not to the point where we can’t pick up the subtleties of their songwriting.  This is exemplified best in the track that seemed like part of the gimmick at first, but after a few listens seems to be a stripped down and simple study of what makes hardcore unique as a genre.  Speak is simply Scogin screaming over a chord progression played with no accoutrements on an upright piano.  This makes it easy to hear the complex and unique chords and progressions that are usually drowned out by distortion and blast beats.  The band realeased a video of the recording of that track, and it’s nothing less than an intimate look into a underrated style of songwriting that is often overlooked by serious musicians.  Take a gander and definitely take a listen to the album in full whenever you get the chance.

Review of Ten Stories by mewithoutYou

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If you’re a mewithoutYou fan, you’re used to waiting a while for the next album to come out, only to find it sounds completely different from the last album you’ve grown to love over the past couple years.  For me and many others, their 2009 album It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, etc. was a bit of a disappointment.  We had just started getting used to the toned down and matured sound that came out of Brother, Sister three years earlier, still coping with the fact that frontman Aaron Weiss can actually sing, rather than just shout poetic wisdom at us through our speakers.  And out comes an album full of simplified, almost nursery rhyme-y songs about birds and beetles and all kinds of critters, accompanied by simple sing-song melodies and goofy instrumentation.  The true fans swallowed the bitter pill though, and found that despite the band’s dare-I-say dumbed down sound, Weiss had furthered his lyrical genius, fitting elaborate fables into his rigidly metered and rhymed poem-songs in a way that’s unmatched in songwriting.  Still, we were nostalgic for the abrasive beats and meditative guitar melodies that used to accompany his wordsmithing, and I have to admit, I missed him screaming for my attention over the raucous.  I found myself hoping and praying that this was just a brief derailment from their otherwise smooth ride toward a fully-matured and unique musical style.

And then Bam! the train crashed and spilled all over the place when the first single off their new album Ten Stories hit the web.  “February, 1878” in addition to being a nod to their classic first single, is an explosive and corrosive musical embodiment of a violent train crash on a snowy night in the American northwest.  I nearly wept for joy when I heard Weiss’s dearly missed raspy roaring in my ears as he describes the scene to the most minute detail, as only he can.  Then once the din died down, i was delighted to hear his brother’s dark and sweeping guitar carry the tone all the way to the contented conclusion.  I was convinced that the old mewithoutYou was back in full swing.  However, as I continued down the tracklist, I heard remnants of the more melodic tones that they had experimented with on It’s All Crazy, but more thought-out and complex than anything that album had to offer.  Believe it or not, they’ve perfectly blended the old with the new and come up with something completely different and more diverse than any of their albums thus far.  The contrast is most apparent in the back-to-back placement of the bright and boisterous “Cardiff Giant” and the dark and desperate “Elephant in the Dock.”  Each end of the spectrum is explored even further as the album goes on, from the wispy and whimsical “Aubergine” to the sluggish dejectedness of “Bear’s Vision of St. Agnes,” all coming together in the exultant final fugue “All Circles.”  It seems an appropriate end to an album where a band has come full-circle, embracing the new direction they had ventured into while sticking to the sound they pioneered in the first place.  This album is a great listen for fans as well as those who have never heard the band before.  I eagerly recommend Ten Stories to everyone.