Wolfmother, Midlake, The Black Donnellys, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – The Shivering Isles

 

Wolfmother by Wolfmother

Ok, I had heard of these guys from Australia quite some time ago but for some reason I kept getting sidetracked whenever I made a point to listen to their stuff. So it took me a while to jump on the Wolfmother bandwagon. However, once I did, I realized it was not so much on a wagon, but more like a speeding bullet train of Rock and Roll goodness.

A few days after I got this CD, I was listening to it in my truck when I picked up my buddy Rob. He turned to me and said “Is this the remaster?” I looked at him quizically and he said “You know the remaster of the old albums.”

“Uh, this is brand new dude,” I replied.

“When the hell did Zepplin get back together and who did they get to replace John Bonham?”

Two days later I was driving to lunch with my buddy Jeff and I still had the same CD playing.

“Hey that sounds like Ozzie. Is this Black Sabbath?”

That pretty much sums up Wolfmother. They’ve captured the essence of classic hard rock so well, that people who have never heard them before assume they are listening to an older classic hard rock band. You can see the influences of Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, RUSH, and Jethro Tull. In a surprising little twist they’ve managed to retain that somewhat scratchy, Lo-Fi sound reminiscent of my Zepplin LPs (yes almost every piece of Zepplin I own is in vinyl format thanks to the multiple raidings of my parents’ vinyl collection gathering dust in their basement).

Each note is so infused with energy and nostalgia. I find myself drumming on the steering wheel and bobbing my head up and down, something I haven’t done since I was 17 and listening to Neal Peart drum solos off of old RUSH tapes in my car. There are no ballads on this album; don’t expect to find any “Stairway-esque” songs. But this is a good thing as it keeps the thunderous momemtum going from start to finish.

The source material pays tribute to its ancestors. Songs like White Unicorn and Joker and the Thief evoke gritty images of the fantastic, the same way their predecessors were doing in the 70’s with songs like By-Tor and the Snow Dog and Misty Mountain Hop. Even the CD cover looks like high fantasy art that belongs on the front of a Conan novel.

Giving this album two thumbs up doesn’t quite convey my point. So I give it double bullhorns, while sticking out my tongue as far as I can stretch it. Rock, rock on!!!

The Trials of Van Occupanther by Midlake

Changing gears a little, but still staying on the same general trail, is Midlake. When this group was introduced to me by a buddy of mine he described it as “If you could merge the Decemberists and Crosby Stills Nash and Young you would have a ton of people on stage; also, they would sound like this band from Denton, TX.” That’s a pretty damn accurate description, so I will roll with that. (Thanks, T)

While Wolfmother contained no ballads, The Trials of Van Occupanther is almost all ballads. Considering I really dig their sound, this is in no way a bad thing. Both their lyrics and their music are very folky, but not really along the lines of the folk rock that has become prevalent today.

Through the use of the flute, violin and the piano as well as some really good electric guitar work and some INCREDIBLE harmonizing, there is a somewhat etheral quality to most of their tunes which do sound very much like Crosby, Stills and Nash. However a few songs remind me of lighter Fleetwood Mac or Eagles tunes, especially the first song, Roscoe. But intertwined with that folkiness (is that even a word?) is a strain of something distinctively modern a la, the Decemberists. I even catch a little hint of something that sounds like Death Cab for Cutie or Nada Surf every now and then.

The Trials of Van Occupanther delivers a mellow smoothness, which I really dig. It’s a perfect album for chilling out on the back porch with a book and a beer on a warm afternoon. And that’s exactly what I did.

The Black Donnellys

We are beginning to hit the point in our society where reality TV shows are getting so outlandish that it’s creating a backlash amongst the other types of television shows out there. Sitcoms are starting to experience a resurgence and dramas are breaking out of the scientific/legal CSI/Law & Order mold and returning to good solid storytelling.

Aside from the unique fact that it’s a mafia show told from the perspective of four Irish brothers instead of an Italian family, it’s extremely well written and writing is something I pay attention to more than anything else. The Black Donnellys is written and created by Paul Haggis, the writer behind both Crash and Million Dollar Baby, as well as more recent movies like Flags of our Fathers and Casino Royale. His experience definately shows.

My brother and I were talking about this show and he agreed with me when I described it as “watching a TV show made by Martin Scorcese.” There is a gritty reality to this show and I think it comes from the fact that EVERY character is flawed. None of them are perfect, just like none of us are perfect and that makes it very real. This is further accentuated by the fact that they all wear their flaws on their shirtsleeves so there is no mistaking.

This is what I mean when I said before that Reality TV shows are creating a backlash; dramas like The Black Donnellys now seem more real to us and reality TV shows seem more manufactured. The roles have reversed.

If you want to watch a decent drama, check it out…

 

 

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – The Shivering Isles

All I can say is it’s about freaking time. We have finally hit the point where developers can breathe new life into old console games.

Bethesda Software released this incredibly entertaining title, Oblivion a year ago and I blew through the game at a breakneck pace exploring the countryside of Cyrodill and devouring every quest I could find. I remember being absolutely amazed after stepping out of the sewers at the beginning of the game to see the massive open/ended world in front of me. As massive as it was though, the well eventually ran dry, even if it did take months.

However, because of the mechanics of the Xbox 360 as well as the Xbox Live online network, Bethesda has been able to release small updates adding more locations and people and the like and breathing new life to a game that would most likely have wound up tossed on the shelf and never played again.

This past week they relseased a huge update called The Shivering Isles which increased the size of the game world by over 25% and added an entirely new storyline for the player to complete which revolves around travelling to the Mad God Sheogorath’s twin realms of Mania and Dementia.

This is exactly what needs to be happening with games today. Infinate replayabilty (well maybe not infinate, but more than zero replayability hehe). Totally makes the ever-increasing cost of gaming a little more justified.

If you play Oblivion and you’re on the fence, check it out. It’s well worth it.

That’s all for today folks.

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