Review of Amanda Palmer’s “Theater is Evil”

When the Dresden Dolls hit the shelves with their first album when I was thirteen, they were, for me personally, as they undoubtedly were and still are for countless others, a delightfully refreshing musical group that stood in stark relief against a pop culture background featuring increasingly homogenized electronic music.  Their cabaret style that blended so well with a modern rock twist brought back a classic sound, splendidly repackaged in a new, performative manner. Amanda Palmer, the pianist and lead singer of the duo, really knew how to reach for the emotionally aggressive child in you without sounding immaturely angsty and trite.  Surely there were many years to come from the band, featuring not only Palmer but her right hand man and drummer, Brian Viglione. At least that was what I thought. But then the dazzling pair seemed to have completely vanished from the music scene, at least in the form of their mime bedecked act for Dresden Dolls. The albums from their studio stopped pouring out in about 2008 and it seemed, for then at least, that they were both absorbed into side projects that signaled, in my mind, that my beloved punk cabaret duet was over. I would from then on be forced to just repeat the past by resorting to their only three albums when I wanted that brutal honesty Palmer’s lyrics brought out about the world.

Was this the death of that evocative, radical sound that had so defined the beloved duo? It was anyone’s guess at the time.

Needless to say, I lost hope, until I finally had a chance to hear Palmer’s solo work. Without Brian, I thought the feel of the music would have slipped away. The pair had, in my own mind,  been a necessary ingredient in the production of the sound that shook up my younger years so much. But thank god, my fears did not come true and the music was not at all at an end. Palmer’s solo work proved to be something quite different at first with her debut album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? But it still was gritty and suggestive as ever, with titles such as Leeds United and Astronaut proving that the gal still possessed, and always had, the chops  to make the listener uncomfortable as ever while still sounding like something coming out of a twenties night club.

Palmer’s newest released, Theater is Evil, which first appeared in the beginning of September of this year, gives new insight to the songwriter’s abilities, as she heads forth into even more of an alternative rock sound than her previous work had delved into. The work at the same time still retains that visceral feeling of its proceeding albums, like you just looked too deeply into someone’s thoughts, and can’t ever really eradicate the impression that those thoughts in some way mirror sentiments of your own. Even at her most specific lyrical moments she still has this magical method of wrapping it in a universality of meaning that points out the strengths of her writing ability.

I’m not the killing type
But I would kill to make you feel
I don’t mean kill someone for real
I couldn’t do that, it is wrong
But I can say it in a song

– “The Killing Type”

Theater is Evil was funded by Kickstarter, a website that allows interested parties to help aid a project that needs a financial boost. Palmer’s fan base said yes to more, and the product that came out of their support and Palmer’s genius is worth every bit of the six dollars the album is selling for on Amazon.

Battle Royale versus The Hunger Games

For those of you who may be aware that a film called Battle Royale was released in Japan several years back,  its hard to miss the accusations that followed Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, when her book was made into an instant blockbuster hit. The “charges”  several fans of Battle Royale made against Collins was that she copycated the storyline from the controversial earlier film.  Although the two seem disturbingly similar at first glance, it is when a further look is granted to the material of the two films that  a very different set of aesthetic objectives for them comes to light. A deeper survey of a film released  even earlier than both of these movies also suggests that there is nothing new under the sun in terms of the idea that is put forth in the them.

In Battle Royale, the premise, shared by The Hunger Games, is laid down:  Kids of an certain eligible age are selected to fight for the death. But where as The Hunger Games focuses on the dramatic story of a girl fighting for her life in the midst of an unjust system of social values (such as the demeaning of life to the point where such competitions are deemed as acceptable), Battle Royale occupies a position of a story where the plot about the fight for survival is really just a background for satire about teenage angst.  There is no overarching progression of events that necessarily ties all of the characters  together under the banner of one particular hero, such as the role that Katniss plays in The Hunger Games. Although two characters, one male and female, are focused on more than the others, each death in Battle Royale is given some sort of cinematic significance, with their death accompanied by a quote from the deceased character that frames them as a certain archetype of adolescence. Such an emphasis is lacking in The Hunger Games, which is a story with a more typical plot line fitting in with the conventions of the development of the hero as embodied by Katniss. In conclusion, even a brief discussion of the two films makes it very obvious—they share the same foundation, but in no way the same story.

The premise of these two films has been portrayed before, in films such as The Running Man, which displays a society that has deemed it socially acceptable to kill felons in a sort of game show where they are hunted down. One can go back even further to the story of The Most Dangerous Game, and find roots in Richard Connell’s tale that hails as a definite forerunner of the dystopic novels and films of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.

Review of “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuck, an American novelist and freelance journalist known most for his novel “Fight Club”, which was later made into a feature film directed by David Fincher, is a transgressional fiction writer who has written other successful novels, such as “Invisible Monsters” and “Choke”. His novels, mostly fiction but heavily influenced by Palahniuck’s personal life, are notorious for their “illicit” and somewhat “disturbing” content, of which was the cause for the initial rejection of his first publication attempts. Although his novels received little recognition when first published, his works grew in popularity due to a cult following years after the publication and movie production of “Fight Club”. Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel, “Damned”, is a story about a 13-year-old, Madison, daughter of two very famous hollywood actors, who awakes finding herself in Hell. The novel unfolds as Madison explores Hell, which is similar to that described by Dante’s “Inferno”, as she attempts to find out why she went to hell when she died, and exactly how she died. This novel cleverly portrays the thoughts, actions, and internal controversy of the protagonist as she gradually recounts the memories of her life leading to her death while associating with those also in Hell. The story emphasizes the theme of finding one’s personal identity, alluded to in the passage “It’s stunning how having nothing to lose will build your self-confidence”. Palahniuck also writes, “In Hell, it’s our attachments to a fixed identity that tortures us”. Although this book provides an entertaining read, it’s obvious Palahniuck made a careful attempt to write something fresh and creative, yet failed to gradually build the enthusiasm of the plot, making it tempting to put down at times. Although the climax and twist at the end of the novel are quite creative, its significance will alienate readers who are not familiar other famous literature, mainly British. I would mainly recommend this book to famous literature readers, but not particularly to casual readers who would probably prefer his earlier works more so than “Damned.”

Album review: “Coexist” by the xx

by Lauren Staten—The common question, is there sound when a tree falls but no one is there to hear it, is answered by the unobvious duo of Romy Croft and Oliver Sim.

The XX released their second album, Coexist, on September 10th, and I’m one of the few who saw this tree falling.

This album was no surprise after the first, and no disappointment. Croft and Sim keep you hanging on to every word with their slow, minimalist approach. It’s easy to picture the two sitting in an all black room with their instruments, naked, raw, pale and intent on the unusual songs. As Sim says in one of the songs, it’s “the things that no one else says.” The etched mutterings of Croft and the smoother tones of Sim is a deadly combination.

It feels like wooden souls that are being carved out in front of the listener. Painful and torn, elegant and soft. They have ventured some since the first album, applying some modern undertones to their songs; using less xylophone. But it remains familiar to their common “Basic Space” tune.

The alternative artists created a sophisticated album that is timeless. An album containing tracks that can be used in so many places. Simply painful, yet effortless. Scenic sounding. Like when a tree falls and no one hears it.

This album has the potential to startle so many when they walk upon the strewn branches.

The Host: a Review

“The fight for your world has ended. The battle for your future has begun.” Look out, fans of the Twi-verse, because Stephenie Meyer has another hit coming up fast and hard. In Meyer’s novel The Host the threat is no longer warring vampires and werewolves, but aliens. No, not the squishy little green guys the mainstream has had us come to expect, but an enemy so powerful they take over the world with humans none the wiser. To live in a world where aliens with human skins called “Souls” outnumber the natural born humans and any second could be your last as a free being would be a living nightmare. This is Melanie Stryder’s reality. In an attempt to save her aunt and cousin who are hiding in Chicago, Melanie is ambushed by a group of Souls and is implanted with a Soul named Wanderer. Unlike the other human hosts, Melanie refuses to be pushed aside and slowly fade away. After Wanderer witnesses Melanie’s memories, she and Melanie form an unlikely partnership as they set off to find the humans they have both come to love.

This novel has all the elements we’ve come to expect from Meyer: action, adventure, and an impossible love triangle. Once again Meyer has pulled these elements into an entertaining thriller that makes us believe that love truly can conquer all. I highly recommend everyone, Meyer fan or not, to put aside your opinions of the Twi-verse and dive in. For those who want to visually dive into yet another Meyer world, you’re in luck. On 29 March 2013, the takeover begins as theaters across the country release the movie adaptation to the masses. So grab a copy and prepare yourself for the takeover.

Surviving the Khmer Rouge: a Review of a memoir by Loung Ung

First they Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is the first of three memoirs written by Loung Ung describing her life during and after the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Between the years of 1975-1979, an estimated 1/5 of Cambodia’s population was killed as a result of the Khmer Rouge.  Ung tells her story from the point of view of her five-year-old self.

At the beginning of the memoir, Ung is a member of a large, close-knit, middle-class family.  When the Khmer Rouge invade Phnom Penh, where Ung and her family were living, all of her comfort and privilege is stripped away.  Over the next few years, Ung suffers through starvation, separation from those she loves, her training as a child soldier, and the devastating deaths of her family members.

Ung’s memoir is a harsh, heart-breaking tale of a time in Cambodia’s history when strength and hope were essential.  She captures and holds her audience’s attention by telling her story, not as though she is recalling a memory, but as though she is living the event at the present time.  Though the memoir is centered around the Khmer Rouge regime, First they Killed My Father is, at its heart, the intimate story of a young girl whose strength made her a survivor.

An Eager Listener’s Thoughts

Another beautiful piece of art has emerged from a simple barn in Illinois. Andrew Bird’s self-recorded new album, “Break it Yourself,” was released to the public on March 6, 2012. From the album art, to the intricate well-written songs, Bird’s new album is a wonderful piece of art that should be listened to and celebrated by music-lovers.
Although Bird’s new songs contain his iconic whistles and violin-plucks, the overall mood of the album seems less mellow and more energetic than his previous “Weather Systems” and “Armchair Apocrypha.” The vivacious musical details that fill his songs on “Break it Yourself,” provide a refreshing experience for the listener.

In addition, many of the lyrics to his new songs seem a bit more relatable than the ones in his previous albums. Specifically, Bird’s songs “Eyeoneye” and “Give It Away” revolve around a common love-subject. The subject is relatable, and the words are still well written without cliché. Bird’s musicianship and lyric-writing abilities show their true potential through “Break it Yourself,” and should leave understanding artists in awe of his talent.

According to Stephen Thompson and his “First Listen” review on NPR Music, listeners must prepare themselves to experience Bird’s new album. Thompson accurately instructs: “Clear away any and all distractions, listen on headphones and let its subtle charms sink in slowly. Early mornings or late nights work best. This isn’t a record for chaotic commutes or busy offices – these are songs of quiet contemplation” (NPR Music). Thompson completely embodies the ambience of “Break it Yourself” through this statement. Bird’s music is like a tapestry woven together with different unique detailed instrumental sounds that create one beautiful piece in the end. Luckily, this type of art is not only seen, but experienced, and can set the tone for an entire morning or evening. So, kick back with a cup of tea, put this record in, and let Bird’s music take affect.