Book Review: Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson

Captain Phasma was introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 and has made appearances in various Star Wars media since then. One of the most recent appearances is in Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson. The book covers a variety of stories from her time on Parnassos, her home planet, before she joined the First Order.

What Dawson does well with this book is that she tells the story from the perspective of Siv, who spent time with Phasma on their home planet. She tells the story to a rebellion spy, Vi Moradi, who ends up being captured by Cardinal in the First Order. He keeps her his little secret as he tries to find out how to get rid of Phasma. Telling the story that way gives you an outside look at Phasma, instead of seeing everything from her perspective, which would likely come across quite differently.

Having the outside perspective lets you know just how cold and calculating Phasma could be and how everyone around her perceives her. While we don’t get much of her own thoughts on her past, she says enough by the end of the book to make you realize exactly who she is and how accurate the stories about her are.

Throughout the book, you also see what Cardinal thinks of her and they’re supposedly on the same side. Both are trusted within the First Order to train the troopers, but Phasma is a step above Cardinal and that irks him to no end. Dawson portrays every character in the book with a great amount of care and detail. Switching between the stories and the present day gives a little break in the action, but also leaves you wanting to know more about Phasma, which is exactly how Cardinal feels when Vi finished up a story, too.

Overall, this book is a great look into the character and with Phasma appearing in The Last Jedi, I recommend checking it out if you want to know more about her. You can pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.

A Casual Fan’s Take on ‘Science Fiction’ by Brand New

Brand New - Science Fiction

Brand New is a band that I didn’t get into until after they released Daisy, so it’s hard to consider myself anything more than a casual fan. I haven’t listened to their albums hundreds of times. Despite that, I do happen to own Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu on vinyl. However, there are albums I have bought before and haven’t ended up listening to the records as much as I thought I would. So buying vinyl isn’t always an accurate representation of how much I enjoy or listen to a particular album.

Their latest release, Science Fiction, piqued my interest. I remember telling Jason Tate on a podcast we did that they weren’t on my most anticipated list, but I would still listen whenever a new album came out (or something to that effect, anyway). And I honestly wasn’t in a rush for it to come out. When the limited edition vinyl dropped, I wasn’t concerned about getting my hands on a copy. When the album started showing up in the form of various rips on the internet, I started to get interested. Hoping it would be up on Apple Music shortly thereafter, I waited. It didn’t come right away so I gave a single listen to the hour plus file. Initially, I actually heard about 10 seconds on YouTube but stopped because it didn’t seem like it was great quality.

That first listen gave me an inkling that I’d enjoy the album more than I expected to. While listening to it, it’s like I forgot about everything else the band had done before, because frankly, it didn’t matter to me if this was or wasn’t like their previous stuff. My opinion on albums simply comes from whether I enjoy them to not. I’m perfectly fine with bands who change their sound over time and bands who don’t get a bit stale.

This album never went on repeat for me. I wanted to sit with it between listens so it all wouldn’t blur together. When it finally hit Apple Music, I gave it a second listen. Having the track listing was a huge plus, too. Now I actually knew what songs were playing, which is always helpful.

“Lit Me Up” starts with a spoken word bit, and I’m not a huge fan of those. It takes about two minutes to get to the actual music and once it gets there, it’s a wonderful opening track. It grabbed me and kept me interested in the rest. “Same Logic / Teeth” gives a new look at what Jesse can do with more screaming that expected.

It’s hard for me to sit and listen to albums that are over an hour long. I prefer the ones that run around the 40 minute mark. That feels like the sweet spot to me, but I will make exceptions, especially when the album flows like this one does. It never felt like it was an hour long album because I easily took to it.

If you’re wanting a full on breakdown of this album, you won’t find that here. I’m just a casual fan who really enjoys this listening experience. Is this the end of Brand New? If it is, that’s fine. And if it isn’t, that’s fine, too. Don’t get me wrong, I respect everything this band has done for music over the years, but I’m not a hyper-fan and there’s no shame in that. This is a great album and it feels like the band took their time because they wanted to get it right. And they sure did.

Grab a copy of Science Fiction over on Amazon.

Review: Envy On The Coast – ‘Ritual’

Envy On The Coast - Ritual

Envy On The Coast returned with Ritual on June 30th. It was a long wait from Lowcountry to the new EP. That album came out in 2010 and it somehow doesn’t feel like it was quite that long ago. That was also right around the time I actually found out about the band, so it was a shame when I didn’t get to hear anything new from that after discovering them. The current lineup consists of Ryan Hunter and Brian Byrne, so there have been some changes, but I’m still glad to have them back.

While I haven’t always enjoyed the direction a band takes when they make new music, I can understand it. Artists can’t keep making the same music with each release. Ritual sounds like Envy On The Coast, but it doesn’t sound exactly like their previous releases. It doesn’t have any extra audio bits like “Southern Comfort” does, and they’ve dialed things back just slightly. “Manic State Park” starts with a more upbeat feel to it than most of their songs before. Ryan and Brian did note that this wouldn’t be a reunion, but more of a reincarnation instead.

“Lioness” is a song that talks of wanting to make a mess again. The lyrics tell a story of essentially wanting to go back to a destructive way of living. The writing really stands out on this EP as it has in past releases. Overall, the six songs given here are just enough to keep me wanting more. Sure, it’s not the best thing that’s ever come from Envy On The Coast, but I’m okay with that given the circumstances. If you haven’t checked this out simply because of the lineup changes, I highly encourage you to do so. There are still some of those aspects of the previous incarnation of the band present.

You can grab a copy of Ritual via Amazon.

Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’ Shows That Our Heroes Can Fall, Rise, and Teach From An Epiphany

When we think of talent diminishing over time, we look to the aging sport star. Often, the Michael Jordan/Washington Wizards parallel is used. In retrospect, although he wasn’t suspending our disbelief in gravity in his youth, Jordan was still effective when he ended his career at 40 years old. Every once in a while, there would be a burst of speed. The fadaway jumper was still working. (He still averaged 20 points and was the only Wizard to play all 82 games.) No matter the time period, it’s the consensus that Jordan is the greatest player to ever play the game.

Cognitive ability is a whole different animal. Some consider rap music a young man’s game where there’s a clear divide between old and new fans. Despite the wisdom, some fans urge older acts to clear the way for the new wave.  Jay-Z‘s 2013 album, Magna Carta Holy Grail was more so a celebration as a modern day artist with lyrics as his canvas as depicted in the song, “Picasso Baby.”

“Leonardo Da Vinci flows
Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes
See me throning at the Met”

While reactions to the album were mixed, an appreciation for both the art and artist increases in value over time. Jay-Z mainly stuck to guest verses such as DJ Khaled‘s “I Got The Keys,” Beyonce’s 2015 opus, Lemonade, got fans wondering what if Jay was working on a full length. Did Jay still have much to say in a forum where he has seen it all and done it all?

“Kill Jay-Z” sets a template for where the entire album build it’s foundation. It’s a moment of introspection that splinters throughout the entire album.  Jay explains to iHeartRadio  that this song was about the dismantling of the ego.  Throughout his accent to the all time great status, Jay-Z is the cape that Shawn Carter dawns.

Batman is known for his callous and cold approach to fighting crime in Gotham. Bruce Wayne, although a bit more personable as the billionaire, still mourns his parents lost and uses his alter ego as a symbol to be greater than himself. There’s a time to be Bruce Wayne and a time to be Batman. Shawn Carter is figuring out how to use ego as a tool other than using it as a constant. The “bright lines can turn you into a monster” as Jay said on Drake‘s 2010’s “Light Up.” There’s a certain viciousness that comes with being determined.

You had no father, you had the armor
But you got a daughter, gotta get softer

The second part of the song addressed Kanye West as a cautionary tale in what how ego goes out of control when it’s unchecked. This isn’t the only time this is addressed – throughout the album there are little tabs that can be depicted as tough love.

Within calls for the music industry to come together, but with transgressions with West, Jay demonstrates his raps as a weapon. There’s a time and a place to use your ego, however. “Bam,” featuring Damian Marley, recalls to the braggadocios raps of the past as a reminder to people that this side of himself can come out if warranted.

A call to ownership, a blueprint if you will, surrounds the album in black capitalism. “The Ballad of OJ,” the chorus is a statement to no matter what the material status or shade of brown black people are, society is going to look at race in singularity.  The American Dream, in some instances, shows a dream world of empty materialism. Jay gives lessons of appreciating art and property ownership. That’s the real instance where the culture will make a difference. Will it be in wealth that can be passed down or for admiration on social media posts?

“Smile,” featuring his mother, Gloria Carter, is a liberation for both of them. This is the first time that it’s shown that his mother was a lesbian. The first verse and poem at the end celebrates her liberation through bad times of his youth. The third verse, which is a absolute display of skill is a celebration of Jay breaking the mold of his drug dealer past and against those who thing he lost a step.

A big motif is musical ownership which shows it’s form in two ways. “Caught Their Eyes” tells of Jay’s conversation with Prince before he died and his wishes. It is known throughout Prince’s life that he was a huge advocate for artists owning their material. He even chose Tidal to exclusively house his music because of what the streaming service represents ownership and royalty wise. Much to his disdain and against the wishes of Prince, his catalog was put on Apple Music and Spotify after his death.

He touches on this again in “Moonlight.” (“And you pawned all your chains
And they run off with your masters.“) In the age of the 360 deal, where labels are grabbing a piece of all they can get due to diminishing sales, Jay not only is challenging artists to break that old mold of standard record deals, but to bring originally to their craft.

The title track is an open confession/apology to his wife Beyonce over a powerful sample of Hannah Williams’ “Late Nights and Heartbreak.”  In “Song Cry,” off of 2001’s The Blueprint, Jay depicts different relationships that end once Jay’s growing fame detaches himself from.  Money cannot buy you pure love or happiness.

“We was so happy poor, but when we got rich
That’s when our signals got crossed and we got flipped” – Song Cry

The famous chorus shows him not be able to be emotional. 4:44 shows a vulnerable side that’s not in a typical rap-cadence. It’s almost broken, like Jay is directly talking to Beyonce or writing a letter as the thoughts come down. After all, this was recorded on Beyonce’s mic.  There’s something interesting in reference to the numbers that he uses both in the title and this song.

Jay stated that he woke up at 4:44 am to write the song. In numerology, the number four in a triplet has a significance.  Angel number terms have 444 representing honesty and inner-wisdom. The foundation of this album hinges on both, so looking in those terms give a definite power to it.

The sequencing in 4:44 is key, as the next song, “Family Feud,” features Beyonce‘s vocals paired with The Clark Sisters‘ “Ha Ya” (Eternal Life). (“I told my wife the spiritual shit really work.“) There’s no doubt that in the reunion of forgiveness, Beyonce helped Jay-Z find Shawn Carter. The spiritual aspects of 4:44 are apparent in Jay’s maturity building a family. Generational curses that was once touched on 2006’s “Beach Chair” and 2016’s “Spirtual” come up again in the story of his grandfather’s molestation of his aunt. This leads Jay to take pieces of spirituality from all different sources and make him well rounded.

The back to back pairing of “Marcy Me” and “Legacy” is a perfect bookend to the album – both recalling to the past and looking toward the future. “Marcy Me” plays like a grainy home video with the reoccurring sampled keys of Gil Vicente‘s “Todo o Mundo e Ninguém.” “Legacy” is a living will to Blue Ivy. Ultimately, all signs go back to building a future for his children long after he’s gone.

In the title track, Jay tells of the hesitance of when the day comes to tell his children about what he did.  4:44 is catching up with an uncle that you idolized since when you were younger. You sit, reminisce, and maybe get a little disappointed at some of the things he did. There will be a disconnect because of our age bracket and where technology is going. However, because of his flaws, you love him more, and the return investment on that love is the wisdom. Heroes age and change as we do. They fall and rise again.

No I.D. produced the entire album, and frankly, the approach he depicts in a interview with Rolling Stone was probably the only way we would have gotten this instance of Jay-Z – the soulful, vintage undercurrent of music served to pull a conduit of truth. 4:44 is a conversation in three acts; one part critique, one part therapy session, and one part classroom.

Featured Image Credit: IBL/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Review: CryFace – Suds

CryFace - Suds

CryFace kicks off Suds with “Stone Me,”  which instantly gives you a taste of their influences. With “Favorite Interaction,” things slow down a little from there. The song heavily includes an acoustic guitar. However, it does pick up the pace, showing the versatility that the band employs when writing their songs. If you want an album that brings quite a bit of variety in its songs, this is something you should check out.

It’s clear that CryFace pulls from various types of rock music and blends it so well that this isn’t like anything I’ve really listened to before. You get a tinge of surf rock at times, with some psychedelic rock, but not too much of it. There’s no doubt that this album is guitar heavy, and they use it to their advantage. In “Night of the Living Dead,” there’s a Misfits vibe to me. The subject matter and the tone of the music make it a song that I could see the Misfits coming up with themselves, and that by all means is a compliment.

CryFace closes out the album with a song, “Temptation,” that runs about 5 1/2 minutes. It’s by far the longest song on the album and feels like something you’d possibly hear in the 70s. The overall tempo never really speed up, but the guitars definitely do to give a good contrast with the rest of the instruments. That closes out the band’s debut album and it’s a solid effort.

Overall, the twelve song album runs under 40 minutes. It’s not going to be your typical rock album, but it’ll give you a great blend of various styles of rock. I’m undecided on where exactly I’d place it on my current iteration of my list of favorite albums so far this year, but it’s absolutely at least worth a mention. Rock fans of all kinds should be checking this album out. You can do so over at Bandcamp.

Review: In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs

In Their Lives

In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs is an anthology edited by Andrew Blauner. Various writers talk about a single Beatles song. Some are written by other artists and some are writers who you may be familiar with. Chuck Klosterman covers “Helter Skelter,” while Rosanne Cash writes about “No Reply.” Those are just a couple entries in what is a great read on various songs and how they relate to the writers.

In one passage, David Duchovny admits to not even listening to the song again and going off of pure memory. It’s a fun section to read simply because it’s an unorthodox approach. Most writers will try to make sure that they have all of the facts straight before writing about something (although, one could argue that a lot of writers don’t actually do so). However, Duchovny just wants to talk about the song as he remembers it because he doesn’t want to ruin his own memory of it.

I wouldn’t say that the book on the Beatles is revolutionary in any way, but it is an approach to music writing that I personally haven’t come across before. Sure, there are plenty of anthologies out there, but this one allows the writers to approach the songs from a personal aspect rather than an academic one. It’s not pure fact in here, but it’s also how the songs make them feel.

If you’re a fan of the Beatles, there’s a good chance that you feel the same way about some of these songs as the writers do. Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable read from start to finish. Even with different writers and styles each chapter, there’s a strong sense of general agreement on how great the Beatles were. Be sure to check In Their Lives when you have the chance. You can grab a copy of the book over at Amazon.

Review: Lost In Society – “Kid” + “True”

Lost In Society Flexi

Lost In Society recently released a 7” flexi with two new songs on them. Luckily, the songs are also available digitally for your listening pleasure. The two songs are similar in tone, but quite different in the fact that “Kid” runs almost four minutes while “True” runs just 34 seconds. All the band is asking for is less than five minutes of your time and you should absolutely give it to them. I don’t listen to too many new punk bands. I got into the Menzingers, and I love them. Then, I saw Lost In Society live at Programme Skate & Sound in Fullerton, CA and wanted more bands like them. I’m sure if I look hard enough, I can find some more. But Lost In Society have a rawness to their sound that I love.

“Kid” is able to send a longer message due to it being a longer song. It’s not a two minute banger that we often see in punk, but it’s still a jam. The chorus is one you can sing along to after a single listen of the song. “True” sends a powerful message still, even with its brevity. It’s cool to see a band just release something like this. They had two songs ready and they gave them to us. Give them a listen and you’ll see what I mean by the rawness of this band. They’re a refreshing sound when you tend to spend your time listening to a lot more polished and radio-ready music.

Review: Batman #22

Batman #22

Batman #22 continues “The Button” storyline with part three. This issue is full of emotion for Batman, which isn’t something we necessarily get with him. The feelings are always there; he just suppresses them instead of showing them. When he sees his father and vice versa, it’s a stunning moment. That moment alone is sufficient to make this a great crossover event. Thomas’ sincerity before Bruce leaves just adds to that, too. Both men being Batman gives them each a unique perspective on the other’s life.

The Flash plays more of a background role in the majority of this episode. Bruce gets to fight side by side with his father while Barry fixes the treadmill. However, this is all happening because of him in a sense. He created Flashpoint and it’s nice to see DC revisit that here. Johns’ Flashpoint took place in 2011 and once Barry fixed it then, it didn’t appear that we’d be seeing it again in this capacity.

Bruce desperately wants his father to go back with them, but he refuses. Barry tries to convince him, too, to no avail. In the time stream, they run into Eobard Thawne with the button. Now I won’t pretend to wholly understand the way The Flash and Batman can time travel with Barry running and Bruce merely hanging on to the treadmill. However, without that ability, this story would not be near as interesting as it is.

Williamson takes over the scriptwriting for this crossover, but King at least helps with the story. I think they make for a good team on this issue and the art by Jason Fabok with colors from Brad Anderson compliment the writing well. This is a great looking issue and it’s because of both the writing and the art together. I really don’t think I could ask for a more enjoyable crossover between The Flash and Batman.

Review: The Flash #21

The Flash #21 brings us part two of “The Button.” Page one shows a man named Mr. Thunder yelling at the lightning. He doesn’t show up again in this issue, but it makes you wonder what his importance to the story is. From there, we see a lot more of the Batman and Flash team up. Bruce is badly beaten, but even that doesn’t sideline him. By the end of the issue, he and Barry end up time traveling together and they end up back in the Flashpoint timeline where Thomas Wayne is Batman.

Joshua Williamson gets a little wordy on some pages, but it’s worth it. The narration from Barry at the beginning isn’t wholly crucial to the story, but it adds more emotion to the current situation. Williamson also writes some great moments between Bruce and Barry. Bruce is unwilling to let Barry time travel on his own despite how injured he is. This moment and the earlier moment where Bruce is in bed and Barry is updating him really show what kind of friendship they have. Despite Barry having powers, these two have a lot in common.

The art and colors deserve a mention here, too. Hi-Fi’s coloring is outstanding as always and the art from Howard Porter is solid. If you look at the panel below, Porter uses an interesting way to draw Barry speeding off. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything quite like it. In that moment, it looks as if Barry is leaving a part of his body behind because he moves so fast. More often than not, I feel like we just see a blur.

The Flash #21 panel

This second issue of the crossover continues to bring a great story to life. They’re taking their time with solving the button mystery. As of right now, there are a few hints as to what’s going on, which Barry keeps to himself. However, there’s still a lot that’s unknown and that’s what keeps the story interesting. This story has been nothing but enjoyable for me so far. The story continues in Batman #22, which is out tomorrow.

Review: Have Mercy – ‘Make The Best Of It’

Have Mercy - Make The Best Of It

Have Mercy return with Make The Best Of It. This is the first new music from the band since their split with Somos in 2014 and their first album since A Place of Our Own in 2014. Have Mercy has been through some lineup changes with Todd Wallace, Nick Woolford, and Andrew Johnson all leaving the band in 2016. Since then, Nate Gleason teamed up with Brian Swindle to work on the new release.

The new album deals with feelings of pain, insecurity, and longing. “Smoke and Lace” launches the album into this melancholic tone. The somewhat raspy vocals work extremely well with the music. Despite the lineup changes, there’s still a hint of the same types of songs since Brian is the one constant in all of their music. The guitars in “Coexist” stand out since they tend to contradict the lyrical content. They feel more upbeat at times and that contrast works well.

“Reaper” is easily the most revengeful song on the album. There’s talk of death and cutting the breaks in someone’s Camaro to cause it. It’s a harsh song that even admits how twisted it is with the line “bet he never knew I was so deranged.” After that, things slow down a little bit with “Ghost,” which is a nice change of pace. It brings a calm feeling after the lyrical content of “Reaper” and it doesn’t speed up until about two minutes in. Even then, it’s not as hard hitting as a good majority of the album.

Make The Best Of It closes out with “You Made Me.” This song feels like one last plea to be taken back. The singer admits it’s wrong, but that it feels right. In this moment, you can hear a sort of desperation to this last song. Overall, this is a decent album. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s not bad, either. If you haven’t yet, give it a listen. And if you dig it, grab a copy of it here.