Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Carnivale wrapped up its second season this week with a powerhouse of an episode. Readers of this blog will likely find my continued praise for anything HBO-related to be biased, but I pledge complete honesty when saying it was one of the best hours of television this pale-faced geek ever saw.

I was critical of the early part of this season. I used all the same words that others who dislike the show use: "slow," "confusing," "nothing happening." But a little voice in the back of my head kept saying, "Hold on, wait. It's all set-up. If the conclusion is good, it'll all be worth it." And it was! What a ride of a season. Eclipses anything done in the brilliant first season.

Some shows preach characters above all but rarely follow-through. Carnivale does. Despite all the other-worldly activities, the freaks, the violence, this show still took tons of time this season to follow the continued fucked-up-drama behind Stumpy's family. It wasn't all stripping and drinking this time. A shylock plagued them for half the season and the ghost of their dead daughter, never once named directly, was evident in all their motivations. Sofie's storyline, from grief and rejection early in the season, to depression and obsession midway, to a hint of a hope and an outward display love (finally) between her and Ben, followed immediately by her defecting from the Carnivale and joining the bright white religious side. Every change made sense, thanks to the sharp writing and powerful performance, and it was a wonderful thing to watch. Her importance in future seasons will continue to grow.

And, finally, there's Ben and Justin. Finally! In the same scene together without dream-swirlies anywhere in sight. Their "final battle" brings the show back to the first minutes of the first season, a beautiful moment that I'm sure made every single fan want to leap out of their seats and scream "YESSS!!" But not before sitting down and watching what happens. The show was barreling to a conclusion and, with dread, I wondered if the series would just end with this episode. The story seemed almost done. But like any really great story, there's always room for a sequel.

There's a great moment, towards the end of the episode, when after the climax, the screen goes black and stays that way for half a minute. I remember thinking, that could be the end of a novel right there, the cliche The End... ? But then the show came back, with a shocker!, to set up the third season.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite episode of the season, "The Road to Damascus." Written by Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich, two apparently hilarious women. The episode is chock full of humor and startling character moments as two carnival's meet on the road and stop for some drinks and dancing. It's actually a break from the main thrust of the season but all the character stories come to a head, especially the fate of Tommy Dolan and the relationship between Ben and Sofie. An elephant wanders around the tents in moments of comic gold and a freak rainstorm sets up the finale of a great, great episode.

With Carnivale and SciFi's Battlestar Galactica, science fiction (or science fiction/drama in BSG's case and magic realism in Carnivale's) is really, truly, back on TV in top form. Writers and readers of the genre should flock to these shows: they deliver all the serious and emotional content our evolved senses crave.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Hood - Outside Closer

Hood are the kind of band that reinvent themselves with every album. A practically rare gift, if you ask me. They're also far from a fluke band with just an album or two in them. They've been releasing albums for almost ten years now, an eternity in the indie scene. So, it comes as no surprise and yet quite a shocker that after so long, they dig deep inside themselves and pull out their best release yet.

I've gotten in trouble before for calling them a post-rock band. They may not sound like Mogwai but that doesn't mean they don't embody the ideals and directions of post-rock. Post-rock in a word, is rock music, expanded. Stretched to its farthest possibilities, with a constant need for experimentation.

Hood have gotten a lot of well-deserved attention with this album but I've been rabid fan for a couple years now. They were my favorite rainy-day/alone-in-my-room/with-headphones band. Their brilliant 2001 album Cold House sounded a lot like Radiohead gone trip-hop. Their short and sweet Home is Where it Hurts EP sounded like Explosions in the Sky on a cloudy day. And their surprisingly sweet The Cycle of Days and Seasons brought to mind a moody Cat Power meets The American Analog Set.

Outside Closer is special because it can only be compared to Hood. They've gone through so many changes as a band, drifting as far as possible from the metal stylings of Cabled Linear Traction, their first full-length. They came to an apex with Cold House, a sometimes direct, sometimes vague album that played like a see-saw and when the disc was over, you missed it. This new album has similar ups and downs but with a careful confidence that makes every note, every placement of sound, feel perfect, right.

The album starts with a short intro and then dives quickly into The Negatives, the boldest Hood track ever. What you'll first notice with this album is the beautiful strings, the classic Hood guitar plucking, and the breathy, whispery, vocals that emerge from an ether of sound. Next is Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive, another beautiful string laden track that builds to a raucous climax. Other standouts are The Lost You, a memorable lamentation on loss and regret, Still Rain Fell, and Closure.

This is a difficult album. Challenging in the way TV on the Radio attacks your ears and the way Radiohead confounds your preconceptions about music. But it's also an extremely rewarding experience. It won't reveal itself with two or three listens, rather twenty or thirty are required before you can start to peel away the layers, to find the hidden Tootsie-Pop beauty.

(The preceeding post was dedicated to Jared. I miss our music talks.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

New story up at pindeldyboz. Another one of my skewed fairytale retellings.

These have been surprisingly sucessful. I wrote 'em originally as a joke, thinking the genre was totally done and re-done to death and nobody would care to read more. Nice to be wrong! I've revisited the series lately and hopefully I'll have some more published in the near future.

Read and enjoy.


(Oh. and real post coming soon. Promise!)