Archive for ‘Titillating Tuesday’

November 1, 2011

R.I.P. James “The Rev” Sullivan

“Nightmare” by Avenged Sevenfold: 8/10

Logan Haffner

Please bare in mind that this album gets an 8/10 for people who actually like this kind of music. If you’re the kind of person who hates metal in all it’s forms, or even hard rock, don’t listen to this album based purely on what I say here like I know all of you people do and then get upset when it doesn’t compare to your precious Jossie and the Pussycats.

That being said, I’m not a huge fan of more hard core metal. I actually don’t like Metallica all that much, so if you’re like “OH YEAH, METALLICA,” because that’s what all you people totally say, you might not agree with me. Though it’s labeled as metal in iTunes and various Barnes & Noble music sections, I feel like Avenged Sevenfold’s later work (City of Evil, Avenged Sevenfold, Nightmare) is more along the lines of Rock, just super evil sounding. I don’t know. I’m not a music expert or anything, I just know where my brain goes when I think “METAL” and Avenged Sevenfold isn’t it.

Now that I’m done qualifying my review, I can say that this is my favorite of A7X’s albums. Though they all seem to have their moments, save for “City of Evil” which is kind of one album length moment, none of them have the full bodied depth and ability to consume you as “Nightmare” does. I tend to look at albums as a whole, so when there are weak points or songs that I generally skip, I don’t like the album as much. “Nightmare” is the only OFFICIAL concept album to be released by A7X, focusing around their deceased drummer, Jimmy Sullivan, who died of a drug overdose in December of 2009, shortly before recording and mixing began on the album.

The album plays like it should, talking mostly about times lost and how they wished they could have seen it coming. Tracks “Victim” and “Save Me” are particularly heartfelt for those who were keeping themselves informed of the Rev situation as it all went down. The album lacks A7X’s angry styles really affirmed in self titled, but it fits and it makes them sound less retarded. The album is depressing more than anything, but in a way that makes you feel for others, not sorry about yourself. Mark Portnoy, drummer for dream theater and Jimmy’s long-time idol, was invited on to record the drum parts for the few songs the Rev had not recorded already before he passed, and did his best to stay true to the style and charts the Rev had written.

Most notably, in my opinion, the track “Fiction,” first titled “Death” and renamed for one of Jimmy’s more popular nicknames as a kid, features drums and a vocal track recorded by the Rev three days before he died. The voice of Jimmy soaring over organ, cello and piano haunts you when you realize this was recorded less than 100 hours before he was found dead in his home, and wasn’t actually mixed into the track until months later.

The album concept reportedly went through many changes after the death of the Rev, song titles, lyrics and entire portions of songs altered to more suitably fit the new intent of the album: a monument to Jimmy Sullivan. The album serves this purpose well, and is well worth a listen for any who haven’t gotten around to it already (unlikely). My personal favorite track on the album, as emo as it sounds, is “Tonight the World Dies,” as it’s the single most haunting song I’ve heard in a long time, save for Tori Amos’ “Carnival.”

For those who don’t like A7X as it is, I don’t expect this album to change your mind on that. They’re still Avenged Sevenfold, even if a bit less obsessed with evil and hate. If you were on the fence about them, this may be the shove you need to really respect them as musicians. If you love them, you’ve probably already heard or even purchased the album, so I suppose this review really caters only to a small demographic of people; those who think A7X is a-okay. Now that I write that out and let it really sink it, it makes me question why I wrote this review. Huh.

October 18, 2011

An Earthquake, a Tiger-Fighter, and a Chicken Shop

The Bridegroom: 6/10

Brandon Haffner

Ha Jin, previously an author I’d not read, is said to be one of the finest contemporary fiction writers alive.  A Chinese-American writer, most of his stories, both in this book and elsewhere, are set in Muji City, China (a fictional city).

Click to buy a copy

In “The Bride-groom,” I see glimpses of a real master.  As far as I can tell, Ha Jin specializes in two storytelling elements: plot and description.  Take for instance his story “Alive,” in which a successful businessman is caught up in an earthquake when away from his family and friends.  He suffers multiple injuries and is hospitalized, then experiences memory loss.  He has no identification so no one can get him back to his home.  He starts a new, simpler life, and begins a new family.  Eventually something triggers his memory, he recalls his past wife and child, then he sets out to find them.  So the story takes on an interesting shape; the protagonist begins with everyday aspirations— to be promoted at work, to buy a bigger apartment, to please his wife— then suddenly a natural force renders the whole thing worthless.  The sharp turn refocuses the story on how the protagonist reacts to starting from scratch without knowing he’s starting from scratch.

Such is the genius of Ha Jin’s plots.  They can take us anywhere.  His balance of summary and description move the stories along quickly and easily.  Every scene feels relevant; there’s not a line wasted.  In the final story and one of my favorites, “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” the young characters admire large sums of money coming into their American fast food joint, much more than any similar Chinese owned shop.  It’s a novel idea and explored richly, told from the perspective of curious young characters who helplessly yearn after the lives of their managers.  The yearning becomes harping, the harping becomes stealing, and they realize in the end, of course, that as unskilled laborers in a western restaurant, they’re entirely disposable.

If I have complaints, it’s that the terse description is often so plot-based that I often find it difficult to become emotionally involved.  But there are, as I said, glimpses of a dynamic writer fully capable of these insights.  Take for example this descriptive passage from “Broken.” It’s precise, beautiful, and provides a clear set of expectations for us in regard to her character.  Of course, as with many of the best descriptions in literature, it’s delivered through a slightly biased narrator.  This time it’s told in limited third person, the “he” at the beginning of the passage being our male protagonist Chen Manjin, who works in the same building as she:

“…but he was also  eager to know more about Tingting, the pretty girl who was being courted by several sons of the top officials of the Muji Railroad Company. To him she seemed to flimsy, coquettish, and expensive, like a gorgeous vase only good for viewing. She rode a galvanized Phoenix bicycle, wore a diamond wristwatch, and was dressed in silk in summer and woolens or furs in winter— during which season she changed her scarves every week and sometimes even put on a saffron shawl. Manjin had been to her office a few times to deliver documents that needed typing. She seldom said an unnecessary word to him. When they ran into each other in the building, she would tilt her head a little, just to acknowledge that she saw him.”

An almost cinematic character introduction, if you ask me. And such is the way of Ha Jin.  Any of these stories could be translated to the silver screen with relative ease. He has a natural eye for setting up his readers. He paints Tingting as a dainty little thing, precious, reserved, maybe a little snobby. So that when she is exposed for carnal sins at the end of the story, her shame is all the greater.  Again, a cinematic arc in its dramatic, almost manipulative construction.

Ha Jin

I use the word cinematic here both praisingly and constructively. I sense a kind of fairy-tale or yarn-like approach, one that enchants the impatient part of me but leaves the intellectual part empty, one that pushes the story forward at a galloping pace while also leaving important possibilities in the dust, one that provides all the wide-reaching plot events one could hope for in a story yet, because of the broad scope, sometimes sweeps over more delicate subtleties. Here’s a passage that represents much of what I mean.  The final lines of the title story:

“Guhan became reticent and gloomy.  He couldn’t resist wondering whether he should have stayed with Shan and Mo in Taifu and let people here believe he had left this crowded world for good.”

The first sentence is classic telling.  The second is a summary of our characters final sense of conflict.  Could we not have been shown these things?  Mostly, I think we all want sentences that don’t tell us what’s going on so directly.  If that’s what we wanted, there’d be no need for good writers, because the bad ones would do just fine.  Anyone can summarize.  Now don’t get me wrong, “The Bridge-groom” has plenty of the good stuff.  I simply wish, because he clearly possesses the talent and eye for detail required to write complex character as well as complex plot, for Ha Jin to combine all his strengths all the time.


October 4, 2011

Now A Major Motion Picture

The Road (the novel): 8/10

Brandon Haffner

Several years ago in a fiction writing class of mine, one of my professors passed out a sheet of paper on which were listed several sentences. Each sentence represented an exceptional example of descriptive efficiency, inventiveness, and precision.  He did not cite authors or book titles. One of these lines was, “The rain fell hard and slant.” I’d not thought much of it at the time, being a sophomore in college and still having much to understand about writing in general.  Then, a few weeks ago, years after graduating, while in the middle of enjoying “The Road,” I stumbled across the line, “The rain fell hard and slant.”  I stopped reading and was instantly struck with the memory from class.

Years had passed between my first and second reading of this line, during which time I’d of course read thousands and thousands of other lines, and my memory is not a great one. Yet this sentence rose from the page like Mt. Everest. I read it over and over. It’s so pared down, each word only a single syllable. Yet would you or I have the intellectual reach and the writerly confidence to compose a book built with such simple, easy lines such as, “The rain fell hard and slant”? The answer is no, because if the answer were yes, you and I would be rich and famous.

It got me thinking about Cormac’s general economy of language in “The Road,” which I believe is its greatest feat. I don’t think the plot is anything to get excited about. Nor do I believe the dialogue is really any good, nor do I think the characters are all that dynamic or interesting, nor do I find the backstory well-imagined. But its present-day descriptive language is so richly evocative that I couldn’t help but turn page to page. However cliched the environment and story and characters are, the description of that environment and our character’s day-to-day actions is raw yet refined, simple yet elegant, and enables any reader of any level of academic snobbery to become deeply immersed.

The story, then, is not one to spend a good deal of time on. As most of you probably know, “The Road” is a kind of post-apocalyptic tale, one that doesn’t explain where the “apocalypse” came from or how it happened. That’s not important. What’s important is the survival of our two main characters, a father and a son, who both go unnamed.

There are hardly any humans left. There are no animals, there’s no vegetation, and there’s no plant life. There are no sources of food except for the occasional vacant house or hidden storm shelter with a few unfound canned goods. The weather is unbearable; it’s always cold, sometimes wet. The sky is always gray. They live out of a shopping cart. The two of them travel toward the coast, the father says because he hopes to find more “good guys” like themselves on the coast, but he knows it’s really because they need a goal. The real question that comes into focus is: when a life becomes nothing but a series of miserable moments fighting for survival to continue living those miserable moments, and when there is no hope for a better future, is it right to continue the life?  Cormac I don’t think suggests any real answer.  But it certainly gets us thinking.

As the two of them walk the empty roads, run into the occasional straggler or cannibalistic human, and find stashes of canned goods, the descriptive imagery is undeniably first rate. “The Road” won the Pulitzer largely because of this accomplishment, I have to believe. Every event is rendered immaculately. I could plaster this page with quote after quote, but you will just have to read the book. Anyone who appreciates fiction, whether you’re a reader of Dean Koontz or J.M. Coetzee, will appreciate what the illustrious McCarthy has done here.  It’s not a perfect book, but it certainly breaks new ground.

On a final note, I have a brother who has a gigantic man crush on Cormac McCarthy. That brother is none other than the Logy Haff half of this Haff & Haff empire, so the fact that I’m the first to review his favorite book of all time, “The Road,” may seem a little strange, I suppose. But here it is anyway. I beat him to the punch. I wonder if this means he’ll review “Fargo” before I get a chance.


September 27, 2011

This Review Is Very Long

Gears of War Trilogy: 9/10

Logan Haffner

The day I find a perfect video game with no real way to make itself any better at what it’s trying to do that it’s already done is the day that I stop playing video games. That day is never going to come. That being said, I have a very hard time imagining a game or game series than can come closer than Gears of War.

My guess is most people who read this will disagree with me. Not that Gears is a fantastic game, but that it’s so much better than other games or deserving of a rank as high as I’ve given it here. Most people aren’t me, and I’m the one with the blog, so they can all shove it. The fact is, I’m a fan of a very specific kind of game, and when I play Gears of War 1, 2 or 3, I feel like these games were made specifically to cater to my wants and needs. My involvement with a video game depends on a few key elements, which I will now discuss.

Story vs. Online Play- This is the largest thing that separates me from most Xbox 360 gamers. Most people who rock the 360 are into online play, massive multiplayer, and a versatile gaming platform. They want to be able to play what is essentially the same game over and over in different ways with many people so they can make themselves feel good about their respective penis sizes online in front of thousands of people. I don’t know what it is, but the 360 tends to attract the more technical and competitive gamers out there. Now I’m all for playing the shit out of a game, but I’m not about to throw in 48 hours to a game to max out my gamer score or fill up my achievements. I’m not looking to get online and try to beat everyone and their mother with my l337 haxorz headshot skillz. I want a game with an interesting story (like a movie that I’m controlling) that allows me just enough freedom to remind me that I’m controlling something and involving enough that I actually want to beat this game for the sake of the characters, not just so I can say I beat it. Gears does this… so very much, and with a story that last long enough to leave you wanting the next game, but not so long that you’re struggling to finish for the sake of calling it “done.” Gears took some hits in the press with Gears 1 and 2 with their lack-luster online gaming, but with Gears 3 new multiplayer platforms (and perfected Hoard mode from Gears 2) with ranking systems and custom multiplayer maps, Gears now appeals to an audience previously lost to this franchise: the intense gamers.

Graphics- Yes, I am a shallow gamer. I want a game that looks pretty. Like movies, if it looks too fake or their are laughable glitches, I’m going to enjoy my gaming experience less. Gears introduced one of the most visually seamless gaming experiences to hit the market, and has continued to build on that claim with Gears 2 and 3. The world is almost fully destructible, things look so real you can touch them, and gameplay does not sacrifice graphic quality from cut scenes. The developers put so much thought into every little detail years ahead of other games (like the barrel of your gun turning orange and steaming after you fire multiple shots that you see featured in Halo: Reach). Not to mention the art design and insane attention to detail is bafflingly intricate and dazzling on a massive scale.

Violence- Yup. I’m a little boy. I like to be able to kill things. Not only does Gears let you kill LOTS of things, it has hilariously meticulous ways to kill someone, and keeps very diligent records of how you do so. The weapon spread is massive, but not so much so that you feel bogged down or like you’re missing out. The game gives you enough options to keep you interested and excited, but not so many that it becomes a burden to try them all in the span of a game. Gears is more or less build on excessive gore, and it embraces that almost to the point of parody. It’s because of this balance that you’re able to enjoy a very intense, serious story with moments of “holy shit, that was f***ing awesome” that don’t take away from the body of the experience.

Gameplay- I want a platform that works and that comes naturally to my eyes and fingers. If I have to spend more then 10 minutes of total gameplay figuring out how the basic control template works, the designers have done something wrong. This game has LOTS of options, but it’s not complicated to figure them all out. Perfect.

Gears is the most flawless series I’ve ever played (shut up, die-hard portal fans. Your game is good, too), each new game besting the last. I just finished Gears 3 and am extremely sad the series is over. That being said, Epic Games, please don’t pull a Bungie. Just let it go. It’s perfect. Leave it at that.

September 20, 2011

All Head, No Heart

The Crying of Lot 49: 5/10

Brandon Haffner

When I sat down to read Thomas Pynchon’s famous “The Crying of Lot 49,” set in 1960s southern California, I was excited at the light weight of the book. I’d just finished some heavy serious reading in short story collections by Ha Jin and Dan Chaon, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and was in the middle of James Joyce’s “Dubliners.” So I was glad not only for a quick read (“Crying” comes in at 152 pages) but for a comedy.

I was unpleasantly surprised, however. Not that it isn’t a funny book; it is. The wordplay is sharp, the references are outlandish and surprising, and Pynchon’s narrator pokes fun at the book’s characters in almost every paragraph. The problem, for me, is that Pynchon’s narrative approach and humor is overwhelmingly intellectualized to the point of numbness.

Mr. Pynchon clearly has a commanding vocabulary, which I love and appreciate, even when I begrudgingly pull out the dictionary for the second time on one page to decipher a sentence. It’s just that this powerful vocabulary is packed and loaded into an arsenal of puns, asides, jokes, witty insights, afterthoughts, anecdotes, sly remarks, insults, and on and on. He directs all his heavy-hitting power into nothing but fluff.  There’s nothing real to hold onto. Let me back up by explaining the (absurd) story that serves only as a vehicle to deliver the slew of aforementioned comic side projects:

Our protagonist is Oedipa Maas, married to a man named, you guessed it, Mucho Maas. She is notified that she is to help direct the reading of a will of a massive estate left behind by her ex-lover, who was her “one extra-marital fella” as she puts it. She drives down to take care of business and meets up with another man involved with the will, a man named Metzger. The two of them have a fun game of sexual cat-and-mouse in a hotel room, a scene that is stretched for as long as it can be stretched.  This scene contains nearly all of my favorite moments from the book. Soon after, Oedipa is at a bar and meets a man who tells her a long history of a very small, seemingly irrelevant secret society.  Afterward, she sees a local play and is struck by the odd final lines.

She connects some dots and before we know it, Oedipa is suddenly on the trail trying to find out as much as she can about the secret society. This leads her to place to place, meeting several new people, mostly men, who, she notices, either go insane, die, or get arrested after she meets them. Eventually she discovers that the society is a secret underground mail system, the Trystero.  It is an alternative to the monopoly the U.S. Postal Service had on mail (this all reads a little differently in 2011 since, of course, the U.S. Postal Service is losing billions of dollars every year). This side story about the secret society and mail system is very loosely connected back to our original plot, but Pynchon never makes any real effort to bring everything together. There are too many boring monologues, conversations, made-up chronologies and histories filled with “wit” that last for far too long, such that the “wit” starts to read as exhausting, murky drivel. My brain was drained, and not in the productive way.

When all is said and done, “The Crying of Lot 49” is an exercise in heady absurdity, and no more. Of course it succeeds as such. I can’t imagine if Pynchon set out to do anything with words that he could fail. I wish, though, that he might have found a way to fit a little more substance into this novel. It’s a real and occasionally dynamic character we have in Oedipa, but she’s surrounded by buffoons we’re not engaged by.  And she is forced by the plot to be interested in things I’m not sure we, as readers, would ever suspect her in being interested in. She’s too selfish to go on such a crazy plot for so little payoff. But Pynchon isn’t very interested in character this time around, or even plot for that matter.  He’s interested in making us all smirk, and oh will you smirk.  You’ll have that smirk permanently plastered on your face by the time those long, slow, overly-wrought 152 pages finally draw to an end.

Note: After writing this review, having never read anyone’s critical response to this book, I googled reviews just to find out where it stands in the eyes of contemporary American literature’s fine critics. Turns out the academics mostly like it— TIME called it one of the best 100 American novels of the last century— though some call it nothing more than a “parody,” which sounds right to me. And best of all— Thomas Pynchon himself has admitted he “did not apply anything [he’d] learned about writing” when working on this book.  Now, apparently, he strongly dislikes the book. I was happy to hear he’s admitted his mistake. Apology accepted.

July 6, 2011

Wit, Drama, And Just The Right Amount of Penis Jokes.

Party Down: 7/10

Logan Haffner

So I was recently referred to a TV series called “Party Down” by one of my lesser friends. Al, if you’re reading this, I realize that comment may have hurt your feelings, but think of it this way: I’m a dick. Do you really want me as a friend?

Now that you’re all drawn in by my persistent douchiness, allow me to begin. Party Down is a party catering service in Hollywood made up mostly of failed or aspiring actors and one writer who are just trying to get by until their first or next big break. The show uses this forum to poke fun at the whole of the film and television industry and how hard it is to make it, as well as how many f***ing retards try to make it who just can’t. It’s good stuff.

The humor is funny, which is good when you’re trying to be humorous. Very seldom to jokes fall flat, and, unlike all other shows on HBO or Starz or Showtime (Party Down is on Starz), the writers don’t feel the need to force the “F” word down your throat or throw boobs and sex in your face simply because they can. The episodes take place over the course of each event and never step outside of the work, which ends up working perfectly seeing as they don’t try super hard to make you give a shit about what happens with these characters outside of work. All the plot needs is this job to move forward, and I like it. Finally a show driven by what the show is about, and not who’s banging who on network television. W00t.

Granted, I enjoyed season 1 a lot more than season 2. Season 2, I feel, pushes more for drama-driven story line and we lose one of the show’s more promising characters. The humor becomes less dry and more dirty, which isn’t really what this show needs at all. Not… not at all.

The show’s greatest strength lies in the writing, which doesn’t change all that much from season 1 to 2, but like I said earlier, the people saying the lines decrease in quality a bit. Oh well. Shows always seem to have one best defined season, and unless Party Down plans on bouncing back next season, it may be season 1. Get it while it’s still relevant.

June 29, 2011

From the Grocery to your Belly

Celery Root: 8/10

Brandon Haffner

Most grocery store employees don’t even seem to know what celery root is, so don’t be ashamed.  If you do know, congratulations, you’re a food snob.  You may join my secret food snob club, where we celebrate the delicious art of food snobbery.

Celery root, you guessed it, is the root at the base of a celery stalk.  Huge grocery stores like Kroger, markets with very wide produce selections like Whole Foods or H.E.B., as well as some specialty markets, may stock celery root, but you need to know what to look for.  When fresh and ripe, it’s a relatively large, hard bulb.  Each one should weigh around 2-3 pounds.  When rotten, they get spongey and shrink and become less dense, thus normally weigh less than their fresh counterparts.  For celery root, the larger and heavier, the better.  Do not buy a celery root that gives when you squeeze it or press against it with your finger; that celery root is brown and nasty on the inside.

Once you have your fresh celery root at home, you should refrigerate it if you’re not going to use it right away.  Don’t leave it out; it’ll go bad much faster that way.  It’ll keep in the fridge for roughly a week, though I’d use it within a couple of days if possible.

Getting at the edible parts of celery root is admittedly a bit of an obstacle, and is probably a big reason why it hasn’t become exceedingly popular in the U.S.  You’ll notice your celery root is brown with dirt.  However, you don’t need to wash it until after you peel it.  I suggest using a small knife that you can maneuver in and out of crevices easily, rather than using a vegetable peeler, which to me has only been frustrating. Cut away all the brown dirty parts until all you have is a large white ball.  It won’t look perfect.  Rinse it off, cut into pieces, and you’re ready to go.

Celery root has a whole slew of applications.  Its texture, both when raw and when cooked, is very similar to a potato.  And, like potatoes, its taste is earthy, only of course with lingering hints of celery flavor.  So you can very easily puree or mash your celery root in the same way you would potatoes: boil your chopped root in some water for about 30-40 minutes, drain, season, and mash.  For this year’s superbowl, I combined yellow potatoes and celery root into a mash, topped it with a cabernet mushroom gravy, and paired it with filet mignon (I told you I was a food snob).  It was one of the best mashed potato dishes I’ve ever had.

I’ve also grated celery root and baked it into parmesan squares, I’ve turned it into an amazing blended soup with carrot, onion, and spices, and I’ve diced it finely to add it to a fish breading.  It’s surprisingly versatile, and, in my opinion, worth the extra labor; its distinct flavor is something you won’t get anywhere else.

Here’s the recipe for the aforementioned celery root and carrot soup.  Happy food snobbering:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
sea salt
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 lbs. of celery root, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cups (750ml) chicken stock
3 cups (750ml) water
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly-ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

   1. In a large pot, melt the butter with the olive oil.
2. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic cloves and season with salt, and continue to cook until the onions and garlic are soft and translucent.
3. Add the celery root, chicken stock, or water (or use all water.)  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a strong simmer. Cook, with the lid to the pot ajar on top, until the celery root pieces are soft and easily pierced with a paring knife, about 45 minutes.
4. Add white pepper, chile powder, and cayenne.  Then let the soup cool to room temperature and whiz in a blender until smooth, or blend the soup right in the pot using an immersion blender, if you have one. Once blended, taste, and season with additional salt, pepper, and cayenne if desired. If the soup is too thick, it can be thinned with a little water or stock.
  5. To serve, rewarm the soup in a saucepan and ladle into bowls.  Garnish with fresh parsley and croutons.  Serve with warm bread.


June 23, 2011

Angst Gets Slightly Less Angsty

Rise Against “The Sufferer and

the Witness:” 6/10

Logan Haffner

The thing with Rise Against is they’re kind of exactly what their band name sounds like: an angst-ridden “down with the man” musical group with, given the change in president and current lack-of-war situation, nothing to write about.

Now, while to me their earlier work (Revolutions Per Minute, Siren Song of the Counter-Culture, The Unraveling) is a lot more punk and is actually hard to listen to without thinking less of yourself, their later work is a lot more leveled out and reasonable.  Their last two albums, being “The Sufferer and the Witness” and “Appeal to Reason,” have calmed down, included songs about real life personal conflicts rather than just hating authority figures, and have even included a ballad or two. Now the reason I chose to review this album is simply because I think it’s better.

While Rise Against still suffers from an ailment afflicting a lot of high-producing bands, that being while each album sounds a bit different, each song on each respective album is almost identical. While “The Sufferer and the Witness” is certainly plagued by this same idea, it has the most diversity of any Rise Against album. Songs like “Roadside,” “Survive” and “The Approaching Curve” actually sound different and may actually include different cord progressions than the other songs on the album. Songs like “Injection” and “Bricks” provide a link to the band’s previous angsty ways, and songs like “Prayer and the Refugee” and “Worth Dying For” provide the base mood and feel of this album.

While their old music tends to be lyrically boring in its constant attempt to be provocative, The Sufferer provides lyrics with actual feel and personal relativity to them. It’s stunning. I listen to their music and I actually listen to the words now. It’s certainly the old Rise Against, but in a new and better way that makes me want to die less.

While I firmly believe Rise Against will never truly be a diverse band, they’ve certainly grown over their past two albums. If you’re a die-hard old school Rise Against fan (then you’ve probably already heard this album and have formulated your own opinion, but in the off-chance I’m wrong in that assumption. . . ), you probably won’t like this album as much. Just saying. If you’re 22 and still a little angsty like me, this might be perfect for your bad mood swings and the times when you need to get up and do something to vent all your physically manifested anger without hitting a woman. Because that’s wrong, kids. That’s wrong.

June 22, 2011


Bowling: 7/10

Brandon Haffner

Let me start by saying that I believe bowling is underrated by most people living above the poverty line.  Bowling for entertainment has, for whatever reason, become a largely rural tradition explored mostly by white trash, hicks, bums, losers, retards, fatties, and the occasional overzealous group of Asians.  Of course, I’m generalizing, but you get the point.  Would you feel comfortable walking into any given bowling alley and announcing that you love gay people?  No.  Shotguns, beer, and pit bulls, maybe.

A few years ago: Logy on his approach

So bowling has a bad rap from where I come from (a stuffy northeastern Indiana county filled with so much money my high school had a thirty foot scrolling marquee and two fields dedicated exclusively to the marching band).  But if you can get past the dirty bowling balls, the sweaty men, the lack of air conditioning, the shitty food and watery beer, you’ve got yourself a good time.  If you can embrace those things, as I believe I have, you’ve got yourself a hobby.

Bowling is one of my family’s favorite pastimes.  What did I want to do every year on my birthday?  Bowl.  What’s item number 5 on my life’s to-do list?  Bowl a 300 game.  How much money have I spent on bowling this past year?  None of your business.

Granted, it can get a little old if you do it like I do.  Starting this year, I bowl roughly 12 to 15 games every week, and I mean every week, without fail.  If you hook the ball, again like I do, this amount is more tolerable, since you actually have a chance at breaking 200 on a regular basis if you’re good enough.  My average hovers around a 175, so I’m no pro.  But I own my own polyurethane ball, my own ball bag, my own shoes, I even wipe my ball down with a towel every once in awhile.  My brothers and I all do this.  We might be the only ones in the bowling alley wearing white-collar dress clothes, but whatever.  We drink the shitty beer with the rest of them.  And we out-bowl most of them, too.

If you’re mildly interested in bowling and still have time left in school, take a bowling class.  It’s an easy A and you’ll learn a lot more than you ever wanted to.  I recommend finding a good deal at your local alley, like I have (most of them have some sort of bargain day) and bowling over and over.  Bowling is a game that’s all about repetition and fine-tuning very small details.  If you stick to straight bowling, I can’t help you.  No one can.  But if you start hooking the ball, and you have the endurance and determination to fight through the sucky times, then you’ll find in bowling a great orgasmic pleasure that you can only get when you bowl a bunch of strikes in a row.

Speaking of which, time to go bowling.  I’m bringing Logy with me whether he’s ready or not, so his “wacky” post might not be ready to go until tomorrow!

June 15, 2011

“I Will Not Buy Stupid Shit For No Reason”

Robin Williams: Live on

Broadway: 6/10

Brandon Haffner

Now, before you Robin Williams nuts get your panties in a bundle, as I know most of you will (what kind of evening would it be without getting your panties in a good bundle-y bundle?), a 6/10 means I liked “Live on Broadway” more than I disliked it.  I turned on the DVD player with high expectations, and turned it off with a smile and shrug of the shoulders.  I was back to reality, but a slightly cheered reality.

Mr. Williams was one of my favorite actors growing up, I think mostly because he was one of the first actors I ever followed who went from comedy to drama so fluidly.  He’s often as insanely animated in his mainstream films as he is on this stage (consider particular moments of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Patch Adams,” or “Death to Smoochie”), but rarely does he drop the “f” word, which is part of the charm.  He intentionally loses the charm in “Live on Broadway.”  Robin Williams, it’s easy to forget after watching his many childrens films, is a vulgar man.  Just like Mozart.

Not that I have anything against vulgarity, it just has to be used right.  He has a five minute joke at the end of this show that graphically depicts the act of cunnilingus, for instance, that is hilarious.  But other times his vulgarity seems artificial, forced even, as if to please us, not as if it’s organically Robin Williams.  Whether that’s true or not, that’s often how it feels, to me.

His show in general, while jammed with high energy and emotion, is also strictly structured.  You can tell this by when he makes mistakes; he jumps right back on the trail a few steps behind where he was, then finishes the joke.  It’s not much of a problem, because there are so many jokes and each one is usually fairly short.  He doesn’t stay on any one topic for very long, unlike other comedians who might labor over topics, like the Catholic church, or their grandparents, or their sex lives, for half their shows.  If you’re not interested in that topic, you’re screwed.  That’s never something to worry about in Mr. Williams’ very wet (he finds several excuses to throw water everywhere) and very hairy (he’s a hairy man, for you ignorant few) one-man-show.  He changes accents a mile a minute, he transforms himself into over a dozen characters, and he talks at a billion miles an hour.  It’s certainly a show for short attention spans.

I have to recommend “Live on Broadway” despite its small shortcomings because it’s so inventive.  There are a few flat political jokes, a few lulls, but he’s so witty and fast-paced that it’s easy to brush right by them.  If you have a couple of hours and just need a good laugh, this famous show won’t disappoint.  There’s something there for everyone, even if everything there isn’t for everyone.