RIP: Stan Lee

stanleeWhen I learned of Stan Lee’s death from a Facebook friend, my first reaction was to ask for a credible source. I’d known this day was coming because he’d filmed four cameos in advance, and he’d stopped appearing at cons. So the final curtain was coming.

Stan Lee was an inspiration to all of us comic book fans, whether you favored Marvel or DC.  He created a different kind of superhero. DC’s superheroes were, as the saying goes “Gods among men”, while Marvel was “Men trying to be gods”. Marvel’s heroes had powers, but their lives were not easier. Spider-man still had to show up for work the next day after saving the world. His friends became his enemies. His girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, died at the hands of one of his greatest foes.

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Die Hard is Not a Christmas Movie

diehardI may be in the minority, but this is something I am sick of. I am tired of people classifying Die Hard as a Christmas movie. So for my annual Christmas blog post, I will explain why all of you are wrong–Die Hard is NOT a Christmas movie.

OK, yes, the movie takes place at Christmas. But time for the setting doesn’t always determine type. If that were the case, then we could say the movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a WWII movie (note: the movie actually does have the London blitz in it, despite that not being in the actual book). In fact, if you took out all the Christmas trappings and made it take place at, I don’t know, Halloween–you’d still have the same story. In fact, of the Die Hard movies, only the first one takes place at Christmas. Even Home Alone’s lesser sequel, Lost in New York, still took place at Christmas.

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Jason’s Jukebox: Styx Worst to Best

logostyxThere are many bands that I feel are unjustly hated. One of these is Styx, which has been making great music since the 70’s. This time on Jason’s Jukebox, I’ll be ranking all of their albums from worst to best.

styx1 Styx  (1972)** Single: “Best Thing”

This album begins the “Wooden Nickel” era, so named because they were signed to that label at the time. It’s an all right debut, starting with “Movement for the Common Man”, a 4-part suite. This was more of a prog rock sound, but they didn’t stay that way. Best tracks: “Movement for the Common Man”, “Best Thing”.

styx2Styx II (1973) *** Singles: “You Need Love”, “Lady”

This is the first album not to feature songs written by James Young. (The album was later renamed Lady after Styx left Wooden Nickel) It’s a little better than their debut, and gave them their first big hit, “Lady”.  Best tracks: “Lady”, “Little Fugue in G”, “You Need Love”

styx3The Serpent is Rising (1973)* This is Styx’s first concept album, and the band considers it their worst recording. I won’t disagree. It contains a hidden track called “Flexible Plexiglass Toilet” that I think is their worst song. It’s good for a laugh, but I just can’t stand it.

Best track: “Krakatoa”

styx4 Man of Miracles (1974) ***1/2 This album has a different tracklist, depending on which version you listen to. My version had “Lies” on it instead of the re-releases that were on other versions. This was their final album on the Wooden Nickel album, and the best one from that era for me.

Best tracks: “Rock n Roll Feeling”, “Lies”, “Evil Eyes”

equinox Equinox (1975) ***1/2 Singles: “Light Up”, “Lorelei”

This was their debut on A&M, which had probably the best production value so far. It’s a blast and just feels more bombastic than their Wooden Nickel material. I think this is a great place to start for them, and it shows a lot of promise.

Best tracks: “Lorelei”, “Midnight Blue”, “Born For Adventure”, “Prelude 12”

crystal Crystal Ball (1976) ***1/2 Singles: “Mademoiselle”, “Crystal Ball”, “Jennifer”

This album has a recital of Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” leading into the final track “Ballerina”. Dennis DeYoung wrote “This Old Man” for his father.

Best tracks: “Jennifer”, “Claire de Lune/Ballerina”, “This Old Man”

illusion The Grand Illusion (1977)***** Singles: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)”

This is my favorite Styx album, with many fantasy themes. This is considered the album that launched the band into stardom. And I love that album cover.

Best tracks: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Castle Walls”, “The Grand Illusion”

pieces Pieces of Eight (1978)****1/2 Singles: “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”

This is the band’s second concept album, with a theme about perseverance. It achieved triple platinum success, and definitely deserves it. Lots of great songs on here.

Best Tracks: “Lords of the Ring”, “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”, “The Message”

cornerstone Cornerstone (1979) ***1/2 Singles: “Babe”, “Boat on the River”

This album began the transition from prog rock to a more “arena” rock sound, as a response to the bad press they were getting on their first tour of England. The album is packed with ballads. While it’s a different sound from their previous work, I still like it.

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Best Albums of 2018

This year has been an excellent year for music. We got new albums from titans like Judas Priest. The White Album was remastered in celebration of its 50th anniversary! The Police released a B-sides compilation. Thanks to Spotify’s Release Radar feature, I tried out new albums throughout the year. I heard over 30 albums this year, and of them only 2 were duds.

Let’s get the duds out of the way first:

gravity Bullet For My Valentine: Gravity–I really don’t know why I gave this band a try. I’d heard their name thrown around a lot, so I got curious. This album was just noise. I don’t know if they have better stuff, but I don’t think I want to find out.

origins Imagine Dragons: Origins–What happened, guys? I thought your first two albums were great! Evolve was okay, but this? This is like someone sucked all the inspiration out and left vapid music only good for backgrounds in commercials. If I want commercial music, I’ll watch TV.

And now for the countdown! These will be arranged by how much they impressed me.

badwitch Nine Inch Nails: Bad Witch I’ve been following Trent Reznor since way back, like Pretty Hate Machine. I wouldn’t say they hit a slump, but this was only a half-hour, not nearly enough to whet my appetite.

reign Avenged Sevenfold: Black Reign This is the soundtrack for the latest Call of Duty game. It was a blast, but the spark didn’t last long enough for me. I’ll be checking out more stuff, so it impressed me that much anyway.

429 Building 429: Live the Journey–This is one of my favorite Christian Music bands. I liked this album, but it had way too many singles released before the album finally dropped. The rest of the album was good too, but a few of the singles weren’t all that great.

monkeys Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino–This is Arctic Monkey’s first concept album, about a hotel and casino on the moon. A few of the songs sounded like lounge music, and I didn’t like that. My main problem is that the concept didn’t seem fully represented, and only a few songs seemed to follow the theme. But points for doing something new, guys!

death cab Death Cab For Cutie: Thank You For Today–Don’t get me wrong, Death Cab fans. I’m well aware how good this band is, but I only slightly enjoyed this album.

shiny Smashing Pumpkins: Shiny and Oh So Bright, V. 1: No Past, No Future, No Sun–Man, that’s a long title. Its great to see the original line-up, and for an EP this was a nice small package of talent. (you can call it an LP all you want, Corgan, but this was only a half-hour. That’s an EP)

wyeoak Wye Oak: The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs: I really like how experimental this duo gets. I mean, can you think of any other band where the drummer will play the keyboards while he’s playing the drums? The music always makes it hard to believe there are only two musicians. It has a great surreal sound to it.

prine John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness–When I saw John Prine’s name on the list of nominees for induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, I was curious because I’d never heard of him. His blend of humor and country roots impressed me a lot, and then I found out this new album came out. I’ll definitely be listening to his older material.

kamikaze Eminem: Kamikaze–The world’s fastest rapper can still knock one out of the park. There’s some great diss tracks on this one, and the guest stars don’t overshadow Mathers at all.

nownow The Gorillaz: The Now-Now–Humanz was a great rescue from the slump that was The Fall, and this album continues the trippy direction that the previous album started. It wasn’t better than Demon Days (my favorite album by the band), but it was pretty good.

theory Muse: Simulation Theory–Man, this album has seriously divided the fanbase. Some people really like this album, but others outright hate it. I’m somewhere in the middle. This is far from the worst. It has a good concept, and I like the 80’s feel. It’s not one I’d play for someone who’s never heard of Muse, but I like it, even if it took a couple listens to really appreciate.

myles1 Myles Kennedy: Year of the Tiger–Normally Kennedy likes to collaborate with other artists like Alter Bridge, but this is a solo album. It’s an album inspired by the death of his father, and he pours out all his pain, bleeding the wounds into some deep, dark music. It’s a bit of a departure from his normal stuff, with an almost country vibe thanks to the lap steel guitar on some tracks. Good stuff here.

noise Spock’s Beard: Noise Floor–This is a great progressive metal band, and speaking as a first-time listener, it sounded great. Some great long songs on here, which is why I like progressive rock and metal, so good job guys.

daughterMatthew Sweet: Tomorrow’s Daughter–Matthew Sweet is a great indie artist who’s been around since the 90’s, and he’s not about to disappear. This was  a great album and it’s as beautiful as its cover.

living Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators f/Slash: Living the Dream: This felt like a jam. It was some great pure rock and Slash did his usual routine of pulling out impressive riffs on his Les Paul. It’s a great one.

unheavenly Coheed and Cambria: Vaxis pt. 1: Unheavenly Creatures–What, you thought the Amory Wars saga ended with Afterman? No! There’s five more parts now, starting with this album. If you have an hour and a half to fill, this is a good one to listen to, but I hope you’ve listened to the rest of the saga first.

vale Black Veil Brides: Vale– I’m not that familiar with these guys, and from what I have heard before this, Vale doesn’t blaze any trails. But it sounds great, so I guess if the formula still works, why not stick to it?

onlyjesus Casting Crowns: Only Jesus–Yes, we have another worship band. Casting Crowns, in my opinion, is the best of the worship music genre, and this is great inspirational music. I especially like the song “One Awkward Moment”.

cipher Follow The Cipher: Here’s a new band from Sweden, formed by Ken Kängström, who collaborated with Sabaton, another great Swedish metal band. Their lead vocalist Linda Toni Grahn has an impressive set of pipes, and this is an impressive debut. Check it out if you’re storming a castle.

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