Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Astral Plain of the Aquarium: "Better Call Saul" Season 4 Episode one Recap

Writer: Jon Weirman

Staring at a home aquarium can appeal to one's sense of peace, comfort, and a sense of wonder. Feeding the fish and watching just how quickly they swim to the surface to devour their meal is captivating, and brings to mind the savage instincts that it takes to survive in any element of the current global climate. It's not surprising that the aquarium was a key focal point for this first episode of season four, providing a window into loss, injury, and trajectory. After more than a year off, many worldwide tuned in last night to follow the happenings of the bumbling-but-somehow-savvy lawyer who always seems to find himself in a tangle of sorts, and "Smoke" was an episode that tied up many existing questions.  

My closest cohort lamented to me from a crowded rush-hour Pacific Northwestern bus after reading an article about the overlapping timelines between the shows, "Why isn't Kim ever mentioned or shown in 'Breaking Bad?" This episode does not exactly give us any answers here, but rather begins to delve into the events immediately following Chuck's suicide at the end of last season. Dying from the result of kerosene flames at the end of last year's finale, we were shown the madness of a man who lost his identity, even though he somehow came to an abrupt peace with his paranoid fear of electrical current. 

What is arguably the pinnacle moment of this week's episode involves Chuck's boss Howard lamenting to Kim and Jimmy that "Chuck did what he did because of me", referring to his decision to push chuck out of the firm some time ago. Jimmy, who has been in the haze of loss and ruin for the entire episode, suddenly livens up, and we are shown the strange, quizzical, somewhat sociopathic charms of the Jimmy we first met around a decade ago, when he aided the drug-slinging Walter White. Happily getting ready to fix coffee and feed the fish in the aquarium, he says strangely, "Well Howard, I guess that's your cross to bear". 

We are also shown that Hector Salamanca barely survives his parking lot collapse, after Nacho painstakingly swaps out his needed medication. As the ambulance drives away, we sense that Gus may be very keen on the plot, and that everyone surely wishes he were, in fact, deceased. Victor is sent to tail Nacho, and doesn't realize that he drives off with a tracking device attached to the car. This imagery is parallel to the masterful portrayal of the game of cat-and-mouse in the Cohen Brothers' epic "No Country For old Men", and I have always enjoyed the presence of the beeping boxes that are in place to follow those in this wonderfully-lain out show. 

Mike is more than just the ultimate security professional. It is marvelous to watch him steal an employee pass, board a cart that hauls recklessly through a warehouse, with the ultimate goal of letting them know his presence. Mike is beyond calculated, and we once again get to witness his dedication to a child, wonder what thoughts cross his mind in front of a small television at night, and realize that if there is anyone in a current TV series who portrays a weary fearlessness to perfection, you need to look no further. 

Situated in Omaha and shot in Black and White, the beginnings of most "Better Call Saul" episodes show what happens to him as manager of a Cinnabun, where he needs to disappear permanently after the "Breaking Bad" timeline draws to a close. After suffering a dire emergency, he winds up in the hospital, and we are shown a well-spun segment of him not being able to locate his social security number, and the possibility that his entire identity may finally be compromised. A cab driver with an air freshener from New Mexico injects fear of Jimmy's identity already blown wide open to bits regardless, and we have to wait a week or two to see if it was chance, or indeed a long arm of the cartel or vigilante law that has located him hiding out in the Midwest. 

Some have complained that this series just doesn't move quite fast enough for them. It almost gets under the skin of many, while we slowly watched Jimmy and Kim's relationship blossom, only to see what seems like an array of characters that pedal around in circles. But at the core, we are thrown an appetite-wetting sample of the best in modern television writing is. The way things are set up here can tend to make you wait for a climax, then drift sideways into a plot that you may not understand if you are not fully caught up. "Better Call Saul" really spoke to me because it showed us how someone who once worked in a mail room worked his way up, then anything but usual circumstances were thrown at him. Everyone I know is excited to keep following along, and see just how this brash and now wounded fast-talker will manage to "swim to the surface" of his own aquarium.  -J

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Killigan's "Dance on Your Grave" Album Review

Killigans “Dance on Your Grave” Album Review by Jon Weirman

Run down tenements, new and fleeting loves, warm stew after a long journey, and the intense beauty of locations such as Dublin Castle are very fitting subjects for folk songs. When iconic acts like the Pogues belted out cuts like “Dirty Old Town” way back in 1985, an immediate attachment was created to their appreciation for rewards of toil, love of country, and yearning for post-industrial romance. Since 2004, the Killigans have been belting out their own form of reverent hymn, and with their fifth album release this year, they are once again producing their well-versed wares for the masses. No strangers to the road, the demand for their craft has already taken them far from home, and many of the friends they made along the way will be eagerly awaiting this installment of stories.

“Stories, instead of songs?” anyone with a pint after a long day right here in the Heartland may ask. One thing about the Killigan's instant appeal was always about the characters spun into the soundscape. While some may argue that anyone can plug into a JCM-900, get rowdy, and “proclaim themselves Irish”, these boys have taken their appropriate licks well before they became the most in-demand St Patty's day act in the state. The intricate writing, love for their own large families, and deep Midwestern roots have solidified their prowess for more than a decade, as well as wet the appetites for those who are searching for a bit more depth than the traditional fist-pumping Guinness and Harp Harrier acts. The link to listen and check out the fresh release for yourself on Spotify is right here

No stranger to rough-and-tumble locales myself, the song “Throw it Away” properly evokes the vibe I felt when I saw my first off-the-books bare-knuckle boxing match in Boston. Commanding the listener's attention, the devil is portrayed as a host keeping time, and the heavily-discussed issue of class war is lamented upon. Drawing back the curtain figuratively and literally, its an appropriate anthem regarding the price to be paid for our sheer existence, and what it feels like to watch something burn to the ground. The mix is just what you would expect from this rich group, who have long evolved from 3-chord monte, but the desperation is fitting: many worldwide have lost any patience with the sensation of being crunched under the banking cartel's heel.

“Paducah” begins with a truly Irish sound, and bassist Trevor Nebesniak gets to wander around while being appropriately in synch, and this track really reminds me of world-class and heavily-layered act Gogol Bordello. The accordion here is first-rate, and is the perfect addition of warmth and commanding expertise. Hitting the bottle harder, asking questions of existence and fate, and a seemingly fateful accident paints a picture that is not perfect, but one must remember those bustling streets of Dublin aren't always rosy and prim on a daily basis either.

“Bartender” is a playful number that is asking the local establishment's proprietor to “save us now”, by frequent pouring, and deep understanding of everyday strife. Needing a good friend that won't abandon them, as well as the reassurance that everything will be alright, is painted in a manner that is more than fun: the age-old thirst of the working class will never be fully quenched. Songs like this are what drew many to this band in the very first place: rich instrumentation along with tasteful and mid-rangy guitar solos simply take the cake, or “the keg”, as it may be.

“Burn it Down” is an introspective and rather stripped-down piece that begins with an acoustic guitar and accordion, along with the vision of taking a walk across the land of opportunity. This song really hits home to me what true progression is supposed to sound like: Charlie Johnson at Fuse Recording Studios really clocks a firm win for the books here. One mistake in production of folk, rock, and punk is to heavily lay on the buckets of distortion, and this common error does not take place in the least within this final mix.

Guitar-driven rock can make a lot of mistakes, as Replacement's frontman Paul Westerberg laments about the added effects and “other garbage” music during the 1990's. There is not even a hint of this type of saturated production here, and this song is a solid number about the sensations one would experience remembering a tragic fire in your very own city. In retrospect, this entire album release seems timely: many metro areas as of late have been surely sensing a crackling of kindling underneath them, and heavily present unrest from the inside out.