Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Big Sad Whale - Demo

Yesterday, I picked up a free demo CD at Slackers from a St. Charles band called A Big Sad Whale. Having seen the group before at SCW's Open Mic Night, I thought I might give it a go. The group itself is a two-piece consisting of Alex Dabney on drums and Zach Petzel on guitar and vocals. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

The demo has three songs: "21st Century Novelist," "Run," and "Stone Hard Stiletto." The songs, all originals, have a retro-rock kind of feel. Their song-writing could use some work, but they keep it interesting with unique guitar licks and drum fills.

The guitar, especially on "Stone Hard Stiletto," shows some blues influence. The drums, while a little sloppy, are very creative and chaotic. I think they probably could have been recorded better, but, hey, it's a demo. 

The vocals would definitely not win on any reality TV show, and I'm sure Petzel would admit that, but that's alright. Reality TV sucks anyway. The vocals seem to be tame in order to let the instruments and lyrics speak for the band.

I can't say it's perfect because that would be lying. But it's listenable, catchy, and it's homegrown. They get major props for even trying and even more props for giving it away for free. I believe they've given copies to most St. Charles record stores. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Melancholia is a 2011 sci-fi drama directed and written by Lars von Trier. It's about a planet, Melancholia, colliding with Earth and the event's effect on the lives of two sisters. Starring Kirsten Dunst (Virgin Suicides), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Science of Sleep), and Kiefer Sutherland (24), you could say it has an all-star cast.

The first eight and a half minutes are imagery-filled slow-motion clips from the end of the story, the last of which is another planet crashing into Earth. It takes a lot of balls for a director to blow up our planet in the first eight minutes of the film. The slow start is not necessarily a bad thing. The orchestral score makes it quite an experience. It's reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The film is divided into two acts. The first follows Dunst's character, Justine, at her wedding reception. The second follows Gainsbourg's character, Claire, as the planet approaches, passes, and collides with Earth (I'm not spoiling anything, I swear. First eight minutes.) Both of their performances are flawless. I first heard of Charlotte Gainsbourg through her music career, but this movie proved to me that she is also a gifted actress.

The cinematography is almost entirely handheld. This unique approach gives the film a personal, candid feeling without looking like The Blair Witch Project. The camera is not a character.

With heavy themes of both depression and the end of everything, this is definitely a downer. I wouldn't advise watching it on your birthday. But really, when's the last time you saw a good tragedy? Our culture really celebrates comedy and happy endings, but that's only half of it. Tragedies make us thankful for what we have. Melancholia is a reminder that things can be sad and enjoyable at the same time.