I Came to Get Hurt: Review of New Album from The Gaslight Anthem

I officially declared myself a fan of The Gaslight Anthem after listening to their sophomore album, The ’59 Sound. This was shortly followed by seeing them play live on their home turf in Asbury Park, NJ in 2011 which included a special guest appearance by The Boss. I was hooked immediately. Since The ’59 Sound, the band has released three more albums, the last of which was released Tuesday, August 12th. This new album, titled Get Hurt, had quite a bit of hype around it over the past few months, as front man, Brian Fallon made various statements describing the album as being quite a departure from their previous sound, a very distinct sound that many fans have come to love and expect. He also made it clear that, in preparation for this record, he had been listening to a lot of bands who have made their mark on rock n’ roll history by shedding their musical skin and emerging as something wholly new and bursting with musical creativity. Some of the bands tossed around in these conversations included U2, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd and The Beatles.

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That being said, fans and critics were eagerly awaiting this album, and pouncing on singles and leaked teasers to get a taste of what was to come. I was one of those people, and I felt like a kid on Christmas whenever a new video, song or teaser came out prior to the album’s release. I have now given the full album (including 5 brand new bonus tracks) a few listens and here is what I think. Yes, the album is definitely different from anything that the band has previously released. Is is as drastic a departure as Brian Fallon seemed to imply? In my opinion, I don’t think so. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Throughout the whole album, there are songs that have that traditional Gaslight Anthem sound that brought in legions of fans with the previous 4 albums – and there are songs that do stray from that formula, bringing something new to the table. For any of you who have been following any of Brian Fallon’s side projects over the years, such as The Horrible Crowes, with their darker, blues-tinged sound, or the more recent Molly & the Zombies, with their own spin on Americana – then some of the new sounds on this new record should not be that surprising. Fallon is a prolific songwriter, and he fully embraces the music and artists who have influenced him growing up. One can very clearly hear influences ranging from Tom Waits to Tom Petty, with nods to Pearl Jam and even Nirvana throughout.

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Throughout my first couple spins, I won’t lie and say that I fell head over heels for this new album. There were some songs, like the title track, and the lead single, Rollin’ and Tumblin’ that I immediately loved right off the bat. And some of the slow burners such as Have Mercy and Sweet Morphine are heart-breakingly gorgeous tunes. But initially, there are some moments throughout that are a bit jarring and almost clumsy. It felt like, just when I expected some tracks to blow up and explode, the band pulls back when it feels almost unnatural to do so. In a few interviews, band members have said that not only did they experiment this time around with some new instruments, but explored using their traditional instruments in brand new ways, creating new sounds. That is very obvious in songs like Underneath the Ground, Get hurt and Sweet Morphine – and it compliments those songs nicely. However, songs like 1,000 Years, Helter Skeleton, Selected Poems and Red Violins – all of which have powerful and catchy choruses, also have something about them that feels off kilter.

However, after some repeated close listens, these songs have grown on me. Maybe it was just a matter of having to fall into the particular rhythm of the album as a whole. I’ve experienced albums like that before, and those albums tend to be the best. Sometimes, you really have to devote some time to an album, or any work of art for that matter, in order to immerse yourself in it and give yourself a chance to get acclimated.  Also, and I don’t want to make a big deal about this, as I do think that the album speaks for itself, but it is interesting to note that Brian Fallon just recently divorced from his wife of 10 years. So, just imagining the kind of head space he is in right now reveals a bit more about where this album is coming from. Thankfully, I have not experienced any kind of loss that can compare to what he may be going through, but I can only imagine that it plays no small part in the off kilter atmosphere of Get Hurt, and that is when the album begins to settle in a bit more – and make more sense to me.

So, given that The ’59 Sound was released in 2008, and Get Hurt 6 years later, is it so surprising that the two sound very different? Everyone grows, and everyone yearns for something new at some point or another. People change, things change, tastes evolve,  life falls into new rhythms – and one can spend their life fighting this, or do their best to roll with it. To me, this record sounds like someone doing their damnedest to roll with the punches, even though it hurts like hell.

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My Weekend in a Cosmic Egg

What did you do this weekend, man? Oh nothing. The usual – relaxed, went out to dinner, saw a movie, watched the game, spent a couple hours floating naked inside a large white egg in total darkness pondering life, the universe and everything in between. Yup, one of those things actually took place this weekend. If you have not heard of this, it’s real. There is a thing, simply called “floating,” where the idea is complete sensory deprivation in order to achieve a zen-like state of mind, or at the very least, an absurdly relaxing hour and a half. Maybe you’ve seen something like this in weirdo midnight movies like Altered States, or even in the Pilot episode of Fringe in which a main character attempts to make a consciousness connection with her colleague who is in a coma – all via the assistance of a float tank (not to mention LSD). However, the real thing is basically the same idea (minus the LSD – though I’ll bet that’s quite an experience), where you climb into a large white egg-like pod that is filled with about 1,000 pounds of epsom salt to keep you afloat on the surface of the water like a cork. Basically, the Dead Sea in an egg. Once you’re in there, you close the hatch and just get nice and comfy, relaxing your muscles completely, letting the salt water do the hard work for you. The complete lack of gravity pushing on your body is a feeling unlike anything else. You are weightless – the closest thing you’ll get to it anyway, barring a trip to space. Once I got settled in, I turned out the light (you control the LED light and can switch it on or off during your float). I opted for total darkness, since I wanted to get the full effect. The specific place I went to also plays very mellow, new age(y) music for the first ten minutes while you get acclimated to your new surroundings, or lack thereof. 

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The music was very calming, and definitely helped to ease me into the whole experience. Then the music faded out completely – and that’s when I became aware of just how damn loud my breathing is. Seriously, it’s insane how loud something as common as breathing can be. I tried focusing on my breathing for a while, just to REALLY settle in and relax my body and mind. Then, I started thinking about what I felt I SHOULD think about. I thought about the universe, thinking maybe, just maybe, I would get some really cool visuals courtesy of my own crazy head, being that there is literally zero difference between having your eyes open or closed in there. I definitely started to lose all sense of my extremities. They keep the water temperature at 95.9 degrees, which is your skin temperature – so the effect is pretty disorienting as it feels like you’re a disembodied head for most of the float. You must also remember to do everything in your power not to scratch anywhere near your eyes. I forgot this small piece of advice, and had to turn the blinding light on to find the fresh water spray bottle that they keep in there for idiots like me. Once that was done – lights out and back into space. One thing I thought was particularly cool was the tiniest amount of energy I needed to put into simply twisting my body back and forth. I know the point of this whole exercise is to stay still and turn off the body and the mind, but I inadvertently shifted my weight at some point – and it was such a strange sensation. Since I was weightless, it felt kind of like I wasn’t even doing it. I couldn’t even tell which muscle was working to make my cosmic shimmy possible. Anyway, this went on for about 3 minutes. Though, in total darkness with no sense of the outside world, I could have been salt-water dancing for like 45 minutes…I don’t know. Thank God they don’t have cameras in there. Or do they? 

Immediately following my salt-water ballet, I settled back into my peaceful float. Some time after that, I started hearing noises that sounded like someone lightly banging on pipes. I don’t know if it was sounds from other eggs that I was contacting, or just my imagination. Either way, it changed the entire atmosphere for me. My mind went from “Wow, this is so nice and calming” to “Shit. Maybe I’m being haunted and a spirit followed me into the egg.” So, for the next 5 minutes, I literally played out scenarios in which some horrible  corpse-like demonic woman was just hovering above me in total darkness, and that it was my heightened sense of awareness that allowed me to become more in-tune with her presence. 

Once this phase passed, I just focused more on my breathing and laid completely still for the remainder of my time. Except for the occasional bumping lightly into the sides of the egg, the rest of my float passed in total ignorant bliss of the outside world, as I continued to explore the inner world. I can’t even say for sure what was going through my head during the latter half, but I can only describe it as experiencing my own thoughts with an odd sense of detachment, not necessarily in a bad way. I wish I could tell you that I had some amazing epiphany about my life, your life, our lives, the meaning behind it all etc. Eh, maybe next time. I have heard that floating is a lot like peeling an onion. Each time you float, you peel away layer after layer, getting further deep inside yourself. So, looking at it that way, I have a lot to look forward to, as I will definitely be doing it again. For all you psychonauts out there that are curious about floating, I say go for it! Ya got nothing to lose, only something to gain. So, just remember to keep calm and float on.

The Most Astounding Fact (Neil DeGrasse Tyson)

This. This brief clip speaks to me in ways that no other film, book, piece of music or any other piece of art ever has before. What he says about our past, and more importantly, what he implies about our collective future is indeed, astounding. And I agree with him, when I look up at the stars, I do not feel small in comparison. I do feel like I’m a part of something that is huge, eternal and in a constant state of flux.

“What intelligent being, what being capable of responding emotionally to a beautiful sight, can look at the jagged, silvery lunar crescent trembling in the azure sky, even through the weakest of telescopes, and not be struck by it in an intensely pleasurable way, not feel cut off from everyday life here on earth and transported toward that first stop on the celestial journeys? What thoughtful soul could look at brilliant Jupiter with its four attendant satellites, or splendid Saturn encircled by its mysterious ring, or a double star glowing scarlet and sapphire in the infinity of night, and not be filled with a sense of wonder? Yes, indeed, if humankind — from humble farmers in the fields and toiling workers in the cities to teachers, people of independent means, those who have reached the pinnacle of fame or fortune, even the most frivolous of society women — if they knew what profound inner pleasure await those who gaze at the heavens, then France, nay, the whole of Europe, would be covered with telescopes instead of bayonets, thereby promoting universal happiness and peace.” — Camille Flammarion, 1880

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

While I’ve always considered myself a DC fanatic (mostly Batman), the past two installments of the X-Men franchise, including Days of Future Past, have left me eagerly awaiting the next film. When X-2 came out, I declared it my favorite thus far. Then came First Class, my new favorite. And now, Days of Future Past has taken it’s place at the top of the list, and I’m interested to see how the next movie will attempt to top it. This recent one is HUGE in every sense of the word. I haven’t read any of the comics (yet – I’m working on it), so I can’t say for sure how close the narrative sticks to the source material. But, I will say that the movie kept me fully entertained the ENTIRE TIME. It’s not often that a movie keeps me riveted every single minute. But, this film was just awesome.xmen-days-of-future-past

You get familiar faces mixed in with some fresh faces, badass sentinels (compliments of Tyrion Lannister), Magneto in all his glory, Hugh Jackman in the role he was born to play – all wrapped up in a pretty cool plot driven by actions in the past, present and future. I will say no more for fear of spoiling anything. For those of you who have not really followed the comics (myself included), or even the previous movies – do not worry. Although there are some pretty awesome tidbits that you may pick up on from the previous movies, they’re not entirely necessary to enjoy this stand-alone story. So…go. Enjoy. And maybe, like me, you’ll find yourself soon after scouring the Half Priced Books comics section determined to find some of the classic stories that have not yet found their way into theaters.