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Kevin Major RSS Feed (Barrington, NH United States)

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Rise Again
Rise Again
Price: $9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Everything sounds the same, July 17, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Rise Again (MP3 Music)
I've tried to be patient with The Dreaming. I was a huge fan of Stabbing Westward back in the day. They were my favorite band for years, so naturally I flocked to The Dreaming in the hope of hearing what I used to love. The Dreaming is not that.

Now, I admit that's somewhat unfair. There's no way to put the genie back in the bottle. And, really, I'm not rating this album so low because I'm disappointed it's not Stabbing Westward-lite. No, after three albums, I've finally lost patience with the band on the whole.

Rise Again has been heralded by Christopher Hall - founder, and lead singer - as a return to Stabbing Westward. "Listen to Stabbing Westward Rise Again!" The problem is, that's a lie.

Oh, the first song "Alone" certainly sounds like Stabbing Westward. It's undoubtedly the best song on the album as well. But it was positioned in a way to entice the weary listener to think that the rest of the album would also sound like that. That's definitely not the case. Instead, we get more The Dreaming. Which makes sense in hindsight. The problem is, The Dreaming's songs aren't very good, and they're all almost indistinguishable from one another.

Seriously, everything but "Alone" follows the formula of the previous two albums. Driving base lines, solid if unspectacular drums, and way, way too many high pitched melodies layered on top ruining the solid rock foundation underneath. It's pop metal. Bombastic, melodramatic, and utterly, utterly boring, with lyrics that would cause the most emo of high schoolers to blush in embarrassment. The formula hasn't changed in six years, and I guess it's too much to hope it'll change in the future.

It's so formulaic that, when listening to their library as a whole, it's difficult to determine which song comes from which album. The song structures are almost exactly the same. The way Chris sings everything is almost exactly the same. The subject matter, turns of phrase, everything is just regurgitated from song to song. There's very little variation. The songs may as well be A/B/C/etc. versions of each other.

The one song on this album that shows a little bit of self awareness - "Throw It Away" - is okay. It's a pop metal ballad of all things, but it's the only song in the entire The Dreaming library that feels a little bit honest, earnest, and mature. Everything else is the same nauseating blend of hating/loving to hate women with a heaping dose of whine. Everything is everyone else's fault, which is kind of pitiful to listen to coming from a guy in his 40s or older.

So, a two star review, a star each for the decent songs on the album. If you want paint-by-numbers mindless pop metal, this fits the bill. Otherwise, there are far better alternatives for whatever your fancy is. Stay away.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2015 1:52 PM PDT

Etched in Blood
Etched in Blood
Price: $15.84
7 used & new from $15.84

3.0 out of 5 stars Better than their next album, May 20, 2015
This review is from: Etched in Blood (Audio CD)
Reviewing albums by The Dreaming is difficult. Not only was Christopher Hall, the lead singer, a founding member of Stabbing Westward, and not only was Johnny Haro, the drummer, a fill-in drummer for Stabbing Westward, but The Dreaming also sold a 4-song demo long before this album was released, and they have since released Puppet in 2011. So, it's difficult, if not impossible, to compare this to the band's progenitor as well as their other works.

Thematically, Etched in Blood follows the well-worn path of a jilted lover's angst. This is simply what Hall *does*. Anyone looking for something of more substance than someone sick of lies (their own and their partner's), cheating (ditto), all tinged with the inability to move on should look somewhere else. There's no real sense of maturity here. Everything is focused on Hall's pain and anger with absolutely no closure or wisdom gained. Which is fine, in it's way. Hall tried happy in the last Stabbing Westward album. It didn't work. Thankfully, while the lyrics are still incredibly immature (drinking game: every time Hall says the word lie(s/d), take a shot), they're not nearly as embarrassing as what he wrote for Puppet.

Unlike Puppet, Etched in Blood isn't as polished, which works to its favor. The producers allowed for some variance - sometimes a guitar needs to sound a little broader, a little darker. That's not to say it isn't over-engineered. It is. Just that the shine isn't quite as bright. The music tends to support the lyrics more in this album than in Puppet. It's not as good or honest as the 4-song demo I mentioned earlier, but it's not terrible outright.

That said, Etched in Blood does show the beginning of some of the problems that marred Puppet, most notably the inane lead guitar play that distracts from solid rhythm section play. For every decent bass or rhythm guitar riff that drives a song forward, there's a high pitched overlay that adds absolutely nothing to it. Less is more. Riffs don't need a corresponding counterpoint riff in almost every song. And all it does is give the music an air of a complete lack of confidence. That the music can't stand on its own, so let's add a bunch more stuff to pack it to the gills, because more sounds are automatically better. No, they're not. All of the songs on this album needed to be edited down. There's good stuff in there, but it's buried under a load of nonsense.

Ultimately, only a couple of songs are memorable - "Become Like You," and "Make It Go Away." The rest either feel the same as one another, or are just overwrought renditions of what was on their demo.

Final verdict: if you're a die hard Stabbing Westward or Christopher Hall fan, Etched in Blood is an okay, back-of-the-rotation addition to your library. Something to listen to when everything else is exhausted. Otherwise, there are better options available.


2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, May 18, 2015
This review is from: Puppet (MP3 Music)
Puppet is a difficult album for me to review, in part because I was a huge Stabbing Westward fan when I was younger, and in part because there are a lot of different things going on in this album.

The overwhelming feel of the album is gloss. Everything is bright. Even when the lyrics are entirely devoted to doom, gloom, and the death of love, the music has this unfortunate brightness to it. There's a real sense of over-engineering at play here, where every note is polished to a shine that doesn't actually fit what the songs are supposed to be about. And it's not done in an ironic sense, where one accepts the inevitability of their doomed relationships with a smile and shrug. Nothing is raw or seething or uncomfortably dissonant. Every note played, every word sang has this air of intentionality to it, as though it was picked from a pile of repeated attempts. And that feeling of artificialness permeates every song on the album.

The lyrics are unfortunate. And incredibly juvenile. Which is a shame, because as on-the-nose as some Stabbing Westward lyrics could be, they never reached these depths. Things are now "etched in the stars" and "there will be blood." Bombastic nonsense followed by trite sentimentality, with nothing feeling personal or actually felt. Sure, Chris screams when he's supposed to scream, and does that husky whisper when he's supposed to whisper, but none of it feels honest. Again, part of it is that there's nothing raw or real about his performance. Part of him is literally engineered away. But, mostly he's just following the script.

Structurally, everything is AABA. There are absolutely no surprises. None. When you hear the first verse and chorus, you know how the song will play out. And every song is short. Really short. Only two surpass four minutes in length, with many barely going over three minutes.

This isn't to say the album is horrible. Some of the riffs are actually quite nice and memorable. Unfortunately, they, too, suffer from too many hands trying to make things sound just so. More often than not, there's a lead guitar or synth playing over something that would sound better alone. "End in Tears" is probably the most solid song on the album, since it features a slightly prolonged rhythm which forces Chris to actually sing, and not much in the way of a lead guitar or synth mucking up the rest of the music.

Overall, I'm trying to figure out what Chris was trying to do with this album. The lyrics are stolen straight from high school angst, and the overall vibe is one of glam goth punk, but it simply doesn't work. He's raging against manipulative women and himself, with nothing seemingly learned from his experiences, so it ultimately comes across as selfish. "I suck, and you suck even worse" isn't much to hang an entire album on, and it shows. Orgy did it far better years ago with Vapor Transmission.

Ultimately, unless you're a die hard Stabbing Westward/Christopher Hall fan, I wouldn't recommend picking this one up. It's memorable for all the wrong reasons, and there are far better alternatives out there.

The Turn
The Turn
Price: $9.49

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The LiVE album I've waited over a decade for, November 24, 2014
This review is from: The Turn (MP3 Music)
I was a huge LiVE fan back in the 90's and early 2000's. For a mainstream rock band, they still had an edge. They also had a unique sound, and something to say. From Mental Jewelry to The Distance to Here, LiVE represented straight ahead rock quality, often veering into excellence.

Then, something began to change. The distortion was slowly turned down. Ed Kowalczyk's lyrics alternated between a complete lack of self-awareness and a weird sort of smug faux-spirituality that didn't really say much of any thing (certainly not compared to his treatises on Mental Jewelry). As the albums stumbled on by - V, Birds of Pray, and Songs From Black Mountain - LiVE slowly morphed into a pseudo-Christian soft rock band. It felt like they were trying to mimic bands like Train rather than stick to their signature sound.

Then, Ed left/was fired. And, judging by his solo career, it seems obvious that he was the driving force behind the 'wussification' (for lack of a better term) of the band's sound.

So, now we have a new LiVE album with a new singer - Chris Shinn, formerly of Unified Theory. How does The Turn measure up?

Put simply, it's a return to form.

The most obvious thing is that the band seems to have rediscovered their testicular fortitude. "Don't Run to Wait" sounds like the child of Throwing Copper's "Stage" while "Siren's Call" sounds like something more in line with Soundgarden (!). Even the more pop oriented tunes - "The Way Around is Through" and "Natural Born Killers" - find their edge towards the end, keeping them from devolving into tepid schlock.

What I find most interesting is that the vibe feels like the amalgamation of Throwing Copper, Secret Samadhi, and The Distance to Here:

The lyrics tend to be uplifting on the whole, but thankfully without the callbacks to the water metaphor that Ed was overly reliant on, and no weirdness like bagels or puke stinking like beer.

There's a fair amount of minor chord play, and a bit of dissonance to keep things from being too predictable. Most of the songs are also high tempo, which is nice.

Chris Shinn's vocals remind me of Ed's early tenure with the band, more growl than falsetto, but with the ability to snap it back into the kind of control Ed had later on. It's a vocal performance that *feels* like LiVE without being a parody of what came before. The songs, ultimately, have an earnestness to them that's been lacking for a long, long time.

If you're a fan of early LiVE, you'll probably like this album. It won't topple Throwing Copper (really, what could?), and it doesn't have a clear theme like Mental Jewelry's politics, but it's an incredibly solid hard rock album. And, if you're like me and haven't enjoyed one of their albums since The Distance to Here, you'll likely find it to be a breath of fresh air.

The Gene Generation
The Gene Generation
DVD ~ Bai Ling
Price: $8.60
59 used & new from $1.33

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Embarrassingly bad, May 18, 2013
This review is from: The Gene Generation (DVD)
I decided to watch this on a whim when I saw that Alec Newman - who was serviceable in the Dune miniseries on Sci-Fi - was in it. Big mistake on my part.

First, let me describe what little the movie gets right:

Alec Newman actually does a decent job with what he's given. The dialogue is stilted, and the entire movie's premise is given via his voiceover in the first few minutes, but he does just enough to make it all not-quite-horrible. His portrayal of exiled DNA scientist Christian is passable. He manages to convey just enough earnestness and desperation to make me want to see more of him. Unfortunately, despite getting a starring credit, he only shares a couple of scenes with Bai Ling's assassin Michelle.

Another positive surprise was the character Jackie, portrayed by Parry Shen. He was very convincing playing Michelle's immature, screw-up brother.

And that's about it. The flaws are numerous and simply overwhelm the few positives.

Most glaring, to me, is the complete lack of coherence with the plot. DNA hacking itself is only mentioned in passing, and its mechanics are never really explained. Transcoders - the movie's mcguffin - somehow magically damage the people using them, by turning them into writhing tentacle monsters. None of this is sufficiently explained, and, unfortunately, the DNA hacking premise is largely swept away after the opening monologue.

Instead of a movie that smartly explores what it would mean to actually tinker with the fabric of humanity, we're given a post-apocalyptic story of a loser (Jackie) gambling too much and running afoul of a loanshark, leaving his sister (Michelle) to clean up after him. It's all just a waste of time, as it follows a predictable course and barely touches on the sci-fi premise. The bulk of this movie could have taken place in any modern metropolis and it would have been the same.

Visually, the film is a mess. The special effects are on par with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which is just embarrassing for a film created in 2007. Everything screams bad CG, from the inexplicable Viking/Chinese inspired airships, to the cityscape, to glass cracking and blood splurting. And it's not just that the effects are bad, but the designs are horrid as well.

Mounds of trash litter the streets for no real reason. The airships and city walls all strive to look organic, which seems counter-intuitive to me given this society's supposed paranoia about clean DNA. In any event, there's never a sense of culture presented here. Bai Ling's Michelle looks stereotypically cyberpunk, while the Hayden's lair looks decidedly steampunk. Disparate looks and visual themes are mashed together haphazardly, leaving me to believe that the only barrier to inclusion was whether something looked cool or not, rather than if it fit with the story.

The end result is that the movie never feels like it exists in a plausible place. It's very obvious that everything happens in a handful of sets, none of which feel like they belong in a realistic city. Time wasted on Jackie's attempts to outwit the loanshark could have been better spent hashing out the environment.

Other reviews mentioned Blade Runner, which is laughable. Blade Runner never forgot its premise. There's no Roy Batty here, no exploration into what humanity *is*, no duality between protagonist and villain. Instead, we're left with a muddled mess of a movie, which is only confident in telling the base story of a gambling addict screwing up one time too many in the most cliche manner possible.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with Music CD
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with Music CD
Offered by Dealz And Stealz
Price: $70.00
128 used & new from $34.66

8 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Word of warning re: accessibility, December 27, 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Just a word of warning for anyone with a physical disability that is looking to purchase this game: it REQUIRES the Wii Motion Plus accessory, meaning it ONLY can be played via motion controls. The Pro Controller WILL NOT WORK with it.

Logitech Wireless Marathon Mouse M705 With 3-year Battery Life
Logitech Wireless Marathon Mouse M705 With 3-year Battery Life
Offered by Always Tax Free
Price: $31.32
107 used & new from $8.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, but not perfect, December 2, 2012
I purchased the M705 to replace an aging LX-7. Since I had purchased a K800 keyboard just a few weeks earlier, I had the benefit of using the Logitech 'Unifying Technology' which actually works as well as they claim. One USB transmitter/receiver works for both the keyboard and mouse.

The M705 fits fairly comfortably in the hand. It's my first ergonomic mouse, so I'm impressed that the shape actually works for my disabled hand. It tracks well on a mouse pad. I don't have a reason to not use one, so I haven't tested it on a hard surface.

That said, there are a few annoying things with this mouse:

For one, the scroll-wheel bounce back issue that others have complained about is definitely real. The problem is that the scroll-wheel is INCREDIBLY sensitive when in free-wheel mode, so it registers a lift of the finger as an up-scroll. Putting the wheel in 'click' mode (where spinning the wheel results in actual clicks) fixes it, but does so at the cost of analogue scrolling. Each scroll click moves the screen a set amount.

Second, like someone else said, the forward/back buttons at the top edge of the thumb slot are positioned a bit too far forward.

Finally, the two main mouse buttons are very sensitive, with their hinges placed a bit further back than I'd like, resulting in accidental clicks.

All that said, these issues seem like they can be worked around with time. In just the 36 or so hours I've owned the mouse, I've already stopped accidentally clicking things.

Ultimately, when it comes to mice, I recommend you try them out in a store before purchasing. They're a bit like shoes - you want to ensure a good fit. Case in point: I was looking at the Performance MX, but seeing it in the store changed my mind. That thing is a brick. The M705 is shaped similarly, but fits me far better.

Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800
Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800
Price: $68.99
55 used & new from $50.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Day after review - great keyboard (so far), November 17, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I received this keyboard just about 24 hours ago, and so far I've been very impressed. It's slim without feeling cramped, and its combination of matte and glossy black make it look very sharp indeed. There are several light brightness levels, including always off, always on, and several levels in between that fade off if you pause typing. The keys themselves feel good - responsive without feeling clicky. The board itself feels pretty solid despite its lack of girth. That said, it does flex slightly if you try using it on an uneven surface, so treat it gently. This is more of a designer keyboard than a tank.

Installation is a breeze. Plug the receiver into a USB port, wait for Windows to install the drivers, and you're ready to go.

My one complaint is the lack of an indicator light for scroll lock and num lock, but if you download and install the new SetPoint software, it will notify you on the monitor.

The biggest question is the keyboard's longevity. I simply don't know at this point if it will stand up to the rigors of everyday use for the months and years ahead. But, the initial impression is very favorable. It's certainly better than the chunky Gateway keyboard it replaced.

Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
by Richard Scarry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $9.22
200 used & new from $2.84

5.0 out of 5 stars A generally unknown classic, November 5, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
To put it succinctly, I grew up on this book. It was present in my first memories, and I remember flipping, then later reading, through it time and time again as a child. I consider it a must have for any young child, placing it in my personal pantheon next to Seuss' best.

Things That Go has a simple premise - it's about a family going for a drive to go on a picnic. Along the way, they encounter a wide variety of imaginative vehicles, like trucks that look like mustard and ketchup bottles, an alligator car, and many others. It's standard child story fare, but it does the job.

The magic of the book is Goldbug. Hidden on every page is a small, yellow, friendly-looking insect. Sometimes he's fully visible, other times just the top of his head is showing, but he's there. It's a precursor to something like Where's Waldo, but not so punishing or annoying. Goldbug is hidden in some clever areas, but there's never any trickery involved.

If you have a small child, then get this book. I bought a new copy for my infant nephew. What, did you think I would give away my own copy?

Samsung UN32EH5300 32-Inch 1080p 60 Hz Smart LED HDTV (2012 Model)
Samsung UN32EH5300 32-Inch 1080p 60 Hz Smart LED HDTV (2012 Model)
4 used & new from $300.00

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great as a TV, don't care about the other features, August 22, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I just purchased this TV to replace my old, dead LG 32" 720p/1080i TV. I wasn't interested in the SmartTV features as I have both an XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, which makes those features incredibly redundant. In fact, the two features I was looking forward to the most were this unit's three HDMI ports, which allowed me to dispose of my Belkin HDMI switch/splitter, and the fact that it's native 1080p, which meant my non-game XBox apps would finally look right.

So, as a TV, this unit shines. It's a no-frills unit from a physical standpoint. It lacks the thick LG plastic border I had grown accustomed to, and I actually double-checked that it was indeed the right size. With this television, the screen is paramount, and after spending some time with it, I have to say I prefer it that way.

The picture itself is crisp, clear, smooth, and colorful, but like with any TV, getting it to that point takes a fair amount of tweaking. Unfortunately, most of the settings Samsung has on by default hinder the picture. The Eco settings are, by and large, useless. They dim the picture in the presence of any light, and there's an auto turn-off setting as well. More subtle are the picture and MPEG noise reduction filters. These filters are designed to combat against lines/distortion present in the signal. The problem is that it attempts to do so by blurring everything. So what appears to be blurriness and/or ghosting is actually the noise filters doing their job. The effect is really noticeable whenever a person is doing something, anything (talking, playing sports, walking, blinking, etc.) on screen. Turn them off.

The unit is also great as a game console monitor, but, again, it requires tweaking to get it to look just so. I've found that, in addition to fiddling with the normal color/brightness/contrast settings, turning off the HDMI black and dynamic contrast help a lot.

So, in conclusion, I find this unit to be a fine TV. I can't speak to the apps as I don't have an interest in them, and will likely never use them. If you do buy it, just be prepared to spend a fair amount of time tweaking the picture settings. You'll be well rewarded for your patience.

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