Thursday, October 24, 2013

Album Review: The Flatliners - Dead Language

Growing up in my towns local punk rock scene I saw a lot of bands come and go. Many of them I don't remember, mostly because there was nothing memorable about them. Every once and a while though a band was get on stage that would strike a chord with me and leave me wanting more. Thankfully The Flatliners just never seemed to go away, and unlike the other bands that rolled through town, they got bigger and better. I lost touch with my towns scene for a few years, and the show that brought me back was The Flatliners who had come back to town to play songs from their record The Great Awake, and my mind was blown. Since that record dropped in 2007 on Fat Wreck Chords they've had two more releases, 2010's Cavalcade and their new album that dropped last month Dead Language.

This record definitely builds on the new sound that The Flatliners have been working to develop since their first major release Destroy to Create (2005). On Destroy vocalist Chris Cresswell had an enormous amount of speed and power behind his voice which gave a great youthful sound to their blistering punk/ska sound. Though now, they have really established themselves as a much more matured band. Their songs now are more driven by a developed musicianship and th unique vocal style of Cresswell. Their songs seems to speak from the years spent on roads in vans and on planes going around the world.

Dead Language picks up where Cavalcade finish and ramps up with the opening track "Resuscitation of the Year" which is an intense anthem hitting you hard in the face to tell you "Sit the fuck down and listen". This song almost sounds like it could have been on 2010's Cavalcade and feels like a bridge between the two records. The blistering punk rock drive, with blistering quick chords and a destructive rhythm section automatically put this song into my good books. The albums continues with a great pace through "Bury Me", and ramps down to a slower and deeper pace for the very noteworthy "Birds of England." not before stabbing you in the ears with "Drown in Blood".

Track after track on Dead Language put a smile on my face as it's always a surprise that a band that has been consistently pumping out amazing material for years has yet to jump the shark.

While this album is great, it still didn't seem to reach the heights of their last two albums. Many of the tracks on The Great Awake and Cavalcade would get stuck in my head for days and I've yet to experience that in the week or so I've been listening to Dead Language. That could be in part that those last 2 albums were very chorus driven and simpler than their new tracks. It could also be that the years on the road are taking a tole because an amount of settling down can herd in comparison to Cavalcade. Either way Dead Language does not disappoint a fan of The Flatliners and I could see it being easily accessible to someone who is into punk, pop punk or even just general hard rock.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Shows Time Forgot: Mission Hill


                Mission Hill is a largely forgotten animated series that was originally aired on the old WB network; and fell well in line with the popularity of young-adult oriented TV shows at the time. The show was created by former executive producers of The Simpsons, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. Mission Hill focused on 24 year-old slacker Andy French (voiced by Wallace Langham) dealing with his big city life in the fictional city of Cosmopolis’ Mission Hill neighborhood. Mission Hill would be be described as a hipsters paradise, filled with indie musicians, artists, loft apartments and unique personalities. Andy can’t seem to make a break in life; he has a dead-end job working at a waterbed store, no girlfriend, no money, is failing at his dream of being a cartoonist and on top of it all is left to take care of his nerdy younger brother Kevin (voiced by Scott Menville). Though his slacker life isn’t amazing, he is comfortable with his small world of drinking malt liquor and going to local ska shows.

                When Kevin shows back up in his life suddenly everything is turned upside down and Andy now has to struggle to be a guardian as well as dealing with his brothers annoying habits. For example: his continuous chanting of “bling blong” over and over again to drown out distractions. As much as this show focus’ on Andy’s annoyance with his brother, there is another side of the coin. Kevin has lived a sheltered life with his parents and being thrown into the big city is sometimes more than he can handle. Many of the themes involve Kevin experiencing new things and letting down his guard to become more accustomed to his new world.
Andy with his often present bottle of Maestro Malt Liquor

                The show also focus’ on Andy’s many friends and neighbors which help to add great banter and unique comic relief to the mix. Andy is often accompanied by his best friend and roommate Jim Kuback (comedian Brian Posehn) who is a quintessential stoner working at and advertising agency, his other roommate Posey Tyler (Vicki Lewis) who is a wispy new ager interested in organic vegetables and deep meditation, their elderly gay neighbors; the very flamboyant Gus (Nick Jameson) and Wally (Tom Kennedy) who is a giant angry-looking bald man who owns the local diner as well as a plethora of other very unique personalities.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s most of the major networks in the united states were jumping on the band wagon to create adult oriented animated shows that they hoped will help compete with shows like The Simpsons, Futurama and South Park. The animated shows on the major networks like Fox were getting a lot of attention and the smaller cable networks figured they could mimic this popularity by getting their own shows, unfortunately this wasn't the case. Many of the animated shows bought by the larger cable networks crashed and burned and often times only made it to 1 season, or less. Some definitely note worthy examples are The Oblongs, Clone High, Undergrads and Mission Hill.
From left to right: Posey, Jim, Kevin, Andy and their dog Stogie
               Unfortunately Mission Hill did not last long as a series, after 2 episodes the show was pulled from The WB’s line-up due to a lack of ratings. Originally there were plans to make a full 18 episode series but due to it not being as popular as anticipated, only 13 were produced. After a little while some cable networks started airing the 13 episodes. I originally saw the show on the Teletoon cable network in Canada as part of their prime time line up of cartoons. I was instantly drawn to the show and became a really big fan of the style and overall presentation of the series. I was of course pretty upset when I learned that the 13 episodes I saw would be the only ones ever released.

                 What made Mission Hill such a great show was in part due to the unique style of animation. It used an old style where every animation cell was individually hand painted, instead of adopting the use of Flash which almost every animated series is done on today. Flash is okay for animation, but it definitely does not have the same warm look and feel as the older animation methods. The animators also used blocky colour splashes that sometimes fell outside the drawn line which made for a very interesting artistic style.   
A good example of the shows unique style
                I believe if more people knew about this show at the time that it could have been at par with the popularity of shows like Family Guy. I think the main reasons people didn't grab onto the show was in-part due to the style of animation and art direction which was really very unique to Mission Hill. This show is definitely worth checking out, and I know some episodes and clips are available on YouTube. You can also purchase a DVD set of all 13 episodes which is definitely worth picking up. The DVD’s has really great
commentary tracks by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein as well as many of the voice over actors.