Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: O.A.R. Returns to Form With King

The release of 2008's All Sides put O.A.R. at the highest popularity levels of their career.

The album's first radio single, "Shattered (Turn the Car Around)" was the band's most successful to date, going platinum and peaking at #2 on the U.S. Adult Pop Songs chart and #36 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Despite the success, many long-time fans were disappointed with the more pop-friendly sound.

As Cutting Room Floor's own Alan Brown said recently, "I wasn't a fan of the All Sides album because I felt the band went too far from their roots."

It's true the album was more polished and less like their classic songs, but I thought it showed a thoughtful maturity and proved the band was evolving well beyond the "jam band" label.

O.A.R.'s latest release, King is a nice blend of the more mature sound with the classic jammy, reggae-influence the band's loyal fans have come to expect.

I still can't get over the overly-glossy production of first single "Heaven", but it's a good song. The acoustic version the band has put out is infinitely better, dropping the overpowering drum machine for subtle tambourine hits and hand claps.

Even the female choir loses some of it's annoyance as it gives the acoustic guitar a nice layer to sit on top of.

As for the production on the rest of the album, it's absolutely fantastic.

As drummer Chris Culos explained, "...the majority of it was recorded live off the floor. We ditched the traditional way of tracking each instrument individually in favor of capturing a live feel. We’ve always wanted to capture our live feel in the studio but never really nailed it before. I think it finally comes through on King."

In addition to making a conscious effort to capture the band's live feel with different production, the band made a return to their roots musically.

As frontman Marc Roberge said of opening track "King", "What I want it to inspire is influences, different things that influence us. Not what other people want us to be influenced by. We are influenced by stories, reggae, these characters, hip-hop beats, drums, sax, keys, bass, you know? It's us."

Sure enough, all those things appear on King. The upstroked reggae guitars, danceable grooves and characters from past albums all make their return in vintage O.A.R. style.

Jerry DePizzo's saxaphone finally shows up again in a meaningful way and touring member Mikel Paris' keyboards add delightful subtle touches all over the album while Benj Gershman lays down tasty bass grooves.

After the confusion and surprise of the opening track, cuts like "Taking On The World Today" and "Not For Me" point the album in a more familiar direction.

Later tracks like "Fire", "Dangerous Connection" and "Over And Over" highlight the mature side of a band that's been through the grind for over 15 years.

In my view, this is the best studio album the band has released. The production is crisp without stifling the layers, and as Culos mentioned does the best job yet of capturing the band's noted live energy.

No, they aren't singing about getting drunk in your buddy's driveway anymore and frankly they aren't the same band, but that's a good thing.

King is as close to the formative years of O.A.R. as you're going to get.

There may be a misstep here or there, but as the band says, "We've got more than a lifetime/To make it all feel right/So don't apologize/You gotta be wrong sometimes".

Friday, October 21, 2011

Out with the Old, in with the New ND Football Helmet

No word embodies Notre Dame more than any other like 'tradition.'

From national championships to Heisman trophy winners. Legendary coaches, several 'games of the century' and 'Play Like a Champion Today.'

The list really could go on, but for brevity's sake we'll stop there.

While traditions are great, though, not all are created equal and therefore meant to be maintained.

Such was the decision made by ND Athletics Director Jack Swatbrick when he revealed that ND would change its football helmets starting with this weekend's clash against Southern Cal.

As part of that decision, student managers will no longer be in charge of painting the team's helmets, as was prior tradition.

This decision has left some conservative traditionalists besides themselves. In fact, many of those discontented with the new helmets were former student managers whose former jobs have been eliminated.

Perhaps 'eliminated' is too harsh since the managers will be involved in a new role removing scuff marks and buffing the helmets each week to reveal their natural shine.

Real gold flakes are still used in the new design, which is the twelfth iteration from Oregon based Hydro Graphics, Inc. With Mary's gold still adorning the protective head gear of the football team, Notre Dame maintains its most unique helmet feature.

So embrace change for the sake of starting a new tradition: helmets that closely resemble the golden dome.

They're real, and they're spectacular.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Former Weezer Bassist Mikey Welsh Found Dead

Over the weekend while we were basking in the warm glow of an exciting Hokie victory, I was busy missing the news that former Weezer bassist, artist and generally cool dude Mikey Welsh died in Chicago Saturday at the age of 40.

He was actually in town to see Weezer play. Welsh had finally begun to reconcile with his former band mates and even joined them on stage once again earlier this summer.

While cause of death has yet to be established, anyone who knows anything about Welsh's past has to worry that it was intentional.

Welsh's exit from Weezer was brought about mostly because he had a nervous breakdown hastened by the stresses of touring, an undiagnosed medical condition and heavy drug use.

Despite only recording one album during his time with the band, 2001's eponymous "Green Album", Welsh was there for Weezer's big comeback following the hiatus after the release of 1996's Pinkerton.

After leaving the band, Welsh dedicated himself to another artistic pursuit, painting and carved out a unique niche with his colorful works seen everywhere from Burton snowboards to skate park walls.

Welsh gained success as a painter, and had begun interacting with many fans (including myself) of his art and music, especially over the last few months on Facebook.

He began sharing intimate stories of his time in Weezer and gave some interesting insights into the life of the band during one of its most popular eras like:

so there i was... at a california pizza kitchen with rivers. "so...would you like to be in weezer?" or something along those lines. that was the question that was presented to me by r.c. the one i had been waiting to hear since i arrived in los angeles several days earlier.. "yes. i would", i think i stammered out.. i had been playing with the three members of weezer for a few days or so. but we d...idn’t play any weezer songs.. at least all the songs i knew so well. i had flown out expecting to shred away on "getchoo", or maybe "say it ain't so", or any of the tunes off of blue and pinkerton... but that wasn’t what rivers had in mind.. instead, we ended up jamming out on songs i had been playing with rivers for almost a year... "rosemary", "prettiest girl in the whole wide world"... these were songs i loved dearly... but man, i wanted to play the old stuff.. anyways, I accepted the offer to join the band.

It's a sad loss to be sure, but this is the first "famous" death that has really bothered me. Mikey was the bassist in my favorite band when I "found" them in 2001. He was funny, cool and had the perfect vibe for a decidedly un-cool, awkward band.

Also, he gave the funniest interview I can recall with drummer Pat Wilson. I think I posted it recently but it deserves another look.

Rest well Mikey.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Offense Rules As Hokies Stop 'Canes

One week after a dismal offensive outing in a loss to Clemson, Virginia Tech got a nearly perfect game from quarterback Logan Thomas who led the Hokies to a 38-35 victory over Miami.

Thomas completed 23 of 25 passes on the day for 310 yards and three touchdowns. One incompletion was a drop and the other was a ball thrown away on purpose.

Thomas also ran for two scores including the game-winning touchdown (above) to cap Tech's final 77-yard drive.

David Wilson added a typical 23 carry, 128-yard performance to pace Tech rushers and helped the Hokies (5-1, 1-1) to 482 yards of total offense.

Miami played outstanding in the second half gashing Tech for big gains, outrushing the Hokies 236-172.

The Hurricanes (2-3, 0-2) amassed 519 total yards in the defeat and exposed Tech's weakness along the injured Hokie defensive line.

The defense still played well however, and with the emergence of Tech's offense the Hokies now look like a team to be feared.

Thomas showed tremendous poise down the stretch and seemed to benefit from the difficult experience against Clemson. Tech once again looks like the team to challenge No. 12 Georgia Tech for the ACC's Coastal Division title.

The Hokies now head to Winston-Salem for a date with Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons are fresh off a victory over #23 Florida State and are now 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the ACC.

Kickoff is set for 6:30 next Saturday on ESPN3.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Irish Hockey Eastward Bound

After several months spent patiently waiting for an announcment, Fighting Irish Hockey fans were pleasantly rewarded with official news yesterday that Notre Dame will depart the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) in favor of Hockey East starting with the 2013-2014 season.

From the confines of a brand new hockey facility, Compton Family Ice Arena, Irish Athletic's Director Jack Swarbrick said the decision over the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) and Hockey East happened within the past two weeks.

We are excited to be joining Hockey East beginning in the 2013-14 season. Many factors played a role in our decision, but three were of special importance to us. The first two were the critical issues of the student-athlete experience and Notre Dame's fit with the other schools in the conference.
Hockey East presents a collection of schools with similar values and committment to academics, including fellow Catholic universities Boston College and Merrimack. The remaining list of Hockey East members includes Boston University, Maine, Massachussetts, Northeastern, Providence, UMass-Lowell, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Swarbrick also revealed what is widely viewed as the deal breaker between Notre Dame's choice of Hockey East over NCHC: television rights.
But of special importance in this instance, was our goal of giving our hockey program an unprecedented level of national exposure through our expanded partnership with the NBC Sports Group. Athletics at Notre Dame has always served as a platform for promoting the University
Those familiar with the school know that the Irish also have a deal with NBC for broadcasts of Notre Dame Football home games, so the partnership with NBC Sports Group is not completely from left field.

Like it or not, Notre Dame is now going to be on a premier stage in the world of collegiate hockey. As Head Coach Jeff Jackson pointed out, the television deal and new conference will permit the Irish to maximize their exposure.
We are honored and pleased to join Hockey East for the 2013-14 season. The conference is an established league with a great tradition and outstanding programs that share Notre Dame's values. The exposure for our players and team in a major media and NHL market will be second to none. Hockey East's commitment to playing a smaller league schedule will allow us to enhance our home and non-conference schedule with traditional western and Big Ten rivals. This will allow us to bring great games to the Compton Family Ice Arena and create a more diverse, nationally-televised schedule.
The wheels were set in motion in September 2010 when Penn State announced its plans to move from the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) to Division 1. After the 2011-2012 season is finished the Nittany Lions will spend one season as an independent before joining the newly formed Big Ten conference.
Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State announced they would leave the CCHA and, along with Minnesota and Wisconsin who left the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), ultimately join with Penn State as the founding members of the Big Ten hockey conference.

While Notre Dame was interested in maintaining its midwestern presence, there are more compelling reasons why this move will be a boon for Irish hockey.

  1. Competition - The CCHA is no slouch by any means, but the it is safe to say the Irish are joining a far more competitive conference in Hockey East. Its conference members have won five national championships since 1999 and over that same period they have placed 18 teams in the Frozen Four. Sure, Notre Dame faced stiff competition in Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and even Miami (OH), but Hockey East is an entirely different animal. Moreover, as Jackson pointed, the smaller league schedule allows Notre Dame to play more non-conference games (i.e. against defected CCHA members such as Michigan and Michigan State) and home games, which ultimately bring in more revenue for the University. Speaking of money...
  2. Revenue - Football and Men's Basketball and generally referred to as the only 'revenue generating' sports in collegiate athletics. While this is true, it is a sentiment only held in regard for schools that do not field talent hockey teams. Boston College, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota are all prime examples of schools that manage to make money off of their hockey programs. The relative profit compared to more high profile American sports such as football and basketball is lower but, nonetheless, still present. Details of Notre Dame's TV deal are yet to be released but it is rumored that all Irish home games will be broadcast on NBC Sports Group (formerly known as Versus).
  3. Recruiting - Over the past decade Notre Dame hockey has risen in relevance in collegiate hockey. From relative obscure as a club sport, the Irish have soared to new heights under Head Coach Jeff Jackson. Since his hiring in 2005, Jackson has led the Irish to their first ever national championship and Frozen Four games. A national title remains elusive for Jackson's Irish squads, but he has managed to take them to events and venues never before seen by Notre Dame's icers. Moreover, he almost singlehandedly brought the Compton Family Ice Arena to life by his insistence that a new arena be built or else he would resign. Now, with national TV exposure and an east coast footprint the Irish will expand upon their fertile recruiting grounds in the midwest.
This move makes sense for all the right reasons for Notre Dame and, quite frankly, Hockey East. Terms of the TV contract have yet to be released but remarks from Jon Miller, president for programming of NBC Sports and Versus, indicated there would be opportunities for other Hockey East programs to be nationally broadcast.

Furthermore, since the league itself agree to a shorter conference schedule prior to Notre Dame's announcement to join it is clear the conference had exposure on its mind. Shorter conference schedules equate to expanded non-conference games against other competitive opponents. The notion of Vermont or Boston College playing against teams like Michigan or Minnesota in the regular season is sure to bring smiles to collegiate hockey fans everywhere.

All in all, it was a momentous day not only for Notre Dame, but also for Hockey East and its members.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tigers Tame Hokies 23-3

Saturday night in Blacksburg was cold, wet and depressing unless you happened to be a Clemson Tiger.

Clemson continued to prove they're the team to beat in the ACC's Atlantic Division and the Hokies showed they have work left to do before they can win another ACC championship.

Tech's offense laid an absolute egg under the bright lights of the national spotlight. The Hokies scored just three points and blew countless opportunities in Clemson territory, including a goal line try that turned into the made field goal after a false start penalty.

Logan Thomas finally looked like a first-year starter completing 15 of 27 passes for just 125 yards and an interception.

David Wilson once again paced the Tech offense. Despite an early fumble, finished with 20 carries for 123 yards. Among the carries was Tech's only highlight of the evening (seen below).

While Tech's offense was stagnant, the special teams unit was an unmitigated disaster. Scott Demler who has struggled with punting all season had a season high 8 punts Saturday for a season low 29.4 yards per kick.

Conditions were admittedly poor, but that doesn't excuse 11 yard punts.

Tech now looks to rebound next Saturday at home against the Miami Hurricanes at 3:30 on ESPN/ABC.

Making matters worse for the 4-1 Hokies is the loss of starting defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins for the rest of the season to a torn ACL.

In August Tech lost starting DT Kwamaine Battle to the same injury for the second straight season.

The only positive I could find from this past weekend was this photo taken of the stadium.


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