Thursday, February 08, 2007

Music Review - The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

The Sweet Escape is the second solo effort by the pop-rock singer Gwen Stefani. Released in December 2006, it is the follow-up album to the enormously successful 2004 release Love.Angel.Music.Baby. that sold 3.7 million copies.

How do you follow up that kind of success with a second effort? Chances are you don’t! What one needs to do is create a good solid album. Something that you want to make - The Sweet Escape is this kind of album.

Originally Stefani did not want to do another solo effort. In fact, she has been working out with No Doubt but she had some tracks leftover from the L.A.M.B. sessions that she wanted to release. She took the tracks, which include "Wonderful Life" and created a different style of CD then her last one.

There will be many who feel that she is moving too far off the road that created her success, but sometimes the lack of change is what keeps an artist from being who they are and becoming something that their fans think that they should be. It is easy for a follow up to be nothing more than a rehash of the same material that created the previous success, The Sweet Escape is not a redux.

The down side with creating a fresh start is that you will have many fans who will want to downgrade the performances and down grade the album. To give this album its do, one has to come to it on its own merits and not strictly compare it to L.A.M.B.

Does The Sweet Escape stand on its own? I think that it does. On the first track, “Wind it Up,” she yodels to The Sound of Music tune “The Lonely Goatherd” –which by the way is a strange little ditty that I really like. It is part excitement, part clunky and really addictive. It harks back the L.A.M.B. album but is still different.

“Early Winter” is a driving ballad that is a bit dark but hauntingly wonderful. “4 In The Morning” is in some ways like the song “Cool,” slow and upbeat. “Wonderful Life” has an upbeat driving style to it and great lyrics. “The Sweet Escape” is a bit sugary sweet but comes off well. Akon makes a guest appearance on the track.

“Now That You Got It” is a song that, at first, I didn’t like, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me. “Don’t get Twisted” is a great dance track though the lyrics are a bit strange. “U Started It” is fun but it takes some time to grow on you.

There are a few of tracks that, while they are not my favorite, are not bad. Those include “Orange County Girl,” which, while it has a good sound, just didn’t work as an OC rap song though I suspect many will disagree with me.

“Fluorescent” is just a little too much 80’s pop music. “Breakin’ Up,” while clever and starts off promising, just doesn’t finish and “Yummy,” which features Pharrell, has a good sound to it and is very catchy; the lyrics are a bit lacking. None of this would dissuade me from purchasing this album.

The grade I give this album is A- because of the effort needed to create an album that was different than her first. It would be easy to look at this CD and say this isn’t what I expected after Love.Angel.Music.Baby., but I admire an artist that puts it on the line and challenges both themselves as well as their listeners.

The tracks are listed below
Wind It Up
The Sweet Escape – Featuring AkonOrange County Girl
Early Winter
Now That You Got It
4 In The Morning
Yummy – featuring Pharrell
Breakin' Up
Don't Get It Twisted
U Started It
Wonderful Life

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Music Review: Deadsy - Phantasmagore

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

What do you get when you cross Greg Allman and Cher? You get the goth-metal sounds of Deadsy. Fronted by Elijah Blue Allman, Deadsy is pure sound in motion. With a low and dissonant tone, Elijah’s low baritone style, Dr Nner’s synths and Carlton’s Ztar (a guitar synthesizer) give the music a surreal quality.

According to the band, Deadsy is an institution that was developed to purify and primify the human solution of sound and vision. It is adamantly committed to the realization of a comprehensive conveyance of simplicity and complexity's synergistic unions - a sort of "simplexity" or "complicity," if you will. This institution is comprised of five separate entities: academia, leisure, horror, war and science-medicine.

This band is surviving on perseverance and instinct. In 1995, as they were about to release a self-titled debut album under the Electra/Sire label, Sire split with Electra and Deadsy was left on the shelf. After a series of false starts, the band finally signed with Korn’s Elementree record label and in 2003 released “Commencement." The album debuted in the top half of the Billboard 200 and sold more than 100,000 copies.

Now after four long years, Phantasmagore is finally released on the Immortal label. Does it live up to the commitment? Absolutely! This is goth-metal shred at its best!

“Razor Love,” with its dueling guitars and addictive beat, is great. “Babes in Abyss” is a fast rock song with a great chorus and guitar work. “Paint It Black” is simply awesome. They have taken the Stones cover and made it their own. Complete with harmonium, tambour and sarongi. I would buy the album for these three songs alone.

There are slow melodic tracks like “Better Than You Know,” traditional Deadsy with a Gary Numan-like finish, “Phantasmagore” – which has an '80s style opening with Blue’s menacing vocals, and “The Last Story Ever,” slow dark and haunting.

There are rocking tracks such as “Time” –- they use parts of Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” — and “Asura,” with its solid rock style. “Book of Black Dreams” is not my favorite, but it still has moments.

Deadsy first started separating themselves from the crowd within the L.A club shows and the avant-garde staging which earned them word of mouth. Now with the release of Phantasmagore, their legions shall grow even more.

The tracks are: Razor Love
Carrying Over
Babes in Abyss
Paint It Back
Better than you know
Book of Black Dreams
The last story of ever
Health & Theory

My biggest problem with the CD is the cover art which does not represent them very well. Furthermore, there are no liner notes, but since I generally purchase an album for the music I can ignore this oversight.

My final grade on this CD is a good solid A

Book Review - The Book Of JavaScript - 2nd Edition by Dave Thau

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

In his second go-around with The Book Of JavaScript, Dave Thau has knocked another one out of the park. The first book, published in January of 2000, while an incredibly good book, was showing its age. To say a lot has happened in the past seven years with regard to web development techniques would be an understatement. This book was long overdue.

For those who do not know, JavaScript is the technology that allows web pages to be dynamic, interactive and more flexible. There are other technologies such as CGI, VBScript and Flash, but these have limitations and are many times useful only in specific situations.

Make no mistake, this book is geared for the beginning user, but I think that there is also a lot for the more experienced user, as well as for those who are in need a refresher. The Book Of JavaScript is broken down into 18 chapters and 4 appendices. Major topics include: working with variables, browsers, rollovers, windows, timing, frames and image maps, validation, cookies and dynamic HTML. There is also over 150 pages that cover the new AJAX technology.

What I like about this book is that every topic is well written and covered in-depth. For example, in chapter seven, Thau explains about working with forms. He takes you from writing HTML forms, reading from the forms, writing to forms and triggering events from form elements. He goes into the use of the keyword “this” as well as using the “id” attribute and retrieving it using the JavaScript function getElementByID(). Each topic addressed and built upon in a logical progression.

Chapter 13 takes us in to the world of dynamic HTML or DHTML. He explains clearly what it is, why it is useful, and shows websites that make use of it. He explains how to use JavaScript to manipulate divs to make DHTML. Understanding that DHTML too big of a topic to cover here, he goes into it enough to give you the basics for use with AJAX.

The next two chapters are devoted to Asynchronous JavaScript and XML or AJAX. This is the new technology that allows web pages to act more like desktop applications. By the use of DHTML and the ability to download and display information, we can now present screens to the user that do not have the familiar submit and wait cycle.

At the end of each chapter is a summary and an assignment for you to practice your new skills. Instead of a companion CD, there is a companion website for this book. It contains all of the examples used in the book as well as freeware for use with JavaScript.

The author, Dave Thau, has been creating internet applications since 1993. He has taught programming to hundreds of artists, engineers and children. He is currently working toward a Ph. D in computer science at the University of California, Davis.

I find that this book is a very easy read. It is easy to understand and use. If you are new to JavaScript, if you want to refresh skills, The Book Of JavaScript is a great place to get you up to speed.