Monday, January 30, 2012

A New Look That Will Stay

I'm aware that I've given this blog about four make-overs in the past year and a half, and I'm sure it's annoying. But, I think I've finally found the right look, thanks to my best friend Blogging Nickster, the creator of my beautiful new blog header! I might make some changes to the general template (though rather unnnoticable to most everyone except me), but the header is definitely staying for a while.

Every other look my blog has had in the past has been centered around the same blue color scheme, but as you can obviously tell, purple has taken over. I wanted something neutral yet bold, like blue or purple (or even both!) and Nickster really seemed to like that idea as well. So, he initially made me this awesome header of a white star exploding into purple and blue with little stars in the background. I loved it so much! But unfortunately, Nick and I tend to get into some unusual predicaments, and it didn't work out due to size and whatnot. Then, he made me a sample header (which was still pretty epic) to help figure out what the size needed to be of a pink and purple explosion. I liked this, the colors were so pretty, but I wanted to stray from pink in case any manly guys were reading my reviews and thought, "How am I supposed to relate to any of this?" But of course, then I began having issues centering the thing, and after all that got ironed out, my beautiful purple planet header was created.

Thanks, Nick! :)

Anyway, I really hope everyone likes the new look. Maybe you don't think it's a big deal, but keep in mind that effort was definitely put into it. Nick has three of his own kick-ass blogs to worry about, let alone my humble little review blog. So, cheers to purple planets and stars!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Under Construction

Even though I just gave The Critiquing Critica a make-over... Well, I'm giving it another one. But this time my best friend Blogging Nickster is creating a header just for me! As much fun as this is, one must realize that Nick and I tend to get into some serious predicaments on a daily basis, and this process is not going smoothly. Every so often this blog is going to look different (and sometimes even crappy) until we finally find the perfect look. I'm not sure how long this will take. So, please be patient and bear with us. Hopefully you don't see it when it's a hot mess, because there have been times where something isn't sized right and then this blog looks like a disaster. Anyway. Please excuse the constant testing; soon The Critiquing Critica will be fabulous.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Imaginaerum | Nightwish

Although released in late 2011 in other countries, Nightwish's new album, Imaginaerum, was finally released in the US (and a few other countries) weeks ago. However you may have previously felt about Nightwish, if their last album (Dark Passion Play) was still too far astray from Nightwish's norm for you, if you miss their old sound, if you like their new sound - give this album a try no matter which of these opinions are yours. Imaginaerum has elements that will appeal to fans old and new, including an accumulating heaviness and the more apparent return of Finnish folk influences.

The album opens with a music box winding up and then playing a beautiful tune, acoustic instruments and Marco Hietala's voice adding along the way. This first track is a Finnish song called "Taikatalvi," a soft but effective way to open a magical album before leading into "Storytime," the catchy and spirit-lifting first single that reveals the standard fantasy lyrical composition for the entire album.

Things get heavy with "Ghost River," which features both singers' vocals. Anette belts during the rather quiet verses, but Marco comes in for a booming chorus of screaming and singing (you know, the works). Later in the song, a children's choir comes in to sing the chorus. It's certainly not one of my favorites from the album on any level, but it's not bad. I think it'll make fans happy in general with it's undeniably cool guitar riffs and the balance of their two singers.

"Slow Love Slow" slows everything down in a way no Nightwish fan would have expected. Sure, the creepy piano part isn't far from typical Nightwish... but this is a jazz song. An amazing and haunting jazz song at that. Right away, this became one of my favorite songs from the album since I have an appreciation for jazz, but even one who listens to this song that doesn't like jazz may find they like the general eerie feel or even Anette's vocals. After all, this may just be the best I've heard of Anette Olzon's voice, as well as the most soothing Nightwish song ever created.

Next comes "I Want My Tears Back," where Nightwish returns to a more familiar sound. Fiddling can be heard throughout the song in the midst of the cool guitar riffs. The bridge, my favorite part of this song, is really just a fiddle solo, bringing back the Finnish folk influences that I love so much! Whenever I hear that part, I want to dance around like a Hobbit (Tolkien)! Plus, Anette and Marco's voices blend in the chorus with a powerful tone, adding to the greatness of this rather fun song. Really, that's what I've always loved most about Nightwish: the musicianship. I never had a fit over them changing singers because, quite frankly, I didn't care. The musicianship and the different sounds accomplished throughout Nightwish's history (primarily by Tuomas Holopainen) is what attracted me to this awesome band.

"Scaretale" follows, and it's SCARY. The stringline is scary, the children singing "Ring Around the Rosey" is scary... then we get to hear some amazing symphonic metal riffs that made my heart race... then Anette starts singing. And (I mean this in the best way possible) she sounds absolutely frightening. I don't know how she's capable of singing in such a bizarre, old witch-like style, but she nailed it, and it went perfectly with the freaky lyrics. Marco comes in during a rather circus-like part, and he sounds almost as terrifying as Anette. Though I compliment the singers, the creativity, and the amazing riffs, this is my least favorite track from the album for whatever reason. Circus themes just aren't my thing, I guess.

An instrumental track called "Arabesque" keeps the creepy-factor, but it combines with a nature-feel and even a bit of urgency, making it more appealing to me but not necessarily a standout in my opinion. But then, we come to the eigth track, "Turn Loose the Mermaids," a highlight from the album as well as the band's history in general. Anette's voice is light and pretty, as are the guitars, but acoustic instruments that seem to imitate nature come in, making this song over-the-top with beauty. This reminds me of older Nightwish music in the sense that it just sounds... like nature. With lyrics that do it justice, of course. Almost tribal-like drums pick up slightly to add another epic layer towards the end of the track... And that fiddling at the end of the song... Oh my goodness, it makes me melt.

The music picks up the tempo in "Rest Calm," with a chorus softer than the verses (I find this unusual). Again, a children's choir in involved as the song goes on, keeping the theme of innocence flowing throughout the album, and both singers are present, like in the next track, "The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove," the planned second single written by Marco Hietala. It's a softer song, peaceful.

The next two tracks are two of my favorites (along with "Turn Loose the Mermaids"), starting with "Last Ride of the Day." The recurring theme of the whole song is the choir/string line is so catchy, along with the chorus that flows so well. Lyrically, the song is references roller coasters, and as a fan of roller coasters I say that this song captures the experience exteremely well. "Song of Myself" is my other favoite. It opens classically, and Anette is half whispering the lyrics until it picks up mid-verse. Though I adore the entire song in general, the climatic choir bit is what made me fall in love with this song. The bridge is very heavy, another aspect that I loved, and then it leads into one of the most amazing outros I've ever heard, with the climatic choir bit I mentioned on a loop. But, the final half of the song isn't so... big. It sounds like a decent film score with a man and woman speaking poetically over the music, which picks up as it goes, adding more voices. Although this part sort of drones on, it's beautiful.

"Imaginaerum," which is obviously the album's title track, comes last. It's completely classical, summarizing the sounds of various songs on the album, kind of like a little wrap-up. Personally, I've never heard of an album ending like this, and I thought it was an interesting idea to end a great album.

Not every single song was my favorite on this album, but I loved most of them. Since I bought the special edition, I can report that the instrumentals are not boring at all and I enjoyed those as well.  Maybe after a while I'll eventually love the songs that aren't exactly standouts for me at the moment, but even now, I feel this album deseves all five stars.

Imaginaerum is a creative album with different sounds bound to make just about anyone happy.

5/5 Stars

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children | by: Ransom Riggs

Jacob's grandfather has always showed him the most peculiar old photographs and told him strange stories to match, but how could he ever believe fairy tales of such sorts? After all, his grandfather's state of mind was questionable due to experiences during World War II that surely traumatized him. In his need to find the truth about these odd photographs, Jacob takes a trip to an island outside Great Britain, where his grandfather once lived in an old orphanage there. Meanwhile, he finds that there is more to the orphanage than one could ever imagine, that what may seem absolutely crazy is reality. For this is no typical orphanage; it's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and while exploring it's remains Jacob finds himself in an otherworldly adventure.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is Ransom Riggs' debut novel, and I must say, it was put together very uniquely. I'm not just talking about the story itself, but the idea of putting in old photographs (some slightly manipulated to fit the story's purposes) throughout the book. As a book lover and a photography lover, I was quite intrigued.

This book is naturally spooky with its rainy, gloomy setting (not to mention the ties to World War II). It probably would have stayed eerie even without the monsters and children with strange abilities. However, the characters themselves didn't really freak me out, I enjoyed them. All of them are capable of wondrous things, each with an ability unique to them. Some are unusually strong, some levitate. I wouldn't want to anger any of them, but they all seemed to be generally nice people. Jacob was a pretty good main character. Even though he was an unhappy rich boy, he came off as very down-to-earth and made me laugh aloud when reading, particularly towards the beginning of the story.

On a darker note, Ransom Riggs wrote about the grieving process that Jacob went through quite impressively. I was so surprised to see how this aspect of death ended up being so reasonably written. From previous reading experiences, I have found that most authors don't do well with describing grieving characters. It seems that they only show a couple of emotional spurts that are written ineffectively, almost like they're not real, giving me little to no effect. Ransom Riggs was an exception because he's a great writer and did his job well.

The only major complaint I've been hearing about this novel is its ending. People claim it doesn't have one. Due to prior reading expereinces I have found that when people say things like that, they aren't looking through the right spectacles. In this case, there isn't a conclusion to the obvious large problem now at hand; however, Jacob comes to a conclusion of the dilemma he'd been facing for a while and finally figures out what he wants to do with his life and where he truly feels he belongs. That, my friends, is an ending. A good ending.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is different. It's a fun adventure filled with mystery that any age group can enjoy.

4.5/5 Stars

Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books