I read The Luminaries by Susan Dennard and loved it! Check out the video below for my full thoughts.
Panic! at the Disco: A Personal History and Album Ranking
Brendon Urie recently announced that the musical project known as Panic! at the Disco was coming to an end. Some outlets have been reporting it as a band breakup but that seems odd considering the “band” has been a solo project since the release of the fifth album in 2016. Not sure how exactly Urie is expected to have broken up with himself. Either way, this feels very much like the end of an era. As such I thought I would do a sort of retrospective, complete with a ranking of the seven albums from worst to best. Though really there is no such thing as a bad Panic! Album.
Let’s set the stage first with some background on my personal history with the group. I was actually avidly anti-Panic! when their first album came out. I’m definitely going to date myself here. I was a senior in high school. Back in the days where you discovered a band either through the “modern hits” filled soundtrack of the latest teen flick, or the local radio stations. In my case it was what was then known as STAR 98.7 and KROQ 106.7. The former played “alternative” songs while the latter played more rock heavy material. Spotify wasn’t yet a thing and MP3 players were just getting to be trendy.
You might also have heard of a band through a friend sharing their latest musical discovery via burned CDs (I know, I know, way to really date myself). Then, there was the way I learned about Panic! This was when a band became suddenly ubiquitous, with their merch taking over the walls of Hot Topic (by the way, is Hot Topic still a thing?) and you couldn’t escape their logos and faces. All the kids in your class would be wearing their shirts and fake leather wristbands, and talking about how amazingly intellectual this new band with the crazy name that had punctuation really was.
So, when I first heard about Panic! I thought they were incredibly pretentious with their exclamation point and song titles that were full on sentences. I hated them for the sheer attitude that exuded from their music. I mean, I wasn’t wrong. They were really pretentious. But I eventually came to appreciate the often times brilliant creativity buried in what was passed off as mindless pop rock music. I came to identify key moments from my personal life with their music as it became the soundtrack of so many of my memories. I have had the joy of being a fan of their music for fifteen years (I officially converted with the release of the second album), and have had the privilege of seeing them perform live over a dozen times. With that little history out of the way, let’s take a look at the albums of this band I have loved for the past almost two decades.
Coming in at number seven is Pray for the Wicked (2018), the sixth studio album and second to come from the “band” in its solo enterprise days. Let me repeat, there is no such thing as a bad Panic! album in my mind. There are things about Pray for the Wicked that I absolutely adore, and in fact it features my all time favorite Panic! song. Perhaps the reason I feel less enamored of this record is because it is the only one that feels like it was made for the Spotify age. It is a collection of singles rather than a cohesive album. I am a firm believer that music tells the best stories when crafted to take the listener on a journey through complex musical experiences expressed through a strategic series of songs. Pray for the Wicked lacks a strong through line in terms of musical themes and tone, which is why its place is at the bottom of the list.
Best Song: When I first heard “Dying in LA” I ended up sobbing by the end of it. It came to me when I was considering moving from the Los Angeles area after living there my entire life. I love LA but there are many things about it that I find soul crushing, and I really struggled with my decision. The song perfectly captures the conflicting emotions of optimism and despondency that LA seems to evoke in so many people. It is beautiful and sad yet strangely hopeful. It felt like Urie was singing about my own experiences and I was overwhelmed. I’m sure it didn’t affect many others the way it did me but “Dying in LA” still feels like the most emotionally mature Panic! song, and it is a rare gem in an otherwise dare I say mediocre album.
At number six we have the fourth studio album, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! (2013) complete with its own exclamation point. From this point forward I feel that each album has its own musical identity fusing it together, with that telltale Panic! vibe running along the foundation. Too Weird definitely leans more into the electronic side of the Panic! sound, sometimes a little too heavily for my taste but the collection of songs sound like they belong together, and feel like they have a story to tell. “This Is Gospel” is a strong opener and a perfect beginning link for the future albums that use its theme in their singles. With lines like “This is Gospel for the fallen ones/Locked away in permanent slumber/Assembling their philosophies/From pieces of broken memories” it is one of the stronger songs lyrically on the album. Then there is “Miss Jackson” which just has such a killer hook and pulsing guitar rift that you can’t help but want to jump up and dance. I had the chance to hear “Vegas Lights” live on the strip while the casino lights were flashing and there isn’t really another experience like it. The energy that song brings is insane. The rest of the songs run a little calm but still feel like they hold their own with the hits.
Best Song: “Girls / Girls / Boys” has become an anthem of sorts and a tradition was born for the live shows that plays on the old concert ritual of holding a lighter up during particularly emotional songs. Multi-colored paper hearts are passed out by a fan group before the show so that during the performance the audience can hold up their own rainbow backlit with their phone flashlights. The song itself starts off almost at a whisper before building to the chorus where Urie finally belts out the title lyrics, as though he’s no longer able to contain the secret affairs of the girl who is the subject of the piece. It also doesn’t hurt that the music video for the song features a shirtless Urie singing seductively to the camera.
At number five is Vices & Virtues (2011), the third album and first to come out after the departure of founding members Ryan Ross and John Walker. This might lean a little too steampunk for some listeners but the sound of the album is one of the strongest and it begins the evolution of the band from youthful snarkiness to mature musical themes. Once again the album kicks off with a strong opener, “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” showcasing Urie’s signature voice right off to assure fans that despite the loss of two band members it is still the same Panic! Well, perhaps a slightly more polished Panic!. Other strong entries include “Let’s Kill Tonight,” “Hurricane,” and “Trade Mistakes.” Though really each track is a contender for best on the album. They all feel like their own individual piece of a bigger puzzle that fits together to form the very solid Vices & Virtues.
Best Song: “Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” combines the best of the two essential elements that form a Panic! song, the upbeat musical beats and snappy lyrics. The call and response in the chorus adds to the driving bass and pulsating guitar making it near impossible to not jump up and down while shout-singing the line “I’m ready to go/(Get me out of my mind)/(Get me out of my mind)/I’m ready to go/(Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh).”
Number four on the list is Pretty. Odd. (2008), the second studio album. This time around the pretentiousness goes up a level because while the title of the album features double punctuation the official band name has dropped its punctuation (the exclamation point does return and stays with the release of the third album). The confusing sentence structure of the title and name aside, this album is brilliant both in terms of its music and what it proved for the band’s staying power. This of course is ironic considering it eventually led to the first “breakup” of the group, and I am writing about it in a post celebrating the legacy of a soon to be disbanded entity. What it proved right off was that a band could reinvent themselves musically and still be considered a success. Tonally this album is miles away from the first, clearly influenced by The Beatles and the sound of 60’s and 70’s psychedelic rock. Despite mixing musical genres in the span of a couple songs the album feels cohesive in its incohesiveness. Standout tracks include the initial single “Nine in the Afternoon,” “Northern Downpour,” “Pas de Cheval,” and my personal favorite from the album, “Folkin’ Around.”
Best Song: One of the most beautifully written songs by the band, “When the Day Met the Night” tells the sweet story of the moon and sun falling in love with each other, “in the middle of summer.” At nearly five minutes in length it is the longest of any Panic! song and features full orchestration.
The original Panic! album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005) comes in at number three. I’ll admit I struggled with where to place this album on the list. As I mentioned before, when it first came out I resisted it but like the catchy thing it is it eventually worked its way into my heart. I still think some of it crosses the line between clever and irritating. The “Introduction” and “Intermission” tracks fall into the first category, providing an easing into and midpoint break of the chaotic trip the listener embarks on. The long titles of tracks two, three, seven, and twelve fall into that second category. At the end of the day this is the album that started it all and eighteen years later it is still easy to see why it became the monster hit it did. It would deserve a high ranking for that alone but it is also a creatively clever album that embraces energetic chaos and sonic diversity.
Best Song: “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” Nothing else needs to be said.
My number two choice may be a bit controversial to some fans, and is perhaps only a little influenced by recency bias. Still, I maintain that the last album, Viva Las Vengeance (2022), will go down in history as one of the best Panic! albums of all time. It is a love letter to classic rock with musical references to bands from the 70s and 80s that created the sound Urie is fixated on, littered throughout the album. “Star Spangled Banger” riffs on the classic Thin Lizzy motif of “talking as singing” in its bridges. “Middle of a Breakup” sounds like The Cars jumped in the recording studio with Urie and he even name drops T. Rex in the chorus. He then name drops ELO in “Sugar Soaker” while evoking Meatloaf vibes. And of course there is “Sad Clown,” which could have been titled “I Love Queen and Here is a Song to Prove It.” There are also writing credits on multiple tracks for the artists that inspired them, including “God Killed Rock and Roll” which essentially steals directly from the Kiss song of a similar name. This album should serve as a starting point of educational material for those not familiar with the bands I just mentioned. Aside from the number one album this is the strongest in terms of musical themes, and in my opinion doesn’t feature a single weak track. Though I am sad the band is done, this is a hell of an album to end on.
Best Song: All of them. Listen to the entire album as it was meant to be heard from start to finish.
Then there was one. Death of a Bachelor (2016) is the fifth studio album and the first to be released as part of the solo enterprise. It is the second most successful in terms of sales and it’s easy to see why. I’ll come right out and say it, this is a perfect rock album. It starts off banging with “Victorious” and doesn’t slow down until it finally allows the listener to take a breath of air with the closing track, “Impossible Year.” Its singles included “Hallelujah,” which feels like a religious experience when you hear it live. Don’t believe me? Just listen to “All My Friends We’re Glorious: Death of a Bachelor Live” album. There is also the title track which is Urie’s very capable ode to Frank Sinatra. We could also talk about the incredible music videos that were created for the album, perhaps most impressive of which is the one for “Emperor’s New Clothes,” featuring Urie in full makeup as a demon king. Or there’s the octopus alien thing from “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time.” Everything about this album is perfect.
Best Song: As with the previous entry this album is best experienced as a whole, though I will highlight “LA Devotee,” as it features my favorite subject material and is just full of dark moody vibes.
Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood | Book Review
Read Ali Hazelwood’s Love on the Brain and had some thoughts. Check them out in the video below.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles | Book Review
First book review of the year is up! Check out the video below for my full thoughts on Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles.
23 Books I Want to Read in 2023
Decided to jump on the trend of highlighting twenty-three books I want to read this year. Check out the video below for the full list!
2022 in Review: Best and Most Disappointing Films of the Year
2022 was a pretty great year for the movies. We finally saw things return a little more to normal after suffering through the drought of 2020 and 2021. Plus, the quality of films released was outstanding. That’s not to say there weren’t a few duds (there definitely were but we’ll get to that momentarily). I went to the theater plenty throughout the year and saw 45 new releases, along with my usual ventures to visit returning favorites.
As is my tradition I have compiled lists for both my favorite films of the year, as well as my biggest disappointments. Since I like ending on a positive note, let’s start off with those films that did not live up to expectations.
I think my exact words after seeing this were, “Wow, was that stupid.” I won’t pretend that I was expecting a masterpiece but I was expecting a little more than what we got, especially considering how many Academy Award winners and nominees were in the film. I went into the film hoping to enjoy some mindless fun action and explosions but unfortunately I couldn’t even do that because the storyline was just too ridiculous, and the action so over-the-top.
This was another film I went into with very little expectations and just couldn’t come away feeling like my money was well spent, despite the LA setting and appearance of Jake Gyllenhaal. On top of yet another poorly executed action storyline, the shaky camera effects actually made me sick. It felt a little like Gyllenhaal was trying to step into being this generation’s Nic Cage with this flick so, perhaps that could be the one plus this movie has to offer.
As is the case with my past bottom of the year lists, there are a few titles on here that are more disappointing than bad films. This is one of those. I was really looking forward to this, as I am a big Baz Lurhmann and Elvis fan. I just thought there were a lot of missed opportunities. The story felt jumbled and inconsistent, the music never got the punches it deserved, and I could not get on board with whatever it was Tom Hanks was doing.
I wouldn’t have believed it possible for a Pixar film to feel so devoid of life and joy. The color palette is depressing, consisting of dull grays and desaturated neutrals. The story is overly convoluted and hard enough to follow for an adult audience, let alone the children for whom the film is intended. It hits so much more how much of a letdown this is when considering this is the same studio that brought us Wall-E, a film about a trash collecting robot that opens with a 45 minute dialogue-less section that is more captivating than this entire film.
There was so much here that should have made for a great film, David O. Russell in the director’s chair, a stellar cast, and a gorgeous production design. Sadly it all gets lost in a meandering story and overly stylized acting directions.
5. Don’t Worry Darling
This movie makes zero sense. The only worthwhile part of the experience is the gorgeous cinematography and Florence Pugh’s unreasonably perfect performance considering the material she’s given.
A simple concept is all a good horror movie needs to get started. In this case, what would happen if two people “accidentally” book the same AirBnB? The first act of this film sets about answering that question, and does so quite effectively. Both actors are believable and the mood is beautifully set for the next sequence of events. Unfortunately a good start is not all that is needed in order to finish strong, and therein lies the issue with Barbarian. It goes off the rails in the second act, begins strong again at the start of the third, and falls completely apart by the end. It tries to be something else in the middle rather than sticking with the idea that brought it, and in doing so completely loses focus and eventually its impact.
3. The 355
It should not have surprised me that a January release would end up being so disappointing. What should have been a fun girl power spy flick ended up being mind numbingly boring. The performances were all very stiff and no one seemed to get the memo that this was supposed to be a fun action film. Even the action that was there was overdone to the point of also being boring. This was the second film I saw in 2022 and it made me very nervous that it was setting the tone for what was to come. Thankfully it ended up being a fluke.
2. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
This is on my list purely for what it does to Wanda. I know there are plenty of fans that enjoyed where the storyline went but to me it seemed such a disservice to turn this character we have spent a decade with into a villain in the span of one scene. The rest of the plot relies on this one event and as such comes off as weak and contrived. I don’t accept the excuse of “this is what happens in the comics” because this isn’t the comics and we as an audience should require that the level of storytelling is elevated from its source material. I guess this is how fans of Game of Thrones felt about the Daenerys storyline in the final season but at least they had seven seasons leading up to it to get used to the idea.
How far the mighty fall when given too much creative control. That’s the biggest issue with Babylon. Damien Chazelle is clearly a talented filmmaker, and I’ve loved each of his previous features very much. Unfortunately here, at just over three hours, the film is overloaded with unnecessary sequences and tangents. As a result it loses what beautiful moments it does have to the unbearable weight of excess and debauchery that ends up on screen.
With the “worst of” list finished, let’s dive into the good stuff and get to my favorite films of the year.
10. The Menu
The brilliance of this film is in its execution. It has just the right amount of self-awareness and snark to not come across as too arrogant and indulgent. It does have a bit of commentary running through its veins but it doesn’t let that distract it from delivering a really fun experience supported by an outstanding cast.
This will likely be the main source of my Oscars rant this year. Ashton Kutcher deserves a nomination for his surprisingly poignant performance. The rest of the film is also wonderfully funny and insightful. Much like the previous film on the list it has something to say but doesn’t let it get in the way of also telling a clever story.
8. Top Gun: Maverick
In case anyone had any doubts, Tom Cruise showed us once again why he is a true movie star. In one of the rare cases, this was absolutely worth the extra two year wait. The action was incredible, the stunts breathtaking, and all of it supported by a solid story and great supporting performances at its foundation.
Had to have the two plane films back to back on my list. The reason this one gets a slight bump is the fact that it’s based on a true story. It’s the story of Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in the U.S. Navy, who helped turn the tide in the Korean War. Yet again at the heart of the film is a strong story, told with great performances. The amazing stunts and beautiful cinematography are just extra on top of that.
6. Bullet Train
This may have been the most fun I had at the theater this year. Unlike the other entries on my list there isn’t necessarily a strong plot at the center of this film but rather what makes the experience is the all-star cast, gorgeous production design, and excellently choreographed stunts.
It is rare for the first good film I see to remain on my top list until the end of the year but that’s what happened with Scream. It was my first film in theaters in 2022, the fifth in a series I love, and my most anticipated movie of the year. It lived up to all my internal hype, and continued with the tradition of the others in the franchise with its ultra insider commentary, which is all I really ask. I laughed out loud, was pleasantly surprised by the turns, and overall very excited to jump back into this world.
4. The Greatest Beer Run Ever
This film snuck onto my list despite being a streaming focused feature because it did have a limited exclusive run in theaters that I was able to take advantage of. Those that only saw it on Apple TV+ missed out on one of its biggest draws, it’s amazing cinematography. You just don’t get the full impact on a small screen. It is another war film based on a true story, this time about a kid from New York who goes on a beer run to cheer up his friends during the Vietnam war. It all comes together thanks to the excellent performances, particularly from Zac Efron as the lead but also Russell Crowe in a surprisingly subdued but effective role as the seasoned journalistic photographer.
3. See How They Run
Once again there was a Whodunit film that came out the same year as a Knives Out film that just did the job so much better. This one takes place in 1950s London and involves a cast of players in the wildly successful Agatha Christie story marking its 100th performance on stage, and that’s about to be made into a film. We get hilarious performances from Sam Rockwell, Adrian Brody, Saoirse Ronan, and so many more. Plus, the mystery was actually really clever.
2. The Fablemans
A semi-autobiographical story from Steven Spielberg about a young Jewish boy who learns to express himself through film while dealing with a slightly unstable home life. Was there any real doubt this would end up on my favorites list? It is interesting to watch what is a very personal story told through the lens of nostalgia brought to life by the very person whose story it is. It could have gone poorly due to the bias alone but Spielberg brings his unique touch and makes it heartwarming, emotionally moving, and laugh out loud funny all at once.
Set in 1979, X follows the ill-fated production of an adult film cast and crew as they attempt to create a low budget film in the guesthouse of a farmhouse in Texas. This had everything I love about the Horror genre, a simple premise executed brilliantly that relies on slow building tension for impact. And, as was the theme for most of my list, at its foundation is a strong plot with quality actors. It also has the added benefit of seeing an equally strong sequel released the same year. The only reason Pearl wasn’t on my list is because I feel that film rests entirely on Mia Goth’s performance, which will be part two of my Oscar’s rant this year. X, on the other hand, is a solid ensemble picture that ends up being a really good, creepy story.
Catching Up – Supernatural Season 9
It’s been way too many months since our last chat about Supernatural but we are finally back to talk about Season 9! Angels have fallen. Hell is in disarray. And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that pissed us off, so let’s dive in and discuss it all in this latest episode of Catching Up!
00:00 – Introduction & Season Recap
03:15 – Favorite Episodes of the Season
26:16 – Honorable Mentions
31:40 – Best Use of Music Licensing
34:34 – Favorite Quotes from the Season
38:10 – Acting Shout Outs
39:05 – Overall Thoughts on the Season
55:00 – Final Thoughts and Ratings
The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones | Book Review
This is one of my favorite books I’ve read all year! Check out my full review in the video below.
Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen | Book Review
Absolutely loved Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen! Check out my full thoughts on the book in my review below.
Only a Monster by Vanessa Len | Book Review
Recently read Only a Monster by Vanessa Len and liked it quite a bit so I thought I’d do a review. Check out my thoughts on the book in the video below.