Music Co-Review: A Conversation About “Cold Hard Want” by House of Heroes

It’s my pleasure to introduce my first guest blogger of sorts, Austin Mitzel. Austin and I were roommates for a year in college, and one of the many affinities we shared was a love for art, philosophy, and the intersection of the two. As one clear example of this, when I discovered the band House of Heroes’ (HoH) sophomore album, “The End Is Not The End,” and showed it to my roommates, Austin fell in love with the band just as much–if not more–than I had. When House of Heroes’ newest album, “Cold Hard Want,” came out earlier this summer, I made a point to ask his opinion via Facebook message. Here is our exchange (with minor edits for grammar and flow):

So your request lit reviewer flame in my soul. here goes.

I’ve always appreciated the band’s work for its originality and thought-provoking material. Besides the album “Cold Hard Want,” I’ve only heard “The End is Not the End” and “Suburba.” Both of those were strong albums–particularly, in my view, in terms of thematic unity. “Cold Hard Want” isn’t an exception. In fact, “Cold Hard Want” is arguably more unified, especially in formal, musical terms. I’ll get to that later on, but you can know, for now, that I think it’s their best work yet.

In strictly musical terms, I think “Cold Hard Want” is features some of their most diverse work, and it seems to consistently get better. They’ve started to move away from the classic rock of “The End is Not the End,” but what’s not to like about “Remember the Empire,” or “Angels of Night”? Frontman Tim Skipper is considerably more adventurous on this album, and his vocal talent shows. “Cold Hard Want” feels much more weighty than HoH’s earlier work, but I think the heavier punch suits them.

Isn’t the title fascinating? It struck me as odd even before I took my first listen. I’m convinced now that that is how it’s supposed to be. The title is taken from the chorus in “Out of my Way”:

“It took a whole lot of blood and sweat to get what I got,
It took a whole lot of cold hard want to get what I got,
It took a whole lot of nights like these to get what I got,
Yeah it took cold hard want to get what I got yeah!”

Of course a whole host of questions come up: What did he get? Was it worth it? Quintessential HoH here; it’s never answered. Or, actually, the whole album is the answer. One of the stand out tracks for me at this point is “Comfort Trap.” It’s a blood chilling caricature of the materialistic man if ever there was one. “Cop” is another one of my favorites, and one that was (I think) deliberately placed before “Comfort Trap” to depict the characters in contrast to each other. It’s easy enough to see the album as a resounding condemnation of materialism (“Comfort Trap” is, after all, the centerpiece of the work) but the questions it asks are more universal.

Back to the musical form. If you’ve listened to the album, you’ve probably noticed that two of the tracks are a capella. Their positions in the album at the very beginning at near the end would seem to make them book ends–and would make the last song a coda of sorts. The opening a capella track sets the tone for the whole album. Time, racing on before us while we stare helplessly as it passes. And a dream of a man, a man who’s not afraid of life and death. The second a capella section asks us to look into our souls-time passes us by, but we can still get home. Or can we? Continue reading →

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Edwards Scissorhands and Suburbia

Again, another long drought in posts. But don’t worry, I refuse to let this die. Here goes:

I was excited to open my spring break by watching “Edward Scissorhands“, a film that has always intrigued me even though I knew very little about it.

I mean, just look at the poster. Who wouldn’t wonder what some creepy pale guy with wild hair and scissors for hands is all about? I understand it left quite a mark on the film scene, and it stands out among Tim Burton films as one of his masterpieces. No doubt many great film analysts have waxed eloquent on the nature of the isolated Edward character (Johnny Depp) or Burton’s brilliant ability to walk a fine line of crazed creativity. But even above these, something else about the film drew me in and rankled my heart with a righteous indignation. The inciting incident comes when Edward leaves the castle where he was created to go to the suburbs.

And the cast of suburbanites that Edward falls in with in his new life, well, I despise them.

(SPOILER ALERT: I’m not filtering my writing for spoilers at all, so I may say some things that give away the plot. You have been warned.)

Apparently Burton did not intend for his portrayal of suburban American to be so harsh. He said he wanted to depict suburbia as “not a bad place. It’s a weird place. I tried to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental. It’s a place where there’s a lot of integrity.”

I do not want to condemn suburban America either, because it isn’t a bad place, per se. I grew up in a decent suburban neighborhood in Bakersfield, California–same home for 21 years and counting. My upbringing was about as stable as they come, and I’m very thankful for it.

That said, Burton may not have wanted to be judgmental, but “Edward Scissorhands” judges the suburbs, and it judges them pretty accurately. As someone who has spent most of the past four years in Santa Clarita, the city that Burton allegedly patterned the suburbs after, I saw a world in Edward Scissorhands eerily reminiscent of my own. Continue reading →