Category Archives: album review

Commies vs. AnCaps: Welcome to the Rap Metal Terrordome

Throughout America and the West, the political Left have overwhelmingly dominated the culture through the arts. This dominion extends across the entire sphere of pop and rock music. With the possible exception of country, the political opinions in the pop and rock world tend to run the gamut between progressive and communist. While most generally save their grandstanding for DNC appearances, award ceremonies and social media, there is a notable handful of artists who put radical leftist politics front and center. Rage Against the Machine made Marxist angst a mass market success, so it should come as little surprise that the supergroup followup, Prophets of Rage, cashes in on the same sensibilities. Comprised of the rhythm section reactor that powered RATM and augmented by members of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage want to make America rage again by synthesizing the combined legacies of its members.

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While propping up establishment politics under the veneer of radicalism passes for “rebellion” on the Left, you’d think that liberty would resonate as a theme in a genre that prides itself on being the Voice of the Disaffected™. For whatever reason, very little liberty oriented subject matter has translated into mass success beyond the odd Rush or Megadeth record. Libertarians are starting to recognize that culture is upstream from politics and are now making inroads into the pop culture realm. One of the unexpected success stories has been the emergence of rap-metal Rothbardians, Backwordz. Fronted by Eric July, a man who is already recognized as a rising star in the liberty movement, Backwordz is plying their own brand of rap-metal but with a message that stands in polar opposition to the leftist grunting of the Prophets. Drawing almost exclusively from the more recent history of rap-rock hybrids, Backwordz sound invokes comparisons to Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Static-X and Body Count. If you had told me even a year ago that the nexus of politically fueled music converges at the intersection of hip-hop and hard rock, I’d have looked at you sideways. Yet here we are. So let’s jump into the rap-metal terrordome and see how they stack up.

Prophets of Rage vs. Backwordz

In many ways, Prophets of Rage is one of the most successful rap-rock hybrids I’ve heard. It pains me to say it because the politics of the album alternate between idiotic sloganeering, boring clichés and braindead incoherence. Prophets of Rage seem tailor made for the Age of #SocialJustice, and they’re cashing in on it by openly advertising themselves as the soundtrack to the #RESISTANCE. If you simply gathered up the highest trending hashtags from #WOKE Twitter from the past couple years (#Blacklivesmatter, #RESIST, #DumpTrump, #TakeAKnee, #HandsUpDontShoot, etc), that pretty much sums up what they have to say as a band. Add in some communist iconography, weed references and Antifa-inspired branded merchandise, and the package is complete. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some group of campus SJWs chanting the chorus to “Unfuck the World” at any given protest.

No Hatred
Fuck Racists
Blank Faces
Time’s Changin’
One Nation
Unification The Vibration
Unfuck the World!

 

Wow. That’s deep, bro. Pass the bong.

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Conversely, Backwordz have a lot of interesting things to say on their debut release, “Veracity”, but it is simply less enjoyable as a musical experience. And by interesting, I mean songs that represent the perspective of a full throated Rothbard style anarcho-capitalist. That’s not to say that they are less accomplished musicians or that their vision is any less cohesive. It’s just that I found myself wanting to sing along with Prophets, but didn’t have the same experience with Backwordz. If nothing else, the fact that Backwordz have written an anti-Keynesian rap-metal anthem which name checks Ludwig von Mises and The Road to Serfdom makes them deserving of respect. “Praxeology” is not necessarily a song I want to put on repeat, but I think it’s commendable that they wrote it in the first place. There’s probably more than a few people out there who scooped up copies of Anthem and The Fountainhead after rocking out to 2112, so I suspect it won’t be long before we begin to hear testimonials of kids who picked up Human Action after jamming Backwordz.

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Backwordz songs follow a general formula. Eric July spits out a manic flow over some chunky syncopated riffage which is followed by a melodic emo chorus sung by Alex James. What the riffs lack in memorability, they make up for in rhythmic interest and mechanical precision. At their best, Backwordz’ riffage falls somewhere in between the jagged chugging of Meshuggah and the militant ratatat of Disturbed. July alternates between a smooth, rhythmically energetic flow and a full on aggro scream. There is the occasional chill electro beat section, too.

Backwordz cover a lot of ground in one record. A tour through the song titles and lyrics reveal a pretty broad spectrum of liberty oriented themes. Unfortunately, the songs are a little like monologues from Randian heroes. The content is great, but there’s something wooden and slightly cringe inducing about it. July is hitting excellent subjects, but he’s just not the greatest wordsmith. However, the one song that’s both lyrically and thematically devastating is “Statheist”. If there’s one thing that progressives don’t like to hear, it’s having their own religious faith called out.

Say it, we know the truth
Saying Hail Mary’s at the voter booth
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god
Acting like they made us
Politicians are your saviors
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god

 

To my ears, the Prophets’ overall sound has more breath and a deeper reach back into rock history. The Prophets successfully negotiate a rhythmic pocket that reconciles Led Zeppelin, P-Funk, MC5 and The Stooges. Tom Morello’s politics are vile and stupid but the man is quite simply one of the most innovative guitarists in rock working today. I defy any rock lover to say that the chorus to “Hail to the Chief” isn’t the very epitome of The Riff. The Prophets’ superior conception of groove also ties into their superiority in songcraft. I can’t remember a single hook from the Backwordz record, but I can remember practically every single one from the Prophets of Rage. Having the Morgan Freeman of hip-hop doesn’t hurt, either. Chuck D’s gruff, leathery bass and relaxed flow is just more appealing to listen to than July’s rapid fire rhymes. If there was only one message that I hope to convey to the members of Backwordz, I would encourage them to learn from the Prophets’ songwriting example.

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What pisses me off the most about the Prophets of Rage is that, in contrast to their ideological brethren GY!BE, they’re cashing in on leftist anger without being explicit about that for which they stand. Admittedly, it’s not that hard to discern their intentions, but it’s masked amidst the fist pumping sloganeering. They want you to “know your rights”, but exhort you to “burn that goddamn flag”. They lament that you “pretend there’s democracy” in one song, but insist that you should “legalize me” in another. Morello himself has been pretty explicit about his communist convictions throughout his career, and Prophets of Rage is just the latest update to the packaging. Their anti-authoritarian posture masks their authoritarian designs. It’s not that just that they want to “Smashit”; they want to “go Molotov” and “become the gun”. They insist that you know “who owns who”, but want you to ignore the question of who owns them. I contend that the following photo from their Twitter account summarizes their true intentions. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the one political ideal that America sought to institutionalize: liberty. Though the #TakeAKnee campaign was supposedly meant to symbolize a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, the act of kneeling is actually an act of submission. Not defiance. The fact that the Prophets of Rage would promote an image of Lady Liberty kneeling in submission is exactly what I’d expect from communists, sadly.

I realize Backwordz don’t need my support, but I sincerely wish that I could offer a more unequivocal endorsement. If there was a way to swap the message of Backwordz with the Prophets’ sound, I’d be singing a different tune. Backwordz’ music belongs to different generation, and the fact that they’ve attracted as much attention as they have is a testament to the fact that their music is speaking to people and providing value. The Left have been tremendously successful in mainstreaming their ideas through culture, so I’m glad they’re out there doing their thing. It’s entirely possible that they’ll reach more new people with rap-metal than the combined efforts of every single Mises Institute fellow.

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Red Rockers: GY!BE’s Empty Commie Agitprop

Luciferian Towers is the seventh release from Canada’s preeminent purveyors of apocalyptic art rock, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As expected, the music media have rolled out the red carpet and showered the album with praise. And understandably so. They are a band for which the most hushed tones of reverence are reserved, and the album delivers the musical goods that GY!BE fans have come to expect. Doom laden slow burn reveries build up to ecstatic peaks which manage to be beautiful and foreboding all at once. Jagged and charred dronescapes which channel a multitudinous howl at the injustices of the world lodge themselves into the deepest recesses of your mind. It’s all good stuff, and GY!BE truly are among the best at this kind of thing. Like Swans and NIN, existential angst and politically charged dread have a place in the artistic landscape. I would argue that their particular brand of paranoid musical fever dream is effective precisely because they have successfully given a musical voice to the anxiety, fear, and embittered rage that lives at the heart of the Left’s political worldview. 

And that brings us to my beef with what is otherwise a fantastic art rock record. GY!BE have always worn their political stripes on their sleeve, but on Luciferian Towers, they’ve basically hoisted the hammer and sickle flag and started singing the “International”. This is not a startling revelation, but I applaud them for being forthright and specific about their political goals. Communists tend not to be open to arguing the merits of their ideology, but I’m happy to take this opportunity to hopefully disabuse Menuck and company of this barbaric and regressive point of view. My bigger problem is that they’re a band that asks to be taken seriously, but if we take the message at face value, I’m not sure they’re entirely serious about their own message. If the critical response is any indication, I’m not sure the critics or the fans do either. My sense is that, like Rage Against the Machine and other Marxist poseurs, it’s a way to score points with the cool kids and affect the standard leftist posture of being some revolutionary badass. And if they are as serious as they seem to be, this is yet another example of the Left’s insanely pathological fawning and blasé indifference to what is quite clearly a call for open borders, violent revolution, and another socialist dictatorship. Admittedly, that’s apparently what the Left is after, but one hopes that such an explicit declaration of political intent would elicit a little bit of concern for anyone who might have misgivings over that agenda. 

Think I’m being hyperbolic? Let’s listen to each track, take a look at the editorial behind it and discuss the list of “demands” that served as inspiration for this recording. 

Apparently written by GY!BE’s prime mover, Efrim Menuck, the Luciferian Towers press release is written in affected, broken English that’s straddles the line between half baked poetry, pretentious art school twaddle, and infantile, semi-literate rantings. This kind of fractured, would-be deconstructionism is barely distinguishable from Tumblr grade bilge and practically memes itself. The deliberate insertion of an incorrect and unnecessary indefinite article in the title to the opening track, “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”, sounds retarded and feels pointless. So are we to take this editorial as boilerplate Marxist contempt for urban architecture and all of the capitalist rapacity it symbolizes or is it a tacit endorsement of terrorist destruction? Or is it a veiled celebration of 9/11? It’s not entirely clear, but one presumes that the violent nihilism of the image is sufficient to convey their “revolutionary” contempt for modern society. Setting that uncertainty aside, the song itself is another triumph of GY!BE’s tormented beauty. Sheets of kaleidoscopic noise punctuated by shards of atonal shrieks march into the gloom accompanied by a lonely and spartan snare drum cadence. The song culminates in a surprisingly triumphant sounding melody reminiscent of Albert Ayler if he were backed by Black Sabbath. It’s more upbeat variation on the kind of song on which GY!BE have built their career, and it’s a stunning opener. 

“Bosses Hang” is a three part suite which picks up where the previous song left off. Part I gives us another soaring anthem which sounds something like an electrified Liberation Music Orchestra track in a major key. Part II is a minimalist heavenward climb worthy of Branca which ratchets up the tension through steady accretion of rhythmic and harmonic layers and explodes into climatic recapitulation the original theme.

Because the music is so expertly conceived and executed, I’m especially annoyed by what they’re saying on this track. The press release spews more dumb Marxist clichés about capitalist producers extracting surplus value from the proles while whinging about how beleaguered and alienated they are. Listen, guys. Suck it in and cope, cupcakes. You’ve achieved more commercial success than most musicians on the planet achieve in an entire career. I get that it’s hard to feed a family on this stuff, but you make music that mostly appeals to young, urban hipsters. This whole posture of oppression smacks of spoiled ingratitude. You make make music on your own terms while promoting a political ideology that would absolutely destroy the ability to make this music in the first place. What more do you want, guys? But hey. Whatever, man. DOWN WITH THE BOURGEOISIE, AMIRITE COMRADES?! HANG ‘EM HIGH! THAT’LL SOLVE EVERYTHING. IT’S NOT LIKE THIS VERY AGENDA HAS ALREADY RESULTED IN THE DEATH OF 200 MILLION PEOPLE OR ANYTHING. WE’LL FINALLY GET IT RIGHT THIS TIME AND MAKE IT 400 MILLION. And what’s with all this horseshit about shovels, wells and barricades? Are you planning on building the Montreal Commune or are you digging mass graves for the executions you and your fellow revolutionaries plan on carrying out? 

Do GY!BE LITERALLY want bosses to hang? If I had to bet, I’d wager that they aren’t serious and just want to be regarded as edgelords. But then again, I can’t be sure. The actions of the radical Left are getting closer to their overheated rhetoric lately, so maybe this is another provocation. Lately, this kind of sentiment is de rigueur, and leftist calls for violence are A-OK. But man, if you say “nigger” on a live stream while playing a video game, WATCH THE FUCK OUT, BRO. 

Even if we get past the dumb postmodern affectations and tortured blathering that accompanies “Fam/Famine”, it’s another sad projection of what their ideology actually produces in the world. The socialist always blames privation, repression and conflict on capitalism, but mysteriously dismisses the ACTUAL privation, repression and conflict of socialism. Venezuela is resorting to rabbits to feed its population, and like clockwork, socialist apologists have already declared socialism blameless. While I’m sure they’ve got some variation of #NotRealSocialism at the ready for people like me, this is basically GY!BE telling you exactly what you can expect if their utopia were implemented. 

They wrap up the record by bitching about kanada and agitating for “anarchy” in the three part epic, “Anthem for No State”. Once again, when it comes down to the music, they have earned the accolades. If Sergio Leone collaborated with Alejandro Jodorowsky on a follow-up to El Topo, this would be my top pick for the soundtrack. Part III begins with a thundering wall of toms while peals of feedback scream overhead like some infernal hellbeast. The Morricone inspired battle cry enters on guitar and is answered by the strings. As is the case with everything they do, it’s very dramatic and it has a rousing, martial quality to it. This GY!BE suite wants to be a call to arms, but I sense that it’s more a soundtrack to anarchist LARPing. 

All in all, the record is very good as a pure musical achievement. I actually like GY!BE and consider myself a fan. I just can’t abide all this AnCom horseshit. Either it’s a pose or they haven’t thought it through. But if you are serious, Efrim and company, may you get all the communism you ask for, Comrades. Clearly, some of us only learn the hard way.

But what about the “grand demands” that informed this record? Because, after all, nothing says you’re dedicated to the emancipation of humanity quite like a set of DEMANDS I always say. 

An end to foreign invasions.

Ok. Fine. I’m with you on this one, Comrades. I gotta say though. This doesn’t seem too high on the progressive agenda. It also doesn’t really square with the whole trend towards arbitrarily declaring everyone who disagrees with you a Nazi and then punching them. That seems to be the MO of your fellow Antifa LARPers these days. Not exactly the most peaceful approach to things, IMHO. But kudos to you for your antiwar position, brothers. 

An end to borders.

I’m calling bullshit on this one, fellas. You don’t really want this. You don’t. I know it makes you look cool and it’s a great way to virtue signal how #TOLERANT you are, but this is a terrible policy. This is actually being attempted right now in a place called Europe, and guess what? It’s not working so well. Ask anyone who isn’t drinking EU KoolAid. Notice that most of the immigrants are coming FROM the Islamic world TO the West. If they’re all just good hearted people trying to improve their station, what does this say about the quality of life in Islamic countries? Is it possible that there are limits to the great experiment of multiculturalism? Is it possible that some cultures have no intention of assimilating the values to which those of us who grew up in America and the West have become accustomed? Is it possible that even in a borderless world, you will have to contend with the issue of creating social cohesion? If Western countries are just bigoted shitholes, why are so many people from other countries clamoring to get here? How many of you would emigrate to an Islamic or African country? 

Let me guess. #Brexit, Poland and the Netherlands are all just death throes of reactionary, residual Eurocentric white nationalism. All that pesky Islamic terrorism will go away when the capitalist pigs stop waging war and white people stop being such Islamophobes. Everyone needs to learn to love the EU, be more like Sweden and take their daily dose of oxytocin and everything will be great. What an edgy and contrarian position to take. I wonder where Mr. Menuck and company got this radical and fringe opinion. 

How anti-establishment are GY!BE?

Open borders. That’s just WAY OUT ON THE EDGE, dudes.

Besides, what about the immigration policy that’s being enforced by your homeboy, Justin Trudeau? Come on now, Comrades. Surely, you guys are up in his shit every day for upholding such an oppressive border policy. 

And what about all that crap about shovels, wells and BARRICADES you wrote in the notes to “Bosses Hang”? A barricade is a form of BARRIER to limit egress, is it not? Sounds a little bit like a BORDER if you ask me. 

The total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex.

LMAO! It’s the Virtue Signal, Batman! Look, I’m sure we can agree that the pursuit of law and order has gone too far and the system has swallowed up nonviolent offenders and ruined a few too many lives. But guess what? Even if we allow for the slim possibility that there is some percentage of the prison population who are nonviolent offenders or victims of a miscarriage of justice that can reenter society and function as law abiding citizens, we’re still left with a significant population of ACTUAL FELONS. You know. Rapists. Murderers. Terrorists. 

What then, Comrades? A peaceful reign of brotherly harmony where we all drink kombucha, listen to GY!BE and chill? I suggest you think this through a little more. 

Healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right.

Ah yes. At last we arrive at the “anarchist” conception of rights.  What you actually have here, Comrades, is a self-detonating argument. If you consider the provision of material goods and professional services to be RIGHTS, then that means that certain individuals who possess the ABILITY to produce said goods and services are now OBLIGATED to provide them for others. So if you truly consider these rights to be INALIENABLE, as in cannot be taken away, then that means that some group of people will be FORCED to provide goods and services for others. And another group will be charged with ENFORCEMENT of said rights. As in through the barrel of a gun. I don’t see how you can declare all of these things inalienable rights given that the forcible provision of these goods and services destroys the humane incentives that are built into the market economy and necessitates the creation of a permanent class of enforcers. As in RULERS. Not very anarchist, is it, Comrades? Lots of contingencies if you catch my drift. Pardon me for raining on your parade, but that sounds like a recipe for enslavement. Maybe you’re cool with that. This little trick has been tried before, Comrades. It doesn’t have a happy ending.

Not only that, you’ll have shot yourselves in the foot by executing the capitalists. I know it’s hard to believe, but you can’t run businesses unless you have….wait for it….SKILLS. I know. You guys love your Marxism and insist that they’re just soulless predators, but your anarchist utopia is going to be badly thwarted if you go through with the purges. Just sayin’.

Also, I don’t get why you guys are grousing about all this. Canada is lauded as a model of progressive governance by leftists throughout the world. Rolling Stone had such a hard on for Justin Trudeau, they gave him what amounted to an act of journalistic fellatio. If you think things are so shitty in kanada that you’d enslave others at gunpoint in order to bring about utopia, then what does this say about the progressive agenda? I’ll tell you what it suggests to me. Either you can’t be content with the soft socialism you already have, or that progressivism inevitably leads to totalitarianism. Or maybe you’re just saying all this shit in order to look cool.

Or maybe all three.

Isn’t he dreamy?

The expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again.

I’ll just leave this right here.  

Schooltree: Heterotopia

When I heard that Lainey Schooltree was composing a rock opera, I could hear my own inner Boromir at the Council of Elrond. It was as though I had just heard the news that the One Ring was to be brought to Mordor. 

One does not simply write a prog rock opera, Lainey. The black gates of the music industry are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. And the great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland. Riddled with Arianna Grande and DNCE and Beiber. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly!

Never one to back down from an epic musical calling, that’s precisely what she set out to do. Fortunately for us, she succeeded and Heterotopia is the prog rock opera you’ve been waiting for.  A project four years in the making, Heterotopia is a sprawling 100-minute epic which earns a place alongside Tommy, The Wall, or any other comparable effort you can name. Yes, it’s that good. 

Heterotopia is a sort of metaphysical Hero’s Journey mixed with gothic fantasy. It’s a pomo Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings by way of Neil Gaiman. It’s a story of a down and out singer named Suzi who is disillusioned with the music industry, but finds her reality shattered when she follows a 100-legged cat down a rabbit hole into an alternate reality called Otherspace. While in Otherspace, she discovers that she has detached from her physical form and may not be able to recover her corporeal self. Worse, Otherspace is slowly being overrun by an encroaching darkness which threatens to enter the physical world and Suzi finds herself faced with an existential choice.

As good as it is, Heterotopia walks a very interesting tightrope. It has a seemingly populist heart, but it’s counterpoised by an overall vibe of gothic gloom. It may be a difficult pill to swallow for those expecting the kind of ecstatic emotional peaks one might reasonably expect from a rock musical.  As a work of progressive rock, it’s an unmitigated triumph. Heterotopia is a cornucopia of musical riches for even the most rabid prog head. It has all of prog’s virtues and none of its vices. It has epic melodies, knotty riffs, angular rhythms, squiggly synth lines, dense harmonies, and plenty of odd metered nerdity. There’s also plenty of old fashioned arena sized, fist pumping rockage. None of it feels excessive, and all of it is ultimately subordinate to Schooltree’s impeccable instincts for songcraft.  It is short on any kind of extended improvisation, but when the guitar jam and synth freakout finally arrive, it’s some serious lighters-in-the-air shit. 

Schooltree’s prog bona fides are unimpeachable. She has clearly done her turntable homework. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is an obvious musical and thematic touchstone, but Schooltree hacks the prog genome and produces a refreshing and satisfying mutation of her own. Heterotopia reaches for the towering heights of Yes, Genesis, Queen, Supertramp and even deeper recesses of the family tree like Klaatu and Gentle Giant. I’m even going to second Jon Davis at Exposé by saying that Heterotopia bears some similarities to early Saga. One also detects the unmistakable DNA signature of Broadway musicals like Into the Woods and Jesus Christ Superstar coursing through its bloodstream. Musicals should be judged on the strength of the vocal storytelling, and Heterotopia doesn’t disappoint. Schooltree has an equal gift for the anthemic hook, the spectral vocal choir, and the spooky incantations of Dreaming-era Kate Bush. The songs are packed with hooks, but Schooltree always manages to subvert your expectations with a clever turn of phrase. The catchiness of the songs is offset by lyrics filled with ghosts, zombies, illusions, and pits of darkness. Schooltree is one of those artists who writes the most beautifully captivating melody or irresistible pop earworm, but when you listen to what she’s saying, the subject matter often belies the emotional tenor of the music.  

The drama of Heterotopia centers around Suzi’s quest to reclaim her corporeal self. In order to achieve this, she must confront the fallen queen of Otherspace, Enantiodromia. The mythological surface of the piece is merely a vehicle for some rather morbid existential ruminations over the nature of consciousness, death, and free will. By combining prog, epic fantasy, and abstract philosophy, Heterotopia has certainly sealed a trifecta of high concept artiness. There’s a Nietzsche reference or two to be found amidst the Foucauldian mindfuckery. The central theme seems to revolve around the line between reality versus illusion, and the extent to which the latter shapes the former. Prog has always been a platform for big ideas and epic narratives, and this conjunction of mythic storytelling and philosophical speculation places Heterotopia squarely within the canon of classic prog.  

All of which returns us to the unique position this work occupies.  Prog enjoyed a cultural moment back in the 70’s and, to a certain extent, the 80’s. Nowadays, progressive rock of this kind caters to a niche audience. The type of prog that Schooltree is offering will doubtless please the faithful, but whether this particular delivery system will move the meter beyond the prog laity remains to be seen. It’s a Hero’s Journey, but the metaphysics are pretty abstract and the tone is very dark. Beneath the patina of mythological fantasy, Suzi’s tale involves what appears to be a standard dramatic arc tracing her fall, redemption, and resurrection, but it remains strangely suspended in a state of perpetual discord. Even when it reaches its conclusion, it sounds triumphant and the music signals resolution, but you’re left with lingering questions. Suzi’s transformation is obviously meant to be a profound shift, but there’s something slightly underwhelming about it. This is where Heterotopia tilts towards postmodernism. Schooltree herself says that the central idea is that “reality is an illusion”, and this insight is supposedly what liberated Suzi to shape her reality. This is a fairly standard postmodern premise, and it’s an idea that has been explored pretty extensively in every corner of the artistic world for some time. 

However, none of these concerns detract from the heroic achievement of this record. There is a level of ambition and flat out artistic brilliance in this work that simply cannot be denied. If this sounds like your thing, buy it now