Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rant of the week: One okay, one good, and one excellent album

Guns N’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
3 stars out of 5

Bet you’ve heard, GnR is back with a new album! Before you go off on me about “It’s not Guns N’ Roses!,” um, I know that quite well. But it is Axl Rose, and last I heard, the dude could still wail and write. So I figured at least I should give the album a try.

Democracy starts strong with the title song, then two of the better and harder songs on the CD, “Shackler's Revenge” and “Better.” Buckethead plays the guitar on these tunes and much of the rest of the album, so props to Axl for getting someone with mad guitar skills to replace Slash. However, while Buckethead can play a mean solo, he just can’t contribute to the whole song like Slash could. He can’t contribute to the writing or sweeping riffs that haunt GnR’s best old stuff. You can’t replace a huge piece of the original GnR like Slash just by getting a guitar player that might be able to rip off a solo that Slash might have trouble countering technically.

Unfortunately the album goes downhill after the first few tracks. One problem is that Democracy is chalked full of boring ballads. GnR had what, 6 ballads on all their albums? Democracy has 5 all to itself, and not one is very good. I don’t count the slow but interesting “If the World” as a ballad, one of the album’s best songs. Axl weaves a beautiful and a slightly heavy melody which sounds a lot like other Axl classics.

Even some of the harder stuff is missing an edge, both the music and the lyrics. In “Scraped,” Axl repeats over and over: “Don’t you try to stop us now/I just refuse/Don’t you try to stop us now/Cause I just won’t let you.” Wow, Axl, what mind-blowingly creative lyrics. Unfortunately, a lot of the originality of GnR has been lost, either because Axl is burnt out or, more likely, because he’s missing the creative input of Izzy, Slash and Duff.

I was about to give up on the last half of the album until this little diddy called “I.R.S” came up. Whoa. The volume started at a normal level but had to be increased more and more as the jam ran on, culminating in the hardest 60 seconds of the album. No one, and I mean no one, can scream like Axl. The vocals on this song are downright sick, and the lyrics are good ole broken hearted, pissed-off misogynous Axl Rose rantings. He belts:

Gonna call the president
Gonna need myself a private eye
Ooh, gonna need the IRS
Gonna get the FBI
Gonna make it a federal case
Gonna wave it right down in your face
Read it baby with your morning news
With a sweet hangover and the headlines too

This song would fit right in place on Use Your Illusion, and if the whole album kicked as much as ass as “I.R.S,” it would warrant at least 4 stars. They still miss Slash in a song like this, but it’s almost good enough to forget for a few minutes. Steering away form the obvious that this isn’t as good as the original GnR, Chinese Democracy lacks the creativity and punch to be a great album. Axl can definitely still sing, and although his songwriting isn’t quite on par with when he was with GnR, he’s still good for a few kick ass tunes. I’d recommend downloading the 5 or so good songs on this album and save yourself the $15.

The Gourds: Haymaker
4 stars out of 5

First of all, I’m glad this album is a significant step up from the disappointing Noble Creatures. Nearly every song is solid. I’ve always been more of a fan of Kev’s songs, and every one of his contributions is strong. Jimmy’s “New Dues” and “Bridget” are great, and might be his best contributions since “Decline-O-Meter,” “Illegal Oyster,” and “Spanky.” The rest of his songs are par for the last few albums, which is to say they're not very good.

I’ll take back my wish for Max to write more songs. “Valentine,” with maybe the exception of “Wired Ole Gal,” is the worst Gourds song to ever make an album. I gave it three tries, but it got worse the more I listened to it. Unfortunately, “Tighter” isn’t much better; neither song is even as good as “On Time” and nothing is even close to “Blankets” or “Omaha.”

The problem I have with this album is, although there are many good songs, there aren’t any stand-out excellent songs. No “Burn the Honeysuckle,” “Pill Bug Blues,” or “Cracklins.” I’d have to say “Country Love” is the best song on the album, with “Shreveport” and “Tex-Mex Mile” coming in second and third.

Unfortunately, this album reinforces my theory that The Gourds hit their peak at “Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig,” and they just haven't been able to muster another truly great album since. I’d rate all 10 Gourds albums as follows:

5 Star Albums:
Dems Good Beeble
Stadium Blitzer
Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig
Ghosts of Hallelujah

4 Star Albums:
Blood of the Ram
Heavy Ornamentals
Bolsa de Agua

3 Star Album:
Noble Creatures

Metallica: Death Magnetic
5 Stars out of 5

I don’t even keep track of when Metallica puts out an album anymore. I’d given up on them completely after Black Album. I’m one of those Metallica fans that think the Black Album was still a great effort, regardless of what anyone seethes about “selling out.” It bothers me that a band can’t evolve or put out something different without someone labeling them as sellouts. As for “St. Anger” and “Load” and “Reload” and all their other CDs they’ve put out since 1991, I think a better adjective would be “shitty.” There was no edge, no effort, and nothing that I wanted to listen to more than once.

So I heard about “Death Magnetic” from a friend who said something to the effect of “Holy shit, listen to the first song, it sounds like it’s straight off of ‘And Justice for All.’” Well, that’s definitely worth a listen. Turns out he was right. “That Was Just Your Life” is fast and good. Fortunately, it’s not even one of the best tracks on this treat. The CD only has 10 tracks, but nearly every one is quality. The hard-hitting jam “Broken, Beat And Scarred” is better than anything Metallica has put out in the last decade. The gold medal track goes to “All Nightmare Long,” a crushing 8 minute ensemble of ear bleeding metal. This tune has Metallica signature killer overlying guitar riffs and Kirk’s at his best in several solos on this tune.

The album is not all fast, but it is all hard. The slower tempo but killer bass grooved “Cyanide” is every bit as good as the faster tracks. Often going sober leads to a bad getting more boring and less edgy, but death, destruction and mayhem are back on James Hetfield’s mind, so I’ll call Death Magnetic an exception to that rule. On “Cyanide” he sings:

Empty they say
Death, won’t you let me stay
Empty they say
Death, hear me call your name
Suicide, I’ve already died
You’re just the funeral I’ve been waiting for
Cyanide, living dead inside
Break this empty shell forever more.

The slow but fascinating “Unforgiven III” is also an amazing track, possibly as good as the original Unforgiven. Gritty, dark and solemn, it also reminds us that James can actually sing okay for an old metal dude. These guys can still write, so what the hell have you been doing the last 15 years trying to pass off shit as Metallica?

I still listen to this album almost daily. I literally can’t get enough of it. If there’s a better album in 2008, I haven’t heard it. Ah, Metallica, how I did miss thee. Where in the hell were you? Keep up the good work and I might actually buy one of your albums instead of pirating it (just kidding, Lars. Don’t send the cops after me. LOL).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rant of the Week: Shell Oil Applies for Massive Water Right in Moffat County

So last week my boss at the BLM gets a call from Shell, saying the want to meet with him. My boss asked what it was concerning, and they wouldn’t tell him. Apparently, they felt comfortable telling enough other people that it leaked to the press and this front page article appeared in the Denver Post. Water news is big news in the west, and this was no exception. This story got national coverage in USA Today, as well as articles in Craig Daily Press and the Steamboat Pilot. Shell had tried to keep this news on the DL until they met with all the interested parties. Nothing pisses off locals like hearing about how their land or water would be affected from the media before hearing it from the project proponents.

To sum it up, Shell needs a whole lot of water for their oil shale operations in Rio Blanco County. Some of the highest quality oil shale in the world is there in the Piceance Basin near Meeker and Rifle Colorado. Some sources say that for every one barrel of oil produced, Shell will need 3 barrels of water for operations. (Water needs are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resource requirements for oil shale. They also need a ton of power and upwards of 30,000 employees, probably 3 times the population of Meeker and Rifle now.) So they are proposing to 375 cfs of water from the Yampa River into a reservoir just south of the Yampa. The reservoir would hold 45,000 acre feet of water, more than any other reservoir in the area. The water would then be piped from Moffat County down to the oil shale operations to the south. The pumping stations and reservoir will lie on both private and BLM land.

I joined my boss with a few other employees in an informal meeting with Shell. The rep from Houston (dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt) first talked about their prospects for oil shale. He said that some days, he just thinks they should give up. Huge production costs and questionable profits might lead the companies to abandon oil shale altogether. They’re working on a new way to get the oil out of the shale. Unlike the old method where oil shale is mined in an open pit, then processed, this is an in situ method, where oil and natural gas is pumped out as a liquid out with wells, just like conventional oil. First, they seal off an area under ground by freezing it. This creates an impermeable barrier, so water is not contaminated and won’t interfere in the process. After a zone is frozen off, Shell places huge electric heaters in the ground to melt the oil shale. A well is then drilled and a liquid is extracted. It is then processed into oil and natural gas. The majority of the water is used to dump down in the hole to cool the rock that was heated. So much of the viability of oil shale depends on how well this technology is perfected. Optimistically, Shell says they could produce 3 parts energy for every 1 part energy invested in the process.

Shell already bought up most of the water rights on the White River, closer to the oil shale operations. However, this wasn’t enough, and didn’t allow enough flexibility if one basin were to have abnormally low flows any certain year. Nothing will be happening any time soon on this project. Shell estimates it will take around 5 years to get the water rights, and including other permitting, no dirt would move until at least 2018.

The Yampa River is one of the only unallocated rivers in the west. That would change if Shell’s conditional water right is granted. However, I can’t see how the Yampa is not going to lose some water one way or another. There have been several “proposals” (too early to be called concrete proposals) to pipe Yampa River water the Front Range to build new homes and resorts from Aspen to Denver. I’m on the fence as to which use is worse. Given the fact that even the industry leaders aren’t ready to develop oil shale, the BLM has been much too hasty to develop oil shale. In the past few years. I believe oil shale development poses great risks to local communities and natural resources, and is counter to the important goal of helping our nation transition from fossil fuels. However, in 10 years when the technology has improved, I might support development if these risks and high resource needs are reduced. I’m not sure what all the impacts to the Yampa would be from this reservoir, but I tend to think that we should do all we can to leave the Yampa alone.

Wild and Scenic Rivers might rear its head as a real issue here. Our BLM office in Moffat County is currently revising its Resource Management Plan (RMP), and look at which river segments are suitable for Wild and Scenic River. In the Draft RMP we determined that three segments of the Yampa are suitable for Wild and Scenic River. Of course, this is a very controversial issue in the region. The county government and other local industry interests (the biggest coal mines and power plant in the state) strongly oppose anything to do with Wild and Scenic Rivers, as a suitability determination or a Congressional Designation could affect future water rights, conditional water rights, and future water projects on the Yampa. Shell’s new conditional water right could bring this issue to the forefront. This one should be very interesting to watch. I’m attending another public meeting about this issue tomorrow night. I will be interesting to see what the locals think about this proposal. My guess would be that they favor water going to develop oil shale than to support all those yuppies on the Front Range. I’ll keep you all in the loop.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rant of the Week: Tim DeChristopher sabotages BLM oil and gas lease sale

So I’ve been ranting about this controversial lease sale in Utah where areas surrounding Arches National Park are being leased. This lease sale took place December 19th and most definitely did not come off without a hitch. First of all, there were many protestors outside the BLM State Office, but that wasn’t the truly unique aspect of this lease sale. Environmentalist Tim DeChristopher got into the auction room and posing as an industry representative, outbid oil and gas companies for many of those controversial parcels. In fact, he won $1.7 million in leases on 22,000 acres. He is currently being investigated for any wrongdoing. The BLM isn’t sure whether the lease sale will stand. See this Salt Lake Tribune article for more information, and a High Country News op-ed.

Despite the fact that I argued BLM has the right to lease these areas and that I don’t see that they’ve done anything illegal here, I have to say that this is pretty sweet. I thought this was a pretty cool idea and I have often wondered before why more enviros don’t bid on lease parcels. I wonder what the requirements are to bid and/or be granted a lease? This page offers a lot of info on lease sales:

Under “Lessee Qualifications and Limitations,” it states:

Federal oil and gas leases may be obtained and held by any adult citizen of the United States. No lease may be acquired by a minor, but a lease may be issued to a legal guardian or trustee on behalf of a minor. Associations of citizens and corporations organized under the laws of the United States or of any State also qualify.

Aliens may hold interests in leases only by stock ownership in U.S. corporations holding leases and only if the laws of their country do not deny similar privileges to citizens of the United States. They may not hold a lease interest through units in a publicly traded limited partnership.

If those are the only requirements, how come Mr. DeChristopher wasn’t a legal participant? If he doesn’t pay, the leases should be pulled. But what if he does pay? What power does the government have to indict Tim? However, fraud certainly could be a problem, because he can’t pay for these leases. Well, he is trying. He’s trying to come up with an initial down payment of $45,000 by January 9 and is taking donations here. (I think I’ll save my money for something else, thank you very much, but this is a good opportunity for enviros to put their money where their mouth is. Robert Redford, have you contributed yet?).

Now, some folks are saying Tim is their hero for standing up to the evil Bush administration’s BLM. Well, that would only apply if BLM is breaking the law by offering these leases, and if they are, they will get nailed in court. If they’re not, then what Tim is protesting is really regular-old oil and gas leasing laws which have been around for decades. So what the BLM did might have been legal, and what Tim did was probably illegal. But maybe this isn’t a huge distinction to Tim; maybe he doesn’t care whether BLM was justified in offering the parcels for lease or not. There are many examples of people protesting unjust laws. It wasn’t legal for Rosa Parks to sit in the front of the bus, was it? Leasing our federal minerals for development is not some unjust travesty in my view, but heck, if you think it is and you are willing to pay the price for your civil disobedience as Tim is, then by all means, have at it. It will be very interesting to see how this all shakes out.

1/11/09 UPDATE:
Tim was able to raise the $45,000 down payment on his leases. Only $45,000 shy of $1.7 million to go.