8.31.2011

Zoo Animal

Well, hello there!

Last time we spoke, I was waxing nostalgic about things long gone. How about instead of focusing on things that are a decade old, we look at something new and fresh?

In my last post about Minneapolis rapper Sims, I made a mea culpa for sleeping on his latest and greatest endeavor, the staggering and alarming Bad Time Zoo. To counteract the guilt and feelings of missing out on something so amazing, I want to use today's post to spread the good word about his latest offering. The thing is, Sims is heading out on his Good Time Zoo tour (see relevant dates and venues here). As a reward for coming to see him perform live he has pressed up physical copies of an EP he recorded with fellow Doomtree crew member Lazerbeak. The EP, titled Wildlife, serves as a coda or addendum of sorts to his sprawling and dangerous album that preceded it. Knowing not everyone will be able to attend the upcoming shows, Sims and co. went the extra mile and distributed the EP for free online, via this link
.
 I can't tell you how fantastic of a gesture that is from such a hardworking artist. While Sims has been riding a wave of critical success, we all know the record business is a limping, potentially mortally wounded beast. So to offer fresh, original and (most importantly) high quality content like this is quite simply a gift on the artist's behalf. I'm very grateful, not only for the gesture but for the fact that this EP is just as amazing as the work that preceded it. Sims is on his grind and we are reaping the benefit.
 Musically, Wildlife falls right into line with Bad Time Zoo. The songs are at times, alive and manic, sprinting alongside the rapper as part of a pack. Other times they feel run down and full of history, like an old supper club with outdated d├ęcor. They sound, really, like they could be alternate takes of other songs on Bad Time Zoo, and I mean that in the best way possible. Often times an artist will plop out an EP simply to get some spotlight between albums - not so with Sims. These songs are of the same high caliber he always delivers, even showing further signs of growth in certain spots.
 At a mere five tracks, Wildlife is lean but not gaunt. There's just no fat on the record. 'Lighthouse' is an ephemeral track, one that gives the impression Sims is perched high above the Veldt he in which he describes the modern world, watching the chaos unfold. 'Mad Night', technically pulled from Bad Time Zoo, shows how far he's come as a performer. Not to patronize his or anyones rap game, but on this track he shows the strength of his vocals and the depth of his lyricism. It's a track with real flow, not only in the hip hop sense but as a writer polishing his craft. Listening to 'Here I Stand' its easy to conjure the image of Sims as a man on the hunt - monster approaching, the artist grabs bow and arrow and takes aim. When his verses unfold it feels as though he's taken chase, hunting wounded prey. See how effectively the rapper paints imagery with his lyrical themes? Infectious when done right. 'The Line' shows Sims flexing new muscles in his writing style, getting more personal than ever as he weaves a pair of narratives about broken people and the help the refuse. Its haunting and affecting storytelling.
 The final track on the EP, 'Jordan 5's', contains a line I think may encapsulate why he does what he does. In citing the mortal accidents of the King James Bible, he raps "The truth fades but the ink stains". This notion of the fleeting sacred truths held in ink and paper is not unlike his relentless grind. He is an artist with a message that is, at times, difficult to pinpoint. He implores us to be better people, yet cites the flaws of the world in our most animalistic tendencies. On the sliding scale of artistic intent and rappers spreading a message, Sims is definitely on the heavy end. Maybe we'll never know why he perseveres. I think this track at least gives an insight into his reason for being. Either way, I'm just grateful to have the EP to compliment his monster of an album. The Good Time Zoo is heading out on tour - see if you can witness the madness. 

8.30.2011

Reconstruction

Heyo. How are you?

Looks like I went a little off the deep end with yesterday's post, huh? I guess its understandable - it was my first time home in a while and I had a fantastic time. It was only natural that some of the mental dirt got tilled, exposing some roots to the air. I hope you enjoyed it - I certainly did. While I do, indeed, get some solid satisfaction out of CKY's iconic single '96 Quite Bitter Beings' I barely touched on the album of theirs that really hooked me in as a listener.

As I wrote yesterday, it was fall when I got turned on to the album. I had been in college only a few months and was quickly acclimating to the horrors of dorm life. Not all was grim, though, as it was still in the heady, carefree days of file sharing, but before the advent of massive lawsuits and torrents. In other words, for better or worse, I was exposed to a great deal of music in a short amount of time. I've since reformed my wicked ways - if I can pay an artist, I will. A lot of artists these days put the music out there for free, however, in an attempt to draw people in for shows. So I cast my net far and wide. Much of it was just obtaining files I had wanted but couldn't shell out for until then, like back catalogues and out of print stuff. Others were more about the rare and obscure tracks I had heard of but never thought I could track down. Surprisingly little came recommended, that I recall, despite the massive amounts of data. I was kind of on my own as far as what I was looking for.

That changed with Sam.

Sam and I clicked almost instantly. He lived across the hall. Once he realized I could be trusted (a surprisingly rare trait in that environment, we found) after watching his stuff while moving in, we started giving the 'What's up' nod all dudes do. I don't recall exactly what it was that started the avalanche, but as soon as he and I both realized we shared an adoration for Jackass and the CKY videos, we started making emphatic recommendations and swapping files. Romantic, right? Anyway, I got him into all kinds of stuff like Thrice while he turned me on to H.I.M. (relevant post pending). One day after class (or maybe during, as not every massive lecture required strict attendance) he called over to tell me to accept the transfer he was sending, as it was higher bit rate than the normal junky mp3s we were normally swapping. What he sent me was CKY's fresh album, Infiltrate, Destroy, Rebuild
. It was awesome.
 I'd loved the band's earlier stuff but the mixes and ripped files always sounded terrible. This was huge and heavy, a thunderous, heaving album that saw the band suddenly came to life in my headphones. Even the sounds of the guitars themselves were unique, Deron Miller achieving some odd yet unmistakable tones that made the band stand out among the generic stuff on the radio. The off kilter rhythms gave them an ear-catching sound, as well. The album was unlike anything else I was listening to at the time, and although there have been similar sounds to develop as of late, nothing's been quite as good as IDR

While not every song on the album has been released as a single, there is a video for every track, which is due to the devotion of drummer Jess' brother Bam. The lurching 'Escape From Hellview' is a stomping opener that continues the tale that started in '96 Quite Bitter Beings' about the torturous town of Hview. 'Flesh Into Gear', one of the band's most recognized tracks from CKY2K, is given new life and a better mix here, the riff feeling just as hypnotic and amazing as ever. The juggernaut 'Sink Into The Underground' is simultaneously a bizarre shuffle and as heavy as its title suggests. I love the pseudo-new wave elements of 'Plastic Plan', which make the track somehow poppy and strangely melodic despite the grinding nature to it. One of the best tracks on the album is the funky, maniacal 'Inhuman Creation Station', with its insane riff and lock-step rhythm.
As I wrote in yesterday's piece, I had the good fortune of seeing this band live, right after they had released this album. It was one thing to hear this when it was brand new, it was a whole separate beast to hear them rocking out at full volume, careening around the stage while looking like degenerate lumberjacks. It was insane stuff. CKY is unlike any band out there - this album cemented their identity.

8.29.2011

96 Retrospective

In the interest of full disclosure I'll share why I had an off kilter posting schedule this past weekend. 


I was out with the better half to visit my parents in Wisconsin, having not seen them since our wedding. It was a fantastic time, lots of good food, a spin in their boat down the river, we all hung out and watched a movie together. It was a really great, relaxing trip out there, although I would have like to stay longer. The place they have is where I spent the majority of my high school years and the off time during college. I have a lot of memories of watching movies late at night in the basement, rehearsing with my band in their garage and generally trying to make the most out of living in the country despite not being the outdoors type. In hindsight I took advantage of the solitude and tranquility of the location, the fact that living where they do affords privacy and peace. This lies in sharp contrast to living in the middle of the city in the heart of Uptown, surrounded by rabble rousers and nightlife. Neither one is better, I've found, just different. I could see myself enjoying the isolation, given the proper circumstances.

I know the grass is always greener, but you never really can go home again. There was a lot in there house that reminded me of who I was and where I've come from. I flipped through old yearbooks, found old dressers with some of my clothes, even walked some trails I used in high school to sneak the odd cigarette when I was young and stupid. While the memories would flood back in, they were accompanied by equal parts nostalgia and saudade
. I could delude myself and say things were so much better when I had fewer responsibilities and the freedom to be a teenager but I know that I was unhappy with who I was then and feel like I had to experience what I did to become who I am. I can go back and visit my parents, even sleep in my old room and read the same books, but I can't call it home. I haven't lived there in a long time. It was a strange experience but I enjoyed it, despite the unstoppable progress of life, realizing a chapter has closed. Still, a new one has opened.
As we were winding down one night, I started playing an episode of the late great Jackass on my iPad to amuse my better half before bed. As we watched the first episode of the series it occurred to me that just a month short of ten years prior I had watched the exact same episode in that house with my dad and two brothers. Suddenly this whole part of my brain lit up as I recalled where I was at that time in my life and what I had been doing. I also recalled how hard my dad had laughed at what turned out to be a surprisingly long-standing series. My whole family has always had a strong sense of humor and this show was a real lightening rod for it. Only years later would I be able to hit the nail on the head on why I love it so much - to quote someone whose name I can't recall, "Its like a live action version of Looney Tunes, only more visceral for the post-Fight Club generation." That pretty much summed up my feelings on the show when I first saw it - it was something more than just dumb stunts - there was an underlying sense of danger tied in with a cartoon sensibility. This dichotomy was a breakthrough in the way that I saw the world. It also introduced a new chapter in my life where elements of the Jackass culture and crew would influence my life's path. For example, the music of CKY featured in the first episode.
The song playing behind Bam Margera and co.'s shopping cart antics is '96 Quite Bitter Beings' by CKY, a band fronted by Deron Miller with Bam's brother Jess on the drums. The track, with it's distinct riff and oddly howled vocals, was unlike anything I had heard at that point in my life. I was obsessed with the ominous tone, which I always thought was vaguely Halloweenish. Because of the time of broadcast I'll always associate it with fall and the cool air and leaves on the ground. A year or two later I picked up Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 for PS2 which also featured the song. It was fall then, too. I played it way too much after soccer practice that year, winding down and blowing off stress by working my thumbs to the bone, that song playing too often in the background. A year later I went to college and my best friend, who lived across the hall in the dorm, exposed me to the whole CKY videography and discography. I was hooked on the bizarre, incredibly unique and super-heavy sound. Again, in the fall. When we got tickets to see the band in Minneapolis he introduced me to a friend of his with whom he thought I would hit it off. I was smitten, but I barely registered on her radar. Months later we would reconnect and start dating. Two months ago I married her.
I'm not saying the song '96 Quite Bitter Beings' is the best song in the world, nor is it the most poignant, romantic tune to spin your life around. For whatever reason, call it synchronicity or just coincidence, this song has always factored into my autumns and kept turning up, like a bad penny. Being in my parent's house and hearing this song, while sitting next to my wife, I was struck by how strangely full circle it all felt. Maybe I listen to too much weird music. Maybe we make connections where we want to see them, mind always seeking order from chaos. Regardless, fall is pretty much here and I heard the song again. It might be inescapable, but its still a great song with a memorable riff. Funny how music gets associated with memory. There are other, more romantic songs that symbolize my relationship with my better half, but this one is more of a personal one, a song that has snaked it's way from a decade ago right into the weekend. Strange, huh? 







8.28.2011

Howlin' Wolves

Guys, I promised you a double post and a double post is what you're gonna get.


I have to tell you, if you haven't heard this song in the last year...I feel bad for you. Its nothing short of a knock out. Its bad, man. Super bad. The kind of bad that makes you feel like you need to be doing something a little more grimy and gritty whenever it comes on. It has this old school feel that makes it feel timeless and instantly familiar but a fresh energy and buzz that makes you feel alive when it comes on. I'm talking about 'Howlin' For You' by The Black Keys.
I honestly think I hear this song more from my better half rocking out than I ever do in my own iTunes shuffling, which I hope speaks more of her taste than it does my ear-to-the-ground cultural awareness. It's one of those tracks that you hear and think "Damn, has this been out and I've been missing out on it?" In testament to her latent hip factor, though, the better half kept telling me how great the song was whenever it came on and would subsequently crank up the volume. Really all it took was a single listening, but since then I just let her turn up the song cause its fantastic and sounds better with some bass.
The Black Keys are phenomenal. One of the daring two-man-band types, they make a sound that's both a throwback and inherently modern in its simplicity and urgency. Its bluesy, simple rock that gets you by the cojones and holds on, instead of overwhelming and exhausting you with too many cooks and too many tricks. Their songs are stripped down and minimal, relying on quality songwriting and balls rather than gimmicks and guest spots. So a song like 'Howlin' For You'  works due to the few elements it has - there's some thumping drums that are reminiscent of stadium stompers, a guitar line that sounds like its being played through a phone and vocals that are as dangerous as they are appealing. The literally and figuratively distorted guitar lick that permeates the song is super catchy, especially for the solitary little part at the end of the song where it drops an octave for a single bar. Listen for it.
The video for the song is just as fantastic. While the song hasn't been officially announced as a single, the band made a video for it that's in the style of a trailer for a sleazy exploitation flick. Drawing on all of its Grindhouse-summoning imagery and faux-trailer aesthetics, they combine to make a clip that screams to be made into a real movie. The way Hollywood works today, that is entirely possible.
'Howlin' for You' by The Black Keys is huge, and deserves even more love than it already gets. This duo acutally sells albums in this modern era, how much of a seal of approval is that? See what you've been missing out on and listen to it. Its unbelievably good.

Clock Towers

Happy Weekend, kids!


How about something fun for the weekend? Something a little left of center to amuse you? You guys ever heard of Overclocked Remix? I love this site, both for the content and the concept. My neighbor in college told me about it, telling me if I had any love for video games at all, I simply had to check it out. At that point the site was already seven or eight years old. What I found there blew my mind.
Overclocked ReMix is ostensibly a place where artists take music from video games both new and old and reinterpret, remix and reconstitute it into amazing new works. The results are astounding. Name a game and its probably there. There are the heavy hitters of the video game world, like Final Fantasy VI or VII, which boast hundreds of respective remixes, or Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, anything Mega Man, Mario or Sonic related. There are thousands of high quality, mind blowingly original re-contextualizations of memorable music that will really make you step back and reevaluate the idea of music in gaming. The sheer volume of content hosted on the site is staggering - over 2,000 mixes by over 500 artists, all organized in searchable databases or listed by gaming platform.
This is something that you really owe it to yourself to check out, regardless of your stance on videogames - you may not care for them, but how can you deny that the music produced here is gorgeous? Not only does the source material vary widely, from pre-8 bit to modern symphonics, but so do the results - everything from techno and trance to thrash metal to jazz arrangements and classical compilations. Furthermore there are conceptual groupings and albums done by individual artists and the community as a whole. Entire soundtracks get re-worked and released for free as declarations of love for the games that spawned them. There's even a Youtube channel to flip through selections if you don't want to download anything.
Not only have the artists and members of the community received praise in print and across the web, they've received accolades and kudos from the originating artists themselves. The OC community always credits the source material and doesn't profit from the endeavor - this is all about love of the games. In the ultimate stamp of approval, the community was tasked with creating the official soundtrack for Street Fighter II HD Remix, a modern update of the classic fighting game, by the developers themselves. In fact the music for the game was one of the best received elements of the new game.


I adore this site. In the years since being turned on to it I've been consistently amazed at the work produced. It's made me really appreciate the music in games I love and better understand how the composers affect my experience. Old games I've loved have had new life breathed into them. Friends have loved music I've played for them, having no idea the songs originated from a 16 bit game. Normally they'd scoff and think me a geek. Instead they ask for a copy of it. I just want the world at large to know about this amazing community of artists and the crazy work they do. Give 'em  a look and see if your old favorites are there.

8.27.2011

Breathing

Hey gang, what's the good word?


I know this is where I normally would post a review of something amazing and under appreciated by the world at large, but at the moment I'm on the go and unable to sit and write the normal amount of appropriate text. So to ease the burden and remain consistent, here's another bit of fiction, picked pure from my mind. I promise that to make up for the lack of music I'll do a double post tomorrow. In the meantime enjoy this little fiction...






They only move when I move, he thought. Silence hung in the room, unmoving and thick, save for the monotonous electronic drone of the wall mounted clock on the north wall. Each second that passed felt forced and deliberate.  He ran a hand up to his short black hair and rubbed the fur in frustration. At the same moment, 24 students and a middle-aged teacher mimicked his movements, right hand sliding up the side of their bodies, rustling their hair, letting out the same barely audible sigh; with 25 people sighing at once the level of the sigh was thicker, a ghostly rush of air from all around him. Tom was growing weary.

8.26.2011

Fading Out

Dear, sweet lord. It's the weekend.


Sometimes life is a grind. Sometimes we feel like we have to grind away just to get through the week. Sometimes I don't want my peaceful, quiet trip hop and techno tunes. Sometimes I want the gritty, folksy down-to-earth rock of a songwriter. Someone who can tell a story. But it has to have some teeth, as well. There's a fantastic old album no one seems to listen to anymore that I love to put on for a little relief on a day like this. That album? Sparkle and Fade by Everclear.


Everclear are a strange band. They had a big hit in 1995 with 'Santa Monica', the biggest single off of their major label debut, Sparkle and Fade. This album broke them out in a major way. Their followup So Much for the Afterglow had a few hits but since then it's all been downhill. The band basically hit it big in the late 90s and never hit those heights again. While the sole consistent member, front man Art Alexakis, has toiled away on the band and their albums over the years, this first big album of theirs, with it's California Surf-tinged elements, has always had a special place in my heart. 
Is that a weird thing to say about a seemingly random grunge album from 16 years ago? Maybe. But I like it anyway. It's very du jour - it amazes me the songs were singles and played on the radio and MTV. Hearing what's popular now makes the songs in question here feel so normal and straight forward. In a way, though, that's exactly what it is about this album that I love. It's that simple ability to write and play these songs with no pretension and complication that I love so much. The band is a very nuts and bolts outfit - drums, guitar, bass. That's it. Nothing too fancy, just catchy mid-tempo riffs. Oh, and a songwriter who shone quite brightly for an entire album. Alexakis wrote from the heart here, pulling pieces of his childhood out of his memories and using them to craft these deeply personal and human songs about broken people and their hopes. It sounds corny, I know, but hearing it from such an earnest performer makes it work.
From the dirty little lick that opens the album in 'Electra Made Me Blind', you know what kind of album you're getting into. The songs have some balls. Art sings his heart out. The band plays with steadfast conviction, making simple songs sound strong. Alexakis mines the personal tragedy of his brother's death from an overdose to add terrible weight to 'Heroin Girl', a tragic song that buzzes and drowns in distortion. The mega-pop of 'You Make Me Feel Like A Whore' and 'Santa Monica' take what are quite bleak topics and makes them irresistibly catchy and rocking numbers. The guitar riffs are huge and cliched in the best way only the 90s could produce. There are also sweet and heartbreaking songs, like the saccharine poison of 'Strawberry' with it's shimmering, strummed acoustics. 'Nehalem' is a punchy little punk number that barely clocks in under two minutes but paints a full picture of a breaking couple in a small town. The stealth breakout number, though, is the tragic 'Queen of the Air', where Alexakis tells a story about a man realizing he witnessed something horrible as a child. It's a fantastic song with some personal and haunting lyrics, despite the dreamy alt-rock that backs it. 
Sometimes I wish Everclear were still huge. I'm okay with their decline, though. I still have this great, under appreciated album that makes me feel better after a long week. Life is better when you have something secret and personal to give you a little hidden pleasure. No one I know knows about this album other than the big single. That just makes me love it that much more. So I thought I'd share it with you - to let you in on a secret in the hopes that it means something to you like it does for me.

8.25.2011

Pepper Shaker

Alright, fine.


Let's get weird with it, shall we? Let's get a little oddball. After yesterday's halfhearted impugning of Metallic despite my love of some of their singles, let's take a look at a band that completely lost their minds. An equally distant band who never the less had a single I still love that people don't really know about today. Although I suppose if one were to look deeper into the mythology of their careers it could be inferred that they never had proper minds to begin with. I'm speaking (with some trepidation) about the Butthole Surfers and their biggest mainstream success, 'Pepper'.
The Butthole Surfers are a band with a hell of a reputation. They are quite simply infamous for...being themselves. Established back in the early 80s, the band would make a horrifying yet captivating spectacle out of their stage shows. Outrageous outfits and bizarre costumes. Rampant and encouraged drug use. Nudity. Open flames. Prat falls and fake blood to accentuate them. Then there are the rumors about sex on stage which have yet to be confirmed. In the midst of all this the band was making avant-garde noise rock, punk rock and just straight up, weird, jammy stuff. Front man Gibby Hanes got to the point where he had a massive rack for noise effects which had little rhyme or reason, he just liked to switch things up for the sake of weird. I learned all of this after the fact, of course, but I did love their most mainstream release.
In 1996, some fifteen+ years after they got their start, the band released their album Electriclarryland. A single released from the album, 'Pepper', became a bit of a runaway hit with the alternative crowd at the time. This was of the era where Beck was still more of the 'Loser' sound than the 'Lost Cause' sound he later embraced. The music world, especially MTV, was much less nuanced and outrageous. A single like this stood out for its weird sound, the spoken/rapped sections in the verses. The plodding beat and the backwards vocal snippets. We were easily shocked, my friends. Something as pedestrian as 'Pepper' stood out as bizarre in a sea of Bush and Joan Osborn. Hey, I was young and sheltered, okay?
The song is a fantastic example of alternative music in the mid 90s. It's that mid-tempo shuffle, no bass to speak of but a simple drum loop and some fuzzy guitars. It's really a great song made of a handful of parts. Gibby intones about a list of odd characters who all die in bizarre ways. The chorus is awesomely poppy, just a single chord with Gibby singing "I don't mind the sun sometimes, the images it shows. I can smell you on my lips and smell you in my clothes. Cinnamon and sugary and softly spoken lies. You never know just how you look through other people's eyes." Other than a small guitar solo and the backwards vocal piece, that's the entire song. That's it. It's incredibly simple, another example of how producers and execs are screwing up by packing in sounds and cluttering songs with blips and bloops. This is catchy simply because it's so simple and stupid.
The Butthole Surfers are still technically around and, I would wager, just as insane. This song, as great as it is, is the rare commercial bright spot in their canon. If you love this, you probably won't like anything else they do. Still, I love it for its absurdity and du jour elements. It's a great 90s alternative track you owe it to yourself to dig up.

8.24.2011

Unsung Hero


So it has come to this.


In my chronicling of the music that I swear up and down is fantastic yet forgotten, it is now time to overturn the stone that is Metallica. People, do not judge me too harshly. 


I’ve always had a bit of a complicated relationship with the Gods of Metal. My older brother, bastion of all that was cool in my youth, had their black album, the one that made the band insanely popular and began breaking them away from their thrash-metal roots. Tracks like ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ showed the world that beyond the breakneck pace and endless guitar wankery there may actually have been the lurking spectre of talent. As a young kid I was naturally frightened of the growling and howling, the menace and the metal. Still, once I hit my teens I felt like it almost instantly clicked. Suddenly I felt a connection with the absurd heaviness of ‘Sad But True’. So when the band went all left-field and cut off their hair and started playing bluesy stuff, I was curious but uninformed. I was not aware of the canon they had produced up to that point. I had no idea of the sacrilege the band was committing in the eyes of their fan base. I just thought it was more accessible, less pummeling. I thought it was an improvement, to be honest.


Despite this shift in the band’s tone, I still could never really get on board with them. Even with more nuanced material like ‘Until It Sleeps’ and ‘Mama Said’ I felt like the band wasn’t for me, as though I had no solidarity with the legions of dudes wearing black t-shirts with inscrutable logos and old album covers printed on them. It just didn’t gel with me, although given my predilection for things like Portishead, Bjork and Colin Hay, I suppose that’s hardly a surprise. Later albums only reinforced this notion; seeing the band’s faltering attempts at re-invigoration and relevance in a vastly changing world didn’t help any. Further, their absurd fights against Napster and literally suing their fans didn’t ingratiate them in my mind, especially when the same older brother got his ip banned from Napster. What kind of band doesn’t want their fans to listen to their music? Anyone who has done any research what so ever will tell you a band makes money off of tours and shows, not albums shipped. A band makes more in licensing fees than they do on CDs. But I’m veering off topic.
There are a handful of songs by Metallica I do love. One in particular is off of the controversial Load, the album that saw them really shake loose from their thrash roots to get all introspective and weepy. The song in question, ‘Hero of the Day’, is actually one of the few songs that the band wrote in a major key. I feel like that distinction alone shows that I am not in their target market. Still, I love this song. 
The nuts and bolts of 'Hero of the Day' are what make it so great. There's no big gimmick or central conceit to the song - it's just a great little chord progression with a savory melody. The verses are these swirling and building bits of an A Major guitar riff that ascends to a place of (gasp!) potential happiness. When the band gets to what serves as the chorus in the song it drifts back to the dis-tempered and aggressive with lots of hurtling drums and palm-muted chords suggesting anger, only the lyrics suggest its more about the sadness of realizing you're not the angry young man you wanted to be. In fact, while they're hidden behind hooks and riffs, the song is quite a sad number about a man asking why he can't be a better person, hiding away from problems until they just go away. 
Metallica may be a guilty pleasure for me, at times, but I still get genuine pleasure from hearing this song. As odd as it sounds, it's great in the morning with the main riff serving almost as an introduction to the day. It might be melancholic but it's still somehow positive. I know the band has a reputation for being arrogant and self-righteous. I'll forgive it, though, just to have this song. It's really great. Check it out.

8.23.2011

Toad in the Hole

Here's a fun new thing to add to my list of awesome things. When I get the itch for putting fiction through my fingers, I'll post it here and compile them under the fictions heading. How about a story?

The gray-blue doors of the elevator stood hard and unmoving.  There was a sign on the right-hand sliding door framed in beige masking tape – “Out of order”.

“Shoot.”

I hit my head against the wall.  I didn’t feel like doing anything, let alone walking up five flights of stairs.  My bag was weighing heavily on my back and shoulders, pulling my arms back and knotting muscles from the weight of my cleats, clothes and books.  I was still slick with sweat and had a dirty mix of blood and mud caked around my calves.  My intramural team had gotten soundly pounded in another game, and the loss was draining.  I had nearly passed out from the heat and humidity in the game, but kept on playing from a lack of subs.  I had worked a full shift at the bar, and had a paper to write for the next day.  Today was too long.  I thought the end was in sight, but it was five floors up.  I wanted to shower terribly, wash the stink and grime of a hard day off of me.  But the elevator was out.

Fly Paper

Working on something novel, so here's a thing to tide you over.


I've covered a fair bit of the 1990s and the alt rock contained there in. One of my favorites one hit wonders deserves a little love, so I thought I'd spend today's allocated space on something distinctly turn-of-the-century. Something that contains some elements that are distinctly indicative of the period. I speak of The Flys
Rocking some bug-eyed shades, this band was full of late-90s attitude. Their big single, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts, was 'Got You Where I Want You', off the album Holiday Man. Their songs were featured on not one, not two but three terrible teen movies from the end of the decade. One, The Crow: Salvation, is hardly worth mentioning despite featuring a young Kirsten Dunst. Teen movie two was the oddball cheerleader heist flick Sugar and Spice, which had a cameo from Conan O'Brien, of all people. The third was the forgettable Disturbing Behavior, featured a young Katie Holmes as a heroine and unsuspecting future wife of Tom Cruise. The big single for the band was on this soundtrack, whose video also featured Ms. Holmes making an appearance, which sadly seems to be the sole claim to fame for the clip. I still dig it, though. The song is still great.
The song itself is a fantastic slice of late 90s alt rock, too. It's built around a solitary, octave riff that plunks back and forth on the low E and A strings, a simple little lick that's memorable and easy to play, which established it as an easy, "Oh yeah I remember that!" kind of a cover for budding bands to pull out of their hats. The verses are long, drawn out calls of teen angsty "What's the point of this?" and "I think you're smart, you sweet thing - tell me your name". Nothing revelatory or incredibly insightful, just fun to sing and easy to learn. The hook is just the band's singer crooning in falsetto and howling the title. I'm being quite reductive here, in all honesty - the song is a pretty solid, catchy piece of alt-rock, even if it's a tad dated. It still works really well, despite the requisite du jour white-boy rock-rap breakdown in the middle section. We can cringe all we want but we still made Limp Bizkit (ugh) famous. So this seems quite tolerable in comparison.
I love this song, in fact. See how I've warmed up to it, even in the short space of writing about how endemic it was of the era? It's simply that catchy and accessible. Not everything needs to be over-wrought and anguished insight, giving way to a secret on the human condition. Hey, the band's Wikipedia page is short enough to be an indication of their cultural footprint; but it's no big crisis, just saying not even a member of the band beefed it up for vanity's sake (which is more common than you would think). Sometimes a guy just wants to rock, and if it requires a song from some bad teen movie soundtracks, so be it. I'll deal with the consequences myself.

8.22.2011

Bad Wolves

What's good, gang?


I'm back in the saddle, comfortably in the world of wireless internet. Sad how fidgety I could get without it, but it makes things so much easier to have it. Another beautiful day out, went for a longer run when I got home from the office. Another great album from a mid 90s punk band came roaring through my ear buds and I thought 'Good lord, why don't I listen to Rancid more often?'


Rancid are a band that has always enjoyed a reputation of harder than the poppy fore-bearers of Green Day and The Offspring, but have never broken as widely as their counterparts, either. This is not to say Rancid wanted the audience. They just never got to the same level of selling out/buying in that these other bands did. Rancid, in fact, had great success and mainstream press with their seminal 1995 album ...And Out Come The Wolves. I love this album.
Released on Epitaph amid the mid 90s resurgence of commercially popular punk, Rancid's third album was an instant classic in the genre. There's a vibrancy and touch of life to ...And Out Come The Wolves that was lacking in other albums at the time; even now, fifteen years hence, the album is alive with warts and blistering guitar squeals and the vocal dissonance of Lars Fredriksen and Tim Armstrong. It's as though this album, with it's flaws and heart worn brazenly on it's sleeve, was a counterpart to the clean and mass-marketable appeal of Green Day's Dookie. Dookie was the Frampton Comes Alive! of my generation. This album is more like Black Sabbath's Paranoid - more dangerous, a little more left field, a little less calculated.
Look, for example, at the opening. Clocking in at a scant minute and twenty five seconds, 'Maxwell's Murder' is blistering and manic, from the staccato blast-beats to the strung-out bass solo that centers the track. Singles like 'Ruby Soho' and 'Roots & Radicals' were slightly more radio friendly, but still had the band's cracked vocals and loose, live-wire playing. The reggae/ska influenced 'Time Bomb' is as infectious and memorable today as it was when it was released. It's a song that makes you think you've already heard it before, like it's somehow based on another more famous song. The deeper cuts are fantastic, too. 'Journey to the End of the East Bay' is a magnificent exercise in the punk genre, showing what the band can do when given free range to be as anthemic as they please.
Sure, Rancid has released plenty of solid, quality punk albums over their massive and prolific career. None of them hold a candle to Wolves in my eyes, however. This album is so amazing, end to end. The passion never ebbs, the vibrancy never waivers. If you've never heard it, you've missed a huge part of where modern punk, post-punk and hardcore all get their moves from. Listen to it, you'll be astounded at how real and relevant it feels, all these years later.

8.21.2011

Your Land, My Land

Sunday night is quickly escaping me.


Still stranded in the life of no wifi. The outage continues and I struggle to survive, my information addicted brain confused by a drop off in data input and a sudden jump in sleep. Still, I have to credit the clarity to being able to run again. I went jogging down the trail by my apartment yesterday - it was gorgeous. A clear sunny day, one that I could really savor while I ran. I admit I blocked out the natural ambiance by using headphones but an album came on that actually pushed me faster and gave me momentum boost. The day was even more amazing, the faster I ran. My knee hasn't felt this good in a long time. I again thought back to soccer practices starting up during high school and how I would listen to all this intense punk music to pump myself up.


The album that gave me the boost yesterday was one I picked up with strange expectations. Knowing he band had a specific, consistent sound, I picked up the album with no raised hopes. Over the years it's kind of stayed with me, but as good as it seems, it still feels kind of odd and distant. That my be due to the timing of the release. But we'll get to that.
Land of the Free? was released by Pennywise in June of 2001. I bought it right as my team was starting their two-a-day practices. I wanted something new to listen to as I drove in and got my gear out. It was distinctly Pennywise - socio-political lyrics over hurtling hardcore. What any fan of the band would expect. There was plenty of stuff on the album about America and some of it's less flattering qualities.


Then the big attack happened, and I always started to look at the album a little differently. 


Without getting too deeply into my personal beliefs I found it strange to listen to an album so critical of Western living while simultaneously experiencing one of the most outspoken time of patriotism I'd ever seen. Regardless of how you feel, to anyone around at the time, the album would have stood out among a sea of pro-Americanism. It was kind of jarring to hear the contrarian tone. Despite the uneasy discord the album created in my head at the time, I've really come to appreciate Land of the Free? for what it is.
I love the passion and momentum the band has, they play with conviction. The production, given the source material, is pretty solid. It never works for a band in this vein to have a weak, thin sound. The whole album is absolutely Pennywise. From the opening notes of 'Time Marches On', you know what you're in for. Even though it can feel oddly like there's never a distinct melody, the songs are darkly catchy.


These late summer days when I run always bring me back to that time of my life when I became so much more aware of the world outside mine. The world had a new element of flux that I had not been conscious of; permanence become relative. Music may be static on record, but constantly changing in how I absorb it. Listening to Land of the Free? has been a lot of different things. 
Now when I hear it as I speed past the lake, my legs exhausted, approaching ten years since, the nature in which I perceive the world has changed. The album feels somehow more relevant. Apparently despite the change in me, some problems can stay consistent. Give the album a listen for yourself and see if you get what I'm saying - think about how it would feel to hear it back then. Strange business, how it's changed over the decade.

8.20.2011

Urgent Call

Sometimes my futuristic lifestyle fails me.


My internets been down for the last 48 hours, with no estimated time of repair in sight. Various other obligations have kept me from getting to a coffee shop to just sign in with my junky old laptop (courtesy of my wife - thanks honey!). As such, I'm stuck once again pecking this out on my phone. As I won't be able to get a chance to edit this post until I get service back, I'll try to keep it brief, both for your patience and my thumb's sake. 


What I will tell you about, then, is Gob


Not Gob like George Oscar Bluth, played by Will Arnett, although that is awesome as well. No, this is Gob like 'hard g sound' colloquialism for hocking a loogie, the Gob in question being the British Columbian pop-punk band who had a significant hit with their song 'I Hear You Calling' back in 2001. I loved Gob back in the day; hearing them reminds me of the period in my life in which my family had just moved to a new house that required satellite to get a tv signal, which brought in the joys of Canadian music channel Much Music. Much Music was way better than MTV, even back then. They actually played videos; I actually found a lot of great music thanks to Much Music.
So I look back on that time in my life fondly, watching Canadian music videos with my younger brother and asking each other incredulously "who the hell are all these people?" as we took it all in. It was fall, then, or close to it, anyway. The air was cool at night. I would come home exhausted from soccer practice and sit in the basement of our new house, feeling quite cut off from the rest of the world. Seemingly out of the ether these great new videos would come on, showing ms the world was more than terrible top 40 radio and AC/DC repeats on the radio. These strange Canadian bands were like a breath of fresh air and the sudden rush of connectedness was not unlike the convenience afforded by wireless internet these days.
Out of all of these bands that surprised me, Gob has always stayed with me. I love 'I Hear You Calling' - it has everything in it to make it a solid,memorable rocker. It has a great catchy and memorable riff to build the song around. The drums are powerful and satisfying with their pseudo-surf aesthetic. The hook has a tension filled build to it that gets better every time. In a move of prescience and highlighting the band's sense of humor, the video is a mix of performance footage intercut with them playing a soccer match against a zombie squad. The climax features the zombies busting out the requisite 'Thriller' dance routine, all of it becoming very absurd and awesome.
While they haven't hit the same level of prominence since this single, Gob are still grinding away. Look them up, they're a fantastic band that deserves a whole lot more recognition in the U.S. and the larger world. I'll check back in later to update this post with images and links, but you kids go dig up Gob - you'll be glad you did.

8.19.2011

Haunting Grounds

The week ends, finally. 


I spent some of last night indulging in a little late night videogame session with my 360. Having finally made it to the current generation of consoles (I always seem to wait, saving tons of time and money as a result) I have had quite a backlog of the Best-ofs to work through, to my joy and my wife's dismay. One of the games, though, was rather fresh and less acclaimed. Alan Wake, a freaky deeky affair drawing heavily on Silent Hill, Twin Peaks and Stephen King, was a no-brainer. Touching on all the hallmarks I love, it's been super fun and super creepy so far. I'm only into the third chapter as of this writing. What came leaping out of the blue, though, was the song that closed the second chapter, 'Haunted' by Poe. As soon as I heard it, I had one of those striking moments of clarity where you see just how much overlap there is in your life when you really hone in on what makes you tick. Hearing the song set the gears in my head to work and I sat listening to the track, marvelling at the coincidence and how great the song is.
It's a shame Poe hasn't had wider success. She's had some, but not to the level she deserves for her craft. Born Anne Danielewski, Poe has had stop-and-start jaunts in her career as a singer. Her first album, Hello, was a hit in the mid 90s with the single 'Angry Johnny'; it even went gold. Her second outing, Haunted, was a struggle to get done and under-performed, despite strong reviews. Her label dropped her, only to see her fight against the current and keep grinding, making more of a name for herself in the world of independent music and fighting legal battles over the rights of her music. So while she is making progress every day, her music languishes undeservingly in relative obscurity. At one time she was huge, these days not so much. One has to wonder, given the quality of the music Poe creates, if it's just a twist of fate and not a fickle public that has kept her from broader success. Such is life.
Despite the decrease in momentum, there are still people discovering her music. Such was my case, as I was doing research on House of Leaves a few years ago, having only gotten a chance to read it some 5+ years after its release. I've already written about my love and confusion over the dense and symbolic text. So when I had read that the author Mark Danielewski's sister had created a companion album that loosely tied in with the book, I was quite curious. What I found was fantastic. Poe made a great album. In particular, though, the song 'Haunted' stood out as definite high point. 
Starting off with drums and a chiming guitar fading in like wind blowing the tune in from a window, Poe sneaks into the track by airily singing onomatopoeia, just bopping along to the eerie pop song. When it becomes fully realized for the first verse her voice is suddenly full and rich, her notes having weight but not feeling overwrought. The manner in which the song transitions from minor key verses to a major chorus is slick and subtle, a catchy if curious trick of the trade. The hook is pure pop, Poe's voice becoming light and lilting in contrast to the stark and ominous verses. It's a great contrast that shows her talent as a writer and musician, the back and forth of styles growing each time it occurs. 


I love this song - that it keeps popping up in my life only makes me appreciate it's vibe and story all the more. I dug Poe back around her first album; this song was in the soundtrack of a movie I took a date to, which was an all around disaster; I fell heavy for it during my first read-through of House of Leaves; now it pops up in one of my favorite games. I love little coincidences like that, that this same song could keep popping up, this little thread running through my life whether or not I'm aware of it. It reminds me of how 'Make Your Own Kind of Music' kept popping up in Lost. It becomes a sort of leit motif. 


'Haunted' by Poe is no doubt going to keep popping up in my life, whether I want it to or not. I'm going to embrace it and count myself lucky that it's a great song by an artist who would appreciate the attention. Maybe she doesn't want to be a multi platinum act, selling out stadiums. That doesn't mean I shouldn't spread the good word about this talented, criminally under-appreciated artist. Go download her music now, before another label causes problems. 

8.18.2011

Road Construction

Well hello, there!

I walked to the office again, this morning. I love starting the day off with a little exercise, even if it's just the long walk from my apartment to downtown. The quiet stroll through the neighborhood, the sprinklers in Loring park spraying mist into the air. The feeling of a city waking up as I walk down Nicollet Mall, seeing the vendors setting up for the farmers market. I was struck by the sensation of the morning sun and the warmth coming into the air after a cool night. It brought me back to the summers, particularly this time of year, when I would work with a local contractor, building houses and decks with him even though I was a mere 14 or 15 years old. His projects were often far out in the country side and it made more sense to sleep at my grandparent's house for weeks at a time. Being the young musically obsessed nerd that I was, I struggled with the limitation of being able to only bring a few of my CDs. No big boom-box, either - just my little Walkman. See how different life was before mp3 players? These were choices that had to be made, hard ones that would shape your day.

 So I had a couple of my favorites and a new one at the time with which I was particularly obsessed. In hindsight it was a bit of an unusual choice to bring with, but I found that as I stayed up late into the night reading, it was a great (if, at times, creepy) choice. The CD was the Lost Highway Soundtrack, composed and arranged for the David Lynch film. Featuring more than a few artists I was into, I had looked forward to it with great anticipation. Repeated listenings over those late-summer nights made it really grow on me, as well as pair the music with the feeling in the air. So I would listen to the soundtrack all night while I read, then get up and trudge off to work with the kind contractor with a sunny disposition completely at odds with my overly dramatic teenage angst. Despite the isolation I felt at the time, I still love this soundtrack, both for the memories it conjures as well as the specific tone and mood it sets, the artists coalescing surprisingly well.
 I should clarify - I love Lynch. His films are heady, strange outings into a world only he truly understands. In particular, Twin Peaks is a favorite of mine, with it's strange stories and soap-opera dramatics. So a soundtrack to a film I had yet to see actually was a great introduction to a world of music with which I would become deeply enamored. Spooky numbers by Trent Reznor. Absurdly over-the-top heavy metal by Rammstein. The Bowie-aping theatrics of a post-Antichrist Superstar Marilyn Manson, juxtaposed with electro tracks by David Bowie himself. All of this filled out with slinky, jazzy little creepers by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. In a word, a knockout

Each of these artists made great contributions - 'I'm Deranged' by David Bowie is an eerie bit of night music that made him feel relevant to my teenage petulance. Badalamenti's contributions made me aware of the great things that can happen when you play such fantastic mood music during your daily life - it works so well as a personal soundtrack, especially at night or for Halloween. He's got a great, consistent feel that permeates his work. Rammstein was absurdly heavy, but a little strange and engaging nonetheless. Catchy for being so chunky and German. The Manson tracks were interesting introduction to his work, having both a rocker (the old cover 'I Put A Spell On You') and a creeper ('Apple of Sodom') on the compilation. I've already written at great length of my love for the Nine Inch Nails contribution

What really got me to purchase the album at the time, however, was the inclusion of the Smashing Pumpkins track 'Eye'. After the mammoth release of Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness all eyes were on the group for what they would do next, especially in the wake of their touring keyboardist dying from a drug overdose and the band firing their drummer for his supplying the drugs. The track was the first new thing I had heard from them and was supposed to be an indication of what the next album would sound like. It was...not far off. The electronic samples and synths were definitely present on Adore, with 'Eye' almost being a precursor to 'Ava Adore'. Needless to say, I played it a whole lot during those summer nights. 




This soundtrack is phenomenal. It creates the whole tone of the film. It has tons of great artists doing strange things. It also brings me back to a strange, solitary place in my life, which only makes sense given the Lynchian nature. In our world of single downloads and self made playlists, this album benefits from being heard as a group. If you have to wait until Halloween, that's cool. I'll wait. You listen. You'll dig it.